Since West New York Mayor Felix Roque took office following a post-recall election in May 2011 over former Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, the Board of Education has been a hotbed of activity, controversy, and rearrangement. This trend may end on May 16 when Roque will swear in two new members, expanding the board from five to seven.
West New York is a Type One school district, which means the size of the school board may be regulated and their members appointed by the district’s mayor. According to Superintendent John Fauta, Roque and the Board of Commissioners voted for the board’s expansion around a year ago, and next week during the board reorganization meeting, Angela Duvall and Nasrin Alam will make that decision a reality.
“I always say the more qualified people you have making decisions, the better the outcome and the more the ideas.” – Felix Roque
Roque added that he selected the new members based on their qualifications and in consultation with Fauta and Assistant Superintendent Clara Herrera.
“As commander in chief of the town I will always have input,” Roque said, “but [Fauta and Herrera] are on the front lines. For them, education is first, and we must sit down to find the best solution together.”
Changes across the board
Duvall and Alam will be the most recent in a long series of changes Roque has advocated for and made since his mayoral takeover nearly a year ago.
It all began in July on a transitional technicality when Roque filed a complaint with the State Commissioner of Education over Vega’s last-minute board appointees: Janet Passante and Alexander Locatelli. He argued that Vega’s act violated a state statute which prohibits the appointment of board members between the first and third Tuesdays in May of an election year.
The state commissioner of education ordered the two to step down from the board in mid-September.
To compound the controversy, Roque also spearheaded a civil action complaint filed by the town of West New York in September against Passante, alleging that she falsely claimed $306,324 worth of back pay upon retiring for unused vacation, sick and compensatory time.
Roque replaced Passante and Locatelli with Rep. Albio Sires’ (D-13th) wife, Adrienne Kole-Sires, and resident Vilma Reyes the following October. Kole-Sires was voted in as new board president, replacing town clerk and Vega ally Cosmo Cirillo.
This did not sit well with Cirillo, nor did Cirillo’s seat on the board sit well with Roque. In November, in an unprecedented act by the board, Cirillo was voted out by three of his co-members. The act was based on the recommendation of two letters issued by the N.J. Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Outside Activities of Judiciary Employees that found Cirillo’s full-time clerk job conflicted with his membership on the board.
Though Cirillo appealed the ruling, he was not reinstated, and board member Joseph Rodriguez took his place in December.
Meet the new members
Angela Duvall works for the West New York Housing Authority, and was the Jersey City Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president for 11 while her two children attended school. Her involvement in their education was always her priority, and she believes that parental involvement is key to proper development.
“When Dr. Roque approached me to join the board, it fulfilled my dream,” she said. “My daughter will graduate with a degree in business and finance from Rutgers and work for UBS Bank, and my son is an officer in the army. I believe their success is a direct result of my involvement in their education when they were children.”
Duvall is concerned by the overcrowding situation, and she wishes to advocate for more special education programs, more exercise, more after school activities while on the board. She will also, of course, use her PTA experience to figure out ways to get parents more involved.
“Parents’ self esteem is down, and when that happens, children’s self esteem is affected,” Duvall explained. “You have to teach your children what’s important and make them believe they could be the president of the United States one day.”
Nasrin Alam serves as vice president of the West New York Library Board as a long-time resident and has a daughter who graduated from Memorial High School before moving on to Temple University. Originally from Bangladesh, Alam said that part of Roque’s motivation to bring her to the board was his desire to bring a culturally diverse perspective to the town’s education.
She wishes to speak directly with families and hear their thoughts on what they need from the schools.
“I am motivated to serve the people in our town,” Alam said. “I believe that it is important for us to develop and create effective and efficient educational programs and activities, and I will work with the rest of the board members to make sure our school system is the best.”
Duvall and Alam will be sworn in during the Board of Education reorganization meeting on Wednesday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Early Childhood Center located at 5204 Hudson Ave.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org