Education Matters slate runs for Jersey City Board of Education

From left to right: Paula Jones-Watson, Younass Mohamed Barkouch, and Natalia Ioffe

As the Jersey City Board of Education elections approach this November, the board in one of the largest school districts in New Jersey is guaranteed to see three new members in the wake of a number of vacancies.

Vying for the seats is the three-person Education Matters slate, running with the backing of the Jersey City Education Association union, which has traditionally backed the slate.

In interviews with the Hudson Reporter, the three pitched their ideas.

Natalia Ioffe

For the third time in her career, Natalia Ioffe is campaigning for the board. Her work on the parent council motivated her to run; her two runs as an independent in 2016 and 2018 were unsuccessful, and this time she is with with a full slate.

“For me, it’s a natural progression because teachers have been my partners in the parent council work for many, many years,” Ioffe said. “We all serve our children together, so it’s a very natural kind of transition. I’m here to share what we were able to do as parents on a small scale, and to hopefully translate it into a larger scale to help our district as a whole.”

Natalia Ioffe was formerly a parent council leader at the CPA for PS 16.

Born in the Ukraine, Ioffe moved to the United States in 1992 when she was 11, and settled in Jersey City in 2005 with her husband, where their two children attended Jersey City public schools. She got involved with the schools in 2013 when she became president of the Concerned Parents Association of PS 16, a nonprofit corporation run by volunteer parents of PS 16, and continued with them in various roles up until this June.

One of her top issues is school funding. The district has seen millions of dollars in state aid cut due to changes in state laws, and is projected by officials to lose more. Her solution is to create a nonprofit arm that would be a new source of funding, citing her experience working with a nonprofit such as the CPA, and the Hudson County School of Technology Foundation.

She also proposes allowing a nonprofit to purchase school supplies such as a Promethean Board on the free market instead of school-approved catalogs, which she argues would save money.

Paula Jones-Watson

A Jersey City native, Paula Jones-Watson is an adjunct professor at Hudson County Community college who has worked in the Jersey City Public School district for 34 years in various roles.

“I am an advocate for the Jersey City school system because I’m part of that system,” Jones-Watson said. “I just feel that with my experience that I had in education and being an effective communicator and an active listener, I could, with confidence, assist in creating a platform that would enhance the school curriculum, and especially those students who are in special ed or inclusion classes.”

Paula Jones-Watson is an HCCC adjunct professor and a 34-year veteran of the JCPS.

Her roles include classroom teacher at grammar and high school, head teacher of the former Title One program at PS 24, administrator of the after school program at Lincoln High School, Special Ed Coordinator at LHS, and District Inclusion Specialist.

Jones-Watson wants to see new mentor programs with differentiated instruction to address the learning styles of students. She also insists on having more workshops to help teachers with instruction, and involve parents to hear their needs.

Younass Mohamed Barkouch

Younass Mohamed Barkouch is a recent college graduate who was in the Jersey City Public School system, and wants to bring his experience in mentorship to the district.

Born in Newark, Barkouch spent his early childhood in Morocco before moving to Jersey City. After attending school in the district and graduating from McNair Academic High School, he went to Rutgers University, and participated in the Alan Grossman Interdisciplinary Research Team Fellowship, where he investigated educational equity in Jersey City’s public schools.

Younass Mohamed Barkouch is a recent college graduate with experience in mentorship programs.

Barkouch emphasized that mentorship is important to him. He related that current Board President Mussab Ali helped him prepare for college with applications and advice. At Rutgers, Barkouch took part in the Rutgers Educational and Athletic Development Initiative (READI), which provided mentorship services to student athletes in STEM.

While looking into mentorship during the fellowship, he says that he realized that mentorship wasn’t going to be a fix-all solution. “Simply recommending one initiative was not going to provide a holistic approach to educational equity,” he said. “So that was the reason I decided to start running.”

Barkouch wants to create a mentors initiative in Jersey City that would help prepare students for college and be more engaged in school through their mentors. His initiative would pair students who are passionate about a particular interest with an expert from the field such as a community member or an alumnus.

Issues and policies

  • Funding: Alongside Ioffe’s nonprofit proposal, Jones-Watson proposed getting funding from grants such as businesses for the school district. Barkouch also proposed getting federal and private grants.
  • Infrastructure: Ioffe said that she hopes that American Rescue Plan funds are used for infrastructure improvements and will be prioritized for children’s health. Jones-Watson said that she would make sure money was in the budget and that funding “is created, appropriated and appropriated in the right directions to help specific innovations in the building.” Barkouch said that he would evaluate the budget and see what is and what isn’t necessary, and that money from the ARP is used for improvements.
  • Bringing normalcy after COVID-19: Ioffe said that she would allow schools “individual flexibility and decision making.” Jones-Watson said she may have afterschool programs. Barkouch supported a hybrid program with a mix of in-person and virtual learning that he said would lessen contact among students and lower the risk of COVID-19 cases.
  • Learning gap: Ioffe said she would continue the district’s summer program that was created to close the learning gap, and the  Teachers On-Call Program. Jones-Watson said she supports extended day or Saturday programs to get children caught up, and assessments on where children are. Barkouch cited his mentor initiative plan, but did not say on how it would close the learning gap.
  • Mental health: Ioffe said that she would perform a citywide data gathering assessment to discover the most pressing issues for all families and where services are needed most. She would involve parents. Jones-Watson said she would create an assessment and have the child study team involved. Barkouch said he would open a dialogue with students, increase the number of guidance counselors and provide information about resources.
  • Racial equity: Ioffe would create a uniform support system for all families, including a guidelines rulebook, and make every school a community school, which would provide students and parents with support services. Jones-Watson would initiate sensitivity training. Barkouch would offer sessions for students and teachers to talk about their experiences.

For updates on this and other stories, check and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.