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 Will Rodriguez:
As someone who is a product of both Jesuit and public schools in New York City, I can attest that I know the pros and cons of both, which could be why I am adamant about my children attending public school in the South Orange/Maplewood school district.
I attended kindergarten through 8th grade at the St. Adalbert’s Parochial School in the Melrose section of the Bronx. When it was time to consider high school prospects, I declined a full scholarship to Cardinal Hayes High School. The front steps of the school were only a fifteen minute walk from Cortlandt Avenue where I was raised. I felt like Catholic schools could no longer serve my academic needs and I wanted to be free of their social safety net. I decided to take the Specialized Public High School admissions test for gifted students instead–I failed miserably as I barely knew the answers to most questions.
Despite scoring on a 1st grade level on my exam to enter kindergarten at the young age of 4.5 years old and being a straight-A student, I had not been challenged enough at the school and was never taught advanced mathematics. St. Adalbert’s lacked the resources or commitment necessary to support each child to achieve their maximum potential as a student.
I am running for BOE to ensure that your child will receive a nurturing and challenging environment with effective school leadership. Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention I am running as an independent school board candidate. I am motivated to build relationships with the entire community through deep listening, honest conversations and without judgment for any diverse view.
As board member, I will endeavor to understand everyone’s opinions, identify the commonalities, and make effective fiscally-sound policy and operational decisions.
As a board member, I promise to act with integrity and with support from the community. Some of my foremost concerns besides supporting our children reach their highest level of greatness will be keeping our children safe, eliminating inefficiency, and protecting district property.
Recently, the district suffered damages to our facilities and buses due to Hurricane Ida. As a result, the first day of school was delayed by one week. I believe in taking proactive measures to minimize threats such as flooding or theft before they occur. For example, the buses suffered damage at the low lying W. Parker Avenue parking lot. The parking lot is roughly 100 feet away from the East Branch Rahway River in a flood zone. The damage to the buses could have been avoided or mitigated had the buses been moved to a secure location at higher elevation like the South Mountain Elementary parking lot. As an insurance executive, I help my clients to identify, assess and manage the risks their business and employees face every day. It’s my desire to serve our community, especially our children in the same way.
The past eighteen months have been difficult and frustrating for us all. I am running for the Board of Education because I believe I can help. I believe my 25 years of experience in insurance and risk management will be an asset to our Board of Education and Superintendent in keeping our schools safe and open. My professional background will be asset in overseeing the Long Range Facilities Plan that is currently underway. I believe my one and half years living in SoMa is a blessing because as a new face, I can build relationships with the community and the board from the ground up. I am running as an untethered candidate. This means I will listen deeply and see things through many different lenses. I can see things as they are and use my voice to speak the truth. Fear of not fitting in or being ostracized are character traits that I’m not associated with. Most importantly I am running because I bring real life experience to the board. I believe that being underprivileged or vulnerable is not synonymous with low-achievement. I understand all too well the consequences of being leveled, instead of being challenged. If elected, I will work tirelessly to be an advocate for all our families and to ensure that our children receive the support and opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
My wife Miranda, daughter Eliora (Elli) 3 years old and Guillaume (Papi-Chulo) 1 year old and I moved to Maplewood in May of 2020 from North Bergen Township. We are both children of immigrants from St. Martin and Puerto Rico respectively. Miranda was raised in nearby Irvington and I was raised in the South Bronx. We both value family, education, and hard-work. We feel extremely fortunate to have found a home in Maplewood and just few minutes away from Grandma (Jackie). We’ve put roots down here and look forward building beautiful and long-lasting relations with everyone.