Gov. Phil Murphy has nominated three new members of the New Jersey State Board of Education, a political hotbed as sex education curriculum promise to become an issue in next year’s campaigns for the state legislature.
If Mary Bennett, Dr. Kwanghee Jung, and Dr. Claudine Keenan are confirmed for six-year terms by the State Senate, they would become Murphy’s first picks to the 13-member board.
“Each of the nominees brings to the table unique insight that will be invaluable as we continue on our mission to maintain New Jersey’s place as the best state for public education in the nation. Not only do these nominees reflect the great diversity of our state, but their extensive experience and dedication to bettering the lives of students make them extremely qualified to serve on the Board.”
Murphy’s three nominees would take the seats of Mary Elizabeth Gazi, Mary Beth Berry, and Andrew Mulvihill. All three voted against the new sex education standards proposed by the state Department of Education and sought a reappraisal of sections that included controversial and graphic language.
“We are troubled by your counselling of parents that have issues with the standards to opt out” the wrote in a letter to acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan. “While we believe it should be the right of parents to opt out, we are troubled that so many find the standards as written to include provisions that would prompt them to opt out, resulting in their children missing so many of the important and less controversial topics that would benefit their children.”
A fourth signatory, Jack Fornaro, has not been replaced.
Bennett is an educational consultant for the Seton Hall University Academy for Urban Transformation. She is a former Newark high school principal and English teacher. Bennett lives in Irvington and will need signoff from four Essex senators, all Democrats.
Born in South Korea, Jung is the associate director for Data Management and Statistics at the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University. A resident of Teaneck, she will need five senators from Bergen – including a Republican, Holl Schepisi (R-River Vale), to move forward in the confirmation process.
Keenan has spent more than a decade at Stockton University as Dean of Education and as chief planning and budget officer. The Galloway resident will need the backing of State Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township) to advance.
These are Murphy’s first picks on the thirteen-member State Board of Education. The remaining board members, all on holdover status, were named by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Bennett would replace Gazi, Jung would take the seat of Berry, and Keenan was named to succeed Mulvihill, the current board vice president,
Murphy has only made one nomination to the board: Mark Biedron, a Republican who was dumped in 2016 after not blindly supporting Christie’s initiatives. Biedron’s nomination died after Senate President Steve Sweeney refused to post his nomination for a vote.
New Jersey Education Association President Sean Spiller endorsed the nominations.
“They bring a wealth and diversity of experience that will benefit New Jersey’s students and their families,” Spiller said. “We look forward to working with each of them, and the rest of the NJSBOE, to address the challenges facing our public schools and to ensure that they remain the very best in the nation.”
Senate Education Committee Chairman Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) commended Murphy for three picks who would advocate for public education.
“The State Board of Education plays a critical role in shaping the lives of the nearly 1.4 million students across our state,” Gopal stated. “In New Jersey, we will continue to strive for a public education system that expands opportunity, allowing every student to reach their full potential. I commend the Governor for nominating individuals who have demonstrated, throughout their accomplished careers, a steadfast commitment to public education and New Jersey’s students.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly repeated Spiller’s comments as those made by Gopal.