Zelda Spence Wallace, Montgomery School Board Candidate
By Barbara A. Preston | Posted September 28, 2023
Zelda Spence Wallace of Belle Mead is running on the "Champions for Students" Platform with two other incumbents—Christina Harris, and Victoria “Cookie” Franco-Herman—for one of three open seats on the Montgomery /Rocky Hill Board of Education. Also competing for a seat on the board are: John A. Sangiovanni, Deatte Gettinger and Santi Buscemi. They are running together on a platform titled "Respecting Parents." Election day is November 7.
Zelda Spence Wallace, Belle Mead resident
Educator in the Plainfield School District
Spence Wallace participated in a Q&A with the Montgomery News. Below are her answers, in her words.
Why are you running for school board?
"It’s time for continued change and I want to be a part of it. My family and I moved to Montgomery 15 years ago because it is a family community with a top school district. The gifted teachers and caring administrators helped prepare our children for success.
The MTSD experience has been positive, but also painful. The racial discrimination my children faced in school was hurtful. Montgomery is not immune to the racial divisiveness that plagues our nation and our schools. I believe in celebrating our town’s diversity. My candidacy is about elevating community engagement, promoting fiscal responsibility, and overseeing an education system where all children and families feel valued.
What do you consider to be the three most important challenges facing the Montgomery school district at this time?
"1. Interrupted learning and behavioral challenges due to the COVID-19 closure.
2. Addressing AP testing at MHS.
3. Maintaining fiscal sustainability."
Should the Montgomery School Board adopt a policy that requires teachers to provide alternative books in case a parent objects to a particular book that has been selected and vetted by the school administrators? Why or why not?
“Some Montgomery families have spoken out about wanting alternative textbooks when the required one is contrary to their family or religious beliefs.
As board members, it is our duty to vote on the superintendent’s recommendation of hiring professionals who are trained to identify age-appropriate textbooks. These professionals identify textbooks aligned to content standards and legislation that provide meaningful academic skill development.
Personally, I believe textbooks should match the world in which we live. Exposure to diversity in literature is important for the appreciation of other people and cultures. It can help other students learn about experiences outside of their own. I support the current system of vetting that is inclusive of parental feedback, so a textbook selection is judged on its content."
Should the Montgomery School Board adopt a policy that requires school staff to notify parents of the children’s gender identity and sexual orientation? For example when gender-nonconforming students wish to change their names, be called by new pronouns, or request other accommodations.
"Involving the community when developing notification policies and monitoring the district’s practice in this sensitive area is challenging.
Current NJ laws, NJSA 10:5-12(11), Title IX, NJSA 18A:3641, inform school boards that parental notification of their child’s sexual identify, preferred gender pronoun, or informal name change is not permitted. Indeed, this puts educators in an awkward position.
Parental notification is one that is valued in Montgomery, but so is adhering to the laws bestowed upon us. This is a time when parents, and educators, are encouraged to submit their concerns to the NJ Assembly and NJDOE, so their values are heard, and laws are developed to simultaneously protect children’s safety and parental rights.”
What professional and personal experiences have prepared you for serving on the board?
"With 21 years as an educator, I have served in almost every capacity, from classroom teacher to a central office administrator. As a BOE member, I have a strong sense of the role and learned the intricacies and state guidelines. I also participate in workshops to promote effectiveness, community, and productivity.
I have five children: Anita, 38, Dartmouth; Ashley, 31, Rutgers; Darron, 26, Syracuse; Chilly, 21, Oberlin (awaiting medical school acceptances), and Magnus, 17, MHS Class of 2023.
The success of Montgomery Schools impacts everyone in Montgomery and Rocky Hill, whether they have a student enrolled in the district, have a home whose value is impacted, or both. What do you propose to improve transparency and community involvement?
"Involving the community by acknowledging their voices when developing policy and monitoring the district’s practices is an essential characteristic of an effective school board. The current board advocated for a communications specialist to work with the superintendent to enhance district communications.
We also host town halls on topics requested by the community. On July 18, we covered Rubicon Atlas, which houses the district's K-12 curriculum and the books used in each class. A video is posted on the district website with step-by-step instructions for parents. When parents of students with a disability requested their voices be heard, we formed ad hoc committee to address the issues."