Montclair will hold elections in November for three open Board of Education seats. Nine residents filed petitions to meet the July 31 deadline to run as candidates. Three of the nine are incumbent members: Phaedra Dunn, Melanie Dysher and Allison Silverstein. New candidates are Stuart Ball, Alex Binkley, Jessica Glass, Theodore Graham, Will Novak and Dr. Kimberly Robinson Santos.
To help inform you before Election Day, Montclair Local launched a series of candidate profiles. Get to know the candidates and the plans they have for the future of education in Montclair. Our series continues with current BOE member Allison Silverstein.
Why are you running for re-election?
I struggled with this decision for a while, but running to continue to serve felt right. I have been a part of conversations for years about equity, student achievement, inclusion and overall improvement of the system to work for all children. The conversation was important to learn, but after a while I became disappointed that there was no concrete change. But when more active parents of current students joined (like Ms. Dunn and Ms. Deysher), I felt a huge shift. Finally, what I had hoped serving on the Board would be was turning into a reality. I am running again because I feel like we are finally making progress and I really want to see it through. I also feel very strongly that a parent of a child with a disability continues to serve on the Board. As we often say in our little bubble of the world, only other parents of kids with disabilities can really “get it.” Raising a child with a disability and living it day to day is such a different perspective. I have seen the power having this voice at the table has (including those voices who came before me). I want to make sure this part of the population is always a part of the conversation.
What are some of the issues that are personal to you that you hope to address?
I am hoping to see continued progress to create special education programming and support that will allow more of our learners to get what they need in the district. In so many ways, inclusion is best for all. I would LOVE to see data showing decreases in our number of students receiving Tier II and Tier III interventions. I would also endeavor to focus on improvement of school culture and wrap-around support for our students. Our kids need a place to learn where they feel safe, supported and free to be themselves. They can’t learn if they are hungry, anxious, afraid or disconnected. There is a focus towards progress and I want to push this further.
What connections, if any, do you have to the Montclair school system?
My eldest has been receiving services through Montclair Public Schools since he was three years old. He is now a 7th grader in a self-contained special education classroom at Buzz Aldrin Middle School. My younger child is a 5th grader at Hillside Elementary School where she is a member of the Drums of Thunder. Both kids started at Nishuane and went through to Hillside (I am very much looking forward to my daughter attending Glenfield Middle School starting in the 2024-2025 school year). I have also been an active volunteer at my children’s schools before I joined the Board including chairing several events, serving on the Nishuane PTA Executive Board for three years and serving as a part of SEPAC leadership for three years. I was also an active participant in PTAC. I still help out where I can within my ethical boundaries and time constraints (and to the extent these opportunities exist as my kids get older).
What did you learn in your previous term on the Board that you would carry over or change if re-elected?
No one really understands what the job is until you are doing it. I learned the lesson is that we do not run the schools, but make sure we make the vision clear to the administration and provide the necessary support to make that vision come true. The best lesson I learned is that working together as a team is the best way to get anything accomplished. While it has improved, I would love to continue to break down the “us vs. them” mentality I see operating in so many spaces. It’s not about the adults in the room – it’s all about the kids.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your campaign?
Once Phaedra and Melanie joined the Board, I saw a cohesiveness that made me excited to serve. I would love the opportunity to continue to work with them because I think we make a great team. We have different experiences, different perspectives and different approaches, but that is exactly what makes it a great mix.