West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District 2000
2000 SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES VOTERS GUIDE
NON-PARTISAN ELECTION INFORMATION
Vote Tuesday, April 18, 2000
CANDIDATES FOR WEST WINDSOR-PLAINSBORO REGIONAL SCHOOL BOARD
Polls are open in West Windsor and Plainsboro from 7 AM to 9 PM
The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area is a nonpartisan, non-profit volunteer organization which works to promote active, informed participation of all citizens in their government. The League provide nonpartisan information on public issues, and takes action on issues after member study and consensus. In publishing this material, the League neither endorses nor rejects the views of any candidate quoted.
All candidate information in this guide was compiled from candidates' responses to questionnaires. Replies are printed in the candidates' own words, without editing or verification. Due to space limitation, the candidates were given a word limit for replies. Incumbents are indicated by an asterisk (*).
Reprinting of this guide in part or in whole is not permissible without written permission of the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area.
Copyright 2000 by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area
The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area submitted the following five questions to all candidates for West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Board:
1. What role can the community play in planning, policy formation, and monitoring of the school district? In your view, what are the appropriate structures for community input?
2. What is the single most significant challenge facing the WW-P school district?
3. How would you delineate the roles of the School Board and the Superintendent? What are key prerequisites for an effective working relationship between the School Board and the Superintendent.
4. Do you favor the policy of grouping students homogeneously (by ability) or heterogeneously? Please explain your position.
5. The program "The Academy" will provide in-district services for high school students who are currently placed in out-of-district settings. Should the district be attempting to provide more in-district programs for students with special needs who are currently placed out-of-district? Why or why not?
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM WEST WINDSOR
Term: 3 years
Address: 7 Rumford Way, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550
Years in District: 24
Occupation: (semi-retired) Member, American Stock Exchange
Education: B.A. (Economics), Johns Hopkins University, 1966; Ph.D. (Applied Economics), Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1970
Children: Jeffrey (14), Grover Middle School, Danny (10), Upper Elementary School
Significant Community Activities: Former member, West Windsor Cable TV Advisory Committee, 1987-1996; Chairman, West Windsor Cable TV Refranchising Committee, 1988-1992. School District Committees prior to joining the Board: Member, Strategic Planning Committee Member, 2005 Committee Member, Technology Committee Member, Science Curriculum Comm. Co-chair, Community Referendum Comm. Member, Fiscal & Administrative Task Force, WW-P School Board member, December 1996-present. Volunteer ice hockey coach, IceLand in-house summer league, 1996-present.
1. Historically, WWP has supported a strong community role in the school district, and has provided many structures for community input. Unfortunately, we don't have as many opportunities today for citizens to get involved with the schools as we have had in the recent past. The 2005 Committee, the Fiscal & Management Task Force, the Redistricting Committee, and the Elementary, Middle, and High School Transition Committees, to name a few, have all completed their work and disbanded. Presently, the PTA and a few active site-based councils are struggling valiantly to carry the burden of involvement, but it is not enough. New committees need to be formed as the district continues to open new schools and revamp old curricula. Not only are these important as ways to keep the public informed and involved, but they are also the places where future activists will find out whether they are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to keep WW-P as one of the premier school districts in the state.
2. From my perspective as a public representative, our biggest challenge is that as the district has grown, its ability to achieve community consensus on school issues has all but disappeared. Most controversial issues, by their very nature, do not have 'right' and 'wrong' answers. So what criteria do you use to decide between homogeneous v. heterogeneous classes, for example, or K-5 v. K-3/4-5, or neighborhood schools v. socio-economic-based districting? At some point, the decision must reflect what the community wants, but when the community is 55-45 or 60-40 on an either/or issue, that makes a lot of very unhappy people. Unhappy people tend to withdraw support from the system; and a public education system cannot successfully survive without public support.
3. School boards have two basic functions: they set policy, and provide oversight. The Superintendent runs the operations. Controversy, when it occurs, usually comes from the interpretation of the oversight function. Activist boards get charged with 'micromanagement'; passive boards are labeled 'rubber stamps'. The key prerequisite for an effective relationship is, obviously, mutual trust. But beyond that, a vital element of a good working relationship is an understanding on the part of both the Board and the Superintendent that, on any given issue, the Board may choose to be particularly active or particularly passive, but it doesn't necessarily mean it will act that way on every issue.
4. I have always been a strong supporter of increased homogeneous grouping. This is one of those issues which is probably more philosophical than educational, because the extensive body of research on this issue is inconclusive. My personal feelings come from my own experiences, my children's experiences, and our district's experiences. I believe that most children learn better in an environment where the entire class is 'on the same page', and I believe that most teachers are more effective in an environment where they can teach at a single level to an entire group. Our district's math program, which teaches at 5 separate ability levels, seems far more successful at raising everyone's achievement levels than do our other programs; consequently, I have supported the extension of that model into other disciplines, e.g., the introduction of 9th and 10th grade Honors courses in Language Arts. As a final note on this issue, I want to emphasize that I do not support 'tracking'; children blossom at different ages, and the ability to move from one group to another must be kept as flexible as possible.
5. The district should always be attempting to provide more in-district programs for special-needs students. It works in every direction: it gives the district better control over the education and services that our children receive; it is more than merely cost-effective, it is cost reducing, due to the extraordinarily high tuitions paid by the district to send these students elsewhere; and it achieves one of the most important goals of a public education system in the first place - to provide a local educational environment for its children. The details of the program may need tweaking over time as we gain experience with the operation of the Academy, but the philosophical question 'should we be doing this' has an easy affirmative answer.
No response received.
SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES FROM PLAINSBORO
Term: 3 years
Dee Dee Dodson
Address: 12 Franklin Drive, Plainsboro
Years in School District: 17 years
Education: BA in Telecommunications
Significant Community Activities: Since my oldest child entered kindergarten in 1987, I have been actively involved in school life helping in the classroom, serving as room mother and participating in various PTAs. From 1996-1997 I served on the district's Language Arts Curriculum Review Committee and I currently serve as the Education Activist for the Village School PTA. In January, as one of the co-founders of AT LAST (Advocates for Tougher Language Arts Standards), I presented extensive research to the School Board and was a strong community voice for the freshman and sophomore Honors Language Arts classes. In 1998 I began writing a weekly opinion column called "School Daze" for the News Eagle in which I critically examine many education topics. In addition, my letters to the editor have appeared in The Princeton Packet and Trenton Times. In order to stay abreast of current education issues, I regularly attend school board meetings and forums. Last Fall I became a moderator for a local web site, WWPTODAY.Com, where I oversee a school web forum. In an effort to keep the public informed about our district, I recently started posting my board meeting notes and district documents onto that site. I also maintain an e-mail list so I can update subscribers on local, state, and national education issues.
1. The community plays a crucial role in the planning, policy formation and monitoring of the school district. According to the New Jersey School Board Member Code of Ethics, the Board interprets to the staff the aspirations of the community for its schools. In order to know the aspirations of the community, the Board must hear from members of the public. Through phone calls and letters to board members, letters to newspapers, and public comments at board meetings, the public must express its opinions on the Board's plans and policies, and offer feedback on how the schools are functioning. In this large school district, nine people cannot do a good job of minding the store. But the parents of 8,000 students can.
2. So many challenges face our district that it is hard to address only one. Of course we are all concerned about the growth and being able to construct and maintain schools that provide equal opportunities to all our students. But at the heart of everything we do, beyond the sports, the clubs, the concerts and the plays, there is the curriculum. The single most significant challenge facing the WW-P school district is ensuring that we give our children a solid foundation of knowledge, and the skills they will need to have a secure and productive future. I believe most parents and most taxpayers believe this is the purpose of the public schools. It is easy to get bogged down in the finances and the architectural plans. It is easy to bicker over redistricting and labor law. But when all is said and done, only one thing counts, and that is how to best prepare our children for tomorrow. This goal should inspire every decision we make.
3. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, it is the School Board's role to make and evaluate policies, determine the direction of the schools, and establish a program of quality instruction. With regard to teaching, I have always heard that it is the role of the School Board to
determine the what, when, where and to whom. It is the Superintendent's job to determine the how. An effective working relationship is established when all parties work within their roles and remember to whom they are accountable. The Superintendent is accountable to the Board. The Board isaccountable to the public.
4. I favor homogeneous groupings of students in the core academic subject areas. While researchers in this field disagree on whether ability grouping is beneficial, they generally agree that it is not harmful to achievement. I believe that students learn best when learning with children that share their level of understanding. I also believe teachers can be more effective when teaching to a group that does not contain a wide spectrum of ability levels. As long as ability groups are fluid and allow mobility as necessary, I think students thrive in a homogeneous academic environment.
5. Not all students can function properly in the regular classroom setting. They need special services that the district may not be able to provide, sothey are sent to facilities that can meet their needs. This question of whether we should be attempting to provide more in-district programs for
these students is a difficult one. The State says we are obligated to do this. In my opinion we should generally attempt to keep our students in-district. But can we? Some students will be well-served by "The Academy" at High School North next year, and I favor this program for the right students. For some this setting might is not suitable and for some, for example those who might be violent, it is not an option. Can our district provide programs, facilities, teachers and counselors to meet the needs of all students? We should "attempt" to do this. But it may not always be possible. We must weigh every proposal carefully and look at all the data to make sure we are making decisions that are right for all of our students, regular and special education alike.
Henry J. Wieck
Address: 31 Parker Rd., Plainsboro, NJ 08536
Years in School District: 20 years
Occupation: Polygenesis Corporation, President, a technology development organization; (prior): PA Consulting Group, Partner - a technology / management consulting firm; i-STAT Corporation, Director, Medical Product Research & Development - a high tech medical start-up; Kean College, Assistant Professor of Chemistry.
Education: B.S., M.A. Chemistry, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York; Ph.D., Analytical Chemistry, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Children: I have three sons in the district, a senior at WWPHS - South and two sixth graders at the Community Middle School. My wife Nancy serves on the Site Based Committee at the UES and co-chairs the Membership Committee PTSA at WWPHS - South. Nancy has also served the PTAs at Wicoff (Book Fairs), UES and CMS.
Significant Community Involvement: Charter member, Cub Scout Pack 759 and Boy Scout Troop 759, currently; Chartered Organizational Representative also having served as Assistant Scoutmaster, Assistant Cubmaster (5yrs) and Cubmaster (5yrs); Served as Mercer Area District Cub Scout Activities Chairperson; Recipient Mercer Area District's Award of 20; Charter member, Knights of Columbus Council 12004; Wicoff School, Math - Science Day Volunteer Teacher (1997- present); Member, Search Committee for the position of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University; Sponsor, Cranbury - Plainsboro Little League
1. Be involved! The community needs to elect individuals in whom they have confidence. The community needs to support the School Board and the District by participating in the various groups (PTAs), and committees, which report and interact with the district and their schools. The "airing of grievances" is not a productive tool. I believe the School Board needs to seek input, perhaps in the form of surveys and other information gathering tools, from the community.
2. I believe that the biggest issue confronting the WW-P school district is the rapid growth we are experiencing. We are adding facility and staff at an incredible rate. Given this rate of expansion, the district will be hard pressed to continue to deliver the type of programs the community has come to expect. The opening of a new school, or the reorganization of an existing school, causes more stress to the system. Each new or reorganized school needs to establish its own identity and community links. The district is in need of stability. The Board should endeavor to create a stable environment for education. Now is not the time for experimentation. The community deserves a clear understanding of where their children will be attending school.
3. The School Board needs to represent the community in developing an educational environment in which our children thrive. The School Board has the responsibility to insure adequate resources are available and to periodically review the effectiveness of the district's program. The School Board needs to effectively communicate with the community. The Superintendent is responsible for the operation of the district and the execution of its policies and guidelines, as well as delivering the educational program. The Superintendent sets the tone, motivates and leads the staff. The School Board and Superintendent can only work together effectively in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, putting egos aside and focusing on the education of our students.
4. The answer is yes and yes. There are situations in which all students benefit from being grouped heterogeneously. Shared experiences within a select ability group may not have the breath found in a more heterogeneous group. Certain areas, which are conceptually challenging, such as math, benefit from grouping students of similar ability. In a heterogeneous environment the danger exists that students with greater ability are left floating while the teacher focuses on other students. Homogeneous environments seem to be more efficient, heterogeneous environments require more creativity in their structure. Every effort needs to be taken to insure no student is negatively labeled.
5. It is my understanding that the district provides services to approximately 850 pupils classified as special-needs students. Of these students, 18 are classified as emotionally disturbed, and attend schools outside the district. Eight of these students would qualify for "The Academy" program. Arguments have been made that the district can save money by providing the highly specialized resources necessary in-district and provide a less restrictive environment. I don't believe the decision should be made solely on economic grounds. I also doubt the district can provide these services to a small group of students economically. Given the current level of flux in opening and re-organizing schools in the district, I do not believe this is the right time to further burden the system with a new, very complex, program. At the present time I think we should focus on mainstreaming the students who succeed in the current out of district program. The Academy proposal should be revisited after we stabilize the current situation.