E. Baker, Mazzocchi, R. Baker win seats

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The people have spoken and they have elected incumbent Elizabeth Baker, and challengers Anthony Mazzocchi and Robin Johnson Baker to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Elizabeth Baker, who was coming to the end of her first term on the board, has served as board president for the last two years. Robin Baker is to serve her second three-year term on the board, having served from 1998 to 2001. Mazzocchi has never served on the board before, but has experience in the South Orange-Maplewood School District as the district’s former supervisor of fine arts.

Results remain unofficial until verified by the Essex County clerk, Christopher J. Durkin.

According to the unofficial results, with 97 percent of the votes tallied, Elizabeth Baker led the pack with 5,564 votes, or 20.66 percent; Mazzocchi garnered 5,345 votes, or 19.85 percent; and Robin Baker collected 4,808 votes, or 17.86 percent. Elizabeth Baker and Robin Baker ran a joint campaign.

With only three open seats on the Board of Education, that leaves five candidates off the board. Incumbent Donna Smith came in fourth place with 3,384 votes, or 12.57 percent. Challengers Shannon Cuttle had 3,024 votes, or 11.23 percent; Sheila Shidnia had 1,460 votes, or 5.42 percent; Avery Julien had 1,352 votes, or 5.02 percent; and Felisha George had 1,140 votes, or 4.23 percent. Julien and George, two recent Columbia High School graduates, ran a joint campaign.

Also, though Lucas Calhoun had withdrawn from the BOE race, he did not do so in time to remove his name from the ballot; despite announcing his withdrawal and not campaigning, he received 801 votes, or 2.97 percent.

There were 47 write-in votes.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve been able to maintain a strong majority on the board committed to the success of every child, a dynamic curriculum, and an inclusive and equitable culture,” Elizabeth Baker said in a Tuesday night phone interview.

In the next three years, Elizabeth Baker said, it will be vital to work out the flaws in the Access & Equity policy’s implementation and ensure it is working for every student. She added that the board and the district need to take a hard look at the school facilities, which are currently overcrowded and in disrepair.

“We need to fully implement the Access & Equity policy, not just racially, but with dynamic curriculum and instruction for every child,” she said. “We need to create facilities that are modern and integrated throughout the district.”

Mazzocchi was also pleased with the results of the election, thanking everyone in both towns who supported him.

“I’m so proud to return to the SOMSD to serve our community and our children,” Mazzocchi wrote in an email to the News-Record on Tuesday night.

Moving forward, Mazzocchi wants the district to focus on ensuring that each student is nurtured and supported to succeed. A key step in this process is finding a new superintendent.

“We must be steadfast and work together as a community to find a superintendent and build a system that recognizes, cultivates and celebrates the inherent strength in every single one of our children,” he said. “Educational equality that includes a rich, robust and diverse curriculum must be a priority and I can’t wait to get to work for our kids.”

According to Robin Baker, though she is happy to have won the election, she sees a lot of hard work ahead.

“It’s at a time when we’re at important crossroads in this district,” Robin Baker said in a Tuesday night phone interview. “I’m glad that I’m contributing to a majority on the board that is moving in the right direction.”

With a great deal of work on the horizon, Robin Baker said that the three most important tasks in the coming years, which she said interplay with one another, are creating a better communications framework, fully implementing the Access & Equity policy, and creating a good capital plan that the district will then act on.

“With Access & Equity, there is a legal mandate for us to get it done and a moral imperative,” she said.

As for communication, Robin Baker said she wants to ensure stakeholders remain informed and receive timely responses to concerns and questions. With facilities, she would like to see the district breaking ground on new structures by the end of her upcoming three-year term on the board.

Lastly, Robin Baker congratulated her fellow winners and thanked each and every candidate for showing such dedication to the schools and children in the district. In addition to congratulating her fellow winners, Elizabeth Baker thanked Smith for her work on the board these past three years, saying that her fellow board member has a strong record and work ethic.