Meet Sahar Aziz, Candidate for Westfield Board of Education | #Education

Name: Sahar Aziz

Age: 45

How long have you lived in Westfield? My husband, three children, and I moved to Westfield three years ago from Dallas, Texas.

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What are your qualifications for office? My professional training as a lawyer and experience as a professor at a public university provide me skills and insights that I believe will add value to the oversight role of the Board of Education. For example, I have chaired committees tasked with budget and planning which entailed reviewing industry standards, best practices, and comparisons with peer institutions. I also engaged with various stakeholders to solicit their feedback in pursuit of the best course of action that serves the institution’s overall mission.

In my role as a Rutgers Law professor training the next generation of lawyers in New Jersey, I understand the type of support needed for teachers to be most effective and in turn provide the best service to our students. Thus, providing teacher training and the resources they need to give our children a robust, high-quality education should be a priority for any high achieving school district

Finally, as a mother of a 16-year-old daughter and two boys aged 15 and 10, I appreciate how different each child is in how they learn, socialize, and mature. Our schools should be equipped to serve the different needs, interests, and ways of learning of all of our students.

What would your top priorities be if elected to the school board? Through a process that incorporates state and national best practices, comparisons with peer districts, and stakeholder feedback, I would prioritize the following issues:

1 – Curricular improvements that adapt to the increasing ubiquity of technology and entrepreneurship in our economy and society

2 – Increasing diversity in teacher hiring, teacher training, and curriculum

3 – Providing high quality academic, emotional, and mental counseling to our students

How would you work to promote diversity in Westfield public schools’ education? Over recent years, diversity has been both co-opted and staunchly opposed. Diversity is co-opted when it becomes mere check-the-box tasks that do not meaningfully change the life experiences of people. Meanwhile, diversity is subject to knee-jerk opposition by individuals and groups who mistakenly believe diversity initiatives aim to shame white people, men, or other groups with collective power.

As a civil rights legal scholar, I approach diversity as a tool to enrich the lives of our students, faculty, staff, and community through exposure to people and cultures that are different than our own. Ideally, this can be done through life experiences such as having teachers with diverse life experiences, engaging with students from diverse backgrounds, and travel. At the very least, the curriculum should allow our students to read, listen, and learn about the perspectives of minorities, women, and other groups of people who historically have not experienced collective power. Such exposure instills empathy and critical thinking—an essential skill for tomorrow’s leaders.

What are some of the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the district and how you would handle them? The impact of COVID-19 on education for me is not limited to my own children, but also to my job. Like our Westfield teachers, I had to learn how to teach online over the summer for a fully online fall semester at Rutgers Law School. Although some of the circumstances are beyond our control, we can prioritize supporting our teachers and administrators with the training, IT support, and technological tools they need as they do their best to adapt and teach effectively.

While our children benefit from socialization with peers, the top priority should be the collective health of our community. I find the current opt-out hybrid model to be a reasonable balance based on our current infection rates. If circumstances change, flexibility and patience are essential as with our administrators and teachers are put in the unenviable position of trying to provide a high-quality education during a global pandemic. COVID19 has taught us the extent to which we are all interconnected, and how our individual behavior affects each other and our community.

What else would you like the readers to know? I love to run, read and take my kids to the Jersey Shore — my favorite place in New Jersey.

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