PATERSON, NJ - All 17 candidates seeking election to the Paterson Board of Education in the November election appeared as a group for the first time on Thursday.

The debate, held at La Neve’s in Haledon, was organized by community activists Sharrieff Bugg and Willie Peterkin Sr. at the request of several residents, Peterkin said, to give voters “the opportunity to ask the candidates questions and get a better feeling of what they want to vote for.”

For nearly three hours the genteel affair offered candidates an opportunity to answer a number of questions related to the current state of Paterson Public Schools and to share their thoughts and strategies to improve educational outcomes.

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The the use of technology, ability to best serve students with special needs, parental involvement, budget and financing, and preparing students for careers after their public education in Paterson all figured heavy in the discussion.

Several candidates, including Dr. Melissa Baralt and Commissioner Vincent Arrington, spoke of their extensive professional expertise and training and how that would bring benefit to the city’s classrooms, while others, like Commissioner Manny Martinez, Ramon Joaquin, Mosleh Uddin, and Eddie Gonzalez suggested that their lineage as lifelong residents gives them passion for serving locally.

“You have to care about the work you do,” Gonzalez said speaking of service to the community with Martinez offering that “Paterson is the only city I care to put this work in.”

Candidates Justin Rucker and Corey Teague pointed to situations within their own families, including a relative of Rucker’s not reading on grade level, and Teague saying that he “lives advocacy every day through his 10 year old special needs son,” as their motivation as candidates.

Both Oshin Castillo and Nakima Redmon, currently serving as president and vice president of the Board of Education, pointed to the successes of the team of incumbents running, including Arrington and Martinez, such as introducing laptops to every student from 7th grade on, launching the Parent Portal platform to more closely connect parents with their children’s education, and bringing arts education back to Paterson’s schools.

“This is not the time to change course,” Martinez would suggest later.

With the event coming to a close each candidate was given two minutes to make their final pitch to voters.

Nelly Celi used her time to ask voters to look for “more than passion.”

“Let’s look for qualifications,” she said giving a litany of both statewide and local boards she serves on while Baralt closed the evening by telling voters that if they are satisfied with the education Paterson students are getting they should “continue voting as you have in the past,” but if they want change her Team Paterson Education First, including Gerard A. Robertson, Gonzalez, and Uddin, is ready to serve.

Gerard Robertson, Robinson Rondon, Amany Ramadan, Eduardo Lanchipa, Gerard Robertson, and Eddy Olivares also participated in the event.

As the crowd left the room Peterkin declared the debate a success telling TAPinto Paterson that he believes that voters, both those in the room as well as others watching online, are in a better position to “make a decision” about who to vote for, and then, once the votes are counted, “hold the winners accountable,” for what they said they would do.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Voters will be able to select up to three candidates for three year terms and two candidates for one year terms.


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