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Princeton School Board 2012

Princeton Candidates Answer League Questions

Vote Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 12 noon to 9 p.m. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the Princeton Borough candidates for the Princeton Board of Education to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The Princeton Packet.  The candidates were allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for the total. 

Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)

Rebecca Cox (incumbent) - Freelance financial writer and editor

Martha Land - Formerly worked in Fundraising/Development; currently a stay-at-home mom

Dudley Sipprelle - Consultant, Diplomat and Educator

Describe your personal experiences and involvement with public schools that qualify you as a school board member.

Ms. Cox:  I have served two terms (six years) on the Princeton Board of Education and, for the past two years, I have served as president.  In the last three years I have navigated the district through a dramatic loss of state aid and the accompanying national recession; negotiated fair and fiscally sound contracts with three unions; maintained Princeton’s standing as a state and national leader in academics, athletics and the arts; and enhanced K-12 curriculum with (1) a focus on writing, (2) expanded Mandarin classes, (3) unified K-5 class schedules and (4) a longer PHS break period to provide a proper lunchtime for students with full schedules. I represented the district’s interests before the state legislature and as a member of several key N.J. School Board Association committees. I also launched the district’s website redesign and led the selection of a new name for our district. 

Ms. Land:  I bring firsthand experience with our schools. I have always been a big supporter of public education and my three children entered the Princeton Schools 10 years ago. As a parent and school volunteer, I have experienced the entire curriculum range from elementary school through high school. I have also been involved with the hockey and baseball booster clubs. In addition, I have been on the Board of Fund 101: (the Princeton Regional Scholarship Foundation) for the past five years and have helped the program award thousands of dollars in scholarships each year to PHS students in need. My involvement with 101: has been a wonderful opportunity not only to help our students but also to see what heights they can reach.

Mr. Sipprelle:  During my career with the United States Department of State, I received awards for excellence in management and analysis.   While serving my country abroad, I was a board member of American and international schools and President of a large Parent-Teacher Organization.

Prior to my diplomatic career, I was a public high school teacher and athletic coach.  I received a fellowship to study economics to upgrade economic literacy in the public schools.  I was a visiting university Professor of International Relations. 

As a public school graduate, parent of four sons who attended public schools, teacher, P-T-O president and school board member, I have been involved with public education in every aspect.  My broad experience provides a unique perspective for educational policy-making.

List, in order of priority, the three most important challenges facing the Princeton Public Schools. How do you plan, in both the short and long term, to address them?

Ms. Cox:  (1) The district will have to adopt a new state-mandated evaluation system for all employees over the next year, with full rollout in 2013. I will endeavor to make the process as smooth as possible. (2) The district will need to address repairs and improvements at the six schools, including replacing JW’s roof and the PHS track. I will help secure funding for the repairs. (3) The enhancement of teaching and learning with new technology tools donated by the Princeton Education Foundation through its PowerUp! campaign. I will help the funding raising effort and support the selection of those tools, which will assist in aligning the district’s K-12 curriculum with new core standards.

Ms. Land:  For the foreseeable future, we will face lower levels of State funding. In the short term, we must continue to optimize our school budget to maximize how far our dollars can go.  Longer term, we will need to broaden our outreach to parents, community groups and businesses to build a stronger financial base for funding school activities.

We must ensure that our schools retain their special quality. Princeton schools are the wonderful schools they are not only because of our exceptional academics, but also because we offer students a broad range of non-academic activities that allow them to reach their full potential, such as music, art drama and athletics. In tough economic times, a quick answer is to just eliminate extra-curricular programs. Instead, we must find creative solutions to keeping as many as possible. I have personally been through this process with athletic teams and solutions do exist.          

We must work to close the achievement gap. It is critical that we work hard to allow all students to reach their potential. Our schools do a good job serving high achieving students. The schools have also made great strides in reaching those with special needs. But often, it is those children in the middle who fall through the cracks to become underperformers. In the short term, we can expand successful existing programs, such as mentoring and tutoring. Longer term, we need to take a closer look at how the guidance department can better identify these students and implement correction solutions.       

Mr. Sipprelle: 1. The greatest challenge to our public schools is financial.  Our per pupil expenditure is substantially above the NJ average.  Half of Princeton property taxes goes to operate the public schools, the cost of which keeps rising.  Princeton taxpayers are already stressed and their resources and willingness to pay cannot be unlimited.  Appeals to the State to make up budget shortfalls are unrealistic.  The financial condition of the State of New Jersey is such that financial aid to schools and local governments is going to be reduced, not increased in coming years.  To address the challenge, our school system will have to give less emphasis to how much we can spend and instead place the emphasis on how we are spending and how we are teaching.

The school system should seek areas in which it can consolidate services with the new municipality.  Maintenance of buildings and grounds can be shared .  Energy consumption and transportation costs can be reduced.  We must engage local institutions of higher learning, private foundations and business in financial grant support. 

2. To maintain a position of leadership in the world, economic well-being and national security, our schools must ensure that students will be proficient in an age where information technology is paramount.  The curriculum must be revised.

3. Successful educational outcomes require good administrators, good teachers, motivated students and involved parents.  According to experts, parents are the most important element.  We must reach all parents to ensure they are fully engaged in the process.

What do you think should be the future of the older portion of Valley Road School?

 Ms. Cox: It is too early to decide because it depends on how much municipal space is available after the consolidation of the two Princetons. Corner House, which is currently in the building, is an integral part of the services we provide to our students and their families, and I need to be sure the group has offices that are convenient to our stakeholders. As always, I will maintain an open mind as to the best possible solution for the building, for the district and for the community at large.

Ms. Land:  Not having been involved in the detailed discussions, I will listen carefully to all parties to determine the best course of action. The Valley Road School is ideally located to serve as a space for school and community activities. But while it would be wonderful to preserve the building, we must ensure that money is being spent wisely and that safety issues are satisfied.  It is important that we do this expeditiously so we can move forward.

Mr. Sipprelle:  The current situation of the Valley Road School constitutes a wasted resource and lost opportunity.  A serious effort must be taken to arrive at an expeditious decision on its future use.  Fix it up (if possible), knock it down or sell it off.  This valuable piece of property should be producing a significant benefit to the taxpayers and the community.  Continued inaction is not an option.

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