SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Chris Sabin was appointed to the South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education on July 12, chosen by the board members to complete the last six months of the term vacated by Kamaljit Kaur Zubieta on May 31. Sabin was chosen by a vote of 6-2; BOE members Elissa Malespina and Johanna Wright cast the opposing votes. Sabin previously served on the board from 2016 to 2019.
He will be the third person to sit in this seat since the term began; Javier Farfan was elected in November 2018 and resigned a year into his term in January 2020. Zubieta was selected to replace Farfan in February 2020 and ran unopposed in the November election to complete the term. She resigned six months later due to her “conscience” and what she called “cliquish behavior” on the board.
In addition to Sabin, four other candidates applied to be selected for the board. They were Qawi Telesford, Arun Vadlamani, Kaitlin Wittleder and Anthony Mazzocchi. Each candidate was given five minutes to make an opening statement before taking questions from BOE members.
Mazzocchi, a graduate of Columbia High School, is the former director of fine arts in the district and currently works at Montclair State University as the director of the Cali School of Music. Mazzocchi has also served on the BOE before, elected in 2017 and ending his single three-year term earlier this year without running for reelection.
Telesford also grew up in the district; a South Orange native, he went to Clinton Elementary School, South Orange Middle School and CHS. He has a doctorate in biomedical engineering from a joint program at Wake Forest University and Virginia Tech; his bachelor’s degree is from Rutgers University and his master’s degree is from Columbia University. Telesford credited Ben Hershfield, a CHS chemistry teacher who retired this year, as one of the main influences leading to his Ph.D.
Vadlamani is a chemical engineer who currently works on Wall Street building algorithmic engines. His older daughter will be a sophomore at CHS in the fall and his younger daughter will be in sixth grade at SOMS. He has worked with educational nonprofits in the United States and in India, where he grew up.
A five-year resident of Maplewood, Wittleder works in finance and business development. She has worked in the nonprofit sector building partnerships and lines of revenue. She said her experience would benefit her on the BOE, as she has worked with communities before to identify their needs.
When he spoke, Sabin said he is not planning on running for a new term on the board in the fall. He also graduated from the district and his mother previously served on the BOE.
“I understand the challenges of governing in this community, I understand the uniqueness of this community, and I believe I bring the skill of bringing people together,” Sabin said. “I will continue to ask questions and try to bring people together. I’m looking to help bring perspective and make sure that we have all perspectives and all points of view being looked at and heard.”
Several questions from the BOE involved teamwork and abilities to work on a committee; when he was on the BOE, Sabin was on the Personnel and Finance committees.
“It was very important that we communicated and reached out and had conversations with each other,” Sabin said, referring to the transition from former Superintendent John Ramos to former interim Superintendent Thomas Ficarra, which took place while Sabin was on the board. “With that experience we were able to identify the right person for the job at that time, to help bring us to where we are right now.”
After an hour-long executive session in which the BOE members discussed the candidates, Sabin and Mazzocchi were both nominated to fill the seat. The members did not vote on Mazzocchi’s nomination, as Sabin was nominated first and had already won the majority of votes.
Sabin was sworn in at the meeting and will serve until the term expires in January 2022.