A mother of three, Sheila Montague is a lifelong resident of Newark and a tireless community advocate. Sheila is currently a professor at Essex County College, and a veteran teacher of 20 years in the Newark Public School system. She is a graduate of Kean University with a major in Secondary Education and a minor in African American Studies, and holds a Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from Seton Hall Universities.
Sheila has experience working with Newark Public Schools students at the elementary and high school level. Her numerous honors and awards include The National Honor Roll of Outstanding American Teachers, a decorated record as a debate and basketball coach with a decade of championships, debate tournament victories among others. In 2009-2010, Sheila was the first place winner in an Elementary School City-wide Film Festival Award for best Middle School film/documentary on the topic of how growing up in an urban district without a dad effected several students. Her dedication and work ethic have opened the door to higher education for countless urban students.
Sheila is a published author of poetry and founder of community based organizations, Changing the Lens Together (CTLT) and Face Structure, which hosted The First Teen Hip Hop Competition in 2010 where teens across the city performed original pieces grounded in historical messages and political issues. Sheila has a passion for community outreach and supports many community driven initiatives including collaboration with neighborhood churches and other organizations that share common goals of community- building and -uplifting. Sheila is also an active founding member of Parents United for Local School Education (PULSE), an active member of People's Organization for Progress (POP), a member of The National NAACP and a certified notary public of New Jersey.
2021 Candidate Q&A
Q1: Members of the Newark Board of Education make decisions that guide the public school system. Please describe your process for decision-making, especially when working on a team of individuals with multiple points of view.
A1: In a team environment with differing perspectives, I would use a rational decision-making model, where; the first step requires that we study the facts. You cannot fix what you do not understand. Then, we’d identify possible solutions that employ evidence-based practices to ensure we can then vote on the best possible outcome for students. The process needs to include evidence and an impact analysis to determine how any proposed solution would work given the makeup of our student body. As a Board member, my responsibility to the community is to ensure that we maintain an environment of true inclusion and collaboration. The concerns of the community must be taken into account when considering potential solutions or programming changes. Even when the opinions of the community differ from board members, we have a duty to ensure they are not left out of the decision-making process. As such, to ensure that community engagement remains a priority of the board, it’s important that we have board members who have the skills, expertise, and lived experience to identify with families and community members that we represent. This is why I stand on the platform Open the Door; because when it comes parent voice and parent choice, we need to Open the Door. When it comes to transparency and fiscal oversight, we need to Open the Door. When it comes to student success and better career opportunities, Vote B1 Sheila Montague and together, we will Open the Door.
Q2: What is your top priority to address during your term if elected?
A2: My top priority would be to ensure unilateral equity. All students deserve to have equal access to high-quality public schools within a short distance from their homes. They all deserve access to textbooks that are not falling apart and functioning laptops with high-speed internet access. All students should have the option of pursuing trades or specialties of their choice to make learning a rewarding experience. My participation in the Board would change the lens of the Board and the School Administration alike. I would introduce proposals that include students in mapping out their futures. For instance, we could explore opportunities to utilize student-driven processes to set educational goals for themselves; thereby reigniting the joy of learning for all students. I define a successful 1st-year as one where the Schoolboard commits to repairing the harms done by the anti-parent and anti-community narrative that has been perpetuated over the years.
Q3: What is the biggest challenge facing the young people of Newark today?
A3: The biggest challenge facing the young people of Newark is overcoming systems of oppression. Today, across America, the average graduation rate is 85%. For white public school students, the rate is 89%. For Black and Hispanic students, it’s around 80%. Meanwhile, in a state whose education system is normally at the top of the charts, Newark’s graduation rate is a low 75%. Now, I could choose to focus on the gains we’ve made following state control; but honestly, we haven’t done enough. The systems that have thrived on our oppression continue to fester and seep into our school system in ways that keep our kids out of the board room yet filling for-profit prisons. For example, 85% of youth behind bars today have a disability. That means we have work to do. There is no reason that a school system that is managed by representation of the people it serves is failing students. The role I would play in addressing this issue is championing meaningful change. I would propose and vote to adopt policies that put students first and prepare them for a career after high school. I would support policies that ensure safety, cultural responsiveness, and self-determination so that students have a foundation and a springboard that sets them on a path that overcomes injustice and knocks down barriers to success. Wait No More and Open the Door – Vote B1 – Sheila Montague.