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 Deysher 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 Melanie Deysher.

Why are you running for re-election?

Along with Phaedra Dunn, I was elected to the Board in the special election held to expand the board after the referendum switching to an elected school board, which meant we only had an initial term of 18 months, rather than three years. So we really haven’t had much time to work on the issues that matter to us. It is also a very dynamic and exciting time in the life of the district, with many ongoing changes that could really make a positive impact on our children. Finally, I feel an obligation to ensure that the many millions of dollars approved by voters in last fall’s bond referendum for facilities upgrades are put to good use. 

What are some of the issues that are personal to you that you hope to address?

The issue of literacy has long been a special focus for me. Reading is foundational for every instructional area, and a strong literacy program that embraces evidence-based reading instruction, early screening, and effective intervention is the best way to help close the opportunity gap. We have begun to make real changes in early screening and identification of kids with dyslexia and other reading struggles, and have trained a significant number of teachers in Orton Gillingham, IMSE, and other evidenced based reading programs. I would like to see these changes through to truly effective implementation of reading instruction for all our students. 

What connections do you have to the Montclair School System? 

Prior to serving on the board, I was co-chair of Grow Lab at Nishuane and Hillside, a PTA member at Nishuane, Hillside, Glenfield, and Montclair High School, co-founder of Let’s Talk About Smart Phones, SEPAC member and liaison, co-founder of SEPAC-Dyslexia Parent Network, and a long-term advocate for literacy programming. And most importantly, all three of my children are MPS students or graduates. My oldest son is a recent Montclair HS grad and starting his sophomore year at college.  My other two sons are presently at the high school, having gone through Nishuane, Hillside, and Glenfield.   

What did you learn in your previous term on the board that you would like to carry over or change if re-elected? 

I learned a lot, from my service on the board itself, from the outside training that is available to board members, and of course from the many parents and students I have spoken with over the past 18 months. This education started with the role of the board itself, which is to set policy and provide guidance and direction to the superintendent and administration. I also learned about the importance of basing policy on data, and will try to ensure that important decisions are always based on data. Data must be collected and presented both at the individual school level and at the district level; utilized in decision making; and reported to stakeholders. Communities are entitled to measurable results. I have also learned about the importance of balancing change with continuity, and of collegiality and independence. This is one reason that both Phaedra and I are pleased to stand with current board president Allison Silverstein, who is also running for re-election to the board in November. 

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your campaign? 

Only that it has been both an honor and a pleasure to serve, in large part because of how passionate and thoughtful so many of our stakeholders are. 

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