LIVINGSTON, NJ — Meet Jenissa Arnette, one of four candidates vying for one open seat on the Livingston Board of Education.
Arnette is an eight-year resident of Livingston and mother of three. Her two daughters graduated from Livingston High School in 2019 and 2020, while her son is currently in fourth grade at Riker Hill Elementary School.
After graduating from Marylawn of the Oranges Academy in South Orange, Arnette received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with a concentration in family and child studies, a master’s degree in mathematics education and doctoral degree in curriculum, instruction and assessment. She currently teaches algebra at Montclair Public Schools and is also a professor of mathematics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
See the interview below to learn more about Arnette and her decision to run for Livingston Board of Education.
Q: Why are you running for board of education? What qualifies you for the position?
A: Livingston Public Schools is a phenomenal district. The district has four goals that they put in place to enhance the effectiveness for our community of learners.
This year, three of the goals have been carried over from last year because the goals were not attained. One goal is to enhance the education of mathematics for our students. Based on my professional experiences, I know that I can help the board make the best decisions needed to reach this goal successfully.
Another goal is to enhance cultural awareness. I have been professionally trained and have provided professional development to teachers in cultural awareness. Additionally, I have personal experiences that I can also bring with me to the table.
Another goal is to incorporate effective and instructional methodologies that create social and emotional support for all students. Pedagogically, I have adopted several strategies to support all of my students and to provide the best learning environment possible.
The district plans to provide teachers with professional development in technology for support during hybrid learning. I can offer the board my perspective of programs that will keep our children engaged. I have experience teaching remote and hybrid.
I have experience teaching all grade levels. I started my career as an elementary school teacher. I am currently an algebra teacher in Montclair Public Schools and a math professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
I have worked with all learning abilities. I have also worked with students in all subjects. As a college professor, I even understand the development our children need in the space after Livingston High School.
I know what it takes to keep students engaged as well. My passion for education is vibrant and our community will not be disappointed if I am on the board!
Q: Name one weakness of the Livingston Public Schools district and how it can be improved.
A: One weakness of the Livingston Public Schools District is equity. Equity is meeting our children where they are individually by providing them with the resources needed to be successful.
There are some students who do not feel like they are a part of the community because of their learning abilities, gender, gender preference, religion, race or class. This is unfortunate. We need all of our children to feel accepted.
There are a few things that can be done to improve. Building peer-to-peer relationships is necessary. Providing all of our students with a curriculum like Restorative Justice teaches students communication and how to actively listen to each other.
We need to incorporate literature from more diverse authors. This would be good for all students. It can engage some students in the learning because they can see themselves in the literature. It can also teach students to be aware and accepting of differences.
The district also needs to work on hiring and keeping staff members who represent our student body. Research proves that students feel a sense of belonging when they have teachers that are relatable to them.
In addition, we should have a district exit survey for everyone who leaves the district (parents, students, graduates, teachers, retirees etc). The survey could not stop there. The survey then needs to be used to make data-driven decisions that will ultimately improve our schools.
We should also have procedures put in place testing all elementary students for gifted and talented. Doing this will give all students an equal opportunity to access. The process will be less subjective and more inclusive to all students.
Q: Tell us about your other career and how your professional expertise could benefit you as a board of education member.
A: A career these days can be defined in many different ways. I believe that being a parent is my ultimate career. As a divorced single mother, I know that I have a different perspective than most who are currently on the board. As a parent, I have experienced six of the nine public schools here in Livingston. Having this perspective is important and rare to most parents in Livingston.
Although all schools are in Livingston, they all have their own culture and I am lucky enough to experience six out of nine on a personal level with my children. With two Livingston High School graduates, I understand the district from elementary through high school. In addition, as a parent of a child still in the district, I am aware of the challenges that parents are facing during the pandemic.
The responsibilities of a board member include making policies and decisions for the learning community. I am committed to making the best decisions for our children as a parent who believes in a philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, I am passionate about using my expertise as a parent (and educator) to help our district reach their goals to enhance the education for all children in our community.
Q: Which of the four recently adopted district goals is most important to you and why? How would you like to see the district achieve that goal?
A: Of the four recently adopted district goals, three of them were goals for last school year. The first goal aims to enhance cultural awareness. The second goal is to enhance the math education of students in K-8. The third goal is to create positive social-emotional support.
To me, creating positive social-emotional support is most important. Social-emotional well-being includes six main components. They are self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
The district can achieve this goal by incorporating a curriculum that will enhance the SEL of our students in grade K-12. The resources needed to teach the curriculum is important when trying to reach this goal. The district needs to set goals that are measurable within a specific time frame to determine if the resources are positively impacting their emotional support.
Q: Apart from running for Livingston Board of Education, in what other ways are you involved in the town?
A: In 2018, I came to the board with some concerns as a parent about challenging experiences my children faced at school in Livingston. After addressing my concerns, I have offered several suggestions about how we can improve as a district.
For the 2019-2020 school year, the district added their goal to enhance cultural awareness. Since my suggestions were used, I would like to think that I made an impact on the district’s efforts to improve the culture and community within our schools.
I offered suggestions that the district trained their staff in “Undoing Racism” training which I had as an educator in Montclair. They took my suggestion by training all of the administrators in the specific training I suggested.
As a community member, I have spoken to many different parents about the experiences that their children have faced in different schools within our community.
In 2020, I came to the board again as a concerned parent and community member to address current concerns. I offered suggestions that I know will be best to improve the culture for our community of learners. During a recent board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Block announced that he was pleased to finally make this the number one goal for our district because it was most important for the growth of the district.
I know that with my personal and professional experiences as a Black and Latina woman the district would appreciate my perspective that can build our community at large. I like to think of myself as an informed, passionate, empathic voice for our community.
I have been walking my talk. I love to listen to other experiences and perspectives to gain insight in order to better understand who I was elected to represent.
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