The new year has brought about upheaval in New Jersey’s educational leadership.
At the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, two new members were sworn in, making them the board’s first fresh faces since 2018. Their first meeting took place on the same day as acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan’s final gathering prior to her retirement on February 1. This may just be the start of further changes to come, since there are currently over a dozen unfilled posts in the Education Department and potential additions to the board.
How wonderful it is to have fresh viewpoints on the board for us. I believe our board is in good hands because of your extensive experience, Allen-McMillan remarked.
During the board’s monthly meeting, Mary Bennett from Irvington and Jeanette Peña from Union City took their oaths of office in front of a packed house.
Bennett works at Montclair State University as a mentor for teaching and learning. She worked as a principal, teacher, and student in Newark schools.
Bennett vowed to serve all of the students enrolled in New Jersey’s public schools with integrity, professionalism, and the application of his fifty years of experience.
Peña works for the Union City Board of Education as the educational director for special education and organizational responsibility. In addition, she was the president of the Union City Board of Education before becoming a licensed school psychologist.
On Wednesday, Bennett and Peña became official members of the board after being confirmed by the state Senate in its lame-duck session. During the previous legislative session, the Senate did not approve the four additional nominees proposed by Governor Phil Murphy. For the open positions, the governor will have to either renominate them or nominate someone else.
Adopting the administrative code, which establishes guidelines for carrying out education law, is the responsibility of the 13-member State Board of Education. All of the board members, excluding Bennett and Peña, are presently occupying positions that have expired. They have held these roles since the time of former governor Chris Christie, if not before.
Mary Beth Gazi, a board member, was replaced by Bennett. She will leave office in June 2024. Ernest Lepore vacated the position after retiring from the board in 2022 and being replaced by Peña. She will leave office in June 2028.