(Editor’s Note: TAPinto South Plainfield will be running featuring articles on Keith Both, Pio Pennisi, and Stephanie Wolak, the three newly-elected members of the South Plainfield Board of Education. Articles will be published in alphabetical order. Please note these exclusive interviews are property of TAPinto and can not be share or republished without the consent of TAPinto)

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On Election Day 2017, residents Keith Both, Pio Pennisi and Stephanie Wolak each secured a three-year term on the South Plainfield Board of Education (BOE), defeating four other candidates – including the three incumbents. All three newly elected BOE members will take their seats at the dais following the BOE’s January 2018 reorganization meeting.

Earlier this month, Both garnered 1,535 votes to win his first-ever bid for the BOE and told TAPinto South Plainfield that he is ‘very excited about being elected to the board and representing the citizens of South Plainfield.’ However, Both admitted it took a few days for the realization that he won the election to sink in.

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“I went to bed on Tuesday night knowing there were still votes unaccounted for. Even on Wednesday when it became official, my ‘to do’ list was a mile long, and I was just able to start thanking people on Wednesday evening,” Both said, adding, “I cannot express my appreciation enough. All the support received was overwhelming…”

Both, a 1989 graduate of Piscataway High School and a 1993 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), is employed in the maritime transportation and logistics field, currently as the managing director of CPC, a division of Norton Lilly International. He also serves as a strategic sealift officer with the U.S. Navy Reserves. On a local front, Both volunteers with the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, the South Plainfield Junior Baseball Club (SPJBC), the Wrestling Club, and ATA Karate. He and his wife, Michele, are parents to four boys, Patrick, Kyle, Cameron, and Jacob. The Boths run the annual Buddy Walk of South Plainfield and he also currently serves as co-chairman of the school district’s Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC).

In the weeks leading up to the election, Both said he re-prioritized some of his initial goals as well as added new ones. He believes ‘more has to be done for the graduating seniors not going on to college.’ “I have been accused of having a hidden agenda. I guess having the desire to see everyone one of our graduates getting an opportunity to succeed is it,” he said.

Both also hopes he can do more to address the issues concerning bullying and the growing opioid epidemic. “We have to continue the conversations about the opioid epidemic and continue to pound home the negative impact this has on an addict and their family,” he said.

However, the father of four boys – including two with ADHD, another with Down Syndrome, and one who is typical – said addressing special education is ‘first and foremost’ on his to-do list. “I have spoken to a handful of parents who are telling me they are being refused services,” he said. “How is this possible? Maybe they are not saying the right thing or following up accordingly? Is the district out right telling them no and is this the standard response?”

Although special education interests have been represented on the BOE in the past, Both said that as a member of the board he will work to ensure that ‘those voices will be and can be that much stronger.’  

“The Special Education community, while having a voice before, now has a much bigger voice. Let’s use that voice and get answers. Let’s look at the systemic issues that concern parents and citizens and address these,” Both said.

As a member of the BOE, Both said plans to look into ways to bring special education students who attend other district public schools back to South Plainfield. Doing so, he feels, will not only help the district recover out-of-pocket tuition and transportation costs but also enable local students to return to their home district.

“Imagine if we could turn our district into ‘that district’ - the district others send their special education students to. We could develop that concept into a much-needed source of revenue, without impacting the taxpayer’s wallet,” said Both.

While he is eager to being looking to ways to address the aforementioned issues, Both said he understands that there is a ‘balance with services provided and the budget’ he will need to learn more about and promises his ‘approach will not be that of a charging bull.’

“For those that know me, I am not afraid to voice my opinion. I will not shy away from what needs to be done right, morally and ethically. But I also understand I am new, which means sitting back some, absorbing the knowledge around me and building my foundation for what I hope is a multi-term tenure on the board…” Both said.

Overall, Both said he is looking forward to serving on the BOE and working closely with his fellow members and residents of the community. “Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure of talking with many of the current BOE members… There are many that I share common concerns with and the desire to improve certain aspects of the system. For the others, like in any operation or setting, you will have to find a positive common ground to work together,” said Both, adding, “There are some big shoes to fill from our departing BOE members and I am up for the challenge.”

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