4 petition to run for three seats in Montclair school board election
Four Montclair residents have submitted petitions to run this November for three seats on the Board of Education, according to an unofficial list provided by Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin.
The individuals submitting petitions are Yvonne W. Bouknight, Brian Fleischer, Noah Gale and Mfreke “Monk” Inyang. All four have previously vied for a seat on the board, and Inyang currently serves on the board.
Inyang was chosen by board members in January to fill the seat of the late Dr. Alfred Davis Jr. He and three other candidates, including Fleischer, were interviewed for the position during a public meeting of the board.
The seat held by Inyang is up for election in November, under the schedule set after Montclair voters opted to convert the township’s Type I district with a mayor-appointed board of seven members to a Type II district with an elected board of nine members.
Inyang is a father of two children at Charles H. Bullock School who is committed to the long-term growth of the Montclair education system, he told Montclair Local on Tuesday. He has served as both vice president and president of the Bullock PTA. He has also led the Bullock community in its annual day of education and service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
He works as director of influencer and entertainment partnerships at Anheuser-Busch, according to his LinkedIn profile.
His top priorities on the board would be to improve communication between the district and the community, expand the understanding and use of restorative justice to continually improve school culture and improve the budgeting process and planning, he said.
“It’s incredibly easy for misinformation and harmful rumors to run wild,” Inyang said. “There are so many hardworking people in the district who want the best for our children, and the work that they’re doing and plan to expand on is incredible. I’ve learned how important it is to amplify those voices and attend to the concerns our community has in a noncombative way that focuses on improvement.”
Inyang grew up in Newark, the son of working-class Nigerian immigrants. As a high schooler, he and his classmates demanded updated school facilities, organizing protests and publishing satirical journalism to keep their message alive, he said during his interview in January. Shortly after he graduated, a new school was built, he said. In 2009, he co-founded Brick City Alumni Group, pairing high school seniors in Newark with local college graduates.
Fleischer is a district parent with a rising sixth grader at Glenfield and ninth grader at Montclair High School. He is the son of a retired Montclair schools kindergarten teacher, and he has held many positions involved with the district, he told Montclair Local on Tuesday.
From 2013 to 2016, Fleischer was the district’s business administrator and board secretary. He is an administrator of the Montclair Moms, Dads and Parents Facebook Group, a member of the NAACP Education Committee, a PTA co-president at Glenfield and a former PTA president at Hillside. He’s also a member of the Montclair PTA Council’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and Finance and Infrastructure Committee and served for two years as the Montclair PTA Council's vice president for committees.
Fleischer is the director of enterprise risk for the New York City School Construction Authority, where he has “gained skills and experience in K-12 public education governance, finance and operations strategy and execution, compliance, internal audit and risk management,” he said.
“Public schools are my passion,” he said. “I believe that public schools can and must strive to be an engine for greater equity in our society, supporting all children in reaching their potential as educated, well-rounded and engaged members of their communities.”
If elected, he said he would help the board to facilitate more effective strategic planning, executing and monitoring district goals for diversity, equity, inclusion, opportunity and student achievement.
“With the strength of our diversity comes a solemn obligation to work proactively to redress opportunity and achievement gaps, structural racism and unconscious bias, and other obstacles to equity and inclusion for students of all backgrounds and abilities,” he said.
Fleischer also said he supports the proposed $190 million bond referendum for school repairs and upgrades, which will likely be on the November ballot alongside the school board election.
Bouknight and Gale both ran for two board seats during the March 8 special election for terms that will end in January 2024. In the March election, Bouknight received the third-highest number of votes after Melanie Deysher and Phaedra Dunn, who now serve on the board. Gale received the lowest number of votes of the nine candidates.
Bouknight, whose children attended the Montclair schools, is an educator with more than 40 years of experience. She has taught in East Orange, Irvington and Plainfield and most recently worked as a reading specialist in Glen Ridge before her retirement in 2018. Bouknight has not responded to an email sent Tuesday to the address listed on her petition with questions about her candidacy.
In January, Bouknight said she was running for a seat because she wanted to ensure all Montclair students have equitable access to education.
“Looking at the whole child is really important to me, [as is] seeing what can be done in order to make them successful in the classroom,” she said then. “Some children may just need help with reading. Some children may need help with math, and some children may need social and emotional support in order to achieve.”
The Board of Education “showed stamina” in its work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bouknight said in January. But she said there’s room for improvement in the board’s communication. She said she would push to better inform the whole Montclair community, not just parents, about school news.
Gale, a Montclair High School graduate and Montclair State University student, would be the youngest person ever to serve on the board and its first college student.
“I am an active participant at the Board of Education meetings, and I have always worked hard to support the school system, even as a student, by volunteering in many activities,” Gale said. “I deeply care about the Montclair public school students, their families, staff, administration and am a true believer in public education.”
He is running for the board in an effort “to make positive changes to the school system that will support and serve all students,” he told Montclair Local. Both the academic and emotional needs of students must be addressed, he said.
“All students deserve a fair chance, so teaching to unique learning styles by incorporating different strategies and techniques would allow for that,” Gale said.
Gale’s top priorities on the board would be ensuring students receive the accommodations they need to succeed and that all professionals in the district receive equal healthcare, retirement benefits and training. He would also move to eliminate standardized tests in the district, he said.
“Non-academic qualities can play a role in determining a student’s success,” Gale said. “Students should be able to use different measures like submitting projects they have worked on which would also show their communication skills. It would also eliminate student anxiety and competition.”