Meet the Candidates for the Board of Education
On November 7th, Clifton will vote to fill three seats on the Board of Education. Fahim Abedrabbo, Feras Awwad, and Jim Smith’s seats are all up grabs, with Abedrabbo and Smith both seeking reelection.
Although the Superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the district, the Board of Education plays an important role in helping to shape plans and policies that affect the way the district runs. While the Board generally takes recommendations from the Superintendent, they are ultimately responsible for voting on and passing various policies. The commissioners on this important Board are volunteers and are not paid a salary. They include parents, teachers, and other community members with a vested interest in making sure that our schools are strong and our students, well-educated and cared for.
This cycle, we have seven candidates vying for those three seats. Choosing who will fill those seats is an important task for all voters and The Clifton Times is happy to introduce you to them here. Keep your eyes open for more opportunities to hear from the candidates in the future. Candidates are listed in the same order in which they appear on the County Clerk’s register.
Joe Siano is a lifelong resident of Clifton and a local business owner and he understands the importance of strong partnerships between schools, families, and local businesses. He pledges “to work to build strong relationships between our schools and the broader community to provide opportunities for our students to excel and prepare for their future.”
As a business owner, Siano has experience working with our diverse community and he understands the importance of collaboration and teamwork, skills he would bring to the Board if elected as he works to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to provide a world-class education to our students.
Cameron Hebron is a product of Clifton schools, an alumnus of Clifton High School (class of 2015), and of Xavier University, where he majored in Public Health. While pursuing his degree, Hebron worked with prototype entities, primarily involved in reforming hospital curricula to reflect modern Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion standards.
Hebron is concerned that Clifton’s schools are losing students to private schools with disproportionate budgets. “When I win I’d like to work with parents and teachers to advocate for budgets and policy changes that reflect the needs of our community.” He plans to work with the other Board of Education commissioners to pursue grants and advocate for assistance from the state whenever necessary to ensure appropriate funding for our schools.
Our district, he said, serves many English learners who have the linguistic skills today's job market values, with the ability to communicate in more than one language. English learners make up only 10% of the population but make up 14% of homeless students (NJTESOL, 2021 ). As an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) graduate, Hebron knows there are a lot of financial and educational resources out there that families might not know they’re entitled to. “I’m from this district and I’m ready to represent the future of this school district.”
Juan D. Pabon is a 35-year-old father of two. He and his wife Laura “couldn't be happier being in this amazing city.” His daughter attends School #4 and his young son will soon attend Pre-K. Pabon has also been working in Clifton for over 11 years and through his leadership there, he has been elected Union Leader and Shop Steward.
Some of Pabon’s goals for his campaign and candidacy include listening to our entire community so that we may work together to continue providing Clifton with the best quality education, promoting and increasing a culture of sports and arts in our schools from an early age to develop our children into well-rounded individuals, and increasing bilingual staff in schools to provide better communication with parents.
Pabon looks forward to meeting more community members and working together.
Jim Smith is running as an incumbent, currently serving as President of the Board. He worked as an educator for 20 years and was first elected to the Clifton BOE in May of 1992 where he served for 12 years. He was appointed again in 2020 to fill a vacancy and was reelected the following year. As a teacher, Smith was passionate about enhancing the learning process for Clifton’s students and giving them the tools they need to succeed in life.
“I ran for the Board many years ago because I knew my service to help others, specifically students, was something I wanted to do and I wanted to help my community.”
Smith decided to run for reelection to continue working on the great things the current Board has started. He was part of the Board that approved and implemented the bond referendum projects and hopes to see those plans through to the finish. He is proud to support Dr. Danny Robertozzi as Superintendent of Schools and to ensure that the staff have the tools they need to succeed.
“There is so much more to come and I know with my experience, hard work, and dedication I know I can and will be a Board member who remains dedicated to Clifton, working together to assure our students succeed with the best faculty and staff and an Administration team that works hard every day.”
Tanya Suarez was born and raised in Jersey City, NJ which gave her a deep appreciation for cultural diversity. Suarez is passionate when it comes to working with children, youth, and families within education and has spent much of her career advocating for their rights within the communities and schools she’s worked in. For this reason, Suarez wants to bring her advocacy efforts to the Board of Education in Clifton because, “I know that I provide a unique perspective to school policies as I have witnessed the challenging experiences of the students and families within education, especially those who have needed advocacy with disability services in schools.”
Suarez is a Ph.D. candidate at Montclair State University in the Teacher Education and Teacher Development Program. She received her masters in social work at Columbia University School of Social Work and has served children, youth, and families for 20 years in social services, with ten of those years as a school social worker. Suarez is also a trained facilitator for social justice and equity work through the National SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Project where she has brought seminars to educators and parents in efforts to unveil, understand, and discuss systems of power and oppression. During her leisure time, she enjoys volunteering at her son’s school, hiking, crafting, dancing, or being at the park with her son and pug.
Joe Canova is an active Clifton parent with three daughters, ages 3, 9, and 12 in School 3 and CCMS. He formerly served on the Board of Education and is running with the hopes of reclaiming a seat.
Canova is part of the HSAs for both of his daughters’ schools and was on the NJSBA (NJ School Board Association) State Board of Directors as an alternate for Passaic County. During his time on the Clifton BOE, Canova served on each of the subcommittees and was on the Board for the selection of Dr. Robertozzi as the new superintendent, securing the referendum approval, getting through a year of remote learning, securing the 1:1 technology for every student, and hardening school security.
Before serving as a board member, Canova helped fund and push a campaign with students, community members, and staff, including other struggling districts, to secure our state funding. This successful endeavor has funded Clifton schools close to $100M since passing legislation in our favor, securing our $50M each year for us moving forward.
Canova works at Berkeley College as a Senior Director in the IT department, reporting to the CIO which gives him a perspective of what students need coming into a college setting.
Fahim Abedrabbo is a Clifton native and an incumbent, having served on the Clifton Board of Education for the past seven years. While on the board of education, he has served on many committees including technology, HASA Liaison, municipal alliance, policy, the diversity committee, and has chaired several committees: legislative, policy, the athletics committee, and more.
Abedrabbo hopes to continue the good work the Board has done but acknowledges, “There is still more to do, and this includes advocating for our special education population, strengthening education, and keeping the taxpayers in mind during all decisions. We are united together for our children.”
Abedrabbo’s educational background includes a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration, and he is currently a Doctoral student in Education. He has worked in government for 12 years and in higher education for five. Abedrabbo is proud to call Clifton “home” and said, “Clifton is an amazing town with room for opportunities to make it better. Paired with my experience in government and education, I believe together we can continue to make a stronger Clifton school system if given the opportunity to serve another term. I value our Clifton community and my cell phone is always open for conversations.”
The Clifton Times will continue to bring you information on these candidates over the next several months. Please subscribe to our newsletter if you don't already get it to make sure you don't miss any of the coverage. We will also be sharing information about registering to vote, voting by mail, and finding your polling location. It's not too early to start making a plan to make sure that your voice is counted in the November election!