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 BOARD OF EDUCATION INCUMBENT CANDIDATE HELEN KIRSCH
Why are you Running for the Board?
The Berkeley Heights Public Schools are a spotlight of the Community of Berkeley Heights. Many young families choose to settle in Berkeley Heights because of the reputation of the schools. Having been a member of the Board of Education for 36 years I have played a significant role in establishing the school district we are so proud of today. I am seeking re-election because my enthusiasm has not waned and I remain committed to provide the best education we can not only to my grandchildren but to all the children of Berkeley Heights.
What unique skills or knowledge will you bring to the Board?
When first elected to the Berkeley Heights BOE we were a small K-8 district. Our high school students attended Governor Livingston but it was governed by Union County Regional High School District number 1. As president of the board I played a leading role in the dissolution of the Regional District and forming the building blocks to create the Berkeley Heights K-12 District we are so proud of today. As a member of the board I have served on many committees, I am active on the county level and have most recently served on the Board of Directors of the New Jersey School Boards Association. These affiliations have afforded me the opportunity to understand and bring back to our board challenges shared in school communities throughout the state.
What do you think the top three challenges facing the District are at this time? How can the district address these challenges?
Positive school climate and staff morale is beginning to fade. Settling the teacher’s contract has to be at the top of the list. Both sides have resolution as a priority and are working toward that goal, but sleeves need to be rolled up to get this done.
The second challenge is to continue to provide an excellent educational experience for our students within the confines of the budget cap and limited state funding. This can be accomplished by budgeting wisely, monitoring spending, strategically planning expenditures and intensify efforts to identify and seek out additional outside revenue sources.
There are several housing developments being discussed at the township level that will impact the schools. The BOE has to work with the township committee to better understand the size of these developments, possible impact on the schools, and strategically plan for any impending changes
What are your thoughts about the ongoing negotiations between the BOE and BHEA, and would you recommend any process improvements for future negotiations?
Both the BHEA and the BOE are working to find a resolution to end this stalemate. I am saddened that contract negotiations have carried on so long, but I’m convinced the integrity of both parties will ensure continued efforts to find a timely resolution acceptable to both parties.
Contrary to what some people might think, the BOE and the BHEA have a good working relationship. Prior to future negotiations the two groups need to sit down and discuss how the process might be improved.
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?
I believe the success of our students as they move up through the grades indicates that the experience our kindergarten children receive is adequate for their future success. That being said, study after study indicates educating children at this early age is paramount. Housing the additional classroom space is a conundrum the BOE will have to resolve. The state has specific requirements for kindergarten classrooms which cannot be met without serious consideration on how best to move forward.
Do you believe that the current use of technology (including iPads and Chromebooks) in the District is appropriate, and would you recommend any changes?
Our teachers are the educators of our children, the technology used in the classroom are tools to assist both the teachers and the students. I understand there are concerns about screen time. Parental monitoring of both school requirements and personal use could possibly alleviate some of these concerns.
What is your opinion on district Media Center upgrades?
The way children learn and collaborate has evolved over the years. Our buildings are old and our media centers are not conducive to these new trends. As educational facilities we are obligated to provide an appropriate learning environment,, but must do so as cost effective as possible, keeping in mind the tax burden on the community