BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In preparation for the Berkeley Heights Board of Education election, 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 five candidates running for three open seats on the Board of Education.  The candidates are incumbents Robert Cianciulli and Helen Kirsch, and first time BOE candidates Michael D'Aquila, Dr. Shengwu Du, and Angela Penna.


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Why are you Running for the Board?

I wish to do more for the community, I have a PhD in Economics from Penn State, Co-Founder of local non-profit school right here in Berkeley Heights, volunteer for BH Rescue Squad and GL Marching Band, Have two children in the Berkeley Heights School District.

I believe I am the candidate with very unique background and would like to bring independent and unbeholden representation to the Berkeley Heights Board of Education.

I believe with the money that Berkeley Heights is spending or less we should have the best schools in Union County. 

What unique skills or knowledge will you bring to the Board?

I have a PhD in Economics from Penn State and over ten years of financial market experience. Currently I work as an Economist doing research for the Federal Reserve. I know how to think through issues and ask critical questions.

I am a Co-Founder of a very successful local non-profit school right here in Berkeley Heights. With a self sustaining minimal budget we started a school and ran it until it was fully self-sufficient. I can bring many of those skills and experiences to the Board of Education watching a $54,000,000 / year budget with the same scrutiny of running a non-profit. Asking always the first question, will this have a direct positive impact on the students?

What do you think the top three challenges facing the District are at this time?

How can the district address these challenges? Independence and diversity - We need diversify our Board of Ed with people who have different backgrounds and fresh ideas. A more diversified Board of Ed will discuss our school issues from different perspectives, ask more challenging questions, and make a more balanced and informed decision. We also need independent minded people to vote logically and without prejudice or influence from any groups or parties.

Term Limit on Board of Ed. - We should set a term limit on Board of Ed so our school Board can always open to people who can bring unique skills to make our school better and who can best represent our community.

Transparency - We need to improve transparency in BOE meeting and have more timely feedback from community in Board’s decision-making process. We should promote more public discussion about the real issues in the Board of Education meetings. Our school Board should open more channels to connect with the local community so everybody in our community can follow their meetings and provide feedback directly before decisions are already made

What are your thoughts about the ongoing negotiations between the BOE and BHEA, and would you recommend any process improvements for future negotiations?

It is time for this to end! We need to settle with the teacher and come up with a long term plan. Berkeley Heights Students Should Not Be Held Hostage in this Dispute. We should resolve the contract issue sooner than later , along with a clear statement of intent on how future contract increases will be redistributed.

The BOE is considering the implementation of full-day kindergarten - do you think this makes sense for our District? Why or why not? If Full Day kindergarten is implemented, how would you recommend that the district pay for it?

This is soon going to be a mandate of the state. The incremental cost of Full Day Kindergarten New Jersey legislators have been pushing the requirement of full-day kindergarten for NJ. Berkeley Heights should be prepared to follow the state guidelines.

Do you believe that the current use of technology (including Ipads and Chromebooks) in the District is appropriate, and would you recommend any changes?

While I believe that technology is crucial in today’s society, children are already being exposed to screen time at an early age. To control kids’ screen time has been always a challenge for our parents. We need to improve our control policy so that the devices are limited to school study purpose.

There is also a large cost involved to invest in technology. We should have a comprehensive cost and benefit analysis to see whether we can spend more effectively and efficiently on school technology. Moreover, we should ensure that our teachers are well trained and train the students as well so that they can make full use of the new technology and there will be no waste of money.

What is your opinion on district Media Center upgrades?

My understanding is that the cost of these centers is slated to be somewhere around the $5,000,000 mark, or just under $1,000 per average household in Berkeley Heights. We need to carefully evaluate this investment so we can make a good judgement about whether those dollars spent will equate to direct improvements to our children’s education.