First Candidate Declares for BOE Race, No Incumbents to Run

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The first candidate has officially thrown her hat into the ring for the South Orange-Maplewood School District (SOMSD) Board of Education race in November.

A longtime South Orange resident and parent of three children in the district, Donna Smith served on the district’s Task Force for Equity and Excellence and led two groups that advocated for maintaining academic levels, according to a press release issued by her campaign Monday.

There are three spots open on the nine-member board this election year; BOE members Sandra Karriem, Andrea Wren-Hardin and Bill Gaudelli recently announced they will not be running for re-election. This is the first time in many years that no incumbents will be on the ballot.

“I have served three terms on the BOE,” said Wren-Hardin in an email. “It has been a rewarding and humbling experience that I have truly loved. I think we have made a lot of progress in the district, and it’s time for someone else who is passionate about education, our community, and our kids to serve.”

Karriem is leaving after nearly eight years in office. “It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have served on the BOE with some committed and caring colleagues, under the great leadership of Superintendent Brian Osborne,” she said. “It has also been a very rewarding experience for me. I am proud of the district’s many accomplishments … including full day kindergarten, improved curricula, the introduction of IB [International Baccalaureate], and a focus on eliminating the achievement gap, and though we still have many challenges, I think the district is heading in the right direction. I will always be passionate about making sure that we have strong public schools and that each and every student in our district receives an excellent education!”

Anthony Mazzochi, formerly the district’s Director of Fine and Performing Arts, has also declared his intention to run but has not yet filed a petition with the Essex County Clerk’s office. HistoryNusantara interviewed Mazzochi recently.

Below is the full text of the Smith release. HistoryNusantara is reaching out to Smith for an interview.

Donna Smith announced today her candidacy for the South Orange-Maplewood School District (SOMSD) Board of Education (BoE) to strengthen the leadership at the District level. Smith has been actively involved in the school community for more than 15 years ranging from PTA volunteer to leadership roles on BoE committees. Smith, who filed for office last week, is seeking one of three open seats on the BoE. 

“I know how things work in our District—who the participants are, how the funding works, and how the support organizations and volunteers work cooperatively with the schools to maintain our academic excellence,” Smith said. “I will ensure we move forward as a District with an educational experience that is well rounded and beneficial to all our children.” 

A South Orange resident for 24 years, Smith is a principled activist known for working hard on common sense approaches that provide the most robust educational program possible for every student. A passionate advocate for the students in our district, Smith spearheaded two parent groups, “Levels Can Work” and “Group for Objective for Academic Leveling,” which challenged the BoE and school administration to maintain high standards and rigorous curricula at the middle schools. As a representative of “Levels Can Work,” she was asked to participate in the District’s “Task Force on Excellence and Equity” charged with recommending strategies to increase student access to rigorous coursework. 

“My primary priorities are successful implementation of the International Baccalaureate at the middle schools to meet established goals; ensuring strong fiscal oversight and prudent allocation of SOMSD resources to provide the most robust educational curriculum possible; holding a strategic, long-term perspective that keeps in mind the entire K-12 program; and implementing a strong Gifted & Talented program,” Smith added. 

Given SOMSD’s severe fiscal constraints, she does not believe that the International Baccalaureate should be implemented at the high school level at this time. Rather, the District must concentrate on preserving high standards and a wide variety of course offerings at the high school, and expanding the curriculum to incorporate a more global element. She also wants to hold the Administration to its promise to continue providing more access to honors and AP classes at the high school, by improving the methods by which students are assigned to such classes and making the system more transparent. 

Smith has extensive volunteer experience in support of SOMSD schools. She has held numerous positions in the PTAs and HSAs of the district, from co-president of the South Mountain PTA and newsletter editor at South Orange Middle School, to head of the directory committee at Columbia High School. She also was co-president of Presidents’ Council for two years. She participated in the SOMSD’s Strategic Planning program, was a member of the SOMSD-appointed committee to hire two assistant principals for elementary schools as well as committee to hire the district’s physical education coordinator. 

Her three children attended schools in the district from elementary school through Columbia High School and her youngest is graduating from the high school in June 2014. 

The election will be held on November 4, 2014, during the general election.


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