HACKENSACK, N.J. — Team Hackensack Smart Schools defeated Champions for Students in this year’s school board election for three, three-year terms, according to the unofficial election results from the Bergen County Board of Elections released Tuesday night. 

Hackensack Smart Schools also go by “Three Dads” and consists of Michael Oates, Anthony Rodriguez and Chris Coleman. Coleman led with the highest number of votes with 1,413; Rodriguez followed with 1,402; and Oates got 1,396.

Champions for Students, who are Jennifer Maury, Monica Pelaez, and David Dungey received 1,042; 994; and 983, respectively.

Sign Up for Hackensack Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

The voting process for this year’s school board election was conducted entirely via mail-in ballots given the school closures across the state during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Voters were mailed their ballots earlier this month and had to have them postmarked by May 12 to be counted. The official results of the election will be available from the Bergen County Board of Elections this Friday, May 15.

Apart from community support, Three Dads were also endorsed by the Labrosse Team.

In a message sent to TAPinto Hackensack, Team Smart Schools released the following statement:

We are honored and humbled that our community has entrusted us with the great responsibility of serving on the Hackensack City School Board. Over the last several weeks, we have spoken with parents across Hackensack who have shared with us some of the challenges that they have experienced in this district. We look forward to continuing these conversations and delivering on our campaign platform of improving curriculum standards, making our schools safer, and expanding after-school programs. We want to thank the candidates of the ‘Champions for Students’ ticket and their supporters and hope all will continue to stay passionately involved in the school district. We all have our city and our children’s best interests at heart and the addition of any and all enthusiastic voices can only elevate our students and the school district. Lastly, thank you to the Labrosse team for their leadership in our city and all of our neighbors for their overwhelming support during this election.” 

Oates, Rodriguez and Coleman will take the place of school board members Leila Amirhamzeh, Johanna Calle and Robin Coles, who did not seek re-election.

Upon announcing their run for the school board, The Three Dads — all of whom have children in the district — said they were committed to improving school facilities, student test scores, and safety among the nine-person board. Oates is a lieutenant with the Hackensack Fire Department with three children in the district; Coleman is an attorney by trade with three children in the district; and Rodriguez is a sales manager with two children currently in the district, and one who graduated. Oates decided to run for the school board following an incident at the Hackensack Middle School late last year during which his daughter Gigi experienced harassment at school by a fellow classmate. The classmate, who the Oates family did not identify at the December school board meeting, had also previously bullied their son while in elementary school. They argue that had the board filed an HIB (Harassment Intimidation and Bullying) complaint, it may have helped prevented the incident from recurring.

Since the incident, Gigi decided to wear a whistle around her neck to school in self-defense and sound it to fend off bullies at school. Her efforts spurred not only a movement at her school, (fellow classmates followed suit to defend themselves from such students) but mainstream media attention from various outlets from The New York Post to CBS to a French publication championing female empowerment.

Throughout the campaign process, both slates of candidates had to adapt to digital campaigns following stay-at-home orders issued by Governor Murphy after the Covid-19 crisis was dubbed a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March.

Since then, both teams have been interacting with the community via Facebook, text messaging and video town hall meetings, in addition to traditional methods including mailers and phone banking.

Team Champions for Students, which consists of Maury, an education management professional; Pelaez, a surgical assistant at Hackensack University Medical Center; and Dungey, a Hackensack High School alum who is employed at Honeywell Corp. as a principal IT designer, held several well attended virtual town hall meetings. Champions For Students ran on a campaign to enrich the culture of the school district, enhance academic rigor, and plan for the future needs of the community. 

The official results will be available on the County Clerk's official website on Friday and a reorganization meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, May 21.