MILLBURN, NJ - Recently, candidates for the Millburn Board of Education spoke with The Alternative Press to discuss their campaign platforms and goals. All candidates were contacted for this story and asked the same questions. Each candidate was asked to introduce themselves, explain why they are running for the Board, and speak about what they would do if elected to the Board of Education. Their responses are provided in their entirety in alphabetical order by last name.

Michael Birnberg:

I am an Attorney in private practice for nearly 20 years. I have been a member of the board of education for the past 3 years, and during that time I have served on a myriad of its committees, and chaired Policy, Technology, Communications, Joint Facilities and Property. Married to Jill Birnberg for 15 years and have 3 children, Marlee (14), Jonah (14) and Lila (10). I have lived in town for 14 years and have coached for the past 6 years in the recreation and little leagues.

I have been on the BOE for the past 3 years and just beginning to see the fruits of my labor. I have strived for accountability from administration and great fiscal responsibility. We received poor grades from QSAC, but I believe that we have started to address the wrongs of the past. I am quite excited with respect to our new Superintendent, James Crisfield. I look forward to working with him and further the strategic goals of the district.

As stated before, I have the necessary experience to provide a smooth transition for the new superintendent. I feel that the dynamics of the board changed dramatically with my election. The Board started to operate that way a board should act. The Board has to provide proper oversight and ensure that "checks and balances" are intact.

Lise Chapman:

My name is Lise P. Chapman and I am seeking re-election to the Board of Education for a second term. As a resident in Millburn-Short Hills for 23 years, I have served our local community as a volunteer in various positions, including currently serving as an elected member to the Millburn Township Schools Board of Education since 2007.

I am deeply committed to our town and want to make a difference in our community, often taking leadership positions in community organizations. I would like to elaborate on my current involvement as a member of the Board of Education.

On the Board, I see my role as providing an independent voice and keeping a critical eye on all procedural and fiscal matters. I pride myself on being an advocate for all residents as well as an enthusiastic supporter of our schools. During the last three years, I have worked hard to improve the analytical work and accountability related to operations, strengthen the K-12 curriculum, and enhance communication to the public at large. I also see myself as a team player in a collaborative effort working with the Administration to make positive policy changes in our schools.

When there is an important issue or concern, I am not afraid to speak up, even if I am the dissenting or sole voice. Recently, I was the only member of the Board who spoke out against the Superintendent's redistricting plan at the February 8th Board meeting. I recommended that any redistricting plan needs to be done with a thorough research of demographics and natural boundaries, review done by an independent study by a professional, and involvement of the public through the creation of community-wide task force.

As Chair of the Program Committee for the last two years, I have worked with the Administration on policy and procedures regarding K-12 curriculum and programs, including overseeing all academic subject areas, athletics, physical education, and support services, such as guidance. This past year, we asked the Administration to develop the MHS Student Athlete / Parent handbook, the high school concussion policy, and recommended policy to clarify the process for high school athletic awards. Over the last two years, we have recommended that the MHS administration redesign the internship program so that students from all grades 9-12, not just 11th grade as previously done, could have an opportunity to experience an internship, volunteer experience or service learning in our community. Last year, we monitored the MMS 7th grade team while the building was under construction.

As a member of the Finance Committee, I am actively involved in all financial discussions and decisions for the district. Even before Governor Christie announced two major sets of cuts directed at our school system, I had recommended that we take a serious look at making major cost reductions and eliminating inefficiencies in our current operating budget, while maintaining our excellent school system. We are still working intensively to develop an efficient and financially sound budget for the voters on April 20th.

As Chair of the Communications Committee, 2007-2008, I oversaw policy and procedures for communication district-wide, including implementation of Edline, K-12, and initiation of the annual Open Forum meeting, now in its third year, in which all Board members meet and answer questions from the public.

Since I have served on the Board for the last three years, I have had the opportunity to see how our first class school district operates with 4,800 students in seven different buildings. Given my academic and professional background, I use my analytical skills to make informed decisions based on supporting research. I am known as "the process person" on the Board. It always has been important for me to understand or, if necessary, to develop an analytical framework and process to make sound decisions. On average, I have spent 15-20 hours a week on Board matters, including participating in committee meetings, meeting faculty and staff, doing research, or meeting as a full Board. I also spend time meeting with members of our community, which I consider to be an important stakeholder in our school system.

In addition to my Board position, I serve on the School and Community Task Force and the High School Subcommittee, established to promote a positive school climate with community support and cooperation, which as established following the events this past fall.

Over the last five years, I have been involved actively in our school system from a leadership and policy point of view. From 2005-2007, I was PTO President of Millburn High School, where I focused on improving communication between parents and administration. When Governor Corzine first recommended changes to the New Jersey schools in 2007, I joined several community members to initiate an education support group, "Advocates for Education," and held our first Open Forum - "Discussion of the Current State of Education in New Jersey" with our state representatives. I served as a Member of the Assistant Superintendent's district-wide Visions Committee and initiated recommendations to the guidance program in the high school and middle school, 2006-2007. I also served as Chair for the MHS Principal Parents' Search Committee, 2007.

In addition to my current Board position, I am in my 11th year as an appointed member of the Township Historic Preservation Commission since 2000. Last year, I was part of the effort called "MillburnUnited", a grass roots community organization in Millburn, which successfully argued against a zoning variance for PetSmart to operate a 90-dog kennel on Millburn Avenue. Previously, I have served on the boards of Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society, Cora Hartshorn Arboretum, Millburn Soccer Club, Summit Area YMCA. I served as President of the Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills.

In my professional career in New York, I was a Vice President in Mergers and Acquisitions at Merrill Lynch & Co. Prior, I was a Senior Account Officer in the National Banking Group for Citibank covering mid-size industrial companies. I also worked part-time as a special projects' officer for the Community Foundation of New Jersey in Morristown. I earned my BA at Stanford in 1975 and MBA from Yale School of Management in 1981. Currently, I am pursuing a Masters in Counseling Psychology at the College of St. Elizabeth with the goal to work in a public school as a guidance counselor.

My husband Andrew Chapman and I are parents of three children: a daughter, a 2009 graduate of Yale and alumna of Pingry School; a second daughter, who is a sophomore at Stanford and 2008 graduate of MHS; and a son, who a sophomore at MHS. We moved our two younger children from Pingry Lower School to our MMS because we felt that the educational experience and opportunities were better. It is one of the best decisions we have made for our children.

I am seeking a second term because I would like to continue to improve how we spend our tax dollars while maintaining our excellent school system. I have the time and energy to make a commitment to this position. While the work is demanding and the hours are long, I find that being on the Board is a privilege, which allows me to work as a volunteer to oversee operations, set policies, and make recommendations to improve performance. I will continue to work hard to ensure that all students in Millburn receive the best possible education. Having participated in the process to hire the new superintendent, I look forward to working with him starting on July 1st. I care deeply about our community and want to continue to make a difference on the Board. It would be an honor to serve a second term. Thank you for your support.

Amy Justice

I am Amy Justice, a 37-year-old mother of two children. Annalyn is almost 5 and Parker is 2. My husband, Jonathan, works for The Private Bank of Wells Fargo and currently serves as a member of the township's Art Advisory Committee. Before choosing to stay home with my children, I spent 13 years teaching high school English. I graduated with honors from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1994, and spent 5 years teaching at an at-risk high school in Charlotte, NC. I was a cheerleading coach, yearbook advisor and a member of the School Planning and Management Team.

After moving to New Jersey, I taught for 8 years at Rutherford High School where I also coached cheerleading, choreographed various musicals, and directed the sophomore class outdoor leadership trip. I was awarded the NJ Governor's Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2006. Currently, I am serving as co-president of the Parent's Association at the Neighborhood House Nursery School here in Millburn.

I decided to run for BOE because as an educator and a mother, I feel I have a unique perspective and can offer some fresh insight to the issues affecting our schools. Overall, I think we have excellent schools and the current BOE has done an exemplary job.

It seems that the budget is a significant concern at the moment. Though I feel the board has done well in addressing the surplus issue, and agree with their plan, it would be nice if the budget were broken down into a simpler, easy to read format. Perhaps community members would be more supportive if they truly understood how and why the money was being spent. Also, in regards to the re-districting issue, I think parents really want to be a part of the process, rather than wait idly for an outcome they may or may not like. A parent task force or committee should be allowed some input while the demographer is making his or her plan.

I feel that I would be a good addition in that my years of teaching help me to recognize the general needs of students and teachers. However, as a mother and a community member, I can empathize with parent's and tax payer's concerns. This dual role will allow me to really balance various perspectives that may come into play when I face decisions as a potential board member.

I am a relatively new member to the community having lived here for two years. However, I am committed to being involved in our excellent, top-ranked school system. I feel that my voice is that of an average citizen who truly wants the very best for our children. It is important to meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers without compromising the high standards of quality education that we have come to expect in this district.

 

Rona Wenik:

My name is Rona Wenik and I am 47 years old. I grew up in the New York area and attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. I went on to earn a law degree from Harvard University. After law school I was employed by the United States Department of Justice as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. I specialized in the investigation and prosecution of large-scale international narcotics importation, and worked closely with both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. I was awarded the Director's Award by U.S. Attorney Janet Reno for the successful prosecution of Cali Cartel associates responsible for the importation of 5 ½ tons of cocaine seized from a Queens warehouse in 1988. It was the largest seizure of cocaine in the United States up to that time.

I am married to Jack Wenik, a partner at a New Jersey law firm, and am the mother of three boys, all of whom attend the Millburn public schools. I stopped working after the birth of my eldest son and began to devote my energies to raising my family and working to improve the Millburn schools.

I have made volunteering in the Millburn public schools my passion since my eldest son entered kindergarten at Glenwood in 1998. After a few years of serving pizza lunch, working at the book fair and in the school library, I joined the Executive Board of the Glenwood PTO. Eventually I became co-President of the Millburn Middle School PTO and co-President of PTO Conference--an umbrella organization that coordinates the activities of all of the district's 8 schools, including the Preschool. I likewise became active in many school-related community organizations such as MMAC, the Education Foundation, and the Charles T. King Student Loan Fund and helped to reinvigorate M-SPEC, the advocacy group for parents of children in the district with special needs.

During this journey I have had the opportunity to attend countless Board of Education meetings and to meet often with parents as well as school administrators and teachers, working together with them to improve our schools and help to make them a place where every child receives an excellent education. I would be honored to be able to continue this work as a member of the Board of Education.

If elected to the Board of Education I will continue to keep an open line of communication with parents, the administration and the community. I will continue to advocate for the concerns of parents, for a more responsive and respectful Board of Education and for the standard of excellence in education that is synonymous with Millburn. I am determined to do all that I can to be responsible to Millburn taxpayers while at the same time working to maintain and improve the programs and educational opportunities that make us special.

I hope that voters will support my candidacy as someone who has a long history of volunteerism in the schools and the community and who cares deeply about providing the very best public education to the children of our community. We are facing some difficult budget years, possible redistricting and upcoming teacher contract negotiations. The analytical skills gleaned from my legal training, as well as my extensive experience in the Millburn schools give me a unique ability to contribute on the Board of Education.

In conclusion, I am a person of integrity and experience devoted to nothing less than helping our school district and community continue to succeed and prosper. My extensive years of volunteering in the schools and long history of attendance at Board of Education meetings reflect my ongoing commitment to the Millburn schools and the community. I will do my very best to be a member of the Board of Education who is open to residents' concerns and respectful of others' opinions and who searches for ways to improve our schools while being cognizant of budgetary realities.

The election for the Millburn Board of Education is April 20th. All candidates for the Millburn Board of Education seat can be reached by contacting the Millburn Board of Education or Nancy Dries at the Millburn Board of Ed at nancy.dries@millburn.org