Local residents Elissa Malespina, Marian Raab and Shannel Roberts announced Monday their joint campaign for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.
They join incumbents Wayne Eastman and Madhu Pai, and challengers Chris Sabin and Annemarie Maini who declared their ticket on Friday. According to the Essex County Clerk, Dorcas Lind and Margaret Freedman have also filed to run.
The deadline to file for the election is today, July 27.
“We are excited and proud to be running for the Board of Education,” said Malespina, in a release. “Our school district has so many good things going for it–talented students, amazing teachers and parents who are passionate about their children’s education. South Orange-Maplewood used to be a district looked to as a model of what to do right. Unfortunately, now we have been cited as a model of what to NOT to do, despite the many great things going on in our community.”
Raab agreed, adding: “Our district is at a crossroads right now and we have no room for error. With a new superintendent starting at Academy Street and critical safety and security issues still unresolved, we must do better at communicating with and supporting students, teachers and the parent community.”
Elissa Malespina was school librarian in the South Orange/Maplewood school district for nine years, first at Columbia H.S. and then at South Orange Middle School. She is currently the Supervisor of Education Technology, 612 STEM and ProfessionalDevelopment for the Parsippany Troy Hills School District, Elissa won the 2014 Bammy Award given by the Academy of Arts and Education for School Librarian of the year. Malespina’s son is a rising 7th grader at South Orange Middle School.
Marian Raab is a non-practicing attorney who has been working as a financial and legal journalism for more than 20 years. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Credit Union Journal, a weekly financial newspaper, and currently works as a freelance editor/writer. Marian was previously Managing Editor of Financial Executive magazine and Associate Editor of the New Jersey Law Journal. Raab has served as a member of the Maplewood Democratic Committee and led the opposition to the second application of Hua Mei, the “boutique” Mandarin immersion charter school that was proposed for the district. Raab is a 14-year resident of the Tuscan neighborhood in Maplewood and longtime member of the Tuscan Elementary School PTA. She has two children in the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
Shannel Robertsis the Executive Assistant to the CEO and Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey. She is a 10-year resident of Maplewood’s Hilton neighborhood, and is actively involved at St. John’s Community Baptist Church in Newark, and is a former member of the NAACP Education Committee serving the Oranges and Maplewood. Roberts founded the Essex County Chapter of Little Sistahs in the Know Inc., a literacy program geared toward young black girls. She also co-founded R.O.S.E.S., an afterschool leadership and peer mentorship program. Roberts is the parent of a rising 11th grader at Columbia High School.
Malespina, Raab and Roberts say that safety and security of students and teachers will be a top priority for the candidates.
“No student and teacher should ever feel unsafe in our schools,” Roberts said. “We will work closely with administration to make sure that they have the tools “and resources to make that a possibility. We also need to be proactive in our approach to disciple and look for ways to work with students, be it conflict resolution, or restorative justice or counseling to reduce the number of children who are repeat offenders.”
Malespina noted that in addition to safety and security, communication will be another key issue in their joint campaign.
“No parent should ever have to write emails that go unanswered or spend hours trying to navigate the district’s phone system and website to reach a teacher or administrator,” she said. “Let’s cut the bureaucracy and get back to the basics! No one should ever have to go to a board meeting and speak their mind during the “public speaks” portion only to get no response from administration or board of education members. No one should be subject to BOE meeting that last until midnight or past 1:00 in the morning.”
If elected, Malespina, Raab and Roberts say they will work to revamp district communication as well as the structure and scheduling of board meetings.
“We need to have two board meetings a month like almost all of our surrounding districts,” Raab said. “The board cannot effectively govern if meetings start 30 to 60 minutes late and then stretch into the next day. This spring, the board voted to eliminate the International Baccalaureate program at nearly 1:00 a.m. Two board meetings will help ensure that vital decisions are made when the community is awake and aware of what’s going on.”
The three candidates say that, if elected, they will also work to revamp how the “public speaks” portion of the board meeting works.
“Parents deserve a timely response and answers to their questions,” Malespina said. “Student voice is also very important to us, we want to hear from them since they are the ones that we are ultimately doing this for. At one board meeting a month, we would like to highlight a different school and invite students from that school to address the board first during ‘public speaks’ about their concerns and issues.”
Malespina, Raab and Roberts also said that the district’s high property taxes and looming school budget deficit will be a top priority, if they are elected.
“We’ve got to put some common sense back into our school budget,” Raab said. “For instance, had the board listened to the many parents and teachers who spoke up against IB years ago we would have not wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours on a failed experiment.” Malespina added.
“It is unacceptable that we pay such high property taxes in our two towns while cutting so many important services and programs that our students need,” Roberts said.
Malespina, Raab and Roberts also want to work closely with state Assembly and Senate representatives to advocate for increased school funding from the state and explore other avenues such as federal and other grant programs.
“We also need to work closely with other New Jersey school districts to advocate for increased school funding in Trenton while continuing to look for all the responsible cost savings we can find in-house,” Malespina added.
Closing the achievement gap is another goal.
“When black students outnumber white students at CHS but comprise only 21% of the population of students in advanced placement (AP) courses at Columbia, we have a problem,” Roberts noted. “We must provide all students with access to higher level courses not only at the high school level but also in middle schools. Placement in 6th grade math should not determine a student’s future ability to take advanced courses in high school and future college admissions. We also must look at ways to improve our complicated and confusing math placement system and curriculum and bring back the ‘Contract for Choice,’ which would give parents and students a stronger role in math placement.”
Malespina, Raab and Roberts will publish their full platform in the coming weeks at soma2015.com.
The candidates have a Facebook page — SOMA 2015. They can also be followed on twitter @somaboe2015 and Instagram at somaboe2015.