Five community members are running for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education this year: Regina Eckert, Nubia Wilson, Bill Gifford, Ritu Pancholy and William Meyer. Eckert, Wilson and Gifford are running on the “Students Come First” ticket. Pancholy and Meyer are running on the “Doing Better, Together” ticket.
Read more about the candidates in Village Green’s “Ask the Candidates” series on busing/transportation, access & equity, the Superintendent and BOE functionality.
I am a founding member and current leadership for SOMA for Safe Return to Schools, however I am writing this letter as a member of the community and not in my SRS capacity.
My name is Kate Walker, and I live in South Orange with my husband, Austin, and our three young sons. We have lived here since 2016; our family entered SOMSD in Fall 2019 when our oldest started Kindergarten. Within a few months, we were thrust into the tumultuous and unknown early days of Covid.
Like many families, we juggled working from home with our children at home full time, all while striving to preserve any sense of a “normal” childhood for our young ones. Our family, like many families, faced hardship when the 2020/21 school year started. Our first-grader was expected to sit in front of a computer screen for 4+ hours a day for virtual school, something that was terribly difficult for him and our family. Over time, our family was thrown into an unsustainable situation with no end in sight from our district. My advocacy for our district’s children was born from this angst, helplessness, and frustration that I felt during that time, as I saw guidelines emerge from state and federal agencies that allowed a safe reopening of schools – yet SOMSD remained closed.
SOMA for Safe Return to School (SRS) was created by myself and a handful of galvanized parents who decided to take matters into their own hands and demand that the district prepare to reopen schools in a safe manner, as other districts were. During the nearly 3 years that our group has advocated – first for schools to reopen, and then for the district to implement mitigation policies that followed evolving state and CDC guidelines – I’ve met so many amazing and talented district parents.
One of them was Nubia Wilson.
Nubia and I first met when our children attended the same preschool, but we really connected at the start of the school year in 2021, after Hurricane Ida damaged district buses and the start of school was delayed. Nubia immediately understood the district’s shortcomings in their communication and approach to managing the situation, and I was incredibly impressed with how she engaged with Dr. Taylor and the board on the subject. Her recommendation to lead with empathy and lean on emotional intelligence in district communication was spot on, and I could tell then that she would make an incredible advocate for our children and leader for our district.
As SRS’s advocacy continued into 2022 and the 22/23 school year approached, I was thrilled to get to know Regina Eckert and Bill Gifford.
I was so impressed with Regina’s ability to focus on exactly where the district needs improvement, and her dedication to providing transparency and accountability in a way that we haven’t seen for years. In her short time as a district parent, she’s thrown herself into learning about SOMSD and I’m continually impressed with her passion to strive for so much better for our children.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bill at the same time I met his 4 year old son Killian, and I was immediately struck by how Bill’s passion for our district’s success is quite literally intergenerational. From his first run for the BOE as a Columbia High School senior, to today, when his motivation is to create a better educational experience for his two young children. Hearing Bill speak about his childhood in SOMA and his experiences at Tuscan, MMS and CHS, especially as a Special Ed student, I realize that he brings district experience and understanding to the board that is unparalleled.
I support Nubia Wilson, Regina Eckert and Bill Gifford because they bring change, transparency and balance to a board that so desperately needs it. Please join me in voting for the Students Come First slate on Nov. 8.
South Orange, NJ