Five candidates are vying for three seats on the 9-member South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education on November 2, 2021: Shannon Cuttle (incumbent), William Rodriguez, Qawi Telesford, Arun Vadlamani and Kaitlin Wittleder. Terms are for three years. The following candidate statement is from Shannon Cuttle:
When I ran for the Board of Education three years ago, I said we needed to move the district forward – that we needed to build upon a foundation to address access and equity, systems, policies and data collection, crumbling outdated facilities and district leadership.
Since joining the Board of Education, I have worked to establish that foundation and move us to act on the pivotal next steps in moving forward together to continue the important, hard work of building the frameworks, infrastructure and the pathway towards 21st century learning.
We must maintain our momentum, and we must keep students at the center of our purpose. If we lose sight of our board’s purpose, function and goals, if we don’t have a lens to our students first, if we don’t have compassionate, dedicated, knowledgeable, diverse and collaborative board members at the table… it will all derail … our once in a generation facilities plan, moving SOMSD to 21st century learning, moving towards a caring community building welcoming inclusive schools for all students to thrive inside and outside of our classrooms and communities. If we fail to make sure we make good on these promises it will be our students who will suffer – our next generation of leaders.
Over the past two and half years on the Board, I have a proven record of service showing my deep commitment to equity, inclusion with a lens on students first in our district and across our beloved community. I have fought inequality, empowered students by centering student voice and perspective, and advocated for all students and families- especially our most marginalized and vulnerable. I have worked to guide our district and our Board to examine all policies, procedures and practices through the lens of equity, inclusion, excellence and student achievement.
Equity: I have spearheaded and led us from an equity lens, to reimagine our policy, procedures, handbooks, manuals, communication and job descriptions, not just to add gender inclusive language but also to include all families.
Student Wellbeing: I have led us to reexamine and prioritize creating systems of care and support for overall student well being and success and brought in new community partnerships such as HMI to provide free student and family counseling services, youth group opportunities for student leadership and fellowship, and cultural competency training for all Board Members, Central Office, and our Principals. And as of this school year, all district staff will receive LGBTQ+, suicide preventIon and anti-bias training.
Food Insecurity: I have led us in addressing food insecurity, championing the district piloting with the Township a free summer student and families food program and universal free student lunch to go during the pandemic and now continuing during the return to school this year.
Student Voice in Policy: I have led us to expand the role of our Board Student Representative to include having a voice in our policy and curriculum and instruction board committees and in our board retreats.
Social Emotional: With a lens on student social emotional health and wellness, I championed and worked with the district for over two years to improve and update our systems, practices, training for all staff and updated district policy around Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention for our students, staff and families.
Diversity and Inclusion: To strengthen and build upon our district’s commitment to supporting and affirming LGBTQ+ and Transgender and Non-binary students and families, I championed and worked with our district to improve and update powerschool, district handbooks and materials, communication, board governance and policies, training for all staff and our Board and updated district policy.
Communication: I championed the Board and the District to reimagine and take a deep look at our district communication for the first time to ensure communication included all students, families, the community and our leaders. I worked with the district to update communication strategy and training using GLADD media guide and advocated for a district media plan in response to harmful or hurtful events in the news including resources for students and families. And championed over the last two and half years for the district website to be updated to better reflect accessible information, portals including moving district curriculum and policy online for students, families and the community.
Safety: In support of our students, I championed the Board and the District to adopt a resolution to create a SOMSD Task Force to address student sexual harassment, student sexual assault and consent. Assigning the district to create systems for student support and reporting, protocols, prevention and intervention, consent curricula and training, looking at student safety across our school community both online and offline. I also championed the Board to create a new district security ad-hoc committee and a district crisis prevention and intervention committee.
Leadership: In my further deep commitment to our students and community, I have gone beyond the state mandated board training to become a NJSBA State Certified Board Member and meet the requirements for Master Board Member Certification. I have brought SOMSD to have a seat at the table for the first time at the county and state level, elected by fellow school board members across Essex County, to serve as Vice President, Essex County School Board Association and elected to represent Essex County on the New Jersey School Board Association (NJSBA) Board of Directors. This has allowed SOMSD and our community to have a voice especially during this critical time during the pandemic at the county and state level.
Through my leadership, I championed for the first time and led our Board and our district in a groundbreaking resolution that was first adopted unanimously by our Board and later adopted unanimously at the annual NJSBA Delegate Assembly to officially adopt and include a position statement affirming and supporting LGBTQ+ students, staff and families, and a Board of Education commitment to creating welcoming inclusive schools for all students and families.
The groundbreaking resolution passed at the annual convening of more than four-hundred school boards across the state to adopt state policy and positions – updated the New Jersey School Board Association state policy, positions and procedures manual moving our state language for Boards of Education from anti-discrimination to welcoming and affirming.
And I was proud to be the first SOMSD Board Member to be accepted and the first person to hold a season around supporting LGBTQ+ students at NJSBA Workshop, the annual statewide education conference held in Atlantic City.
That is my life’s work and passion.
Moving Forward: Our classrooms, hallways and materials should mirror and reflect all of our diverse students, families and our beloved community across our curricula, inside and outside of our classrooms, in our teachers, staff and leadership at all levels in our district – and including on the Board of Education. Representation matters. Visibility matters. It can save lives. It can change lives.
This work was not done in a silo but done in leadership and collaboration with me at the table working with the Board and our district. This important work, this hard work, is only possible with being an informed Board Member leading with a student lens and equity focus and understanding how to create bridges at all levels to move our district forward together.
As Audre Lorde said, “There is no thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives”.
I hope to have your vote to continue this work together – please vote CUTTLE for BOE line 4F in early voting and on November 2nd Moving Forward Together.