Spotlight: State Board President

If his background in missile defense has helped him work through difficult situations with the NJ State Board of Education, Arcelio Aponte is offering no comment

Arcelio Aponte

Title: President, New Jersey State Board of Education

Age: 48

Why he’s a player: Appointed to the state board in 2005 and elected its president this year, Aponte heads the 13-member panel that oversees education code and policy adoption for New Jersey. The board has lost some of its political heft over the years to the state education commissioner’s office, but it can still drive debates and discussions.

His day job: Director of Operations and Management, Economic Development, City of Newark. After jobs in missile defense and then facilities management, he returned to the city where he was born and raised and went to work for Mayor Cory Booker. “I wanted to share experience in the mayor’s vision to transform a city.”

Um, did you say missile defense? With an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from then-Trenton State College, Aponte’s first career was with General Electric testing missile guidance systems for the Navy. From there he worked in facilities management and planning back at Trenton State and then New Jersey City University.

Path to the state board: He met state Sen. Robert Smith (D-Middlesex) through his participation in Leadership New Jersey in 2004, and Smith put his name forward to then-Gov. Richard Codey. “When first appointed I remember reading through so many documents and thinking I should go back to school for law degree. But you find your niche of what you can bring to the board. For me, it is a systems perspective and whether these things can work better.”

Can he make the board work better? The state board has seen its relevance questioned of late. But beyond its administrative and policy powers, the board does have the bully pulpit for bringing issues to the public’s attention, as it did recently in pressing changes to the state’s alternative high school test. “I don’t feel at all that we are rubber-stamp board. I think the changes [to the state test] were directly result because of the board. And ultimately, if we get this right, there will be more students better prepared.”

Hometown: Piscataway, where he lives with his wife, Susan, and two children.