In less than a week, voters will choose four school board members from a field of 14 to deal with issues that have catapulted the district into scrutiny by print media, radio, television and most recently, the governor’s office.
Not only has the district lost hundreds of students to charter schools, it has been rocked by controversies over certification of top employees and doubts over Superintendent Steve Gallon III
’s leadership. This week, Gov. Chris Christie
said he will direct Education Commissioner Bret Schundler
to look into the situation, which was already the subject of a report by the state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance.
Of the 14 candidates, 10 are seeking three three-year terms. They are incumbents Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox
and Christian Estevez
and challengers Rasheed Abdul-Haqq
, Mary Burgwinkle
, Jaclynne Callands
, Catherine Crittendon
, Danielle Fletcher
, Mahogany Hendricks
and Renata Hernandez
Those seeking a one-year unexpired term are Keisha Edwards
, Carmencita Pile
, Denise Riley
and Clayton Tucker Sr.
The election will take place on April 20. Polls will be open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. All registered voters should have received ballots by now indicating their polling place.
The candidates took part Wednesday in the traditional League of Women Voters of Plainfield Candidates’ Forum at Emerson School. Each candidate was permitted an opening statement and then questions from the audience were presented by moderator Louise Ballard
of Hillside before closing statements from the candidates. Organizers said 135 people attended the forum at Emerson School.
Among the themes that emerged Wednesday were a need to bring more accountability to the board and superintendent, as well as more dialogue with the Plainfield Education Association, which is still without a contract after many months of talks. The district also lacks a curriculum, speakers said. In addition, the district is losing students to charter schools and is using programs such as specialized schools and a new K-8 configuration to draw them back.
Candidates formed three slates of four, with two independents. Groups included Abdul-Haqq, Campbell, Edwards and Hernandez; Burgwinkle, Cox, Estevez and Pile; and Callands, Fletcher, Hendricks and Turner. Riley and Crittendon are the independents.
Among quotes from Plaintalker’s notebook on the forum:
Denise Riley: “Stop the corruption that has been going on too long.”
Rasheed Abdul-Haqq: “The biggest problem is that the superintendent does not want to be held accountable, the board does not want to be held accountable.”
Danielle Fletcher: “As a community, we need to demand a curriculum now.”
Renata Hernandez: “A curriculum is the infrastructure of a district and the lifeblood of the children.”
Catherine Crittendon: “Our schools need to be as attractive for learning as the charter schools.”
Keisha Edwards: “The concerns were out there and people just didn’t listen.”
Mahogany Hendricks: “At this point, their questions are not being answered.”
Clayton Tucker Sr.: “I will not make promises I can’t keep.”
Mary Burgwinkle: “We grownups in Plainfield have a responsibility to see that children graduate with the tools they need in the workplace (and beyond).”
Christian Estevez: “Prior to the OFAC report, I knew we had a problem with our hiring practices.”
Carmencita Pile: “I have fresh ideas and can add to an already improved Plainfield school district.”
Jacylnne Callands: “As a wife, mother and youth mentor, I know the value of a good education.”
Martin Cox: “With PEA and PASA (unions), we need quarterly meetings to discuss collaboration.”
Wilma Campbell: “Yes, I took part in the hiring (of Gallon), but I didn’t have a crystal ball.”--Bernice Paglia