Siders, Joshua and Wright win BOE seats

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MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — In a heated election season that saw seven candidates running for just three open seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, voters decided Nov. 5 to elect challengers Erin Siders and Thair Joshua, along with incumbent Johanna Wright, who will be entering her third term in office. 

All results from the Nov. 5 election remain unofficial until certified by County Clerk Christopher Durkin.

According to the Essex County Clerk’s website, with 100 percent of districts reporting in, Siders took the lead with 4,061 votes, or 20.68 percent, while her running mate, Joshua, garnered 3,766 votes, or 19.18 percent. Wright came in third place, with 3,604 votes, or 18.35 percent.

Two-term incumbent Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad came in fourth with 2,741 votes, or 13.96 percent. Next were challengers Sharon Tanenbaum Kraus with 2,227 votes, or 11.34 percent; Narda Chisholm-Greene with 2,073 votes, or 10.56 percent; and Carey Smith with 1,103 votes, or 5.62 percent. There were 60 write-in votes.

“It feels great,” Siders said in a Nov. 7 phone interview with the News-Record about winning the election. “It feels very satisfying because we ran a really good campaign; we really engaged with the community. We campaigned at the train stations, we went to block parties and we went to Oktoberfest. It’s great to see our hard work come to fruition. I’m excited to get started in January.”

Upon being sworn in, Siders said she will be interested to see where the universal pre-K program will be in 2020 and to ensure the Long-Range Facilities Plan is properly implemented. Mostly though, she is interested in curriculum and instruction.

“I want to do a deep dive on how we do curriculum and instruction,” she said, adding that ensuring the district is compliant with all state mandates is vital. “For me it’s just a personal issue because my son has special needs in the district. I want to see how we develop curriculum and be sure we are implementing it.”

Joshua, Siders’ running mate, said he is thankful to all the people who voted for him.

“It’s satisfying,” he said of his win in a Nov. 8 phone interview with the News-Record. According to Joshua, as he watched the numbers come in on election night, he just kept thinking, “this is looking good for us.”

Once he gets into office, Joshua is mainly just looking forward to collaborating with Superintendent of Schools Ronald Taylor and other board members to ensure the district is being run in the best way possible.

“I’m just looking forward to working with Dr. Taylor, especially on the integration plan,” Joshua said. “Of course, I’m looking forward to working with Erin and with the other board members.”

Wright, who has decades of experience as an educator and athletic coach in the district, is more than ready to begin her third term in office.

“I’m happy. I’m happy for the community that came out to support me,” Wright told the News-Record in a Nov. 8 phone interview. “I look back on my record and I absolutely ran on it.”

Wright has a lot of plans for her continued service on the board, including scaling back the use of expensive consultants; better professional development and evaluations for teachers; and making certain the facilities plan takes into account all aspects of the buildings, like overcrowding and technology.

“The board really has to fully comply satisfactorily with the resolution agreement with the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights,” Wright said. “We need to provide in-school support for students wanting to enroll in higher level classes, and we need to continue supporting them, even on the weekend if that’s what they need. Also, the superintendent needs to put forth a comprehensive integration plan.”