METUCHEN – Four candidates will vie for the three, three-year terms open on the Metuchen Board of Education in the upcoming election.
Incumbents Michele C. Cook, Chris Derflinger and newcomer Deborah M. Spigner are running on the “Advocating for All” ticket, while newcomer Christina Orozco is running on the Educator Transparent Collaborator ticket.
The general election is on Nov. 2.
Board member Justin Manley is not seeking re-election.
Michele C. Cook, 44, who has lived in the borough for eight years, is married to Jerred Cook and has two children attending Edgar Middle School, a son, 13, and a daughter, 11.
She earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2001 and earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Providence College in 1998. She is employed as a teacher of social studies.
In the community, Cook has been a member of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at various stages in her children’s educational careers; she has coached youth basketball; assisted the Metuchen Soccer Megatastical; been a member of NJ Fiberworks; coordinated an annual neighborhood block party and is working to help create a Metuchen chapter of PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).
Cook said the “difficulties of the past year” has driven her to seek a second term on the school board.
“When at times friends asked why I would want to do this again, my response was simple: because I believe that my voice and experience are important on the board, and they benefit the children of the district,” she said. “My professional experience as both an educator and as an attorney give me knowledge and the ability to assist the district in reaching its goals through deliberate and thoughtful policy development.”
Cook said there are many facets to ensuring the best for all students in a school district. One of her main focuses over the last three years on the board has been on the board’s Facilities Committee.
“In facilities, we focus on improvements and expansions to our physical structures that allow for smaller class sizes, additional class offerings and better scheduling options at all grade levels,” she said. “I would like to continue working toward our goal of expanding the four school buildings to provide the best possible experience for all students in the district.”
Chris Derflinger, 35, who has lived in Metuchen for 24 years, is married with three children, ages 9, 6 and 4.
He earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Montclair State University, a master’s degree in curriculum, instruction and assessment from Walden University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Montclair University. He is employed as an assistant principal.
In the community he is actively engaged with the PTOs at Campbell Elementary and Moss schools.
Derflinger is seeking his second term.
“As a parent of three children who attend Metuchen Public Schools and as an educator in my professional life, the BOE is a place where I can positively contribute to the lives of our children,” he said. “I believe I have the skills and the heart to be a great board member.”
If re-elected, Derflinger said policy development is one area he would want to continue to concentrate on.
“The responsibilities of a board are clearly defined,” he said. “As a board member, it is not my job to supervise the daily operations of the school district. It is part of my job to adopt policies that positively impact student learning. I would like to continue to focus on establishing policies that promote best teaching practices, rigorous programming and curriculum, and equity and inclusion for all students.”
Christina Orozco, 45, moved to Metuchen in summer 2017 for “the sole purpose of providing our three daughters with the opportunity to be part of a close-knit community and to experience the exceptional education that the Metuchen School District provides its students.”
Orozco is a 1994 graduate of Edison High School. She earned an associate’s degree in psychology from Middlesex County College in 1997, a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers College in 1999, a master’s degree in special education and early childhood/elementary education in 2000 and a master’s degree in administration and supervision in 2016 from Rutgers Graduate School of Education.
She is employed as a special education specialist for the New Jersey Department of Education and has more than 20 years of educational experience in the field of special education.
In the community, Orozco has served as a pro bono special education advocate in Middlesex, Monmouth, Union and Somerset counties for more than 15 years assisting families with guidance regarding I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services), 504s, special education programs and related services.
Within Metuchen, she has assisted families with transitioning from Early Intervention to preschool or with forging necessary connections with the Division of Developmental Disabilities and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to ensure a seamless transition for their children as they enter adulthood upon graduation.
Orozco is seeking her first term.
“I know my vast experiences as an educator and administrator will be an asset as the district navigates fiscal, instructional and personnel initiatives and I will be able to support the district, as changes in education are taking place,” she said. “I am also confident that my professional and educational experiences and my work with the New Jersey Department of Education have not only provided me with the necessary skills, knowledge and resources to be a highly effective and dedicated BOE member, but have prepared me to successfully meet and surpass the great demands and challenges of such a position.”
If elected, Orozco said she would like to “ensure there is true transparency, communication and collaboration amongst all stakeholders” including parents/guardians, students, administrators, faculty, staff, community members and various agencies and “to guarantee equitable access to instructional programs, materials and resources within the district and via alternate sources; especially for students with special education needs and/or social emotional needs.”
She emphasized “to also make certain that all students continue to be provided with a safe, rigorous and exceptional educational environment that sets high expectations, addresses intellectual, social and emotional needs and to ensure that all students are exceeding federal and state expectations in order to successfully compete in a global society.”
Deborah M. Spigner, 54, has lived in Metuchen for 17-plus years. She is married and has a 17-year-old son.
Spigner earned a doctoral degree in public administration from Kean University, a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in communications. She is employed as a program analyst and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, DEIA, consultant.
In the community, Spigner currently serves as treasurer for Metuchen High School’s PTO and the Mayor’s Equity Commission. She has served as a board member for the Metuchen YMCA, served as an assistant coach for the Metuchen school soccer program and was named YMCA’s Minority Achiever Award in 2008.
Spigner is seeking her first term.
“Serving my community has always been a priority for me,” she said. “I have served the Metuchen community in various ways over the 17 years that I have lived here. I also have a strong background in public management and served on several boards of nonprofit organizations that will help me in contributing effectively to the BOE.”
Spigner said as an incoming board member, she would like to be able to learn about the specific policy areas that are priority for the district and to provide input using her expertise.
“But I know that issues of safety that impact students in our district should be prioritized and given the attention and resources needed,” she said. “These include mental health and as well as the physical safety of our children. Environmental issues are also a huge concern to me specifically because of its effect on the physical environment that will directly impact our kids and their futures.”
Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.