Princeton School Board Candidates 2013
Princeton 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 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 three (three-year term)
Molly Chrein (incumbent) - Attorney, sitting Princeton BOE Member and Princeton Public School Parent.
Thomas Hagedorn - Professor of Mathematics, The College of New Jersey.
Meeta Khatri - Own and operate a Supplemental Education Learning Center since 2002. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis Scheil - has withdrawn his candidacy for personal reasons; however, his name remains on the ballot as his withdrawal came after the 60 day deadline.
Andrea Spalla (incumbent) - Vice-President, Princeton Board of Education; mother of two boys; former attorney.
Describe your personal experiences and involvement with public schools that qualify you as a school board member.
I am passionate about public education and believe it is crucial to our democracy. Both my children attended CP, JW and are now at Princeton High School. I have worked in our public school trenches from Alexandria PTA President to library/PTO volunteer and PEF (Princeton Education Foundation) board member. I have served for the past three and half years on the Princeton School Board. I chair the Personnel Committee and serve on Student Achievement and have worked on the Facilities Committee, the Superintendant search, the union negotiating teams for both our administrator and our support staff contracts, the District Wide Search Committees for 6 major district hires and many other ad hoc committees. I am also a taxpayer.
My son is a second grader at Community Park Elementary School. My involvement with CP has informed me on many of the important issues in public education. At CP, I have been a supporter of the Edible Garden, participating in garden days and tending the garden during the summer. Last year, I co-organized a Chess Club at CP in the fall and spring. I have also been involved in higher public education as Professor of Mathematics at The College of New Jersey. As a public college, we educate many future public school teachers; I have kept current on K-12 issues through this work.
As an educator and owner of a learning center, I instruct children, PK-12, from five different public school districts. Regular interaction with their families, over eleven years, has informed me of the critical opportunity, I have, to boost student achievement.
At my center, kids who remain enrolled for more than twelve months achieve a year above grade level in both math and reading. This goal is achievable for all students irrespective of their socio-economic background with a very small investment of time and money.
After three years as PTO President at Community Park, I was elected to the Princeton school board in 2010. Currently I am the board’s Vice-President and Student Achievement Committee chair. Since 2010, I’ve served on nearly every board committee, the District Evaluation Advisory Committee, and board negotiating team for the teachers’ contract. My legal background and knowledge of policy, governance, finance and contracts informs all my school board work. As a 15-year Princeton resident, I am dedicated to serving our community. As a public school parent, I am enthusiastically committed to participating in the district’s robust process of continual improvement, so that every child gets an excellent education, every day.
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?
Our district, along with every district in the State, will be facing the challenges of a very tight fiscal year exacerbated by the fact that this year we will not get any relief from additional staff contributions to the cost of health care coverage; and the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system requiring a threefold increase in evaluations while implementing the new PARCC testing. Our unique challenge will be the transition to a new superintendant. The best way to deal with all three of these challenges is to keep our priorities straight and not become reactive but to be flexible while keeping our larger goals of excellence and achievement for each child always at the forefront of our decision making.
Financial pressures on the schools are the most pressing issue. The 2% tax cap will not allow the budget to keep up with inflation. We need to increase non-tax revenue through fundraisers and sponsorships, and find further cost efficiencies to preserve our schools’ special qualities.
The second challenge is ensuring a successful rollout of the new state-mandated evaluation system. Teachers are the district’s most important resource. The evaluation system’s goal is to ensure high quality teaching. Teachers must be valued and treated with respect during the evaluation process.
The third challenge is to use community expertise to tackle issues facing the schools, such as the achievement gap and the Valley Road School building. For example, the district should work with the community to create a specific plans to meaningfully close the achievement gap within the next five years.
First, close the achievement gap for low income students, by providing extra after school and in school attention on a daily basis, for as long as it takes. In the long term this issue is best addressed by having children start school at the PK and PK-1 level, the district is starting to address this with its PK program.
Second, addressing how the district will finance unfunded mandates, such as, having all students take standardized tests digitally online. One way to address this is through grants, neighboring school districts have done so successfully. In the long-term the school budget should hold reserves for such mandates.
Third, how smoothly will the district handle the five hundred odd evaluations, of teachers and administrators that the state has mandated. This can be best achieved by providing as much information to those being evaluated in a timely manner, transparency within the process will ensure minimum strife. In the long run evaluations should happen on a regular schedule, with a process of feedback and remediation in place.
1) Strengthening educational excellence within tightening budgetary constraints. I would work with the board in its rigorous evaluation of programs’ effectiveness, while seeking efficiencies across all programs; and pursue operational savings through purchasing consortia, shared services, energy savings and aggressive grant-seeking.
2) Implementing state-mandated evaluation and testing systems. These mandates raise concerns: will “teaching to the test” replace meaningful education? Successful implementation requires going beyond mere compliance; rather, we must integrate these systems into what we already know and do well, with an unwavering focus on enhancing instruction, preserving our well-balanced curriculum, and meeting children’s needs. District leadership can accomplish this by steadfastly adhering to core values and educational priorities, including supporting our professionals throughout the process.
3) Guiding new superintendent through transition. My experience and leadership on the board would contribute to its ability to provide our new superintendent with the vision, stability and continuity crucial to a smooth transition.
If budget cuts must be made to meet the 2% property tax cap, where would you trim and what programs would you fight to preserve?
Board members do not create budgets, however, we oversee the budget process and ensure that the policies and priorities of the Board are funded. Our amazing staff has been able to balance our budgets within the 2% cap by not resting on their laurels but continuously re-evaluating staffing and services and seeking out many cost cutting efficiencies —from joining consortiums to sharing services with other agencies and institutions, as well as, shifting staff to make each position funded as productive as possible. My priorities are to preserve our pre-K program which serves both children with disabilities and the socio-economically disadvantaged, our in house autism program that now serves our special needs community from Pre-K to age 21 and maintaining a curriculum that challenges all children from special needs to highly advanced.
Because cuts will impact students, the school district must examine possibilities to enhance non-tax revenue to avoid the need for cuts. The district should also offer incentives to employees who find ways to save money. The district needs to examine ways other districts have reduced costs and adopt measures that would work here.
Any budget cuts should be based upon the schools’ priorities, and not the priorities of any member of the board. The school district needs to have a clear list of priorities, developed with the community, to guide budget decisions. While across-the-board cuts might be necessary, budget cuts should first impact lower-priority items.
First, I would fight to preserve activities that happen outside the classroom, this is what makes our school district unique and excellent.
The district has worked hard to keep its budget tight. On a long-term basis the district needs to do a thorough evaluation of its academic offering across PK to 12. It must work on being academically deep, offering intense coverage of core STEM and STEM related subjects while cutting out un-needed subject offerings.
The school board’s responsibility is to ensure that the budget supports all students’ needs, promotes the board’s objectives of excellence and equity, and reflects community values. If reductions were necessary, I would not target specific programs, but rather seek savings across all programs or in operating expenses with less direct impact on instruction. I would especially fight to preserve: small elementary class sizes; pre-K and other programs that support our most at-risk children -- they are effective and save money long-term; laboratory science and inquiry-based opportunities, alongside our wonderful arts curriculum, which, combined, foster creative and critical thinking and add joy, challenge, breadth and balance to our children’s education.
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