BLOOMFIELD, NJ - Michael Heller was first elected to serve on the Bloomfield Board of Education in 2014. Heller has been a resident of Bloomfield since 1998 and he and his wife purchased their home 13 years ago. The Hellers have two children: an eighth grader attending the middle school and a child in third grade. Heller is a 1987 graduate of a public high school in Rockford, IL. In 1987, Depeche Mode and The Cure, were, and still are, two of his favorite bands.
TAPintoBloomfield interviewed Michael Heller 8-23-17.
TAP: What is one thing the voters would be surprised to learn about you?
MH: People on first glance would never know I was born in Bogotá Colombia. I lived there until I was 12. My father was Colombian and my mother was from Illinois. In Colombia, our class sizes were similar to the US. What was very different was that I received instruction in both English and Spanish. Cali, where I went to school, was a warm city. Our school had three walls with the 4th that was open to the outside.
TAP: What is the #1 reason you decided to run again for a seat on the Board of Education?
MH: There is still a lot of good work to be completed. Personally, I have undergone a lot of training by the NJ School Boards. The New Boardsmanship (NBM ) is a designation you can only receive during your first two years on a school board. I have taken this training and received this certification by my own initiative. Ten units of study in five categories were required to achieve NBM. As a group our board has become a recertified board in the past year. Seven of the nine members had to complete several trainings for us to be recertified as a board. Mandatory training for board members is in 4 areas in addition to ethics training: 1. General orientation and Superintendent/Board relations 2. Finance 3. Student Achievement 4. Legal Update Course. https://www.njsba.org/training/board-member-academy/individual-certification/nbm/
TAP: How do you think being a parent children in the district will be a benefit to the district?
MH: My original activism in the Bloomfield school district was as a concerned parent. I attended board meetings for four years before running to understand the chain of command as well as issues related to the entire district. Board meetings are the place for the public to express opinions. It was my involvement as a parent that got me to run for the board. As a member now, my function is to operate as a single entity with the other 8 members. My role as a parent is now separate from my involvement on the board. Now I represent the 6,380 students in the district – 420 more than there were 2010.
TAP: As a citizen and homeowner, what do you think is the greatest asset of the Township of Bloomfield?
MH: Bloomfield has very good schools. Students are well prepared for life. I’m not going to say they are all prepared for college; some are prepared for trades and other employment through our VEST program, a collaboration with Bloomfield College that prepares special needs students for potential jobs after high school.
TAP: As a citizen, what has been your biggest contribution to the Township/Community?
MH: Being a concerned citizen who has attended and spoken at Zoning Board and other Township meetings. Being aware of our elected representatives and county and state officials; advocating for things important to our community.
TAP: What is your # 1 quality that makes you stand out from the other 4 candidates? How would you complete the statement: I am the only candidate who….
MH: That’s a great question. Okay, I am a humble person. I am the only candidate who has undertaken more than the requisite training to serve as a board member. I bring my own personal and professional experiences to bear as board member who works to advance our community and schools for our kids.
TAP: Bloomfield has seen a great deal of residential development in the last several years. The Parkway Lofts, the Green, Avalon, and development on the old Hartz-Mountain property have brought hundreds of new residents to town. Another new building is being built on the Ferrand Street parking lot. How should Bloomfield Schools plan for the potential increase in enrollment from these and other potential developments?
MH: In 2012-13 the district commissioned a demographic study referred to as the Whitehall study. The data from study suggested there would be approximately 500 more students in the district as a result of the projects you mentioned. Oakes Pond is another project. There was concern that these developments would impact district enrollment and have a tax impact. What our administration has told us is that these developments have only yielded 20 students, not nearly as many as predicted.
We need to continue to monitor our actual enrollment. We may need to undergo another demographic study. I was involved in interviewing demographers last year but we decided against the expense at this time given the low yields. A strong board that cares about what is best for the children may have to consider redistricting if there is a significant yield from the development in the future. .
TAP: What one idea do you have to increase flow of info from District to parents and community and flow of ideas/feedback from parents/community back to the District?
MH: As a district we employ nearly1000 people. As a board we develop policy which governs the district. Community advisory boards are called for by policy however, they have not been formed or convened. I have two ideas 1. To follow policy and form the community advisory board 2. The district needs a director of communications. I would hope that this is a personnel option that will be put forth as a budget item in the upcoming school year.
TAP: As a candidate what do you think is the #1 challenge facing the school District in the next 3 years?
MH: The # 1 challenge is uncertainty regarding regulations and funding. For instance, if Medicare is cut back it will have an impact of $146,000.00 in loss of Medicare reimbursement of services relative to the students, nurses funding etc. We have a charter application that has made it to round 2, which would decrease public school funding by $2.3-3M per year. Am I in favor of charter schools? I will answer with respective to Bloomfield. I do not think an arts-based charter is a good fit for Bloomfield.
TAP: Bloomfield School District passed a “Safe Routes to School” resolution which made the Board and citizens more aware of the importance of safety for students. The Bloomfield Health Department is also creating “Travel Plans” with funding from Easy Ride. What one specific idea do you have to encourage more students to bike and walk to school.
MH: At the high school, we installed bike racks during time I was on board. I was approached by a parent to facilitate a resolution to support Safe Routes to Schools. I was proud to approach the Superintendent and board on the initiative which led to the resolution. The idea is to collaborate with parents and home and school associations to have more than symbolic one or two week ‘walk to schools’ and make it part of the day to day culture year round.
TAP: Where do you stand re: the importance of athletics extra-curricular activities in the overall school curriculum and? Very Important, Somewhat Important, Not Important. Why?
MH: It is somewhere between very important and somewhat important. Strong athletics and art addresses the whole child not just the academic. I think it is the thing that keeps some children in education. Without these extracurricular activities they might not be able to succeed.
TAP: A friend of the Bloomfield district makes a $1M donation and gives you 100% sole discretion to allocate the $ to one project or educational area. How will you spend the $?
MH: Because a $1M donation is not a recurring donation, one has to be very cautious of the sustainability of what you may want to do with the money. What would be valuable would be to pursue new curricular approaches. I think project-based or collaborative learning is an import area to pursue. Students would learn collaboration. Wherever you happen to go in the world you will rarely be working by yourself.
Collaborative, project-based learning puts children in charge of their learning. The teacher is the guide on the side vs. the sage on the stage. Children get to decide areas of focus as long as they are demonstrating mastery of the content standards.
TAP: What book are you currently reading or what TV series are you following?
MH: I am reading a book on how to have successful board/superintendent relationship. My wife and I are looking forward to watching the current season of ‘Game of Thrones’. Also ‘Happy Valley’ on Netflix.
TAP: Who was your favorite teacher and why was he/she your favorite?
MH: Mrs. Oliver in 3rd grade in Colombia. She realized that I was bright and inquisitive and sometimes needed some time on my own before I came back to task. I remember one day Mrs. Oliver allowed me to stay outside in the grass during class. I had a fantastic 3rd grade after a difficult 2nd grade due to the loss of my grandfather and relocation to a new city.
TAPinto: What is your campaign slogan?
MH: “Experienced, informed and critical leader for Bloomfield’s Schools ”
TAP: What is the best way for the Bloomfield voters to reach you?
MH: 1. firstname.lastname@example.org 2. twitter.com/heller4boe 3. facebook.com/heller4boe
TAP: Anything you would like to say in closing to the Bloomfield voters?
MH: Thank you for the trust that you have given me in these past 3 years and I hope to earn your trust again in November. Vote 5.