BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Candidates for the Bernards Township Board of Education say they want to continue the path of academic excellence in township schools, while at the same time they would address issues of student stress.

The election for three three-year terms will be held Nov. 5 on the same ballot as governmental races.

The five candidates are:

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Ruchika Hira, an attorney who practices in the area of family law;

Karen Gray, the board’s current vice president and a member for six years;

Stephanus "Iwan" Juwana, a senior industry analyst for a risk management firm;

Suzanne Schafer Skalski, who is finishing her first full year on the board;

Lauren Beckman, a corporate engineer for 20 years, who has substituted in district schools.

Another current board member, Michael Byrne, had declined to seek another term in this election after serving for 30 years on the school board.

Lauren Beckman

Beckman says she spent 20 years working in Silicon Valley in California, mostly at high-tech companies as a manufacturing engineer, a management consultant and a program/project manager. He and her husband chose to come to Basking Ridge in 2011 “because of the excellent school system,” she said.

She describes herself as “an excellent project manager, both in my career and my personal life. I have always been the go-to person and the problem solver.” She says she has a lot of patience, can prioritize, and is organized and diplomatic.

She says she’d like to address student stress, school expansion, busing and traffic as well as vaping, drugs and alcohol.

Stephanus "Iwan" Juwana 

Juwana said he was drawn to Bernards Township in 2016 by its school system, unique charm and its “small-town” spirit.

He works as a senior industry analyst for a risk management firm focusing on retail credit analysis.

“I want to make sure that the school district has a balanced budget that does not cut into vital resources which will compromise the quality of education,” he said. “So, I propose that we should have an honest, careful review of the school’s budget. Further, taxpayers deserve to know, be actively involved, and have confidence that their money is being used wisely. 

He said he thinks the district needs to explore opportunities in all areas of academic, technical, vocational, and special education “to enable our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow.”

“I would like to be an advocate for your children in all areas covered under the school district umbrella, such as curriculum, security, sports, activities, clubs, social events, STEM, emotional health, drug/vaping concerns, the pending drop or A/B schedule as well as the school construction at RHS and more,” he said. 

An area of special concern, he said, is setting “appropriate expectations” for children “while being sensitive to the stresses they feel.” 

Ruchika Hira 

Hira said her family, with two young children, moved to Basking Ridge a little over three years ago “solely because of the stellar school system."

She said she presents “unique” skills she says she uses as an attorney to deal with families, children and conflict resolution on a day-to-day basis. She says she has honed her aptitude for “thinking outside the box to craft solutions.” 

“Truly listening to them allows me to ask the right questions and to understand what their needs are,” she said.

She says she sees implementation of the rotating drop schedule and “making certain that it meets the needs of our students and staff is going to be a fast-approaching challenge.”

She also says the district needs to create and implement policies that are going to help alleviate the stress “that students are feeling and voicing, while continuing to provide children with a challenging curriculum.”

Suzanne Schafer Skalski 

Skalski has lived in the township for six years with her husband and two high school-aged children. She was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2018 and won the remaining year of the term in last November’s election

She works for Rutgers University as an undergraduate regional admissions recruiter, and has worked in the field of university admissions or college counseling for her entire career, she said. That leads her to believe “I do actually understand what colleges are looking for in students,” she said.

She says she is particularly concerned about student stress in the district and managing expectation of outcomes and student stress levels.

She said she supports the implementation of an alternate class schedule at the high school and looking at the possibility of moving the start times for schools.

Karen Gray

Gray currently the chairwoman of the curriculum committee, said she realizes students face the challenges of peer pressure, social media, competition, shaming, vaping and more. 

High on her list of challenges is addressing the issue of stress and anxiety among students in all age groups. 

Student stress also directly impacts school staff, she says, and she supports professional development for teachers in this area, she said.

Gray has served on all the board committees, and on the board team negotiating teacher and administrative contracts.

She cites increased balancing of the costs versus benefits in the need for school security, more effective communication with parents and families and monitoring proposed housing developments for the potential impact on enrollment and facilities.