By ERIN ROLL
Three new members will be joining the Montclair Board of Education in May, appointed by Mayor Sean Spiller.
Crystal Hopkins, Eric Scherzer and Kathryn Weller-Demming replace departing board members Jessica de Koninck, Eve Robinson and Sergio Gonzalez, Spiller announced Thursday.
“I am proud to appoint three outstanding individuals to the Board of Education,” Spiller said in a press release. “Crystal, Eric, and Kathryn will bring a diversity of experience and expertise that will enrich the board’s decision-making processes. But most importantly, they each share the goal of providing the absolute best possible education for our students at the most value to taxpayers.”
Under Montclair’s form of government, the mayor appoints school board members, one of just 14 communities in New Jersey where that’s the case; the vast majority of school boards are elected directly by the public. That’s caused some controversy in Montclair, as Spiller is also an officer of the New Jersey Education Association, the union that represents teachers and several school staffers; he’s its current vice president, and slated to become its president in the coming term. A group going by the name “Vote Montclair” has been circulating a petition, seeking to establish an elected school board, while the local League of Women Voters supports continuing the appointment system.
Spiller, for his part, when campaigning for mayor last year, said he’d “fulfill my duties and appoint independent Board of Education members who share the goal of providing the best possible education for our students at the very best value to taxpayers.”
The mayor made his first appointment, of board member Allison Silverstein, last year.
There are seven members of the board — the three new appointments, plus Silverstein, mean the majority of members will soon be appointees of the current mayor.
Spiller, in announcing the appointments, also thanked de Koninck, Robinson and Gonzalez for their service.
“The leadership of these board members has ensured our public schools will continue to deliver a world-class education for generations to come,” he said.
Robinson and de Koninck are the two longest-tenured members of the current BOE, while Gonzalez joined in 2018.
Hopkins is the upper school manager of operations at Golda Och Academy in West Orange, and she has two children enrolled in the Montclair schools. She is also a 2006 Montclair High School graduate, where she participated in the Civics and Government Institute, Peer Leadership, and Student Government. She holds degrees in business administration and management from Ashford University, and pursued a degree in mass communications and media studies at Virginia State University.
“Montclair Public schools are a treasure,” Hopkins said in the mayor’s press release. “I look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure every Montclair student has access to the abundance of opportunities and formative experiences that I enjoyed in our district.”
Weller-Demming serves on the board of trustees for the Montclair Child Development Center. She also served on the township council as councilor-at-large from 2008 to 2012, including a term as deputy mayor from 2011 to 2012. She studied at Hampshire College and at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
“I am humbled by this opportunity to serve students, families, and our entire school community,” Weller-Demming said in the release. “In these incredibly challenging times, there are great opportunities to innovate and strive for further excellence in our Montclair Public Schools. As a student, I received a world-class education in Montclair, and I am deeply grateful to the many individuals who together made my experiences possible. Montclair has such a rich history of excellence through diversity, we truly stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Scherzer is presently a senior adviser for Vot-ER, a healthcare-based voter registration organization. Prior to that, he worked in leadership positions with Service Employees International Union’s Committee of Interns and Residents, and with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union. He holds degrees in occupational safety and health from Hunter College, and history and political science from Brown University.
“I intend to work with the other board members, the Superintendent, teachers and staff, parents, students, and all other parts of our community to address persistent racial disparities so that our schools can live up to their promise of providing a world-class education to all,” Scherzer said.
The Board of Education’s reorganization meeting, when new members will take their seats, will be held on May 17.