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 Phaedra Dunn.

Why are you running for re-election?
I am running for re-election for the same reasons I initially ran. I am deeply passionate about education and want to impact lasting change in the lives of our students. We are just beginning to scratch the surface in being able to impact lasting change via addressing student needs and offering a spectrum of services and resources that are truly effective. Our students and teachers needs have shifted dramatically over the last few years and we are at the infancy stages of understanding and finding appropriate strategies and interventions for these concerns. When considering the disparities and inequities in education, while I think we have moved in the right direction, we have not yet arrived in an ideal state that is fully reflective of all of our students at all grade levels.

What are some of the issues that are personal to you that you hope to address?
The issues that continue to be personal to me are addressing educational inequities/performance gaps. We must provide for and meet our disparities in education consistently and constantly. Prioritizing providing equitable educational standards for our underserved students is best met by reviewing practices, services and processes, both annually and long term. Ensuring that we have quality comprehensive strategies and supports for our students throughout their entire academic career with meaningful parental engagement will allow for improved outcomes and access for all learners.

What connections, if any, do you have to the Montclair school system?
My connections to the Montclair school system include being a parent of an 8th grader in the district. Prior to becoming a board member, I was involved with Book Chat and the Antiracism Committee at Bradford. I was also the co-chair of the Parent Teacher Association Council (PTAC’s) DEI Committee, was SATP co-chair and an active member of my son’s school PTA. I am a co-founder of Montclair Moms of Color, founded to create a space inclusive of voices that are often marginalized and unheard. We have sponsored community events, meet-ups for moms and provided a space for moms to find resources, and provide information to one another.

What did you learn in your previous term on the board that you would like to carry over or change if re-elected?
I have learned that being a board member is as much about collaboration and listening as it is about consistently educating yourself and embracing incremental change. I have found that listening to the perspectives of community stakeholders is important because this is where you hear different and historical perspectives. Constantly educating yourself through training and research aids in decision making. You are incorporating your takeaways from community stakeholders, what you learn and discuss in your committee meetings, along with best practices in education and the current needs of the district, with the goal of making decisions that will have the most impact for all students and to better serve them.

Is there anything else that you would want people to know about you and your campaign?
My experiences a a social worker and educator have positioned me to be a consensus builder. I have learned the art of aiding people in humanizing one another rather than seeing each other as a set of oppositional ideologies. Acknowledging our different perspectives is not only a part of consensus building but it is a form of contribution to the process and an agreement that change needs to occur. It is clear that our commitment as a community is to continually improve our district and in the process not only build something greater for our students but our connections to one another.

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