This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on Livingston Board of Education Candidates. All candidates will be featured individually during the week leading up to the November 2019 election.
LIVINGSTON, NJ — Meet Seth Cohen, a Livingston resident vying for one of two open seats on the Livingston Board of Education.
Born and raised in Dix Hills, NY, Cohen attended the Half Hollow Hills school district before graduating from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Science degree in both Marketing & Computer Information Systems. He then attended University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, graduating with a MBA in Marketing and a Master of Science degree in Management Information Systems.
In addition to serving as Director of Business Insights and Analytics for Novartis Oncology, Cohen is also the Founder & Loving Dad of Maya’s Rainbow Foundation. His daughter, Maya, was in kindergarten at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School when she passed away in December 2015. She and her love of art are the inspiration for Maya’s Rainbow Foundation, which helps non-profit pre-schools to provide funding for children's art programming
Cohen and his wife, Lauren, also have a son at Mt. Pleasant Middle School and a daughter who will be 20 months old on Election Day. He and Lauren, who moved to Livingston in 2005, will celebrate their 15th anniversary the next day.
Q: Why are you running for board of education?
A: I am a natural optimist. It is always who I have been, even with everything my family and I have been through. So, the reason I’m running for the Board of Education is not because I’m against something, or I see an issue or I disagree with existing board members. Rather, my reason for running for the Board of Education is because I see an opportunity to help our community and our schools continue to succeed now and into the future.
First, I see an opportunity for our district to better engage the community and raise up the voices of those that feel unheard. I have built my career on listening to people and ensuring their stories are told and, more importantly, those stories are used in my organization’s decision making. It is a skill I have honed over the course of my career and one I believe would add value to our existing board.
Additionally, I see an opportunity to bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to our board and its debate and dialog. While I have great respect and admiration for our existing board members, if I were to have one issue, it would be that they always seem to work in lockstep with one another. My challenge with that is the lack of debate is not good for our community and schools. The absence of debate can create groupthink whose product can often be stagnation. As an independent candidate, who is not part of any existing alliances between candidates or board members, I bring with me the ability to see issues from different perspectives, which will only enhance our board’s dialog. It’s important to understand, my desire for independent thinking and debate is not for the purposes of disagreement and negative relationships. Rather, it is to ensure our community has the best solutions and policy brought forward by our board of education.
Lastly, I see an opportunity to strengthen the way our board makes decisions. I have built a career ensuring facts and information guide decision-making. For these reasons, I have proposed modifying our curriculum policy to set forth the criteria for which new educational ideas are tested. The creation of a policy for piloting programs will provide the district and board the objective measures on whether an idea should be implemented broadly. Further, the need for improved data and information is why I have proposed adopting an academic return on investment (aROI) model for budgeting. This model of budgeting ensures we can evaluate whether the money we are investing in particular programs is having the intended impact, which is critical for any fiscally responsible organization.
What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: Our children are telling us they are stressed. The rate of anxiety and depression in our teens is rising. Teen suicide rates are at the highest point in nearly two decades. These increased stressors are correlated with the same rises in the use of nicotine, drugs and alcohol in our youth. And Livingston is not immune to this. For that reason, the most important issue in this board of education election is the mental health of our children.
Since beginning my campaign, I have spoken with child psychologists, school guidance counselors, teachers and parents and the one thing that is a universal concern is our children’s mental health. It is an issue that towns across this country are struggling with and working towards its solution is my absolute priority. I have lost a child to an unfortunate medical issue that nobody could do anything about. But, we can do something about this.
I want our community, at the start of every school year, to take a mental health pledge. It is through symbolic moments, like this, that we begin to create a culture where this community recognizes the mental health needs of everyone and pledges to support one another. In the absence of a supportive culture, we will have difficulty making other efforts, programs and curriculum successful.
From a board of education perspective, I will work with our district leadership to ensure they have the resources necessary to implement the programs they believe are required to help our kids. Further, as an elected official, I will ask the questions and challenge the district to ensure it is doing everything it can to meet its goals around social-emotional learning and engaging the community in these efforts.
Q: Tell us about your other career and/or other ways you are involved in the community.
A: I always jokingly tell people I have three careers. My first and most important is my job as Dad. I’m no different than a lot of people in our town. I simply love being with my kids. It’s that love that propelled me to volunteer to coach every sport my son has played and to volunteer at school as often as I could. I’m proud of that service to our community because it directly affects the kids of our town.
My main career, of course, is my work for Novartis Oncology as Director - Business Insights and Analytics. It’s a job I love and a career I am incredibly proud of. I love what I do because I have the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of the brands I support because I bring the information, insight and analytics forward that guide my team’s decision making. My favorite part of my job is getting to listen to people to understand how they think and what their life experiences are. It’s an awesome responsibility to have to represent their voices everyday at work and one I take with great seriousness. I believe it is a skill that will transfer well to a role on the board of education because the role of any elected official is to listen and represent the diverse views of their community.
Lastly, my “other” career is running my charity, Maya’s Rainbow Foundation. It is not easy being the parent of a child who has passed away, which is why I have put so much effort into making this foundation successful. I view it as my way of being Maya’s Dad and I am really proud of the work I have done. In just about 4 years, I built a charity that created an art education program, funded the refurbishing of a camp art studio and constructed a brand new outdoor art studio. I came into this with no experience in charitable work and to see how far I’ve come often leaves me breathless. I am also incredibly proud of the relationships and partnerships I have built with JCC Metrowest and their leadership. To be successful, you must have the ability to partner with those that have different ideas and objectives and my charitable work shows my ability to do just that. Of course, none of the success I have had with my charitable career would have been possible without the incredible support of our community. They have supported my family and my charity from the beginning and I am truly grateful for it.
Q: How optimistic are you that the new leadership at Livingston Public Schools will continue to enhance and support the achievements of all students? Please explain.
A: We are truly blessed to have Dr. Block leading our school district. In his short time as part of our community, he has proven to be a strong and capable leader. I commend our current board of education for identifying and hiring such a quality individual.
I am incredibly optimistic that our new leadership will continue to enhance and support the achievements of all students. My optimism is first fueled by the district goals that our new administration has laid forward. You can find a copy here. Specifically, the third goal of building an inclusive culture and the fourth goal focused on social-emotional learning gives me the confidence that our district is prioritizing all of our children. It will be incumbent upon our district leadership to ensure these goals do not merely live on a document, but are brought to life. It will also be incumbent upon our board of education to ensure our district leadership has the resources they need to be successful both in the near-term and for years to come.
I also believe a key method of evaluating leadership is to see how they interact with those they lead. In his short time in our district, we have seen Dr. Block host parent coffees, attend HSA meetings, have fun at Lancer sporting events and, most importantly, spend time listening to our teachers and children. Great leadership doesn’t come from sitting in an office. It comes from directly interacting with people and Dr. Block has exhibited that. This is the building block to success and drives my optimism. I encourage Dr. Block and all LPS leadership to continue.
Lastly, if you need another measure of optimism, just follow Dr. Block (@DocBlockLPS) and Livingston Public Schools (@LivSchools) on Twitter. I am confident you’ll see why I am so optimistic.
Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?
A: I live my life by two personal mottos. They have been with me for some time and guide me in every aspect of my life. The first is “We were not put on this earth to just do for ourselves.” This saying has created my value set. It’s why I care so much about doing the right thing and why I take seriously the role of volunteerism and giving to charity. This is a lesson I have worked hard to instill in my own children.
The second motto is “Never lose touch with your inner child.” This saying drives my optimism and passion for everything I do because it helps me see life with a childlike enthusiasm. Further, this saying has always grounded me and helped me overcome life’s challenges because I try to find the same resiliency that our children have. Of course, this motto helps me with my kids because I love to be silly, goof around with them and just see the world the way they see it. Honestly, there’s nothing I love more.
The only other thing you should know about me is how much I absolutely love the New York Islanders. I am a crazy fan. I have every jersey they’ve ever worn. I have Islanders sneakers. I literally keep my Islanders t-shirts in their own pile in my closet. My favorite place to be is anywhere they are playing, especially the old barn, Nassau Coliseum. So, if you love hockey like I do, let’s chat about that too.