Princeton School Board Candidates 2015
Princeton School Board Candidates Answer League Questions
November 3, 2015 General Election Day
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.
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)
Elizabeth (Betsy) Kalber Baglio - Former public school teacher and educational consultant; currently an active parent volunteer at Community Park Elementary School
Robert Dodge, PhD - Research scientist working in a biopharma company where I manage a group of scientists
Dafna Kendal - Lawyer
Patrick Sullivan (incumbent) - Private Investor; former corporate lawyer and investment banker
What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for serving on the Board?
My husband and I are proud products of public schools, and three of our four parents are retired public school teachers (the fourth, my father, is a former school committee member in my Massachusetts hometown). I also became a public school teacher upon my graduation from Princeton University. In addition to my teaching experience, I have served as the director of professional development for a consortium of public school districts, and have worked extensively as an educational consultant. I hold a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
I now have two sons in first and fifth grades at Community Park Elementary School, and my most recent interactions with public school education have been as a parent volunteer. Since moving to Princeton in 2011, I have assisted with a number of initiatives at Community Park, including the new Dual Language Immersion program. I am also a member of the Princeton Public Schools’ Strategic Planning steering committee.
I have two children in the District --- an eighth grader and a junior at the high school. The past year I attended Board meetings, reviewed state laws governing the funding of public education, and engaged with staff and Board members regarding the District budget. I would bring a transparent and knowledge-based approach to maintaining the quality of education in the Princeton Public Schools.
While working at large and small companies, including my own business, I have hired and mentored many employees. This helps me understand how education, including secondary education, plays a role in a successful career. I have taught as a graduate student teaching assistant, was the part-time science teacher at Mary Dietrich Nursery School for several years, and now teach continuing education courses to pharmaceutical professionals.
As the recipient of an excellent public school education, I know how important it is for a community to have a robust public school system that meets the needs of all its students. Because of my success in public school, I earned an academic scholarship to attend a college I otherwise would not have been able to attend. It is my goal that each child in Princeton will have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.
Having worked as a regulatory and compliance lawyer, I was trained to analyze and understand complex regulatory matters. Public schools statewide have been saddled with increased regulations such as Common Core and PARRC Testing. I believe that my professional and personal experiences position me to help guide our district through these requirements while keeping our commitments to our students intact.
I have two children in the District; one is a Special Ed student. Also, as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 43 in Princeton for the past five years, I counsel about 50 boys of middle school and high school age. So I have had (and witnessed others having) a range of both great experiences and deep frustrations with PPS, and all of it informs my advocacy for children and parents in this district.
Professionally, I have 25 years’ experience in law and finance. I serve or have served on four corporate boards, so I understand the role and duties of a board member. My professional experience guides me as I serve as Vice President of the School Board, and Chair of both the Finance Committee and the Student Achievement Committee. I’m also looking forward to using this knowledge when I serve as Board representative to the District’s Green Team initiative with Sustainable Princeton.
What do you consider the most important challenges facing the Princeton Public Schools. How do you plan to address them?
In my opinion, the most pressing issue facing the Princeton Public Schools is the need for increased collaboration among all our stakeholders - teachers, families, administrators, aides, staff, the Board of Education and other members of the community. We have incredible resources in our schools and within our vibrant community and, by working together, we will be better able to support excellence in teaching and learning, identify innovative curricular improvements and attend to the needs of our students.
We live under state-mandated school and municipal tax levy caps that do not cover inflation and do not allow increased tax ratables to be used for funding schools and municipal services. School population has increased, and a recent demographer report predicts further increases. In addition, rezoning for higher densities being considered by the Princeton Planning Board and Council may increase student enrollment even further. As student enrollment in the District increases, the funding per student will necessarily decrease. There are waivers to the tax levy cap for increased enrollment, but they do not cover the full cost of new students and the Board is hesitant to use them.
The middle and high schools are already at capacity, or overcrowded. If student enrollment increases, new space will need to be built at taxpayer expense. As a School Board member, I will actively work with the Princeton Council and the Planning Board to consider the impact of rezoning for increased density, and additional development, on the Princeton Public Schools and on taxpayers.
The most important challenge facing Princeton Public Schools is the lack of a long-term financial plan. Increasing enrollment has negatively impacted our schools resulting in crowded school buildings, large class sizes and packed after school programs.
We can meet these challenges by analyzing and prioritizing the needs of the district. We must eliminate inefficiencies and promote transparency. We need to communicate with all stakeholders and execute a plan to achieve our goals. The school board must initiate a multi-year process to create a long-term financial forecast that anticipates the needs in our district including infrastructure, instruction, arts, athletics and programs for our gifted and special education children. By coordinating our needs with our means, we can develop a budget for the long-term.
In my first three-year term, our District went through many challenges, from dealing with threats to funding from the State, contesting proposed new charter schools, implementing a new and unfamiliar testing regime, finding and hiring an effective and dynamic new Superintendent, and negotiating three separate labor contracts in one year. Now, finally, we have an opportunity to ask how we can build on our position as one of the leading school systems in the nation, and make it even better for everyone. How we can make education a positive experience for all our children, even as demographics shift and enrollments rise? How we can instill respect for each individual, and consistently infuse passion, teamwork, and creativity into the school environment? I was honored to serve on the District’s/broader community’s Strategic Planning Committee this year, and the Strategic Plan we developed addresses these issues. I am very excited to help carry out this sane and humane approach to improving on the great schools we’ve built in Princeton.
A new state law requires the NJ Department of Education to study the feasibility and potential benefits or consequences of starting school later in the morning at middle and high schools. What are your thoughts pertaining to the Princeton Public Schools?
I wholeheartedly support a feasibility study related to later start times. The study should explore the additional amount of sleep students might receive, as well as potentially reduced time that students would have to take part in extracurricular and academic endeavors after school. In addition, the study should explore the impact of later start times on teachers and administrators, and possible effects on transportation schedules and childcare needs. This is a timely topic, as wellness for students and staff was recently named as a goal of the Princeton Public Schools.
The evidence-based recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is for high school students to start school no earlier than 8:30am. Adolescent's circadian phases make it difficult for them to fall asleep early, and adolescents sleep later in the morning than they did when they were younger. Even a 40-minute change in school start time provides significant benefits. There will be logistical hurdles to later start and dismissal times, like bus schedules and sports. However, in consideration of the health and well being of adolescence children, I will advocate for a high school start time no earlier than 8:30.
Many studies, including one issued this past August by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, have indicated that delaying middle and high school start times to 8:30AM has resulted in better attendance, grades and standardized tests scores, while at the same time reducing negative behaviors such as tardiness and substance abuse. While our middle school already has a start time of 8:25AM, the feasibility of a later start time for high school students must be considered. A recent study by the Advocates for Children of New Jersey found that 438 children in the district were chronically absent in the 2013-14 school year; 13% of the total student population and 31% of juniors and seniors at Princeton High School. If delaying high school start times will help to lower the absenteeism rate, as the CDC report indicated, we cannot ignore this finding.
I am strongly supportive of starting the school day later. It is an issue of health and wellness for our preteens and adolescents. Making it happen will be difficult for many good and fair reasons, but if we’re not going to tackle the difficult problems, then who will?
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