Hillside school board appoints two new members

Photos by Rebecca Panico Rayba Watson a former school board member who served seven years,was sworn in as the newest members of the Hillside Board of Education at a Feb. 15 board meeting.
Photos by Rebecca Panico Joi Stanley-Smith, who has worked as an independent mortgage consulatant and held managerial positions at Wells Fargo, was sworn in as the newest members of the Hillside Board of Education at a Feb. 15 board meeting.

HILLSIDE, NJ — A former school board member and the founder of a local nonprofit organization were appointed Feb. 15 to fill two vacancies on the board of education.

Joi Stanley-Smith, who founded a women’s empowerment group, and Rayba Watson, who served on the school board for seven years, were chosen by the board from a pool of four applicants.

The vacancies they filled were created when George L. Cook III and Dahlia Vertreese were elected in November as councilman and mayor, respectively. The school board held public interviews Feb. 15 for those who submitted resumes for the vacant seats.

“Welcome to (Joi) Stanley and welcome back to Rayba Watson,” school board Vice President Kisha Chiles-Bass said after the two were sworn in. “I am happy we have a full board. Now we can fully get down to work.”

Stanley-Smith has worked as an independent mortgage consultant and held managerial positions at Wells Fargo, and also founded Progressive Achievers Inc., which hosts an annual luncheon that recognizes women. She holds a master’s degree in communication and a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Rutgers University.

“To the public, I would like to offer you an opportunity to hold me accountable,” Stanley-Smith said. “So maybe for those who don’t know me, I always talk about accountability and you’ve seen me come out to these board meetings for some years now. So in my heart is the ability to work with our district so we can be the best district that Hillside can possibly be.”

Watson works for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commision and has earned her certification as a master school board member from the New Jersey School Boards Association. She has a master’s degree in communication leadership from Seton Hall University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from St. Peter’s University.

“I’m passionate about advocating for our children,” Watson, who was first elected to the board in 2011, said during her interview. “It’s up to us to give them the tools they need to be successful like us.”

She added that she wants to engage the community — especially parents — to become more involved at school board meetings.
The school board also interviewed Monique Fletcher, a substitute teacher with a bachelor’s degree in public administration who was an intern for U.S. Rep. Donald Payne. Christopher James also applied for the vacant seat, but was not present for the Feb. 15 public interviews. The terms of the seats now held by Stanley-Smith and Watson run until December, according to Marlena Batts, secretary to the district’s business administrator.

The school board had been waiting to fill the seats until the approval of a new contract with the Hillside teachers union, Angela Lawler, the union’s president, said. According to the Hillside Education Association, its members have been working without a contract since last year. School board member Angela Menza said one or two more members are needed for the board’s Negotiations Committee, on which she sits. The committee will meet with the union March 6, Menza said at the Feb. 15 meeting.