BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In preparation for the Berkeley Heights Board of Education election on Nov. 3, questions were submitted to each candidate to give residents insight into why they are running and how they feel they can contribute to the Berkeley Heights school district.
There are three candidates running for two open seats on the Board of Education. The candidates are incumbents Christine Reilly, Doug Reinstein and first time candidate Robert Cianciulli.
GET TO KNOW BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE ROBERT CIANIULLI.
1. What is your background and connection to our schools? What experience do you have in our schools and in education? Why do you want to be on the BOE?
I have been working in Berkeley Heights for almost 15 years and lived here for almost ten years. I have one little girl who is at Woodruff Elementary School and, prior to that, graduated from Mary Kay McMillin. My daughter has attended the Millburn public schools as well. As a single parent, I have been involved every step of the way at each of her schools, regularly participating in meetings with a broad range of school district personnel including everyone from Superintendent Ratner to principals and other district administrators, teachers, and support staff. I have consistently participated each year in school observations of classroom teachers and paraprofessionals as well as of other parts of the school day like Art, Gym, and our district’s speech therapy services. I have also received and reviewed private consultants’ reports of certain of our school programs and services. I am proud to include within my educational experiences my time volunteering each year as part of an educational and mentoring program at Newark’s East Side High School.
I am fortunate to have a broader perspective of local education that includes not just Berkeley Heights schools but also my witnessing the successes of the nationally ranked Millburn school district as well as seeing those challenges faced by students in the Newark public schools. I am running for school board this year because I want to bring these broader experiences as a parent to the Berkeley Heights School Board. I know that I will be a great fit since, as an attorney right here in town, I have experience in drafting policies and procedures, serving on committees, and resolving a wide range of issues that arise at any given time and I do it as part of a large, collaborative, and diverse team.
2. What are the biggest challenges that face our district and how would you surmount them?
I am the only candidate running for school board this year who actually is the parent of a child in Berkeley Heights Schools. In many districts this would not be particularly significant; however, Berkeley Heights is unique. Currently, the Berkeley Heights School Board has a total of only one member who has a child in our school system. Therefore, the biggest challenge currently facing our school district is in getting parent input up to the board. Unfortunately, information about the operations of the Berkeley Heights Schools is often narrowly funneled up from the school principals to the district administration and then on to the school board in a carefully measured way that doesn’t always coincide with the true picture. No school board can make meaningful decisions without those decisions being fully informed ones. As the only candidate this year who does have a child in our district’s schools, I would be in a greater position to bring a broader perspective to the board than currently exists.
3. Do you consider our district to be a high performing district? Please elaborate on your answer, why or why not.
I do consider our district to be a high performing district overall, but there’s always room to do better. We have several strengths including our standardized test scores and a large percentage of students graduating from GL and going on to many nationally ranked universities. However, a district truly only performs at its best when each student’s overall growth is included within our view of the district’s performance. That is more challenging to measure, but it is certainly worth the effort for us to look closely at this type of growth and achievement every step of the way through a child’s journey.
4. How pertinent do you think the school rankings in various publications (NJ Monthly, etc.) are for our District?
School rankings are, unfortunately, imperfect. However, there is always something to be learned from them. They are essentially guardrails for different measured areas such as teacher-student ratio and graduation rates that we could use as a district to make changes within our schools that we feel are appropriate. I view these rankings not as the grade that we receive as a district, but instead as a tool that we can look to in order to gather information with which to shape our schools.
5. We have just rolled 1:1 iPads down to the 8th grade. Do you believe the roll-down should continue to earlier grades? Would you propose any changes to the district's approach to incorporating technology into our curriculum?
Rolling 1:1 iPads down to grades below the 8th grade sounds like a great idea! In the 21st century, technology will continue to affect greater and greater parts of our children’s lives. As far as possible changes that should be proposed to the district’s approach to incorporate technology into our curriculum, this should initially be explored by reaching out to our educators, parents, and school administrators.