On Nov. 2, Bayonne voters will go to the polls to vote for three seats up for election on the Board of Education.
In 2021, only one slate is running the “Together We Can” ticket featuring incumbent Trustees Jodi Casais, Pam Sclafane, and Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez. Running as indepenent candidates are Nicole Gabriele, Gina Irizzary, Petra Ghaly, and Charles Ryan.
Nicole Gabriele Lebron, parent of three children in the district ages 2, 8, and 14, is a first-time candidate running as an independent under the slogan, “Voice for All.”
Gabriele currently owns her own stone countertop company and volunteers as an EMT at Nutley Volunteer Emergency & Rescue. She has long been involved in her son’s school by volunteering for Parent Teacher Association events and serves as the current Vice President on the PTA board at his school.
According to Gabriele, she is running on a platform of “accountability, transparency, engagement, responsibility, and timeliness” and pledges to “actively engage with the community and make decisions in the best interest of Bayonne students and community.”
Gabriele is running for the board because she wants to be “a voice at the table with how children are taught in the district” and “assist in working together to get the communities input on issues resolved.” As a “strong believer in transparency and communities working together,” she said she has a “deep dedication to accountability, engagement, and timeliness.”
Gina Irizarry is the Chair of the Writing Department at the Empowerment Academy Charter School in Jersey City and a photographer, who is again seeking election to the board. She ran unsuccessfully in 2015, 2016, and 2018.
“As a person invested in the community where I live, I liken the school district to be the “heart” and the residents to be the “pulse” of this community,” Irizarry said. “I want to be a voice for the citizens that can activate this pulse and re-energize it’s heart.”
Irizarry wants to bring more transparency to the board, she said: “I feel that there are both complacencies and lack of information being shared with the citizens from the current board and administration that have created a climate of confusion and low morale. I would like to help build back the district’s morale and create a climate of transparency and communication with the community.”
She touted her experience as an educator and school administrator as key to helping the district through “transformative” times: “I love this city and it is rapidly changing, but these changes are being met with many challenges for the school district. The board needs creative and ambitious individuals that truly understand the district’s challenges and current needs. As a priority, our facilities need to be updated, revamped and revitalized without posing financial burdens on the taxpayers. I have ideas for working with the city council on progressive action plans.”
Petra Ghaly, a 2021 Bayonne High School Class graduate and former student representative to the board, is running for the first time as an independent under the slogan, “Bayonne Families First.” She founded the local branch of the conservative group Turning Point USA at BHS, and is running on a platform of “safety, communication, transparency and strengthening the special needs program.
Ghaly said that as a student, she has “seen first hand how there is a broken system that stems from the lack of communication at the board that could have endangered myself and hundreds of other students.” She wants all board members to receive additional training on “harassment, intimidation, and bullying.”
“I am running because I want to be the independent voice for the voiceless and to make sure that no student has to feel afraid for their safety and well being,” Ghaly said. “The system needs to be fixed from within.”
Ghaly said she can facilitate the change that she said needs to be implemented: “Unless someone is on that board raising these concerns and holding the other members accountable, students will continue to fear for their safety and well being. I will stand up to bullying and the broken system which has failed the students and their families. The safety of all students will always be my number one concern.”
Former Trustee Charles Ryan, a former deputy police chief, was an appointed board member before school board trustee became an elected position. He won his seat in 2016, before losing in 2018. He was appointed to fill a vacant seat for one year in 2019, but lost re-election that November, and again in 2020. Ryan, a former high school history teacher and Deputy Chief at the Bayonne Police Department, is again seeking a seat on the board, this time as an independent under the slogan, “The Smart Choice.”
Ryan wants to keep students in their neighborhood schools and he aims to do so by supporting a full inclusion model: “Simply stated, this means having a teacher at each grade level to provide additional help for those who require it. It also ensures that, except in certain cases, siblings remain in the same school building throughout elementary school. This ends the need for parents to drop off their children to different schools and allows the families to become part of the culture of one school.”
Ryan’s main concern is for more transparency from Central Office and the Board: “I support the late Trustee Finnerty’s proposed Transparency resolution, requiring the Board agenda and the resolutions be posted on the Board website a minimum of 10 days prior to being voted upon. This would allow for informed public comment before an item is voted upon.”
He continued: “Finally, there is a serious need to plan for the remediation and recovery from Covid-19 crisis. This can be done by creating ad hoc committees which include parents, teachers, professional staff, and other workers who can best determine what is needed and what is not.”
‘Together We Can’
Running on the “Together We Can” ticket are incumbent Trustees Jodi Casais, Pam Sclafane, and Melissa Godesky-Rodriguez.
Casais was first elected on a “Together We Can” slate in 2018, having helped see through the current teacher contract. Recently, Casias has been protesting high water bills.
“If anybody knows me, they know that I stand up for what I believe in!” Casais said. “I have been so happy to serve on the BBOE for the past three years, and I know that myself and my team have so much work to do, especially when it comes to keeping Bayonne affordable. Our students and their taxpaying parents deserve board members that will advocate for them, especially when it comes to maintaining property taxes!”
Sclafane was appointed to the board to fill the seat of former Trustee Joseph Broderick after his sudden resignation in 2020. She was born and raised in the Bayonne where she serves as Vice President at BCB Bank and on the Advisory Board of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce.
“As someone who has served as a trustee on the BBOE for almost a year now, I can say that my experience has been truly rewarding and eye-opening,” Sclafane said. “COVID-19 has challenged our school district, and we are prepared to continue supporting children and their families. I would also support more vocational opportunities and mentorship programs to allow our students to partner with members of the business community, so that they are well-prepared for the working world.”
Godesky-Rodriguez was appointed to the board this past August to fill the seat of former Trustee Ava Finnerty following her death in July. She is an outspoken parent who frequently attends board meetings and unsuccessfully ran as an independent in 2019.
“After more than a year of unprecedented uncertainty, I am grateful for the opportunity to not only run alongside Jodi Casais and Pam Sclafane, two incredibly dedicated women that are relentless advocates for our children, but to bring my own voice to the table,” Godesky-Rodriguez said. “The BBOE has done incredible work to take care of our students, and as the mother of a special-needs child, I would like to continue the fight for more emotional and hands-on support in our schools, to ensure that our children are able to thrive in a comfortable and safe environment.”
Priorities for the ticket include “expanding social services, maintaining property taxes to keep Bayonne affordable, implementing more technology in the classroom, and providing more tools needed in the classroom for Bayonne teachers to succeed.”
How to vote
Residents can vote early from Oct. 23 to 31, vote by mail, or cast their ballots on Election Day.
In Bayonne, the early voting booth will be at City Hall at 630 Avenue C in the council chambers. Voting will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
To vote by mail, residents must request a mail-in ballot. Residents can mail there ballot or place it in the drop box in front of City Hall.
For more information, go to www.hudsoncountyclerk.org/elections.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.