HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Three fathers of city schoolchildren who say they are determined to bring progress and tangible change to Hackensack public schools are running as a team in the Board of Education Election on April 21.
Michael Oates, Anthony Rodriguez and Chris Coleman are running together as the Hackensack Smart Schools Team, aka, “The Three Dads.” The trio is vying for three, three-year seats on the Board of Education which are being vacated by Leila Amirhamzeh, Johanna Calle and Robin Coles, who are not seeking re-election.
Challenging the Three Dads will be “Champion Students” comprised of Jennifer Maury, an education management professional, Monica Pelaez, a surgical assistant at Hackensack University Medical Center, and Dave Dungey, a Hackensack High School alum who is employed at Honeywell Corp. as a principal IT designer and currently working towards his PhD in Urban System (infrastructure, health, and schools) from Rutgers University.
Team Champion Students could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Three Dads say they are committed to improving school facilities, student test scores and safety together with the Hackensack Board of Education.
“The biggest thing to know about our Three Dads is that we all have children who attend city schools, and we really care about every child’s future,” said Rodriguez, a homeowner with two children in the district and a third son who is a Hackensack High School alum. “Others may rely on administrators to tell them what’s going on. We talk to our kids and their teachers. We are not politicians, we are parents, and that’s why we are running.”
Michael Oates is a lieutenant with the Hackensack Fire Department with three children in the district. He says the Three Dads will work to “rebuild trust with residents,” especially following the $170 million school bond issue that city taxpayers overwhelmingly rejected last year.
“We all want smaller classes and better facilities, but we understand that voters need to believe that their money will be well spent, and not wasted on mismanagement, political patronage, and needless lawsuits that waste millions of dollars," he said.
In regard to safety, Oates approached the school board late last year with his wife and two daughters after one of them -- Gigi, a fifth-grade student at Hackensack Middle School -- fell victim to harassment a fellow student who she claimed choked her in the hallway, prompting her to wear a whistle to school to alert bullies to keep their distance. Since the incident, Gigi informed her mother that she no longer felt safe attending school and said her friends -- who also attested to similar treatment -- stood by her in solidarity to wear the whistles.
Gigi’s story grew from a hyperlocal story, first reported by TAPinto Hackensack, before it garnered mass appeal from major news outlets from CBS to The New York Post. At a school board meeting in December, Oates told the board that while he praised working with the city fire department and likened his Hackensack residence to “The American Dream,” he expressed his displeasure with how the district handled the repeated misbehavior by his daughter’s oppressor, who he felt was not properly penalized the first time following the board’s failure to file a Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) report against the young man to prevent such incidents from recurring.
“As a parent, you have a choice to make," said Oates to the board at the December meeting. "Do you run, go somewhere else, pray it doesn’t happen somewhere else, or do you stay and make it better? We are going to choose to stay here and make it better. We don’t run and hide. We stay and fight.”
The third father, Chris Coleman, an attorney by trade with three children in the district, is also running on the premise of safety concerns, claiming that “not enough has changed” at Fairmount School since his wife was a student there decades ago. “Too many of our schools are overcrowded and in unsatisfactory condition,” he said. “There are serious safety issues that are being ignored and parents are not being fully informed.”
While The Three Dads credit teachers for their “excellent job,” they claim that the school district has suffered from “mismanagement” and a “lack of leadership” at the administrative level, a void they say they hope to fill if elected in seven weeks.