NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Whether Emra Seawood, the city’s school board president, meant the message as a rallying cry to set the tone for her next term is unclear. But the speech she delivered last night will likely go down as her parting words.
Seawood lost her bid for re-election to the board by one vote in yesterday’s contest, which drew 303 of New Brunswick’s 24,691 registered voters to the polls, according to unofficial results provided by the city. Challenger Yesina Medina-Hernandez racked up 156 machine and mail-in votes to Seawood’s 155, meaning the newcomer is set to win the three-year term.
The results aren’t official until the county says so. Incumbents Dale Caldwell and Patricia Valera, meanwhile, each managed to hold their seats for another three years. Diana Solis won a one-year stint, filling the remainder of a term left vacant after a resignation, in an uncontested race.
But last night, April 25, Seawood spoke passionately about perceived challenges facing the U.S. and New Brunswick Public Schools under President Donald Trump. As poll workers prepared for the 8 p.m. closing time, Seawood urged her colleagues to fight for public education, innovation and literacy during a Board of Education meeting.
“In this time of misinformation, alternative facts and the most recent disregard for evidence-based knowledge,” she said, “we need to refocus our efforts. Education is more sorely needed now than ever.”
Much of Seawood’s plea was rooted in her anti-Trump beliefs. She knocked the president for what she called his “disparaging comments regarding minorities” and “hate-filled, anti-immigrant rhetoric.”
She then bashed Betsy DeVos, who leads Trump’s federal Department of Education.
“This administration’s attack on public education has been unrelenting,” Seawood said, “and we fill will increase as the unqualified, misinformed head of the education department will try to achieve the goal of dismantling the public education system.”
From there, the soon-to-be-outgoing board president took on a more optimistic tone, championing the education system and how it has improved individuals and families.
New Brunswick residents must “step up,” she said, by keeping the system afloat and encouraging students to take advantage of their education.
For its part, the city’s school district will work to better its curricula and enhance its teaching, despite limited resources, Seawood said.
She pointed to Cuba—where Superintendent Aubrey Johnson recently visited during a study tour—as a place where unexpected innovation can be found. Selwood touted the impoverished country’s high literacy rates as a source of inspiration for New Brunswick, a largely low-income community in its own right.
To that end, the district should reach out more often to community members, to try to boost literacy in the area, she said.
“I question how much we value—truly value—what we have,” she said. “If so, we will double-down on our efforts to improve.”
The board president ended her speech to applause from the board and several people in the audience. It was a bow of sorts that seems likely to be her last as a New Brunswick school board member, at least for the foreseeable future.