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.
GET TO KNOW BERKELEY HEIGHTS INCUMBENT BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE ROBERT CIANCIULLI
Robert Cianciulli has lived in Berkeley Heights for almost 15 years and has a daughter who graduated Mary Kay McMillin and Woodruff Elementary and currently is attending Columbia Middle School.
Cianciulli graduated Notre Dame’s law school and studied business at Boston College. To balance his business degree, he attended a liberal arts program at Oxford University. He now practices law for a large company here in New Jersey. He also volunteers for Habitat For Humanity.
Why are you Running for the Board?
I am running for reelection to continue to work for common sense budgeting that balances the practical limitations of the taxpayer with the important long-term goals of our schools. I also believe strongly in our Board focusing more on early education. As a parent, I have seen that each step up from kindergarten through the upper grades is a steep one. When a district focuses on the early grade levels, it not only helps younger students be more successful, but it also reduces the District’s need to expend additional resources later to catch that student up.
What unique skills or knowledge will you bring to the Board?
Professionally, I practice law for a Fortune 300 corporation headquartered here in New Jersey. This has given me valuable experience in drafting policies and procedures, chairing committees, and resolving a wide range of issues that arise at any given time. I do this as part of a large, collaborative, and diverse team.
What do you think the top three challenges facing the District are at this time? How can the district address these challenges?
The top challenges facing our district are the implementation of full day kindergarten, the teacher's contract negotiations, and our need to focus more on early education. As a School Board member, I know that we support the students at our high school level well. However, we should be focusing more of our attention on the elementary and middle schools as well. A District doesn't get a successful high school and young adult population without starting early. I strongly support increased training opportunities for elementary teaching and support staff in our schools. I discuss the implementation of full day kindergarten and the teacher contract negotiations below.
Although I am a member of the Berkeley Heights Board of Education, I am not speaking on behalf of the Board. I am expressing my individual opinion on each of the issues raised in this article.
What are your thoughts about the ongoing negotiations between the BOE and BHEA, and would you recommend any process improvements for future negotiations?
I am not authorized to speak publicly about the current negotiations between the teacher's union and the School Board. However, in the future, I think that it would realistic for us to work together to agree on a shorter time frame for mediation.
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?
Full day kindergarten is something that I support and that I think is long overdue. Berkeley Heights is among only a small minority of New Jersey school districts that has not yet made full day kindergarten a reality. It may be surprising to some that much of the spending for the implementation of full day kindergarten is actually just one time costs for the necessary school building renovations. In the next couple of annual school budgets, the allocation of funds for facility upgrades should be made a priority.
Do you believe that the current use of technology (including Ipads and Chromebooks) in the District is appropriate, and would you recommend any changes?
Students need the tools to succeed in the 21st century and that includes technology such as access to IPads and Chromebooks. The reality is that New Jersey state testing is increasingly relying upon the use of these devices. However, this needs to be balanced with the importance of gaining traditional writing skills that do not include Spellcheck and Autocorrect. As for recommended changes, I believe that these tablets should not also be coming home after school with students in the lower grades. For our younger students, parents should be making the decisions about technology devices in their own households.
What is your opinion on district Media Center upgrades?
I have personally seen the reality of a modern media center while visiting the New Providence school district. It was terrific. What struck me most was that the entire space was actually designed for interaction among small groups of students. My view is that the media center upgrades are a great idea but these upgrades needn't be done in every school all at once as has been discussed. I would do these upgrades gradually over time and not burden the taxpayer with these costs all at once.