Board selects two residents to ‘have a seat at the table’

Corrien Elmore Stratton and Ben Ovadia will fill the two vacant seats.

The Cherry Hill Board of Education has two new members joining its ranks. The board announced on Wednesday, July 10 that Corrien Elmore Stratton and Ben Ovadia will fill two vacant seats.

On Tuesday, July 9, the board held candidate interviews prior to its committee of the whole meeting. Around 20 applicants responded to the vacancy notice, and from there, the board narrowed the pool to four candidates who were asked to come in for a forum-style interview on Tuesday evening. 

Board President Eric Goodwin and Vice President Lisa Saidel asked candidates Rosy Arroyo, Emily Capella, Corrien Elmore Stratton and Ben Ovadia a variety of questions spanning topics that included what needs work in the district, how board members should conduct themselves on social media and what they are most proud of about the Cherry Hill School District. 

Throughout the questioning, each of the candidates laid out the reasons they wanted to serve and what they felt they could bring to the table.

Ovadia said he and his wife, a graduate of Cherry Hill High School West, were looking for a great community with a strong school district, and so, they moved to Cherry Hill about a decade ago. Five years ago, he joined the Parent Teacher Association at Joseph D. Sharp Elementary School, and in the years since, he’s met dozens of parents and community advocates. Since getting involved in the school district, he has become actively involved in advocacy, including participating in the fair funding campaign and joining efforts to get the Chinese language offered at the high school level. He said being a board member is more work than many may realize, but it’s a challenge he is ready to take on. 

“It’s a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous commitment,” Ovadia. 

Elmore Stratton said she is a longtime resident of Cherry Hill, having gone through the school district and graduating from West. She is a member of the Cherry Hill African American Civic Association, and said she applied for the opening because she felt serving on the board was a great avenue to share her love for the community. Elmore Stratton said she has spent 90 percent of her career in the nonprofit sector, and she currently serves as executive director of teen leadership for the Greater Philadelphia YMCA. She said she wants to use her seat on the board as an example for other people in the community who want to have a voice but may be fearful of trying out for positions like this.

“I would say one of the reasons I’m here is because I can’t complain about the food that’s served if I don’t have a seat at the table,” Elmore Stratton said. 

Capella said she has spent more than 40 years as a Cherry Hill resident. Her two children went through the district, and Capella, herself, spent around 38 years in public education. She served as a teacher, administrator and was ultimately superintendent of the Lenape Regional School District. She said her passion for public education has never ceased, and her hope was to help facilitate decisions that would support 21st century curriculum. She said she wanted to see the district working toward more secure and safety facilities. She said attending a recent board meeting where students were recognized for their accomplishments reminded her of what she enjoyed most about working in public education and inspired her to apply.  

“It just kind of took me back and nourished my soul,” Capella said. 

Arroyo moved to Cherry Hill with her husband in 2010 and has two children. She said while they are not yet school-age, she applied because she wanted to make an impact on the school district they’ll be attending in the future. Arroyo currently serves as the Camden County Youth Service Commission administrator, and said she hoped to bring her experience in policy and programming development to the board. She said she believes in bringing “restorative practices” to the district, including educating students on accepting those from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds. 

“My purpose is just to be [of] service to my community,” Arroyo said. 

The board discussed the interview process in executive session on Tuesday night, and the district announced its selections on its website and Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon. 

Elmore Stratton and Ovadia will have to undergo a background check before they can be formerly seated on the board. Goodwin said he anticipates the pair officially joining the ranks sometime in August. Both candidates’ terms will expire come January unless they register and are elected in the November election. 

The next meeting of the Cherry Hill Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, July 23 at 7 p.m. at the Malberg Administration Building.