WEST ORANGE, NJ — Meet Cheryl Merklinger, a candidate running for the West Orange Board of Education on Nov. 6.

A project manager who has lived in West Orange her entire life, Merklinger is a Rutgers University graduate who attended Gregory and Roosevelt schools in West orange before graduating from Mount Saint Dominic Academy. Merklinger's husband Rob is a middle school teacher in another district, and her son Andrew attended St. Cloud and Edison schools and now attends Roosevelt Middle School in West Orange.

Q: Why are you running for board of education?

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A: I grew up in West Orange. I was fortunate enough to have parents and a family who were very active in this community – volunteering, coaching, car-pooling, etc. Their dedication to the community and concept of “giving back” were instilled in me at an early age and have inspired me to follow in their footsteps.

As an adult, I volunteer my time with the WO PAL, WO Rec. Dept., Mountain Top League, and various West Orange School programs. My goal is simple – to provide opportunities for young boys and girls in town to thrive by creating first-class sports programs that ultimately promote health & wellness, strong academics, acceptance of everyone, and a feeling of family and community.

These core values have inspired me to take my volunteering to the next level and run for a seat on the Board of Education in my hometown. We need fresh ideas. We need positivity. We need fiscal responsibility, and we need to lead by example. There are important issues to be addressed. Through transparency, open communication, community feedback, and applicable resources, I will work with all involved to ensure that our students, teachers, administrators, and community continue to thrive and excel.      

Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job?  What qualifies you for it?

A: I’m lucky to say that I’ve worked for the same corporation for the last seventeen years. My commitment and loyalty to my company, Prudential, has given me the ability to take on large & new projects and see them through to completion. During my tenure at Prudential, I’ve managed large teams in various capacities that have allowed me to both lead and learn through communication and training. I’ve been responsible for recruiting strong talent, educating and providing guidance and coaching to allow them to grow in their own professional careers. Within all of my various management roles, I’ve been responsible for overseeing budgets for several large cap clients and business units to ensure smart spending and balanced overhead.

I’ve also had the good fortune of leading multiple corporate programs and annual conferences with local/regional high schools and colleges/universities that provide students with a series of educational courses, trainings, seminars, and real-life experiences to prepare them for interviews, internships, and real-world work scenarios.

For the past seven years, I’ve been a WO PAL Board Member responsible for budgeting, researching, identifying, marketing, and implementing inclusive sports programs for the West Orange community. I’ve led fundraising efforts to raise thousands of dollars for youth sports in West Orange and worked closely with West Orange High School coaches to create an innovative feeder program to help boost our strong athletics program. During my son’s time in elementary and Edison Central 6, I was an active member of both PTAs, a classroom mom, and a parent representative on the Honors committee for the district. In working with PAL, I have been involved with our young athletes and spend much of my time at the various schools and fields in town supporting them.

My leadership roles as a mom, on the field, and in a corporate setting, have prepared me to expand my scope of impact beyond my home, my athletes, and my office to include our student’s overall well-being. Through a well-rounded and evolving curriculum, we will meet the needs of all students, challenge their minds, and give them a competitive advantage to succeed in life. I believe in doing things right the first time, which means taking the time to understand the root cause of an issue, and then taking steps to resolve it. My connection to the West Orange Community, knowing our first responders, our teachers, families, and the history of West Orange will help guide me in making positive decisions for our West Orange School district to keep moving forward.

Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?

A: Regarding our current BOE communication issues, leading by example is key here in West Orange. We must work past any and all negativity by focusing on the positive while continuing to work together to bridge the gap between our community and BOE ensuring that we have the right environment for teachers to teach, students to learn, and the community to thrive.  I would consider introducing “Office Hours with the BOE” as a means for facilitating more conversation between the community members and BOE and “Coffee Chats” with the facility so they have an informal forum to discuss their concerns as well as the positives within the WO School District. Through transparency, open communication, community feedback, and applicable resources, I will work with ALL stakeholders to ensure that our students, teachers, administrators, and community continue to excel.

Here in West Orange, taxes and budgeting are an important topic that will play a significant role in this year’s election. I will use the skills I’ve obtained in my 17-plus years in the corporate world in managing large budgets to lean in and ensure every dollar of the Board of Education budget is being spent efficiently & effectively. My experience in recruitment & hiring, a necessary trait, will be pertinent in our search for a new superintendent. As I mentioned in the first Council of PTA’s debate, I’d like to look into a grant writer or taping into a shared service of utilizing the Town grant writer to look at ways we can bring revenue into the WO school district. I’d also like to utilize our sponsorship policy to see where our schools can gain additional revenue through corporate and local sponsorships. This will allow everyone from our incoming preschoolers at the Betty Maddalena Preschool to our seniors who may have graduated from Mountain High back in the “good old days” to enjoy all that our schools and community have to offer.

Q: What qualities would you look for in a permanent Superintendent?

A; The search for a new Superintendent will be a task I would welcome as part of the WO BOE. It is going to take time. As part of the process, we will need to look at the vetting process: do we keep the search in house, use School Boards, or do we interview private search firms to assist with the process? I would look for community input on this as well as the criteria they would like to see in a new SI. As a recruiting, understanding the needs of your client is key to finding the right fit. For the new SI, I believe we need someone who has experience in all levels of education: elementary, secondary, and high school.

West Orange is a large district which means we will need someone who as the minimum has high school experience. In addition, it would wonderful to have a candidate that has experience with a special needs curriculum. I would also look for someone who is personable with relationship management skills. We need a superintendent that has a clear, concise, and actionable vision for the district and someone who will be consistent in their execution of those goals. The candidate should be open to working with the faculty and teachers – relating to their needs and listening to what they have to say rather than being reactionary. The new SI will need to be responsive, respectful, and have the ability to communicate with staff, students, and the community as a whole.

Q: Apart from running for office, in what other ways are you involved in the town?

A: Growing up in West Orange, I was involved with the West Orange Recreation, the PAL, and the Mountaintop League (MTL) in various capacities: volunteering, summer jobs, and playing soccer and softball, and the swim team. As an adult I have participated in various community events and fundraiders, such as the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Food Truck festival, WOHS pep rallies, WOHS Homecoming, etc. My pride and joy comes from volunteering with our young athletes. While I don’t have a daughter, I volunteered to coach the PAL Cheerleaders as there was a need for coaches. Working with the WOHS coaches, we have developed a curriculum for the cheerleaders to learn so that when they are ready to go to WOHS, they have a solid foundation.

Through the PAL, I have assisted in overseeing the Travel Baseball program and Football programs. The goal is to ensure our young athletes have the fundamentals they need to compete in WOHS. We work with the WOHS coaches and players to get all kids involved and feel a part of the WOHS community. We encourage the players in the PAL program to attend WOHS fundraisers and pep rallies, and likewise, the WOHS players attend practices and work with the younger athletes. I am a dedicated hard worker who puts our children first and wants to see each child succeed. My goal has been to provide a pipeline of talent from an early age, developing fundamentals, that will transfer to competitive play for WOHS. I also write a column for Tap Into West Orange which highlights our youth sports programs, “West Orange on Thre."

I have also worked with the Town Council to recognize our young athletes when they achieve championships and coordinate PAL events to align with other town events such as the Downtown Alliance Street Fair. One of the great things about West Orange is how many residents come back to the service field – whether as part of our WOPD, WOFD, volunteering with the Rec, MTL, and PAL, etc. It’s a great town and one I am proud to call home.