WEST ORANGE, NJ - West Orange Board of Education candidate Laura Lab has the most enviable position in this year's local elections: as an incumbent seeking a third term, she is running unopposed for her own seat. This is the first time in over ten years that a board of education candidate has run unopposed.
Although she is the only name appearing on the Nov. 4 ballot, voters still need to actually vote for Lab, and TAP into West Orange sat down with Lab to discuss her background and issues of import for the long time board member.
Lab's experience in the West Orange school district began in 1997 as a parent, followed by involvement in the West Orange Council of PTAs (WOCPTA). She was a co-founder of PASSE (Parents Advocating Special Services in Education) and remained co-president until her election to the Board of Education in 2008. She has been a Chairperson of the Mayor's Program for Individuals with Disabilities since 1998.
She is a Certificated Board Member and was appointed with ten other board members statewide to the New Jersey School Board Association's Special Education Committee and represents the 27th Legislative District for the NJSBA as well. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network's Parent-Educator Collaboration Award and West Orange Citizen of the Year.
Her childhood was the deeply personal motivator for her ongoing desire to serve on the Board of Education. “Education is the key to success, plain and simple," Lab said.
"I was raised by a single mom who did not graduate high school. It was the early 60’s and my mother worked three jobs at the same time, raised my brothers and myself with the understanding that unlike her we were to get the best education possible so would be in a position to have an easier life than she did."
Lab graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a Masters Degree and says "I am a passionate supporter of education and I want to make sure the children in our community are given every chance to learn and succeed to the best of their ability."
After spending several years learning how to navigate the complex world of education law and requirements, Lab noted, "The process of the education system can be extremely challenging. Boards of Education are constantly trying to find solutions while cognizant of the variables that come into play. There is constant new legislation that must be adhered to, policies that require continual updating, concerns of closing the achievement gap, the never ending enhancement of technology, growing student population, aging infrastructure, maintaining academic rigor, providing a comprehensive education for all students, achieving fair negotiated contracts, crafting budgets that will provide long range planning and short term initiatives, providing professional development all while dealing with the very real issues that 7,200 students, 1,100 employees and approximately 10,000 parents present on a daily basis.”
Some of those issues include the online PARCC testing that students in grades 3-11 will now be taking, replacing the NJ Ask. "There has still been no word from the NJ State Department of Education to give us direction on how we are to proceed. This is an unfunded mandate and while we have budgeted for a lot of it, there is still time and training to be factored in while keeping our yearly budget under a two per cent cap," said Lab.
Lab went on to echo the concerns of the educators, administrators, and teachers in the school district, saying, "will PARCC wind up representing the students' abilities or their ability to take the test?"
Lab said that some of the other district goals include addressing the issues of the trailers that still remain at Redwood, Gregory and Washington Schools and a demographic study of the school district to consider redistricting.
The district, Lab continued, is also committed to improving the consistency of their HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) policies by providing more training to all coaches, volunteers, and teachers. As the www.woboe.org website relaunches the Board also wants to see the names of all Anti-Bullying specialists at each school posted as well as incidence reports. "We're doing well," said Lab, "but we can do better."
When asked about her enviable position in this year's election, Lab said, “Although I am running unopposed I do not take the commitment and obligation of this position lightly."
She continued, "I pride myself in coming to the table prepared. I am an active board member and I can say that without any reservation I give 100 per cent at all times. I am very much looking forward to continuing to serve my community to do my part in preparing West Orange’s children for their future.”