MAPLEWOOD, NJ — With the election results due to be certified imminently by the Essex County Clerk's Office, the Maplewood South Orange Board of Education race has been decided by a narrow margin. 

Susan Lewis Bergin and Courtney Winkfield, who ran as a team, garnered the most votes in their bid for three year terms at 11,321 and 11,085 votes respectively. Elissa Malespina, with 8,713 votes, edged out Deborah Engel by 276 votes to earn her seat at the horseshoe table as well. Kamal Zubieta ran unopposed for the unexpired one-year term.

"We are grateful for the trust our neighbors have shown in us with their votes and are humbled to have the opportunity to serve our community on the Board of Education next year. We look forward to working with our fellow Board members to support the work of our District and our incredible students," posted Bergin and Winkfield on their Facebook page. 

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"While we celebrate the outcome of this election, we want to take a moment to thank our incredible campaign volunteers, especially our brilliant Campaign Committee Co-Chairs Rhea Mokund Beck and Rachel Fisher. Your tireless support, passion and creativity embodied the Collaborate, Belong, Thrive message. We share this with each of you and could not be more grateful for all your thoughtful and generous work over the past few months."

Elissa Malespina issued the following statement upon her win:

I am proud and pleased to have received the confidence of voters in South Orange and Maplewood to serve on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Despite facing some candidates with far greater resources, my campaign was a grassroots effort aimed at changing the narrative about our public schools and our community. I want to thank every resident that cast a vote for me and assure those that did not, that I will represent the school district in an ethical, truthful, transparent and forthright manner. 

My purpose in seeking election to the Board of Education is to help elevate the quality of education all of our children receive and to bring special attention to student populations, such as Black students, our special needs students and our LGBQT+ students, that are often unrepresented, unheard, and dismissed. My sole interest is in reclaiming our school district as a unique environment where the talents, hopes and aspirations of children will be supported and celebrated. 

One of my priorities will be to engage on issues focused on closing our unacceptable achievement gap between White and Black students, and making sure the terms of the historic settlement agreement between the District and the Black Parents Workshop are met and fulfilled. I will also make it a top priority that district library services are of the highest quality and that resources are available in all of our school libraries that will aid students in their academic pursuits and teachers in their daily instruction. 

I intend to be a Board member that demands fiscal responsibility and supports our teachers and culturally respectful pedagogy. Our teachers are the lifeblood of our district, and as we demand a level of excellence from them in the classroom, we must reciprocate by offering respectful salaries and real opportunities for professional development.

Finally, I want to state emphatically that I will work to end the cliquish nature of local School  Board politics. We must work together as a community for our children, and that means setting aside pettiness, social media attacks and innuendo, and dividing ourselves into warring camps. We are one community and as adults we must find ways to collaborate and compromise to give our children the best education possible. This I believe is our united mission and my personal commitment. Thank you again for your support.  




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