2 incumbents, 5 challengers to run for 3 BOE seats

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — With three open seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, residents of the two towns will choose three of seven candidates to fill out the board in November. Of the seven, two are incumbent BOE members, Johanna Wright and Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad. BOE member Susie Adamson, who has been on the board for one term, is not running for reelection. Candidates running for their first term are Sharon Tanenbaum Kraus, Carey Smith, Narda Chisholm-Greene, Erin Siders and Thair Joshua.

Lawson-Muhammad said she is excited to continue the work she has done already in her two terms on the board if reelected. In an email to the News-Record on Aug. 5, she said, “We’ve streamlined the math program, trained educators in restorative justice and passed a monumental capital improvement plan. Our journey continues. With my experience at the state and local level, I am excited to continue to build the system all of our children deserve.”

Lawson-Muhammad is currently appealing a decision from the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, which said Lawson-Muhammad had violated NJSA 18A:12-24.1(e) and NJSA 18A:12-24.1(f) during a traffic stop on April 27, 2018. As such, the commission recommended that Lawson-Muhammad be suspended from the BOE for six months.

Wright cited her experience as a teacher, coach, volunteer, parent and union representative as reasons she should be reelected in the fall.

“I have a comprehensive overview of what needs to be done; and, I understand it from many perspectives,” Wright said in an email to the News-Record on Aug. 5. “I hope that the residents of South Orange and Maplewood understand and believe that in every decision I make. I have the best interest of the students of this district at the forefront of my decisions. My voting record states this and speaks for itself.”

Wright said the board needs a member who will look at how tax dollars are being spent and is committed to giving students all available resources.

“I am running for a third term because I want to continue advocating on behalf of concerned parents, our community and, most importantly, our students,” Wright said. “I have a reputation of not letting people be abused and I’m not ashamed of it. For me, serving as a member of the school board has always been about acting in the best interest of our children and our community.”

Tanenbaum Kraus has three children either in the district or about to be in the district, and was inspired to run after going through the special education evaluation process with her son. She mentioned that the event that spurred her to kick off her campaign was the district changing paraprofessional vendors.

“My son qualified for special education in the summer of 2018. After going through the evaluation process, placement and school year, I have seen the best of what our district’s special education has to offer. But I have also seen its worst,” Tanenbaum Kraus said in an email to the News-Record on Aug. 1. ““My child’s classroom paras have become an integral part of our team, and to have the administration drop their current contract in favor of a cheaper bid was incredibly short-sighted. Moreover, the lack of communication between the administration and the parents was devastating. At that moment, I knew I needed to be that voice of reason on our school board.”

Chisholm-Greene, who ran for the BOE last year as well, said she would like to continue the progress she saw during her first campaign, but on the board.

“I am truly passionate about taking a stand to make a difference. That journey started with last year’s run which yielded strong results, but no seat on the board. In an effort to advocate and be the voice for all youth, especially those who are not fully represented in our community, I am again running for the board,” she said in an email to the News-Record on Aug. 4. “I have been a resident for over 30 years and I know South Orange and Maplewood are two of the best towns to grow up, raise kids and retire. We have an opportunity to make long-term changes that make a difference for our youth and community by having independent thinkers represent our BOE. We are all an integral part of the whole, so I stand on the platform of ‘One for All,’ which begins with me raising my hand, standing up and being willing to represent all the students of SOMSD.”

Smith did not return a request for comment. Siders and Joshua, who are running a joint campaign, declined to comment.

Adamson, when asked why she is not running for reelection, said, “While I’ve been grateful for the trust of our neighbors and the opportunity to serve the families of our community, the role demands a tremendous amount of time and energy and it’s required quite a bit of sacrifice from my family and work. I remain committed to serving the community and look forward to serving in many other ways in the years to come.”

Photos provided by candidates