LIVINGSTON, NJ — Meet James Calderon, one of four candidates vying for one open seat on the Livingston Board of Education.

Calderon and his wife, whom he met during his senior year at St. Aloysius in Jersey City, have resided in Livingston for 11 years and have two daughters currently enrolled in Livingston Public Schools. Calderon attended St. Aloysius for three years after being educated at Irvington Public Schools through eighth grade and then in Colombia for one year. He is now an entrepreneur and a graduate of Rutgers Business School.

See the interview below to learn more about Calderon and his decision to run for Livingston Board of Education.

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Q: Why are you running for the board of education and what qualifies you for the position?

A: I believe education is a pillar of all our foundations. It is a pillar to the foundation of our community, a pillar of our individual self, and a pillar of our professional work.

Education is a public good and as a citizen I believe it is our duty to be a custodian of this good as it is given to our children, or our future. Our platform proposes that this public good needs to change in light of our current needs and desires for our future.

With a seat at the table, I hope to be part of the change that is needed to serve ALL our students in a diverse manner that allows each to explore their pursuit to happiness.

I am a qualified candidate for the Board of Education (BOE) because I am a US citizen of adult age, resident of Livingston community, able to read and write, not a disqualified voter, and a registered voter. There are many reasons I am the best candidate to represent our community as a member of the BOE and I will discuss in the following answers.

 

Q: Which of the four recently adopted district goals is most important to you and why? How would you like to see the district achieve that goal?

A: The #1 goal presented by the district is to “improve the culture and community within LPS by enhancing inclusiveness, cultural awareness, anti-racism, and acceptance of individual differences through mandated curricular programming, extracurricular programming and district operations” is to me the most important for LPS.

The goal is well detailed in how this goal will be achieved and that is through “mandated curricular programming…” This is exactly what the school has the authority and ability to change in order to be effective with this goal.

My wife and I chose to raise our family in Livingston, because we were comfortable in raising them in a community that is accepting to differences. We were raised in Jersey City, NJ among a plethora of different people from various countries, educational backgrounds, and world perspectives.

Our move away from the city did not diminish our need to be in a community that was welcoming. We are blessed to have found that here in Livingston. Yet, with issues we have personally witnessed this is not the same for everyone in Livingston Public Schools. 

In 2017, as I ran for the BOE, I met a 6th grade girl, whom was being bullied and tormented in school. Her parent was very concerned for her well-being, as she was showing signs of despair. This parent was not receiving the proper support to her issues in school. 

As a community, we brought the issue in front of the BOE at a November 2017 meeting. To see our community support this 6th grader received was satisfying because I saw how we as a community cared.

It was a reinforcement that we were not going to allow such actions in our community.  We held the school accountable and the BOE supported the push to unpack the experience of this child. 

In 2020, three years later, we are seeing similar issues being exposed via student testimonial. This is unacceptable. 

In our platform for the BOE in 2020, we have proposed Board Level initiatives including a review of BOE approved literature, so we can add more literature from African-American, Latin American and Native American authors.

We have also proposed a review of our History curricular to review perspectives to include more viewpoints and events of history that benefit this goal.

Lastly, we have spoken in regards of making our curricular to be more collaborative instead of competitive, allowing for a more positive culture of inclusivity and allowing students to Think Different.

 

Q: Tell us about your other career and how your professional expertise could benefit you as a board of education member.

A: In 2000, I received my Bachelors from Rutgers Business School, graduating with Cum Laude Honors and was a Fredrick Douglass Scholar at American University as an under graduate. Upon graduating, I joined Continental Airlines in 2000 as an accounting specialist at Newark Airport. 

In 2001, I was promoted to a management position in Miami, Florida.  Seven weeks into my new career position, 9/11 changed our world and directly affected the airline industry.

As a manager, I worked on revenue appropriations and provided input on scheduling needs and personnel matter in regards to our new reality. My experience includes the destruction of the industry as it was then to what it became ten years later. My experience through such a tumultuous corporate career prepared me to found my own company in 2005 at the age of 26.

In 2008-2010, as a young company, we weathered the Great Recession by being innovative, accepting change and listening to our customers. My experience at Continental Airlines was very useful during these times of tough decisions and uncertainty.

COVID-19 brings new havoc to our industry, but this time there are many industries facing the same. Education is one of them, as we have seen with remote learning and hybrid learning.

Education is in unchartered waters; my experience of being in unchartered waters makes me the best candidate for this moment of change. I have the experience of being a member on a Corporate Board and working to create the mission to execute through such difficult times. This type of experience is paramount to the success of the Livingston BOE and the mission going forward. 

 

Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?

A: Although I was born in Jersey City and went to High School there from 10-12 grades, I grew up in Essex County and went to public school from K-8th in Irvington.

I was always a good student and enjoyed academic success in school. But, I know that my achievements did not always translate the same for my friends and peers. I would see them struggle with assessments and be classified differently than myself.

I took advantage of my gift and continued to learn. But, my thoughts are often with my former classmates on what became of them? Some have been lost due to societal ills, others I am unsure, but if my road through academia, with my gift, was difficult, I can’t imagine the obstacles they must have faced. 

Watching my children grow up in Livingston, with our vast resources, I am still concerned for the students here that do not fit the mold of our competitive environment. I am concerned for the students that do not meet that academic level that is “expected.” They also deserve a path to success.

Our platform offers a diversification of curricular so students can find their niche and pursue their aspirations. Adding curricular under Option II, a Junior ROTC program and vocational offerings are our initiatives to diversify curriculum to address all our students’ interests and dreams. 

 

Q: Apart from running for Livingston Board of Education, in what other ways are you involved in the town?

A: In town, I am the Head Coach of the Livingston Recreational Track team since 2015. The time I dedicate between April and June of each year is one of my favorite times of the year, as I get to see our youth up close as we serve 4th-8th graders on the sport of Track and Field. 

Along with Coach Emily, we have grown the program to include 125 students, and five LHS student coaches. We practice field events such as javelin and long jump, along with running events of 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1600m.

Along with this, I do enjoy running myself and invite all to join me this Sunday, November 1, 2020 at the oval to walk/run a half marathon, 13.1 miles, as we support the campaign of www.movember.com which looks to highlight the mental illness and suicide prevention of men.  We will begin at 8:00 a.m. and expect to walk until 12:30 p.m.