MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The four candidates running for the three open seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education (BOE) participated in a forum hosted by the Hilton Neighborhood Association on Thursday night.
Incumbents Beth Daugherty and David Giles were joined by Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad and Johanna Wright for the forum and a question-and-answer session.
Current Board of Education President Daugherty has lived in Maplewood and South Orange for 22 years and has four children, three of whom have graduated from Columbia High School and one who is a sophomore there now. She has served on the BOE for six years and said she is very proud of the accomplishments she and the BOE have made, but said, “I know there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, and that’s why I am running for a third term. I want to make sure that every single student is engaged in the classroom and is inspired to perform their personal best. I want to make sure teachers receive the professional learning opportunities that they need, and that parents are engaged and informed in their children’s education and that resources are allocated wisely so that we can maintain a strong educational system while being respectful of the taxpayer burden.”
David Giles moved to South Orange in 2000 and his son is a sixth-grader at South Orange Middle School. He has served one three-year term on the BOE. “During my tenure n the Board, we have made substantial progress,” Giles said. “We have made changes that have resulted in tangible improvements. We see it in the steady rise in test scores. We see it in the growing number of students doing advanced work and in where our graduates are going to college. There is a lot to be done in maintaining the progress we have achieved.”
Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad moved to South Orange in 2011 and has one child in elementary school and two in middle school in the district. She is an engineering director for Verizon Wireless and said she chose South Orange partially because the schools are special. “Given the many personal challenges that students encounter growing up, and the inconsistency I see in our district, there is no guarantee that my children will continue to thrive in the face of 1,000 different issues that might develop,” she said. “There are some issues in the district that shouldn’t happen and it is our responsibility to make sure that we take care of those.”
Johanna Wright served as a teacher and coach in the school district for more than 30 years until her recent retirement in 2013. She has received numerous awards and accolades for her work in district schools. “I know my community. I know the issues we face in terms of property taxes. People come to me for all kinds of things. They come to me for truthful answers. And one truth is that it is time to hit the reset button on education and taxes in our school district and community.” she said. “We once had teachers and an administrative body that were the envy of the state. We had cities like Livingston and Millburn who really envied us. Is that the case today?”
The Board of Education election will take place on Tuesday, November 5.