West Windsor Candidates for WW-P Board of Education 2015

West Windsor Candidates for School Board 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 West Windsor Township candidates for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional 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 one (three-year term)

Jordon DeGroote - Student, Tutor, Community volunteer; website: degroote4boe.org

Michele Kaish (incumbent) - Community volunteer; website: www.facebook.com/vote4michele

A new state law requires 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 WW-P school district?

Mr. DeGroote:

Recently, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics urged districts to start school after 8:30. And while this could be beneficial in our schools, it needs to be done in concert with surrounding districts. We need to maintain the coordination of our transportation and sports schedules, while supporting this necessary move in the name of student health.

Ms. Kaish:

Getting enough sleep is a biological necessity, as important to good health as eating well and exercising. Sleep deprivation can impair a student’s ability to stay alert, cope with stress and retain information. Last April, a local pediatrician and students from HSS’s Human Anatomy & Physiology class made a presentation to a board committee about the health-related consequences of chronic sleep loss and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation for later start times. We concluded that starting school later was in the best interest of all learners.

Unfortunately, moving to a later start time has potential negative consequences. A few years ago, when Pemberton School District moved high school start times later, more students made the honor roll and absenteeism dropped. But Pemberton reversed that decision and returned to earlier start times the following year. Why? Overwhelming objections from parents. The later start time meant younger students got home before older students, creating hardship for parents who depended on older siblings for childcare. Later start times also negatively impacted after-school jobs, as well as after-school activities and sports because other districts continued to end their day earlier.

While the data supporting later start times is compelling, the impact on family schedules and student activities is significant. Later start times require changes beyond what can be accomplished by an individual school district. I hope the feasibility study will yield statewide shifts that allow our teenagers to sleep later.

List, in order of priority, the most important issues facing the school district and your recommendations for addressing them.

Mr. DeGroote:

1. Need for effective communication between district and community: The community needs a chance to know any proposed program cancellation and voice their opinion before it becomes policy. We need public forums, more transparency, and greater respect for the voices of students and parents.

2. Need for balance of educational opportunities between STEM and non-STEM subjects: While the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs are all very successful and should be maintained, there must be equal opportunities in fields that cultivate skills such as creative problem solving, public speaking, and group collaboration.

3. Need for improved teacher evaluation system: Our current evaluation system relies primarily on a handful of administrator observations. As a student, I have seen teachers radically change lesson plans due to a scheduled evaluation, only to let the caliber of teaching drop the next day. We need to follow the lead of fellow districts, and include student feedback in the evaluation process, so we can make better informed decisions regarding our faculty. Just knowing that students have input will have a beneficial effect on teacher performance.

Ms. Kaish:

Responsible Long-Term Planning: Board decisions must be forward-thinking and position the district for sustainable success. Data must be closely monitored and used to drive continuous improvement in our budget, curriculum and facilities.

Fiscal Responsibility: We need to consider economy and efficiency in our budget. Every dollar must be spent wisely. Financial decisions should never compromise the quality of instruction.

Support the “Whole Child”: Teaching should be centered on the child, with attention paid to a student’s developmental, social and emotional needs.

Consistency: We need clearly defined standards and expectations in all classes. Consistency across classrooms and grade-levels is necessary for fair and effective common assessments.

What are your thoughts on the recent review of the gifted and talented program?

Mr. DeGroote:

At the Sep. 8th Board meeting, I heard two independent professors present the external report. It recommended the expansion of the G&T program to a larger talent pool, greater allotted class-time for gifted students, and the hiring of more G&T professionals, all of which I agree with. I also support the maintenance of A&E math in elementary school, with a revision to the entrance exam that rewards analytical ability over rote preparation.

However, what struck me as most troubling in the report was the “negative attitude towards learning” shared by over half of high school students. Our district is doing a great job engaging many students, but we need to expand that success to include all of the students. I believe we can do that by improving the communication between the district and the community, ensuring equal opportunities in STEM and non-STEM programs, and providing a successful teacher evaluation system.

Ms. Kaish:

Our G&T review was conducted by consultants recognized nationally as expert evaluators of G&T programs. These consultants, along with an internal district team, made recommendations to improve our G&T program. Our goal should be to develop an action plan for both improving the district’s process for identifying gifted students and strengthening the academic program our gifted students receive.

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.

The Princeton Area League seeks new members (men and women) from Kendall Park, Kingston, Montgomery, Plainsboro, Princeton, Rocky Hill, South Brunswick and West Windsor. Click here to become a member.