On November 3, much of voters’ attention will be paid to races for the U.S. Presidency and Congress. Meanwhile, one of the most impactful races for Cherry Hill residents’ daily lives may go more under the radar for many, as five candidates vie for three seats on the Board of Education. Eastside spoke with four of those candidates about a number of key issues. Carol Matlack, a current member of the Board of Education and candidate for re-election, declined an interview with Eastside. She offered to instead submit responses in writing to questions that were provided. All of the candidates’ positions have been summarized here, along with Eastside’s individual profiles of each, which can be found in another package on Eastside Online.
The five candidates in the race have varying backgrounds. Dr. Aslihan Cakmak is an educator and chairperson at an institute of higher education. Ineda “Corrien” Elmore-Stratton works as the Executive Director for the Greater Philadelphia YMCA. Miriam Stern is a licensed clinical social worker and business-owner. Matlack serves on the Board now and highlighted her experience as a preschool director. John Papeika works in food safety at a supermarket. All five have children and live in Cherry Hill.
In discussing Cherry Hill’s schools’ response to COVID-19, candidates’ opinions were varied. Papeika suggested three options should be available for families, including in-person, hybrid, and remote learning. He criticized a lack of planning by the district, as did Cakmak. Cakmak said she would work to get the students most in need of in-person learning back to school, and suggested various solutions for extra school time to make up missed learning. Stern and Elmore-Stratton both emphasized listening to the community to work towards the best solution for the most people. Matlack emphasized putting health first while writing that safe reopening of schools is a top priority.
On the issue of school start times, Cakmak, Elmore-Stratton, and Stern expressed support for listening to research and exploring a move to later starts. Papeika said he’s open to ideas but leans toward sticking to traditional start times. Matlack did not offer a position but wrote that the Board may consider the issue soon.
Coming to the topic of school funding and building repairs, all candidates agreed solutions need to be explored to repair or rebuild Cherry Hill’s schools. They also generally said Cherry Hill must continue to seek fair state funding, though often emphasizing exploring alternative funding in addition or in the interim. Stern has been involved with the fair funding fight for years and suggested private-public partnership, naming rights for buildings, a new bond, alumni fundraising, and grants should all be explored as sources of alternative funding. Matlack emphasized her and the Board’s work testifying and advocating in favor of increased state funding.
Talking about policing in schools, Cakmak and Stern most emphasized listening to community input to move forward in the best possible way. Stern said better restorative practices need to be employed in schools overall. Papeika said he’s in the middle of the road on the issue, open to keeping or decreasing police in schools. Elmore-Stratton spoke of her own experiences and work on the issue, saying she’s now more comfortable with police in schools than she once was. She emphasized school police being present in a positive way and not getting involved with discipline. Matlack said in light of recent events and issues, the Board needs to reconsider the issue of school policing.
Each candidate made a case as to why they are the best prepared and qualified to serve on the Board. Choosing someone who will best represent you and your ideas was an idea often emphasized. As the election approaches, one final message was consistent among each and every candidate for the Board of Education: everyone should get out and vote.