Meet the Board of Education Candidates (Part Two): Micheline Amy, Ellen Simon, Gina Verdibello

This is our continuing coverage of the Jersey City Board of Education elections, coming up on November 5.

The four available BOE seats will be occupied by the highest vote-getters. Elected board members will work as advocates for children and families of the district, act as advisors to Superintendent Marcia Lyles and the schools’ administrators as well as serve as liaisons between the schools and residents of the district.

Stay tuned to JCI for more canidate coverage coming up this week.

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Micheline Amy

Micheline Amy, 39, is originally from Queens but has been a Jersey City resident for over 10 years. She now resides in the Hilltop/JSQ area. A graduate of Salisbury University and mother of two, this Senior Human Resources Business Partner hopes to bring professionalism and a critical eye to the BOE. Amy is running on the Candidates for Excellence slate, a group of professional women and mothers.

Amy and her family have made their home here in the city because, she said, there is a real sense of community. But she wants to see the overall quality of the city’s schools improved.

“I’ve seen far too many of my friends leave Jersey City for the suburbs because our public schools did not meet their expectations,” she said. “Jersey City is an amazing city and I would like to see the public school system reflect that level of excellence.”

Amy believes that there are many challenges that our schools are facing and that the current dysfunction on the BOE is preventing us from addressing those challenges. The Board of Education, she said, should play a governance role, not a policy role.

“As Board of Ed trustees, we represent the voters of Jersey City and advocate for the children of Jersey City,” she said.

Amy will advocate for longer school days to allow for recess and the arts, reorganization of Central Office so the funds can be redirected towards the students, and allowing teachers to provide differentiated instruction towards success of the students.

“I will be fully engaged and I will conduct myself in a way that sets a positive example for our students and continues to make progress on behalf of the children of Jersey City,” she said.

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Ellen Simon

Ellen Simon, 44, has been a Jersey City resident for nearly 20 years. Originally from Ohio, this graduate of local public schools and Northwestern University is a freelance business journalist. Her son currently attends public school.

As a member of the BOE, Simon anticipates working with the recreation department closely, as well as with the deputy mayor – whose portfolio includes education.

Simon is running on the Candidates for Excellence slate with Micheline Amy, Jessica Daye and Carol Lester, which she said was selected by an independent committee of parents, activists and educators from around the city.

“All of us filled out a questionnaire, were interviewed by the committee and underwent a background check,” said Simon. “The committee that vetted us felt, and I wholeheartedly agree, that we would be the best team to work diligently with each other, with the sitting board members and with the administration to achieve excellent schools for every child in the district.”

Among our challenges, Simon said, are school safety, poor perception of district schools, the achievement gap between certain groups, chronic under-performance by some of our schools, and doing a better job engaging parents and guardians in their children’s education. Additionally, many school buildings have been poorly maintained and cleaned, she said.

“One of the complaints I hear most often about district schools is that they are dirty,” said Simon.

Simon sees the position on the Board of Education as a governance role in which board members help shape goals and policies for the district and ensure that actions taken by the district’s administrators are in line with those objectives.

Board members also act as liaisons between the district and the community, she said, acting as a source for accurate information about the schools.

“The role involves a lot of outreach,” said Simon. “Good board members speak regularly to parents, guardians and community members throughout the district and convey frequent concerns to the administration.”

As a public school parent and as co-founder of the public school advocacy group Parents for Progress, Simon said that Jersey City has a once-in-a-generation chance, under the new superintendent, Dr. Marcia Lyles, to lay the groundwork for a dramatic shift in the culture of our district and set it on track for continuous improvement.

“I want to be part of that work,” Simon said.

To do so, Simon said she will actively engage in citywide outreach to hear what people are saying about our public schools and try to answer any questions they may have. She would also advocate for lengthening the school day, adding no instructional time, so children have time for recess.

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Gina Verdibello

Gina Verdibello, 37, lives in the West Side neighborhood. A stay-at-home mom and educational activist, Verdibello is a Rutgers graduate. Last year, she lobbied and won the adoption of the district’s new sibling policy to ensure that brothers and sisters are given first preference to attend schools together. Her own three children are currently students in Jersey City public schools.

She is running for the BOE, she said, because she is committed to the children of Jersey City and making them the first priority in all decision making.

“We need to figure out how to meet the educational needs of our unique population of students so they can be successful,” said Verdibello. “We live in one of the most diverse cities in the country. As such, the district should stop thinking of ‘equity’ as ‘onesizefitsall’ and look at ‘individuality.’”

Her teammates on the Children First slate include Gerald Lyons and Angel Valentin, both are current board members. This, she said, has allowed her to become familiar with what would be expected of her as a board member. She is very concerned about the environment children are working in (such as trailers) and wants to work on finding solutions to our facilities needs.

“I would like to work with the mayor and the city planning department to figure out how we can work together to expand and improve our school structures,” she said. “Many of our school buildings are older and in need of renovations and repair. Additionally, space for our growing school early childhood population has been a concern for years, resulting in trailer annexing springing up around the city.”

Verdibello said she would also like to work with the city to evaluate new developments and the impact on our school system as well as create policy whereby new, taxabated developments such as the 1800 unit Journal Square Towers would be required to “giveback” to school facilities in the form of donated building structures or funds allocated to improve our rundown school buildings.

“Our schools are overcrowded and we are compensating for this issue by putting trailers in our schools and taking away space for recess,” said Verdibello. “Children are being educated every day in shameful conditions where damage and rot are evident. The trailers are also unsafe with no security guards. Meanwhile, the city is becoming more and more dense due to new developments that are overtaxing our school system and bringing hundreds of students and families. The city must look closely at the impact of each development on schools as the first priority, especially when it comes to taxabated properties that rob our schools of tax revenue.”

In addition to advocating for improving facilities and adding more schools, Verdibello said she is commited to trust, transparency and true commitment to our children.

“I’m a Girl Scout troop leader and honesty and integrity are at the foundation of what we believe and teach our troops,” she said.

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Photos courtesy of the respective candidates

More Nov 5th Pre-Election Coverage:

Lana Diaz

is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Hudson Reporter, Jersey City Magazine, 07030, Palisade Magazine, and other publications. As a Wordsmith, she currently hosts various events around the area. For more information, visit lanarosediaz.com.