In April 2020 I had the honor of being appointed to the Sparta Board of Education to complete a vacated term. After much consideration and deliberation, I recently decided to run for a three year term in this year’s November election. My singular reason for running is quite simple. I want my four children and all the children of my fellow Spartans to thrive in the best schools possible. 

In my professional life I have had opportunities to study and work in some of New Jersey’s most innovative and high performing public school districts. What I have learned is that exceptional school systems do not deliver a superior educational product year after year because they achieved a certain level of success and rested on their laurels. Rather, the very best school districts are the product of a persistent commitment to attend to the schools’ success on a consistent basis. The role of a board of education is to harness the input and support of the entire community, provide governance, and make policy so that the administration can execute a strategic plan that results in high student achievement and a return on the taxpayers’ investment. If elected in November, I will continue to work to support specific initiatives that will take Sparta from being a great school district to an exceptional school district. 

My top priority as a Board of Education trustee is special education. I believe special education in Sparta needs to be reprioritized throughout the district and enhanced based on research-based best practices. I was appointed as the Board Liaison to the Special Education Parents Advisory Group (SEPAG). It is my hope that we can increase engagement with my fellow parents of special education students and institute programs such as unified sports. Unified sports teams consist of athletes, with and without disabilities, who train and compete together in basketball, soccer, track, and wrestling. 

Secondly, there are currently unrealized cost savings for Sparta taxpayers that could be achieved via shared services with the Sparta Town Council. During my first meeting as a member of the Board Finance Committee, I was dumbfounded to learn that the school district pays over $80K a year for garbage removal by a different vendor than the Township utilizes. There are numerous other opportunities for shared services and thereby savings to be found in grounds maintenance and information technology services. At a time when every penny counts, Sparta Township and Sparta Township School District need to work together to conserve the public’s hard earned dollars. 

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Since I first attended a Sparta Board of Education meeting, I have been frustrated by the lack of transparency surrounding meeting agendas, actions items, and agenda attachments. Other boards throughout our state utilize online agenda programs that allow all residents to see every action item and any corresponding attachments or contracts. In Sparta, attendees at meetings get an agenda printed in 6 point font without any attachments. The Board votes monthly on “attached item X” and “attached item Y.” These votes translate to thousands and millions of dollars spent on school operations. For far too long, Sparta taxpayers were not provided the documents attached to action items. At my urging and since my appointment to the Board, most attachments are now posted online with the agenda. I will continue to advocate for the use of a program that hosts and archives the complete meeting agendas including all legally permissible attachments and supporting documentation. 

For years, Sparta’s intervention and referral services have existed as separate and disconnected individual school building programs. The implementation of a district wide PK-12 Response to Intervention (RTI) program is more important than ever before to assist academically at-risk students. Effective RTI is critical to catching students who have stagnated or regressed due to months of virtual learning. Every teacher should be provided with access to universal screening data for ALL students in ALL grades PK-12 so that they can differentiate their lessons based on the unique composition of the students in their classrooms. Further, it is essential that all interventionists and administrators have access to this data to ensure that students receive proactive assistance before learning difficulties and regressions take hold. To that end, I will support the novel use of federal ESSA grant funds to train all of our teachers and administrators on current RTI best practices. 

 As a former Advanced Placement (AP) Economics Teacher, I can attest that access to AP courses gives students a better chance to gain admission to the college of their choice and saves money on prerequisite classes when they get to college. AP exam participation and performance are also key metrics in high school ranking systems that have a direct impact on property values. Despite readily available grant programs, Sparta does not offer an AP incentive program to cover the cost of AP Exams. I fully support the implementation of a grant-funded AP incentive program to cover the $94 AP Exam fee that currently falls on students and their parents. Sparta students would gain free access to key college admissions credentials while simultaneously enhancing the high school’s academic profile at no cost to the taxpayer.

Lastly, we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. I know first hand what it takes to get students and staff back to school as safely and quickly as possible. I will continue to support the administration in exploring innovative staffing and instructional solutions that will result in getting our kids back to in-person schooling.

If these initiatives resonate with you, please show your support by casting your ballot for the team committed to Integrity, Transparency, and Innovation:

#2 Mike McGovern

#3 Robert Zywicki

#4 Richard Snellings

1 Yr Vanessa Serrano

We offer decades of successful leadership experience in the fields of business, medicine, and education. We are accomplished professionals, loving parents, and committed community volunteers who want to collaborate with our fellow Spartans to take our town’s public schools to the next level.  

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The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Sparta Board of Education, or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.