Montgomery School Board Candidates 2013
Montgomery School Board Candidates Answer League Questions
November 5, 2013 General Election Day
Polls will be open from 6am until 8pm
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)
Shalini Bhargava (incumbent) - Sitting Montgomery BOE member, Research Scientist, Radio show host and Montgomery Public School Parent.
Sandra Donnay (incumbent) has withdrawn her candidacy for personal reasons; however, her name remains on the ballot as her withdrawal came after the 60 day deadline.
Dharmesh H. Doshi - Pharmacist, Educator, Scientist, Certified Project Manager, Volunteer.
Ramesh Durvasula, Ph.D. - Director of IT for Chemistry, Screening, and Preclinical Sciences at BMS
Nicholas Hladick – Student. Website: http://hladickformontgomery.eventbrite.com/
Lei Yu is running uncontested to fill a one-year, unexpired term. Because the League does not cover uncontested elections, Dr. Yu is not included.
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?
I have two children, both of whom went to Montgomery Public schools. The older one is now a senior at college and my younger child is a junior at the high school. I value the education and life skills that my children receive in our wonderful schools, and their positive experiences led me to run for a seat at the BOE three and a half years ago. My graduate school experience in NJ, professional career, community service and communication with thousands of residents through radio, coupled with being a tax-paying resident and involved parent, has prepared me well to continue to serve our residents by making informed decisions to ensure that we have a superior and fiscally sound school district. Currently I chair the Policy committee and serve on the Assessment, Curriculum and Instruction committee.
I am a resident of Montgomery for the past 10 years and I take pride in the excellent education my two children are receiving in our schools. The sole purpose of seeking election to BOE is to strengthen and support the district mission to grow confident, compassionate and successful learners by providing engaging and challenging educational experiences.
I have a unique blend of experience and education. A highest degree in science and a degree in finance, when merged with 10 years of experience as a university professor and 10 more years of management experience in pharmaceutical industry place me in a unique position to inject a different perspective into our mission and vision. My active volunteer work in a number of organizations has kept me well aware of the community’s beliefs and its expectation from a public educational system.
I was born in India, and I came to the US when I was 3 years old. I have a PhD in Biochemistry, and I currently work in a life sciences IT role. I have worked in both small business as well as multinational corporations, in many corporate and scientific roles. My multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary background gives me a broad perspective on how to shape our children’s education. Also, I have two sons in MTSD -- 3th and 7th grades -- and I’ve lived in Montgomery since 1999.
I am running for the Montgomery Board of Education because I am passionate about the success of our students. I am a lifetime resident of Montgomery and over the years I have become familiar with the concerns students and parents are faced with everyday and have a strategic plan to fix them.
What do you consider the three most important challenges facing Montgomery Township public schools at this time? Briefly, how would you address these challenges?
1. Budget: Strengthening educational excellence within tightening budgetary constraints. As a BOE member and resident, it is very important for me to think of creative ways to help subsidize our taxpaying dollars. One way to address this is to work with the large corporations and local businesses in our town to welcome them as true partners of our schools. It is our responsibility to ensure that the budget supports all students’ and reflects community values.
2. Student achievement: While maintaining state mandated standards in curriculum and assessment, we need to ensure that our students are able to meet the rigor and challenge of global skills in math and science. To address this challenge we need to teach our kids to global standards in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
3. Social Emotional: Academic achievement is only a part of the overall excellence in education. Our children need to be socially and emotionally very strong. I want to ensure that our schools provide a safe and nurturing environment for our kids to make sure our children have resilient coping skills and respect for everyone.
There are some short-term and long-term issues.
- The current strategic plan was implemented in 2009. It is time to revise and renovate the plan and align the vision and mission to the changing demands of the global community. Since every member of the community has a stake in this process, I will involve representatives from various cross sections of the community to accomplish new strategic plan.
- To squeeze out a few extra miles out of limited budget so that we can continue to fulfill the mission of providing engaging and challenging educational experiences. A more efficient use of existing infrastructure (mainly facilities, intellectual resources, and technology) would be my approach to resolving this issue.
- In the short-term, effective execution of newly mandated evaluation program (AchieveNJ) presents complexity. To preserve the goals of this initiative without disrupting the quality of education requires the administration, teachers, students, and parents to work like a well-oiled machine.
First, cost pressures are increasing, and we must find new sources of funding and new areas of savings, through novel procurement strategies and leveraging technology for greater efficiency/productivity. Secondly, we must transition to the Common Core while maintaining the high educational standard of MTSD; we must not let the Common Core implementation dilute our efforts to deliver above-average results. Finally, I believe that parent engagement must increase in our curriculum. There are highly active parents in various groups, like PTA, sports, and special education. Yet, there is a silent majority who are not engaged enough in MTSD academic activities. This engagement is required for us to sustain our high ranking and strong achievement. We must develop programs that foster greater parent involvement and parent-child academic interactions.
The first challenge facing Montgomery Township schools is the implementation of Common Core Curriculum, a harmful national curriculum that undermines the abilities of students and is proven to hinder future growth and success. I would reject common core curriculum so that Montgomery teachers are are able to teach students on an individualized basis that offer new challenges and opportunities for success.
The second challenge facing Montgomery Township schools is the lack of community and student involvement in the challenges facing the Board of Education. I had the opportunity to join parents, teachers, and students on a committee to help select Nancy Gartenberg as our superintendent. As a board member, I would advocate for more student and parent involvement on specially formed committees that would ask members of the greater community to weigh in on decisions that impact them.
The third challenge beginning to impact the lives of students are underperforming teachers that are not confident in the subjects they teach. As a board member, I would personally stand up for the students and parents to make sure that every teacher employed by Montgomery schools is one that we can be proud of. I would ask the board to revise the way that Montgomery evaluates its teachers and make certain that if a teacher is underperforming, the Board does everything it can to help them.
If you had the chance to undertake one new initiative to improve Montgomery Township public schools, what would it be?
I would make sure that our district policies and curriculum reflect the support that we need, to ensure that our kids are socially and emotionally very strong. I would make sure that we meet the needs of all children, and provide them with a very nurturing environment so that they can be their best.
The academic demands of our students differ widely depending on whether the student is gifted, average, or needs serious help to stay afloat. Due to budget constraints and lack of efficient resources, it has not been possible to meet the needs of students at an individual level. The advancements in the fields of technology have made it possible to provide customized education to match the need. Also, the economics of technology would actually make it possible without breaking the bank.
My initiative would be labeled “Above the Core”. The transition to the Common Core is inevitable, and we must leverage this transition as an opportunity to re-define a higher standard for all our children. While there may be controversy about adoption of the Common Core, I would ask the parents of our township: why can’t we define a curriculum that exceeds the requirements of Common Core? I will push for a strong curriculum that excites our children and advances their education far beyond the national average. In basketball, they say athletes must play above the rim; similarly, our children must learn “Above the Core”. The voices of parents are critical to the success of the District, and my initiative of “Above the Core” would emphasize greater parent involvement across all aspects of the curriculum. The parents must have high awareness of curriculum details and strategies, and they must be more engaged with teachers to extend the learning into the home environment.
As a Montgomery Schools alum, I am very familiar with the concerns that students face every day. One concern I have for the current method of education at Montgomery is that it does not emphasize the importance of career exploration and life skills development. I would implement an internship for credit program into the high school curriculum. Instead of taking a study hall or elective, students will have the option to earn course credit while developing the skills to compose a resume, interview for a job, and explore his or her passions working alongside local professionals that interest them.
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