William L. Dickinson High School Jersey City
William L. Dickinson High School Jersey City

A recent college graduate and an advocate for the hearing-impaired are among the nine candidates running for three seats on the Jersey City Board of Education in November. With all the current board trustees who are up for election not running again, three newcomers will fill the three-year terms.

Retired Jersey City public school teacher Paula J. Jones-Watson, first-generation college student Younass Mohamed Barkouch, and parent leader Natalia Ioffe are running on the “Education Matters” slate and have been endorsed by the Jersey City Education Association.

Barkouch attended Jersey City Public Schools and is a graduate of Rutgers University, where he studied biological sciences and public health, investigating the problem of educational equity in JCPS for a senior project.

He was inspired by watching current Board President Mussab Ali become the youngest elected official in Jersey City’s history and the first Muslim elected to public office in the city.

Ali, who is receiving treatment for Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, cited health concerns in his decision not to run for another term and will be supporting Barkouch. On Monday, Ali announced that his cancer was in “complete remission.”

Natalia Ioffe, Younass Barkouch & Paula Jones-Watson
From left: Natalia Ioffe, Younass Barkouch & Paula Jones-Watson

“Win or lose, I hope my running inspires other young adults to become more involved in the Jersey City community,” Barkouch told Jersey City Times. “During my time at Rutgers, I met many hardworking and intelligent students who are Jersey City public school alumni and who I believe can positively contribute to the overall progression of Jersey City. Just as Mussab Ali inspired me, I hope to inspire others.”

Fellow Education Matters candidate Ioffe said she would draw on her business management degree and parent volunteer experience if elected to the board.

“My proudest accomplishments have been exponentially increasing nonprofit revenues to support our school, training and raising new parent leaders, and connecting parent council teams in our district for mutual growth and success,” Ioffe told the Jersey City Times.

Ioffe unsuccessfully ran for the school board in 2016 and 2018.

Running on the “Change For Children” slate are Doris ‘Toni’ Ervin, Erika Baez, and Tyson T. Halley. Change For Children was critical of tax increases and school facility deficits last year.

“In a school system that is hard to navigate and where substantial answers on school policy or operations are difficult to get, parents are left on their own with no say in their children’s education,” said candidate Baez in a statement. “Parents shouldn’t need a Ph.D to ensure their children get a good education.”

Fellow Change for Children candidate Halley has been active in his ward and throughout the city on issues pertaining to special needs students.

“As someone who grew up with severe hearing loss, I know the extra hurdles special needs students have to get over to get equity in their education,” Halley said in a statement. “On the board, I will ensure that special needs students along with all other students are given every opportunity to succeed.”

Also running are candidates unaffiliated with either of these two well known slates. Mr. Vishesh Modi is running with the slogan “Education Skills Matter.” Mr. Asad Dar and Ms. Afaf Muhammad are running without slogans. These candidates did not respond to interview requests Jersey City Times emailed them.

In addition to Ali, trustees Marilyn Roman and Joan Terrell-Paige are opting not to run in 2021.

Ali was elected to a one-year term on the board in 2017 and re-elected for a three-year term in 2018.

Roman, a former acting Jersey City mayor who has taught and supervised in the city’s public schools, has served on the Jersey City Board of Education since 2012.

Terrell-Paige, elected in 2018, is completing one three-year term on the board.

Andrea Crowley-Hughes is a writer and media maker motivated by chronicling and sustaining communities. Her reporting on education, sustainability and the restaurant industry has recently been featured...