SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD -- Local residents Elissa Malespina, Marian Raab and Shannel Roberts announced on Monday, July 27, their joint campaign for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education.

“We are excited and proud to be running for the Board of Education,” said Malespina. “Our school district has so many good things going for it -- talented students, amazing teachers and parents who are passionate about their children’s education. South Orange-Maplewood used to be a district looked to as a model of what to do right. Unfortunately, now we have been cited as a model of what to NOT to do, despite the many great things going on in our community.”

Raab agreed, adding: “Our district is at a crossroads right now and we have no room for error. With a new superintendent starting at Academy Street and critical safety and security issues still unresolved, we must do better at communicating with and supporting students, teachers as well as the parent community.”

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Safety and security of students and teachers will be a top priority for the candidates.  

“No student or teacher should ever feel unsafe in our schools,” Roberts said. “We will work closely with administration to make sure that they have the tools and resources to make that a possibility. We need to be proactive in our approach to discipline and look for ways to work with students, be it conflict resolution, restorative justice or counseling to reduce the number of children who are repeat offenders.”

Malespina noted that in addition to safety and security, communication will be another key issue in their joint campaign.

“No parent should ever have to write emails that go unanswered or spend hours trying to navigate the district’s phone system and website to reach a teacher or administrator,” she said. “Let’s cut the bureaucracy and get back to the basics! No one should ever have to go to a board meeting and speak their mind during the ‘public speaks’ portion only to get no response from administration or board of education members. No one should be subject to BOE meeting that last until midnight or past 1:00 in the morning.”

If elected, Malespina, Raab and Roberts will work to revamp district communication as well as the structure and scheduling of board meetings.

“We need to have two board meetings a month like almost all of our surrounding districts,” Raab said. “The board cannot effectively govern if meetings start 30 to 60 minutes late and then stretch into the next day. This spring, the board voted to eliminate the International Baccalaureate program at nearly 1:00 a.m. Two board meetings will help ensure that vital decisions are made when the community is awake and aware of what’s going on.”

The three candidates will also work to revamp how the “public speaks” portion of the board meeting works.

“Parents deserve a timely response and answers to their questions,” Malespina said. “Student voice is also very important to us, we want to hear from them since they are the ones that we are ultimately doing all of this for. At one board meeting a month, we would like to highlight a different school and invite students from that school to address the board first during ‘public speaks’ about their concerns, issues and accomplishments.”

High property taxes and the district’s looming budget deficit will be a top priority for Malespina, Raab and Roberts if they are elected.

“We’ve got to put some common sense back into our school budget,” Raab said. “For instance, had the board listened to the many parents and teachers who spoke up against IB years ago we would have not wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours on a failed experiment,” Malespina added.

“It is unacceptable that we pay such high property taxes in our two towns while cutting so many important services and programs that our students need,” Roberts said.

If elected, Malespina, Raab and Roberts will work closely with our state Assembly and Senate representatives to advocate for increased school funding from the state and explore all other avenues -- such as federal and other grant programs -- to help our cash-strapped district.

“We also need to work closely with other New Jersey school districts to advocate for increased school funding in Trenton while continuing to look for all the responsible cost savings we can find in-house,” Malespina added.

Providing more access and equity in our schools while closing the achievement gap will be another key issue in this campaign.

“When black students outnumber white students at CHS but comprise only 21% of the population of students in advanced placement (AP) courses at Columbia, we have a problem,” Roberts noted. “We must provide all students with access to higher level courses not only at the high school level but also in middle schools. Placement in 6th grade math should not determine a student’s future ability to take advanced courses in high school and future college admissions. We also must look at ways to improve our complicated and confusing math placement system and curriculum and bring back the ‘Contract for Choice,’ which would give parents and students a stronger role in math placement.”

Malespina, Raab and Roberts will publish their full platform in the coming weeks at soma2015.com.

The candidates can be reached by calling 973-913-4877 and have a Facebook page -- SOMA 2015. They can also be followed on twitter @somaboe2015 and Instagram at somaboe2015.

Meet the Candidates:

Elissa Malespina has been an educator since 1998, and for nine years was a school librarian in the South Orange/Maplewood school district, first at Columbia H.S. and then at South Orange Middle School.

Currently the Supervisor of Education Technology, 6-12 STEM and Professional Development for the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, Elissa won the 2014 Bammy Award given by the Academy of Arts and Education for School Librarian of the year.

A nationally recognized educational speaker, trainer and presenter who has been featured on NPR and numerous magazines and blog posts, Elissa recently worked with Sage Consulting Group where she helped to address achievement gap issues in the South Orange-Maplewood schools. She has also consulted with the school district on communication issues.

Having lived in South Orange for over two decades, Elissa has been active in the community as a volunteer at numerous town events including Celebrate South Orange, Village Beautification, National Night Out and more. She was also a trustee for the South Orange Public Library and is a co-founder of South Orange/ Maplewood Parents for Quality Education.

Elissa is married to Joseph Malespina, a life-long resident of South Orange and a 1994 graduate of Columbia High School. Their son Matthew is a rising 7th grader at South Orange Middle School.

Marian Raab is a non-practicing attorney who has been working as a financial and legal journalism for more than 20 years. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of Credit Union Journal, a weekly financial newspaper, and currently works as a freelance editor/writer. Marian was previously Managing Editor of Financial Executive magazine and Associate Editor of the New Jersey Law Journal.

A 14-year resident of the Tuscan neighborhood in Maplewood, Marian has been active in township community affairs and politics. She was elected to the Maplewood Democratic Committee twice, serving as a Democratic District Leader. Marian is also a local organizer for Save our Schools New Jersey, a nonpartisan, grassroots, volunteer organization of parents and other public education supporters and is a co-founder of South Orange/ Maplewood Parents for Quality Education.

She led the opposition to the second application of Hua Mei, the “boutique” Mandarin-immersion charter school that attempted to open twice in Maplewood. (Former district Superintendent Brian Osborne estimated that if Hua Mei had been approved, the district would have had to set aside about $500,000 to fund its first year.)

A long-time member of the Tuscan Elementary School PTA, Marian is the former chairperson of the school’s Safety Committee and where she worked closely with the Maplewood Police Department and township government to improve driving and pedestrian sidewalk conditions in front of the school.

Marian is married to Matthew Goldstein and has two boys in the public schools—William, a rising 7th grader at Maplewood Middle School; and Ethan, a rising 3rd grader at Tuscan.

Shannel Roberts is the Executive Assistant to the CEO and Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey.

A 10-year resident of Maplewood’s Hilton neighborhood, Roberts is actively involved at St. John’s Community Baptist Church in Newark, and is a former member of the NAACP Education Committee serving the Oranges and Maplewood.

Shannel founded the Essex County Chapter of Little Sistahs in the Know Inc., a literacy program geared toward boosting the self-esteem and positive self-image in young black girls. She organized a career fair at Hilton Library that invited professional women of color and entrepreneurs to demonstrate to the girls the endless possibilities for achievement.

She also co-founded R.O.S.E.S., an afterschool leadership and peer mentorship program to raise self-esteem and promote academic excellence through community service.  She serves on the board of WOFABE, which is the largest African Dance and Drum festival in New Jersey. WOFABE will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary at the NJPAC in November.

Shannel is a passionate supporter of cultural arts and education with a focus on dance, music, and leadership. She has also been actively involved in the rights of children with special needs as well as tenants’ rights and low-income housing issues. 

She is married to Mike Roberts and a proud parent of Sarai, a rising 11th grader at Columbia High School.