For Joanna Breitenbach, the turning point was a can of paint. She’d been plenty involved with her sons’ school and sports activities. But while serving as co-president of the Laning SCA, Breitenbach was approached by a Laning parent with a simple request: Could we paint the school halls in bright colors to make Laning more inviting?
“It looks fabulous,” Breitenbach says of the yellow, teal and green that went up in Laning’s hallways last summer. “It looks like an elementary school should look.” Then she pauses before adding, “Things kind of snowballed from there. I began thinking, what else can we do to improve the environment of the school and the school culture?”
Breitenbach is one of five candidates who is running for the Board of Education in Tuesday’s election, joining Judith DiNapoli, Dominic Ferry, Lisa Freschi and Michael Perry. There is one BOE seat up for election, the seat that had been held by Steve Spardel, who had been chosen to fill a one-year unexpired term created when Dawn DuBois stepped down from the Board. Spardel is not seeking reelection.
Snowballs, ironically enough, were pretty foreign to Breitenbach until a few years ago. She was born and raised in Texas, and came to New Jersey only when a new job with an Hispanic marketing agency beckoned. Since declaring her candidacy for the BOE in July, Breitenbach has been turning the listening skills she developed as a marketer to listening to the needs of Verona’s public school parents.
“I learned that there are a lot of inequalities in the district,” she says. “There are some schools where every teacher has a smart board, and some where there are only three.” With the Board of Ed emphasizing a uniform curriculum across all elementary schools, those disparities seemed wrong to Breitenbach. “We’re one district and eventually all our kids come to one place.”
The solution, she believes, is to listen to what parents, teachers and administrators need and find the best way to meet those needs. “It’s keeping the lines of communication constantly open,” she says of the task that would face her as a BOE member. “I want people to feel comfortable approaching me.” When Laning parents approached her with concerns about the impact that noise in the school was having on children with sensory issues, she researched cost-effective options for sound-dampening panels and lobbied the BOE to purchase them for Laning. The panels wound up costing the district less than $1,000.
“I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer as much as I can,” says Breitenbach, who has also been a co-president of the Junior Woman’s Club of Verona. “Because I have the opportunity, I feel that it is my responsibility to give back to the community.”
For more about Breitenbach see her campaign site on Facebook. For more about all the candidates, see MyVeronaNJ.com’s coverage of the recent SCA forum. The election is Tuesday, November 4.