BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Jean Lee is the newest member of the Bridgewater-Raritan board of education.
Lee was chosen on Wednesday evening by a 6-2 vote of the board to replace Melanie Thiesse, who resigned from the board earlier this month for personal reasons.
“Jean Lee is our new person,” said school board president Jackie Barlow after the votes were in.
Lee was chosen from a pool of 12 candidates that also included Scott Mihalick, Matthew Bergman, Kimberly Forino, Jessica Levitt, Thuytien Nguyen, Songmei Yu, J.P. Levin, Adena Feinstein, Rob Giurlando, Yan Ren and Hiral Desai.
Lee will serve until the end of the current calendar year, to fill out the remainder of Thiesse’s term. If she wishes to remain on the board, Lee will have to campaign for her seat in November’s election.
All 12 candidates, not including an unnamed 13th individual who dropped out of the running, were given five minutes during Wednesday’s online meeting on YouTube to talk about his or her background, why they wanted to be on the school board, their perspectives on the Bridgewater-Raritan school district and why they believed they were the best candidate.
The order of the candidates was determined beforehand by a random draw, conducted by business administrator Peter Starrs and his assistant.
Lee was the next-to-last candidate to speak. She said she had been in the U.S. for 30 years after emigrating from her native Taiwan.
She said she holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and an MBA in finance, and that she has experience in both budgeting and financial planning.
“I have a lot of experience in helping the community,” added Lee, who explained that she also served as both a board member and the treasurer of the Bridgewater Chinese-American Association.
Lee said she had recently been involved in processing donations of PPE (personal protective equipment) to the Bridgewater Police Department and Bridgewater OEM (Office of Emergency Management) during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and had also helped distribute cloth masks for the same purpose.
Lee explained that she moved to Bridgewater 22 years ago to raise her two children, and her family has since grown to seven members in all. Four of her children have graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan High School to date, with one more to go, and she praised the district for educating them all.
“The quality of education it has given my children gave them a big head start in life, and for years to come,” said Lee.
Now, she said, she felt it was her turn to give back to the school system.
“I’d like to offer my skills to help,” said Lee.
She said she could offer a different perspective to help the board, and added that she has devoted herself to helping the community and overseeing budget plans.
“I love this town more than anywhere else in the world,” Lee said, “and have the skills to back up my ideas.”
Before the board entered into closed session for some 45 minutes, it entertained comments from the public, about 10 in all. More than half of those espoused Levitt for the position, partly due to the fact that she has served on the board’s homework committee.
Levitt has also been a staunch advocate for later school start times.
The board chose Lee, Mihalick, Levitt and Forino as finalists, with each of those nominations made by a board member and then seconded by another board member. Lee’s candidacy was voted on first, and achieved the necessary majority of five votes to name her to the board, per board policy, according to the board’s attorney.
None of the other three candidates needed to be voted on at that point.
School board vice president Jill Gladstone thanked superintendent Russell Lazovick for handling the logistics in getting all the candidates online to speak to the board, while Barlow thanked Lazovick, Starrs and others for their aid.
“I also thank the candidates,” said Barlow. “There are a lot of impressive people in the district, and any one of them could have stepped in and done a great job.”