Montgomery School Board 2012

Montgomery Candidates Answer League Questions

Vote Tuesday, April 17, 2012, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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)

Humberto Goldoni (incumbent) - Managing Director, Akcros Chemicals, Inc.

Jeffrey Grant - Businessman and licensed professional engineer in the energy industry

Judy Humza - Full-time mother. Previously, vice president in the investment management industry

Adelle B. Kirk (incumbent) – Vice president, Kirk Palmer Associates Executive Search

What do you consider a superintendent's most important qualifications and priorities?

Mr. Goldoni: Most important qualifications are experience and a good record achieving school district goals. The superintendent needs to have the education of all kids as first priority and make sure they balance the needs of the staff and community to achieve this first priority.

Mr. Grant: The priority of any superintendent is maximizing the effectiveness of the student learning and interpersonal development experience as related to the funds available to do so. Because no school district has unlimited funding, the hard part is figuring out how best to apply available capital to achieve results. To this end, the key qualifications are candidate superintendants that have demonstrated tangible, continuous improvement performance in all metrics of academic success and have done so in a diverse range of capital funding environments.

Ms. Humza: The superintendent of Montgomery Township schools must be an effective communicator, a motivated visionary and a passionate educator. The superintendent’s first priority is to establish a collaborative relationship with building administrators as well as the BOE. The superintendent must demonstrate an understanding of the District’s mission statement that as a forward-thinking community our schools strive to “ensure that students grow into confident, compassionate, and successful learners in a global society by providing engaging and challenging educational experiences in a student-centered environment.” Further, the superintendent must have a vision and plan of action that will take the District on a continued path of excellence well into the 21st century. An effective superintendent will recognize the importance of parental as well as community involvement in the success of the Montgomery School district.

Ms. Kirk: Hiring a Superintendent is a critically important task. Our Board has solicited community input through focus groups and a widely publicized survey, distilling the input and key criteria to the following:

    • A shared vision with our community for excellent education for every child and innovative ideas for achieving that vision; the ability to partner with other educators to bring best practices to Montgomery
    • Outstanding communication skills that build relationships and trust among all stakeholders in our community, including taxpayers, parents and students, teachers, administrators, and all other staff
  • Strong financial management skills that will help keep the district on solid financial footing

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

Mr. Goldoni: I already served on this Board for three years and my contributions have been significant in all areas. The highlights of my contributions are a stable financial picture for the district, the new ideas that we have introduced in the areas of health benefits and negotiations with the unions.

Mr. Grant: My career is a businessman in the field of energy and an expert in large commercial facility operation and maintenance. In addition, I am a Boy Scout leader that teaches the nuclear science and energy merit badges. Finally like every parent we share the fundamental responsibility to prepare our offspring to reach their full potential as individuals outside of the immediate family unit and in its simplistic terms the public school system serves parents as our representative to fulfill this responsibility. Beginning in the fall of 2012, I will have three children in high school.

Ms. Humza: I have lived in the Rocky Hill/Montgomery area for the past 18 years and I am very proud of our community. As the mother of an 8th and 10th grader I can say without hesitation that my children are receiving an outstanding education in Montgomery.

As a member of the BOE, I will have the time, dedication and the common sense to make informed decisions that will ensure the continued success of the Montgomery School district.

I have no political or personal agenda in seeking election to the Montgomery BOE other than to provide an excellent education for all children. I represent the typical Montgomery parent, actively engaged in her children’s education, who wants, to ensure that Montgomery as a community remains involved in and proud of our school district.

Ms. Kirk: I have been a resident in Montgomery for almost 8 years, and for four years I have been a member of our BOE. During my tenure, I have participated on almost every Board subcommittee and developed a solid understanding of our budget process, policies, operations and facilities, curriculum and assessment, and personnel. I have also served on our Negotiations Committee for four years, and have the experience to tackle the complex issues involved. I want to continue leading the process of finalizing a new teacher’s contract and selecting a Superintendent.

I also am heavily involved in our schools as a parent/step-parent to four children in grades 3, 4, and 6. I have always taken an active role in their education – whether as Orchard Hill Elementary School PTA President, Room Parent, or “Teacher for a Day.” My children participate in a myriad sports in Montgomery, where my husband routinely volunteers as a coach. It is through all of the activities that I interact with our community and learn how to best represent our residents.

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

Mr. Goldoni: 1. Hiring of a new superintendent. We already have a process that we need to continue.

2. Financial stability and spending moderation of the district based on new tax caps. I have been able to work with the Board and the Business Manager to achieve balance and stability in our finances based on the new realities. As the Finance and Budget committee chair, I want to finalize the blueprint so others can follow this stability without interruptions for years to come.

3. Teachers Union Negotiations. This is our single largest cost of operations. We have a wonderful teaching and custodial staff. We need to maintain and help them flourish while securing their financial well-being, so they can continue to give all of our kids the best possible education.

Mr. Grant: First, choosing the best superintendent that has the proven skill set to preserve and continuously improve the results of our children’s educational experience will have far-reaching, long term implications. A successful choice will focus on proper evaluation of historic tangible results achieved by competing candidates.

Second, no school board can be effective as an entity unto itself so it behooves our school board to continuously engage parents and students in attending meetings and communicating with board members. Like the League of Women’s Voters televising of candidate debates, all board meetings should be televised as well. At present, students have taken the lead and initiated this responsibility, but it is ultimately the board’s responsibility to assume this function. Additionally, clear and concise, communications regarding board matters that always emphasize the need and desire of the board for parents and students to attend meetings to express their perspectives and needs should be standard best operating practices. Course topics such as US Government and Politics that are at present a high school AP course should be emphasized for all students so that they understand the value and responsibility of being part of our government.

Finally, the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” although a well intended statute will add a considerable administrative expense and liability potential to our school system; regardless of how funding questions resolve, no student should have their learning environment disrupted by bullies. Under the guidance of adults, initiatives that leverage the leadership of upper-class students, by developing skills in this area, have the potential to utilize student leaders to prevent bullying by positively influencing students otherwise inclined to bully or intimidate other students.

Ms. Humza: Due to the uncertain economic landscape, I think that continued excellence in spite of reduced financial resources is one of the most important challenges facing Montgomery’s schools.

One of the concerns I hear expressed in our community is a fear that teachers are feeling the pressures to teach “to the test” rather than teaching our children to be successful learners.

Another challenge is to support each child’s strengths so that every child feels connected, known and valued. The District addresses the needs of high achieving students and those with special needs, but must continue to focus on serving the needs of the average student.

Challenges are somewhat easier to identify. Finding solutions without increasing our tax burden is not as easily attainable. Montgomery is a community of very resourceful and educated people. Parents and the community at large must collaborate to identify problems and seek solutions. Active communication by the district and continued engagement by the community will keep Montgomery schools on their path of excellence.

Ms. Kirk:

    • Budgeting for long-term efficiency and quality. Long range forecasting has enabled the District to wisely spend taxpayer money to get the most benefit from every dollar. I am proud that we have maintained one of the highest quality, lowest spending districts in the state.
    • Continuing to improve teaching and learning. We have begun a district-wide teacher team approach to curriculum and assessment writing and the evaluation and improvement of instruction. To realize gains in teaching and learning, we need to continue this process well into the next Superintendent’s term.
    • Supporting and retaining excellent staff. It is essential for the BOE to balance the interest of our community in minimizing its tax burden with the need to support our staff in their professional commitment to educating our children at the highest levels. Our talented staff has been at the center of efforts to modify curriculum to meet Common Core standards, modify lesson plans and assessments to be consistent with the revised curriculum, and improve instruction in teacher teams.

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.

The Princeton League, which encompasses the same area as is served by The Packet, needs members (men and women) to act as observers at meetings of their local school boards and municipalities and to report back issues that can be explored in candidates’ forums and questionnaires or that may become the basis for League studies.