LIVINGSTON, NJ – Come November, Livingston residents will be tasked with selecting the individuals who will fill the two open seats on the Livingston Board of Education.
As of Monday’s deadline to file for candidacy, there are three newcomers and one incumbent vying for spots: current board member Samantha Messer and newcomers Seth Cohen, Sasha Pailet Koff and Alyse Berger Heilpern. Board member George Shen will not be running for re-election in November.
See below to learn more about each of the 2019 school board candidates.
About Seth Cohen:
Cohen, a Livingston resident since 2005, is an active member of the both the district community and the community at large. He can often be found on the sidelines coaching in Livingston’s in-town soccer, flag football and baseball programs and is a frequent and consistent volunteer at school events, even serving as event chair when called upon
Cohen is the founder of Maya’s Rainbow Foundation, which he began in 2016 in honor of his daughter, Maya, who passed away when she was a kindergartener at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School. He is also the proud parent of a middle school student and a one-year-old future Livingston Lancer.
“I am proud of the commitment I have made to our community,” said Cohen. “Whether it be the lessons of sportsmanship and teamwork learned on the field, the importance of volunteerism or setting an example for how to face adversity, I am proud of the positive influence I have imparted to the kids in our community.
“My greatest sense of accomplishment comes from the impact my foundation has had on children in Livingston and the surrounding communities. Together with JCC Metrowest, my foundation has created art spaces and an art education program that teaches young children to explore the power of their own creativity. It is such an honor to see the pride these kids have in their work and knowing I created all this in my daughter’s memory is beyond humbling.”
Cohen is currently the Director of Business Insights and Analytics for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. His expertise is in finding common ground amongst disparate constituents and turning that insight into actionable and innovative ideas.
Additionally, Cohen currently sits on a pharmaceutical industry group strategic council and regularly coaches and mentors young professionals. Prior to his current career, he worked in information technology (IT), developing large-scale information systems across a number of industries.
Cohen holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Indiana University in Marketing and Computer Information System as well as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in Marketing and Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Pittsburgh.
“My work in business insights provides me the opportunity to deeply appreciate people's varying emotions, experiences and needs,” said Cohen. “And it is my responsibility to ensure their collective voice is represented in the decisions my organization makes.
“Through my work, I have learned the art of asking strong questions, the meaningfulness of listening with empathy and the power of applying creative solutions to meet people’s needs. It is these skills as well as my background in understanding the impact of technology that I know will be a real asset to our children, educators, community and, of course, our board.”
In sharing his enthusiasm about “the opportunity that sits before our community with this year’s board of education election,” Cohen said he looks forward to sharing more about himself with the community and to listening the community’s aspirations for the school board.
About Samantha Messer:
Messer is running for re-election to the Livingston Board of Education after learning “a tremendous amount” about Livingston’s schools, staff and community during her first term. Stating that she and her husband, Alan, consistently find new reasons to be proud of raising their family in Livingston, Messer said it would be “an honor to continue to serve.”
“My love of learning began when I was young and persists today,” said Messer. “As an educator, ‘summer reading’ is an important tradition. This summer, I read ‘A Long Walk to Freedom,’ the autobiography of one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s words about perseverance and ‘thinking big’ have always resonated with me.
“I also identify with Mandela’s quotation, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ I built my career in education because I believe it is the best way I can contribute to society.”
Messer currently serves as Chief of Staff for Uncommon Schools. Prior to this role, she was the Executive Director of Literacy at Newark Public Schools.
She began her career teaching at Stuyvesant High School and went on to be a teacher and administrator at The Churchill School, The Chapin School and Prep for Prep. Additionally, Messer worked at an education consulting firm, The Achievement Network and an educational technology company, LearnZillion.
Prior to moving to Livingston, Messer served as director of The Washington D.C. Collaborative, where she led professional development for more than 200 teachers.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in Secondary Social Studies Education from NYU and a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from Harvard. Messer has also completed graduate coursework in Educational Technology at Columbia University.
“I am committed to ensuring all students have positive feelings toward school,” said Messer. “As I embark on this campaign, I take with me another of Mandela’s quotations: ‘A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.’
“I hope to earn your vote by sharing my views and letting you get to know me, as a person. I am going to lead this campaign with my heart so my kids will be proud of their mom.”
Messer said that during the fall, she intends to invite the community into her home for “fireside chats” and make herself available in other ways to allow members of the public so speak with her directly about any issues. She also said she will use social media as “a positive tool to promote democracy.”
About Sasha Pailet Koff:
Sasha Pailet Koff currently serves as the chair of the Livingston Municipal Alliance Committee (LMAC), a township council-appointed committee for the prevention of drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse among local youth. She is also a board member of the Bruce J. Heim Foundation scholarship fund; serves on the The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest Camp Scholarship Committee; and advises for the Congregation Agudath Israel Sisterhood.
Pailet Koff holds an MBA from Columbia University, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from The George Washington University and is also a CPA, CGMA and PMP. She currently serves as Senior Director of Strategy & Innovation for Johnson & Johnson’s global supply chain, where she is responsible for global digital innovation efforts.
As the mother of two Livingston students—one in elementary school and one in middle school—Pailet Koff is an active follower of the Livingston Board of Education. She has been regularly attending board meetings for the past few years and interacting with board members on a host of school issues.
She is also a community advocate who has engaged with elected county and state officials to address school funding and financing solutions and to advocate for local schools.
When not at work or lending her time to the community, Pailet Koff can be found with family and friends reading, hiking, biking and enjoying music and the arts in and around town.
Previously, Sasha has been a parent volunteer in the Girl Scouts; a leader in the Arthur Borinsky Young Leadership Program; a member of the Allocations Committee for Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest; Sisterhood President of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell; and a representative for the School of Engineering and Applied Science to the George Washington University Alumni Association.
About Alyse Berger Heilpern:
Berger Heilpern, a mother of two daughters in Livingston’s elementary and middle schools, is an executive board member of the Hillside Elementary School PTA. For four years, she served on the district’s Special Education Parents Advisory Committee, collaborating with district administrators and educators to represent the unique needs of families with special education students.
Currently, Berger Heilpern serves as secretary of the Livingston Inclusion and Diversity Committee, a townwide committee to promote awareness and acceptance of all community members, and a member of Temple Beth Shalom’s board of education as well as its inclusion committee. She previously served as chair of the temple’s Family Program Committee.
At L’Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini, LLP in East Hanover, where Berger Heilpern is a practicing attorney, she primarily on complex civil litigation with an emphasis in defense of professionals. She is also a Sunday religious school teacher at Pinebrook Jewish Center and has taught religious school since 1999.
Berger Heilpern received her Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2000. Following law school, she served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Stephen E. Mochary and the Honorable Arthur Minuskin in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County from 2000-2001. She received her undergraduate degree from Binghamton University in 1997.