Poll results show close school board race, with some results yet to come
With poll results from 2 of Montclair's 41 districts still outstanding Wednesday morning, the winners of the Montclair Board of Education election remain uncertain, though two candidates seem to be leading the pack.
Unofficial results from the Essex County Clerk's office at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday showed Yvonne W. Bouknight with 30.39% of votes, Brian Fleischer with 25.62%, Mfreke “Monk” Inyang with 22.64% and Noah Gale with 21.35%. The count includes early voting and mail-in ballot counts.
Three of the candidates — Bouknight, Fleischer, and Gale — tried unsuccessfully for a board seat before; Bouknight and Gale ran in a March election and Fleischer entered himself for a board-appointed seat in January. Inyang was selected for the board-appointed seat and has served on the board since then.
The three candidates elected will join the nine-member board for a three-year term, beginning on Jan. 5. The new members will take the seats of outgoing board President Latifah Jannah, and board Vice President Priscilla Church, with Inyang retaining his post if he wins election.
Bouknight, a retired teacher, has worked at virtually every level, from kindergarten to college, she said during her campaign. She taught future teachers as an adjunct professor at Kean University, has worked with children with special needs, and served as a literacy expert. During an October candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, Bouknight, the mother of two daughters who graduated from the Montclair public schools, described her deep connection to the Montclair community.
“I bring to the board an openness, a listening ear and also an advocate for public education,” she said at the forum. “I believe all children should have the right opportunity to grow to be a person of the 21st century.”
During his campaign, Fleischer highlighted his extensive experience in public education, including years spent as the Montclair school district’s business administrator and board secretary. Fleischer, a Montclair High School graduate, was an auditor general for the New York City public schools and now works as the director of enterprise risk for the New York City School Construction Authority. A parent of two students in the district, he has been president and vice president of PTAs across the district and recently finished a two-year term as Montclair PTA Council vice president.
Fleischer’s mother was a kindergarten and first grade teacher in the Montclair Public Schools for 23 years, and his wife is a school counselor at Teaneck High School, according to his campaign website.
“Public education is my thing, it's what I've dedicated my life to,” Fleischer said at the forum. “I was raised by an educator, I'm married to an educator, I've surrounded myself with educators and district leaders and custodians and nurses and school support staff.”
Gale, a senior at Montclair State University, is a Montclair High School graduate who frequently volunteers at district events and regularly attends school board meetings, he told Montclair Local.
His main focus, he said, would be to “protect special education.”
“During my time in the Montclair school system, I had accommodations that allowed me to graduate successfully,” Gale said. “These accommodations and support gave me the foundation I needed to manage the challenges of being a student in a large university on my own, including being in large class sizes, living independently in a dorm and meeting friends.”
Those accommodations included paraprofessionals, inclusion classes, resource rooms and social skills groups, he said.
He also favors the elimination of standardized testing and wants all staff to receive equal training, health care and retirement benefits.
“There is both an academic side to the brain and an emotional side, and both parts work together,” Gale said. “Therefore, both parts need equal amounts of stimulation, nurturing and support in order to be successful. All students deserve a fair chance, so teaching to unique learning styles by incorporating different strategies and techniques would allow for that.”
Inyang, who was chosen by board members in January to fill the seat of the late Dr. Alfred Davis Jr., is a father of two students in the district.
He is heavily involved in the school system on different fronts. He currently chairs the board’s climate and culture committee and serves on the communication, finance and facilities, and budget committees. He is a member of the negotiations committee for the Montclair Education Association and the Montclair Head Custodians Association. He is also the liaison for the Essex County School Boards Association, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast and the Urban School Boards.
Inyang has also worked on the bond referendum, helped with the expansion of the Restorative Justice program, and continued to focus on ensuring equity throughout the community, he told Montclair Local in July.
He said he has worked as an actor and as a writer and in the corporate world. He works as the influencer and entertainment partnerships director at Anheuser-Busch.
In November 2023, the seats of board members Melanie Deysher, Phaedra Dunn and Allison Silverstein will be up for election.
Deysher and Dunn were elected to the board in March in a special election for terms of one year and nine months. The election was historic, coming months after Montclair voters put aside the municipality’s long-held practice of filling the board with mayoral appointments. Montclair joined nearly all of New Jersey’s school districts in giving voters a choice. The November 2021 referendum question passed with more than 70% of the vote. Voters backed an elected board in all 35 voting districts, across Montclair’s four wards.
Silverstein was appointed to the board by Mayor Sean Spiller in August 2020.
The seats now held by Kathryn Weller-Demming, Crystal Hopkins and Eric Scherzer, all appointed by Spiller in April 2021, will be up for election in November 2024.