Montgomery Board of Education Candidates 2014

Montgomery School Board Candidates Answer League Questions

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for the Montgomery Township 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 three (three-year term)

Minkou "Minkyo" Chenette - Wife, mother and Montgomery Elementary Schools( MES) PTA Co-President.

Anne Michaelson (incumbent) - Since leaving the workforce 14 years ago I have volunteered in the schools and several non-profits.

Amy Miller - Logistics Management. Website:Facebook: Amy Miller for Montgomery Board of Ed

Katherine Powell - Specialist, active PTA parent, and community volunteer.

Christine Witt - Rocky Hill Deputy Clerk, Montgomery Middle School PTO Board Member

You are in a contest for a seat on the Montgomery Township Board of Education. What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for serving on this Board?

Ms. Chenette:

I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea and moved to New York City in 1995 to obtain my degree in International Trade & Marketing. My career in international marketing taught me the importance of teamwork, setting clear goals, measuring outcomes, and and the need for engaged, proactive communication. I've been married for 15 years, moved to Skillman in 2007 and have a first and third grader in our schools. I've been involved with our schools since my youngest walked into OHES serving as a volunteer, committee chairperson, and, currently, co-president of the MES PTA. My work in the schools has given me insights into the challenges of delivering a world class education under increasingly difficult economic conditions. I will use my passion for education and the skills developed in my professional career to ensure our schools are delivering maximum value and impact for dollars we spend.

Ms. Michaelson:

Three years ago I ran as a parent who was determined to advocate for a district that could meet the social and academic needs of all students. Today, I run confidently knowing the job of a Board Member. I pledge to continue moving our district forward by focusing on the following priorities:

Accelerating student achievement and preparing all students to achieve their personal best.

Ensuring that our leadership is effective and responsive to our township’s needs.

Engaging stakeholders including staff, parents, students, and community partners.

Advocating for our teachers and ensuring they have the resources and support necessary to do their jobs.

Ms. Miller:

I've lived in Montgomery over 15 years. My husband and I moved here because of the high caliber of the Montgomery School system. We're raising three boys who attend UMS and Village Schools. The Montgomery School system has provided a positive learning environment for my sons and I have been very impressed with the high quality teachers we have come to know.

My professional experience is a combination of science and sales, providing a basis for analysis, collaboration, and communications. My career started at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and then transitioned into pharmaceutical sales and training.

As a member of the Princeton Junior League, I was a delegate of the State Public Affairs Committee. We worked with state representatives to create legislation that made a positive impact for women and children of NJ.

Ms. Powell:

I am a proud parent of two children and take great integrity in ensuring they are fully equipped with the power tools to have a fruitful life. Montgomery Township is built on the success rating of our wonderful school district and I am dedicated and actively engaged in ensuring our schools retain their special quality. As a provider of pharmaceutical speaker meeting logistics and compliance management, I received many accolades for excellence performance in budget management and financial analysis. My Corporate America experience provides a unique perspective to the school board.

Ms. Witt:

Children, education and community are my priorities, and my volunteer and professional experiences reflect those priorities. With three children in the school district, I have a vested interest in keeping our schools strong now and in the future. I have served on both the elementary school and middle school PTA/PTO Boards. My other volunteer activities include co-chairing of the Education Committee at Congregation Kehilat Shalom and serving on the Board of Trustees of the Rocky Hill Community Group. Professionally I enjoy serving my community as the Rocky Hill Deputy Clerk. I have developed critical thinking skills through my education at Lower Merion, PA public schools, Franklin & Marshall College, and Temple Law School.

What do you consider the three most important challenges facing Montgomery Township public schools at this time? Briefly, how would you address these challenges?

Ms. Chenette:

(1) Common Core Curriculum – The Common Core is changing schools in ways that impacts every student and taxpayer and having a tremendous impact on our community. Parents deserve grade-specific information and all residents should know how the district is adapting to improve quality, outcomes and value. Proactive communication and outreach should be improved.

(2) Improving school rankings by recruiting, motivating and retaining top teachers. Great teachers don’t just deliver curriculum, they create thinkers. The teacher’s contract expires June 2015. The next contract has to strike a fair balance between the need to be competitive with our peers and the ability of our residents to pay. Nothing determines the success of district more than the excellence of our teachers.

(3) Budget / Finance – Budgets are tight in our schools as they are in our homes. Priority should be placed on investments that maximize the impact on our students. I'd like to see more counselors to help students manage school life effectively and limits placed on classroom size of 18-21 in elementary school, 20-24 in middle school and 23-27 in high school.

Ms. Michaelson:

Finances - Property taxes account for more than 90% of school funding. Costs are rising faster than property values. Long-range facility needs, full-day kindergarten, and reforming Pupil Services are adding new financial stresses. I would like to see dedicated Community/School Leadership Advisory Committees formed to provide valuable information regarding how to maximize the impact of our limited dollars.

Teachers - The teachers’ contract is about to be re-negotiated. Everyone, including our teachers, have been living under the “new normal” when it comes to workload and compensation. Every parent knows that teachers make all the difference, so we have to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers. We need to pay attention to what other districts are paying and show that we are willing to invest in quality while holding teachers accountable for results.

Special Education – With the weight of state and federal mandates and Common Core bearing down on the school district, the Board must ensure that more early intervention for at-risk students is available. I am concerned that our teachers aren’t equipped with the tools. I have seen young students slip through the cracks, and then flounder in middle and high school. To assure that ALL students are college/career ready, we need to better assess students and intervene before they are pulled from the district or advanced without meeting their full potential.

Ms. Miller:

Budget: Balancing strong education with responsible spending should be the primary foundation of the BOE. State mandates have increased the cost of education each year, here in Montgomery we receive little state aid, resulting in our Township taxes paying over 90% of the school budget. We must prioritize the quality work of our teachers and make necessary decisions on non-essentials.

Curriculum: Montgomery has a track record of performing above state standards, and that is our clear focus. The Common Core Standards have garnered plenty of attention and questions; however, now that they are implemented, our mission should be to view them as a baseline and continue to overachieve. I will collaborate with teachers and administrators to make sure Montgomery prioritizes the resources needed for our students to continue to achieve their highest potential.

Social-Emotional Learning: In the midst of all the assessments and testing of our students, important life skills are often absent from the school experience. Reading and writing are taught, but not always resilience and responsibility. Arithmetic and higher math skills are embedded in school goals, but not necessarily persistence and grit. We must develop and implement a plan to incorporate social and emotional learning for all the students.

Ms. Powell:

1. The annual budget like many public schools is a challenge. Our school board would need to give more emphasis to how far our current dollars/ budget can go instead of spending time on how we can increase. The aid to schools and local governments has been reduced and we may face lower levels of State funding in coming school years. Our school board must look into resourceful ways to reducing the annual expenditures and generate profit, for example Public School Choice Program.

2. Closing the achievement gap is critical to the continued success rating of our schools. Every student deserves the chance to be great, “Seen, Heard, Connected, and Valued”. Our schools are doing a great job preparing high achieving students and have made great strides in serving students with special needs – though areas of improvement. What about the shadow students, who fall through the cracks to become underperformers and unnoticed. It is extremely important we look into how the guidance department can better identify these students conjunction with the parents to utilize successful existing tutoring and mentoring programs within the district.

Ms. Witt:

The transition from NJASK to PARCC. This spring, PARCC will replace NJASK in assessing students on the Common Core Standards in language arts and math. One reason this transition is important is that the SAT is being redesigned in 2016, and the new test will be aligned to the Common Core. Like the Common Core, it will focus more on evidence-based arguments, and it will ask students to answer fewer math questions but in more depth. Since the PARCC test is taken exclusively on computers, the schools need to make sure students have good keyboarding skills and are comfortable taking tests on computers.

Creating an inclusive student environment. As the Montgomery School District grows more diverse, all students should feel they are part of the learning community. In an inclusive classroom environment students are more likely to volunteer different perspectives and enrich discussions. This leads to a productive classroom in which students can learn to work in groups with students different from themselves. I would like to see the school district make a strong effort to hire a diverse range of teachers and staff.

Budget. One essential function of the Board is wise management of district resources. Maintaining our schools' excellence is the first priority, and I believe this can best be achieved by balancing our current obligations with sensible long-term decisions.

What role should the community play in planning, policy formation, and monitoring of the school district? Do you feel the current structure is adequate? If not, what do you propose for improvement?

Ms. Chenette:

The success of our schools impacts everyone whether you have a student enrolled, a home whose value is impacted or both. The BOE needs dedicated and qualified community leaders who listen before they lead. I'll encourage community involvement in the BOE meetings and I'll be proactive in engaging community members outside of meetings. Board meetings should provide a forum through which residents can openly and constructively engage an attentive and active BOE.

Ms. Michaelson:

I am in favor of involving the community on long-range projects. This year the district completed the implementation of an $800,000 technology program based on the recommendations of the Technology Advisory Committee. On daily work, I encourage stakeholders to come to our board meetings and write letters so the nine elected board members can advocate for all students through effective governance, proper oversight of taxpayer dollars, and open forums for our stakeholders

Ms. Miller:

Montgomery residents are highly educated and experienced people who should be involved in the decisions that affect them. The BOE should create a strong relationship with the public. The members must provide full respect to citizens who come to the BOE with questions and concerns. I commit myself to being that effective bridge between the BOE and the community.

Ms. Powell:

The community should play a role in the progress of the school district. Our schools are the most valuable ratable in our Township. According to experts, community and parents involved are the important elements to a successful school district. We must reach out to our community to ensure they are fully engaged in the progress.

Ms. Witt:

All members of the community should feel they have a voice in our public school system. To be an effective board member, I will strive to maintain ongoing personal communication with all members of the community including residents, parents, school staff, and students. I believe the current structure of democratically electing school board members who set policy and monitor the school district is effective.

Click here for a video of the Montgomery Board of Education Candidates Forum 2014, held October 23, 2014.

MISSION STATEMENT: The League of Women Voters®, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

To read the responses of candidates for other offices and to find links to debates, go to the LWV-Princeton Area website.

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