SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – SOMA Board of Education candidate Elissa Malespina engaged in a Q&A with TAP about the upcoming election. The former South Orange Middle School (SOMS) librarian and teacher recently accepted another position in the Parsippany-Troy Hills school district.
How was your decision to leave SOMS related to your decision to run for SOMA BOE?
I have always been passionate about helping to make SOMSD the best district possible and have always wanted to run for BOE, but could not because I was employed by the district.
When I was the teacher-librarian at SOMS I worked hard to make the South Orange Middle School Library one of the best in the state and was honored to receive the 2013 NJASL Progressive School Library Program of the Year. It was an agonizing decision to leave this district and go to Parsippany - Troy Hills but it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I would have jumped at the opportunity to advance my career in-district, but unfortunately there were no opportunities available to do so. The new position in Parsippany-Troy Hills combines my passion for libraries and technology with my love of Professional Development.
When the opportunity presented itself to run for the Board of Education this year I could not pass it up. I am especially excited to be running with Donna Smith who also shares a history of service to the SOMSD community and a passion for education.
Your announcement cited the Superintendent search and the looming budget crisis as important topics this year. What are your other top priorities for the Board?
There are a lot of major issues facing the BOE right now but the ones I outlined in my announcement I feel are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed. I think for too long this Board has taken on too much and not done a great job really evaluating if what they have done is working. I, like Anthony Mazzocchi, believe it is time to slow things down a little and not start any new initiatives without really looking to see if what we have in place is working.
I do believe that we need to continue to invest in our quest to become 1:1 -- not only do we need to invest in the hardware to make that happen but also in appropriate staff that can support it. Right now we are buying all these Chromebooks but we're not investing in the staff training or technology support that will be necessary for this initiative to succeed.
What insights from your years at SOMS make you a good choice for BOE?
I was in the district for 9 years first as a librarian at CHS and then at SOMS for the last 4 years. During that time period, I have gained a great understanding of what's going on under the hood of our district and have developed relationships with both the teachers and administration. My time in the district gives me a great understanding of ways to best help support the students in the district. I always put students first as a teacher in the district, and plan to continue that once I am elected to the Board of Education.
As a critic of the SOMS administration, what do you think the BOE should do about the situation there?
I did speak out at the renewal meeting about the fact that I did not feel that giving Mr. Uglilorio tenure was in the best interest of the students and teachers in the district. I still believe that. Since the BOE did not follow my advice or that of other teachers and parents who spoke against doing so, we have to find a way to make sure that concerns brought up by the staff and parents are addressed and changes made so that it does not get to that point again.