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Laura Fein Sets Sights on Teaneck Board of Education

On November 2, Election Day 2021, seven candidates will be vying for three seats on the Teaneck Board of Education (BOE). The Jewish Link sat down with candidate Laura Fein to discuss her passion for education and how she thinks she can improve the system so that our children receive the best academic experience possible.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m originally from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and moved to Teaneck in 2004 to be closer to my sister and her family. Prior to that I lived in Washington, D.C., where I was involved in government work for about 11 years. I completed my undergraduate degree at Harvard University, and I studied public policy at Hebrew University. I earned my law degree from Columbia University, and I am currently a practicing attorney with Eckert Seamans. I also work as a management consultant to nonprofits primarily in the educational space as well as the Jewish space. My husband and I have five daughters; the youngest is in seventh grade and the oldest is a junior at Harvard.

Why are you running for BOE and if elected what will be your priorities?

I’ve had a lifelong interest in education. While at Harvard I studied in a teacher program where I focused on educational technique, child psychology and child development. Things took a different turn in my life, but my interest in education never waned. In fact, many of my clients throughout the years have been in the educational space.

I’m running for the BOE because I’m concerned for the children of Teaneck. It’s widely known that in-person learning offers more hours of instruction and provides a far better education than virtual school. Missing in-person school for an extended period due to the pandemic set many of our children back and I feel compelled to catch them up to where they need to be.

I was encouraged to run by both leadership in the Jewish community and my non-Jewish neighbors. Between my passion for children and education, and as a mother of five, many people thought I was qualified to lead and hopefully improve the system. Once I decided to get involved, I studied how districts perform and was disturbed to find that our levels of proficiency were similar to some of the most desperately impoverished districts, and not nearly comparable to what you might expect from a district like Teaneck. I believe there are issues I could uncover with my background and experience that would help us do better.

What are some of the challenges facing the district and what specific suggestions do you have for improvement?

We need to prioritize academics. I believe having a solid foundation in reading, literacy, math and writing, as well as strong analytical skills, especially in science and technology, form the basis for any career a student might consider. After attending many meetings, it became clear to me that several people in leadership roles are more concerned with extracurriculars. I absolutely value extracurriculars, but focusing on these extras when more than 60% of the students in the district are not at grade-level proficiency in math and more than 40% are not at grade-level proficiency in reading and language arts, seems to me like trying to rearrange the furniture when the roof is on fire.

The other part of my platform is fiscal responsibility. I think the board needs to consider not only the needs of the schools and the faculty, but also the needs of the larger community. At a time when we are facing severe inflation and rising taxes, it’s extremely important that we keep an eye on optional expenses and refocus the funding where I believe it is needed most, in the classroom. The best way to improve academic outcomes is to have a student get more instruction in core subjects.

As far as the Jewish community is concerned, in the past there has been confusion on the part of the board in terms of some of the benefits our community receives from the public schools, even when our children are not enrolled. I would like to see some of those issues clarified so that everyone can receive the support they deserve. Another key issue I would like to focus on is the special-education program. I have heard from many local families, including members of the Jewish community who avail themselves of the services that are offered, that progress is needed.

What personal experiences have prepared you for this role?

I am passionate about children and education. I have devoted all my efforts to my own children’s education as well as being an educator and being involved in educational missions throughout my career. As an attorney I have worked in the child welfare system, and you could really see the difference that a good education can make, even when other things are not going well. I also firmly believe that every child is capable of learning. Obviously, there are individual differences, but basic proficiencies are achievable for every student.

What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?

My passion for education is at the top of the list. I would also say my ability to focus, negotiate and bring a group around to my point of view has helped me successfully advocate for things I believe in. As for my weakness, I may come across as too focused on academics and some may miss the point that I truly value the whole child. I want to make sure that we give them the best chance to develop all parts of themselves and keep the focus on what schools are intended to do.

Describe yourself in a few words.

I have a self-deprecating sense of humor. I can be very passionate, but I’m also very measured and thoughtful. I consider myself intuitive, yet very data-driven and results-oriented. You could say I’m a dedicated problem solver.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Raising five daughters is my biggest accomplishment. I’ve had my share of professional and academic success, but what matters to me most is being part of my community and above all my family.

Outside of local politics how do you spend your free time?

I’m an avid reader and a bit of a news junkie. I’m also quite crafty and creative and enjoy painting and knitting. I love music and occasionally delight in beating my husband at a good game of Scrabble!

If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be?

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools. She has transformed charter school education in New York City and accomplished a tremendous amount with kids who people had all but given up on. My guess is she would have many lessons from which I could learn.

If we see you, what should we do?

If anybody would like to speak to me or have me speak to a group, I would be happy to. I’m committed to serving Teaneck and helping improve our schools, and anyone who would like to help with that should absolutely reach out to me at [email protected] or by phone at 202-297-0897.

By Andrea Nissel

 

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