CRANFORD, NJ – Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and among the options for governor, assembly, township committee and more, Cranford residents are also voting to choose their representatives for the Board of Education.
This year, current member Daniel Demarco is running unopposed for a one-year seat. Current members Kurt Petschow Jr., Lisa Carbone and Kristen Mallon are battling to keep their three seats for a three-year term against newcomer Rita Della Valle.
TAPinto Cranford has asked each candidate four quick questions to help voters choose the board members. DeMarco declined to comment, but the four competing candidates have answered. Their responses can be read below:
Why are you running for the BOE?
Petschow: When choosing a town to raise a family in, Cranford was on the top of our list because of its fine public education system. As a father of three in the district and a uncle of 3 soon to be in the district, I understand how important public education is in a child’s life. I truly believe in the teachers and staff that make Cranford great. There is no better way to volunteer and help this extraordinary district than to run for the Board of Education.
Mallon: I am seeking re-election to the Cranford Board of Education so that I can continue giving back to the community, and ultimately the children of Cranford. I have been a resident of Cranford for 23 years. I have spent countless hours volunteering in our schools and in our community. I have three children, all of whom attended school in the Cranford Public School District since kindergarten. I have two sons in college and a daughter that is a junior at Cranford High School, so I understand and appreciate the value of a Cranford Public School education. I believe I have made a positive contribution the past two years, and want to retain my seat on the Board for another three years to keep our district moving in the right direction and to work hard for what is most important: our students, teachers, staff and community.
Carbone: When I originally ran three years ago, I spoke about bringing new energy to the Board and to the overall district at that time. I also spoke about the importance of having a Board made up of members with diverse backgrounds and experiences to help propel our district forward. I believe we have achieved this! We currently have a Board made up of innovative thinkers and are making great progress, but we are nowhere near done. I welcome the opportunity to stay and continue to work through the changes that have begun while making additional advancements that all equate to propelling our overall community forward.
Ultimately, I am running based on my strong beliefs: I believe students should have the necessary tools to best prepare them for current and future success. This can mean many things, starting with students having access to resources that build strong social and emotional skills, all the way to innovative technological resources, and anything in between. I believe teachers should work in a climate built on trust and respect, where diverse points of views are always welcomed and encouraged. I believe the administration should operate within an environment that attracts and retains top talent at all levels. I believe taxpayers should have a fair return on their investment in supporting a district that is at the heart of making our town a highly desirable place to live. I am passionate about moving these beliefs forward.
Della Valle: I am running for the Board of Education because I have a deep appreciation for education. I value education and its importance in our world. I believe all students deserve an equal opportunity for an excellent education. I want to be an active member of a team that makes challenging decisions to provide opportunities for the students of Cranford. I am running for the Board of Education to take immediate actions that will make long-lasting impacts for our residents.
What do you believe to be the major issues facing the BOE and how do you recommend addressing this?
Petschow: I believe the biggest issue facing the Board of Education is the large building projects across all of Cranford such as 750 Walnut and the Birchwood Ave projects. Along with my fellow board members we have been preparing for these projects to the best of our abilities for a number of years. One way we have been doing this is by getting a demographer and architect engineer into our schools to see how to best prepare for large influx of new students. The hardest part of this equation is not knowing the needs of the individual student and the costs associated with them. It is very difficult to budget for the unknown. Even though this is a imperfect science through meeting with other districts and professionals who have gone through similar situations and having open dialog with the township committee I feel the Cranford School District will be best prepared for all possibilities.
Mallon: The current five year Cranford Public Schools Strategic Plan will end at the conclusion of this school year. One of the challenges the District and the Board of Education face is the development and implementation of a new Strategic Plan. Setting priorities and working towards the established goals and objectives is what will drive the District forward for the next five years. The development of the new Plan will include input from the Cranford community as a whole, in addition to input from the school community. The current members of the Cranford Board of Education have established good relationships with members of the Township Committee, the Cranford Police Department as well as other organizations within the township. Collaboration between the District, community stakeholders, and members of our school community will lead to a Strategic Plan that when implemented will be successful.
Carbone: I would say one of the top concerns we are currently facing as a district are budget constraints. Over 92% of our costs are fixed due to contractual salaries and benefits, out of district placements, transportation costs, and energy costs. This leaves the Board with less than 8% of the budget for discretionary items such as extra-curricular programs, technology, textbooks, supplies, building maintenance, and professional development. Most of our budget comes from our taxpayers since we receive minimal Federal and State Aid. We continue to receive almost one million dollars less per year in funding from the state than we did eight years ago. The state currently only funds approximately 5% of our overall district budget. The incremental effect of the continued underfunding of education, including unfunded federal and state mandates, continues to increase the reliance on local tax revenues to sustain our existing educational programs. Therefore, we are in a position of having to do more with less. One way of addressing our financial needs is to leverage partnerships with community organizations, governmental agencies, and local businesses to ascertain local support of resources. I believe we have only scratched the surface of resources that potentially exist to support our students.
Della Valle: Cranford has a strong school district. There are several areas that need close attention and support.
Cranford would benefit from creating partnerships with other local towns to contribute to a larger community that supports education. I plan to use my skills to promote a larger community compromised of local town boards of education and stakeholders to form communities of learning. My skills developed through my role as Director of Growth, Development, and Partnerships for Ignite Greater Newark will help me in creating strong partnerships with other towns.
I believe in education for all students. I would like to take a closer look at out of district placement for our students. Students should be educated in the least restrictive environment. For many of our students, that means attending school in town.
As our nation makes shifts to the PARCC assessment, it is imperative that we provide students with the skills to master common core. I would like to take a closer look at how we prepare students to be PARCC ready, which ultimately leads to being college and career ready. I would address PARCC readiness through work, with the curriculum team, instructional team, and other aspects of instruction that support student thinking.
Currently, it is vital that the Board continue to address free full day kindergarten for Cranford residents. The Board must also work closely with other town committees to regulate high density housing units.
What makes you stand out among the other candidates?
Petschow: I think a few things that make me stand out amongst other candidates is my business and volunteer background. As a small business owner, I have to formulate and carry out a budget, rules and regulations in order to keep my business running. Our local Cranford business has been around since 1969, giving me the opportunity to interact with many great people and organizations in Cranford whose sole purpose is to help the community. As president of the Chamber of Commerce I developed a deep understanding of how successful boards can be when people work together. I think these are a few examples that allow me to stand out amongst the other candidates.
Mallon: I believe I stand out among the other candidates with my background in school and community involvement. I have experienced kindergarten through high school with three separate children. I believe that moving through those years with my children and my involvement in school and community activities has given me an understanding of this district that is very valuable to the Board.
Carbone: As a working mother with over twenty years of corporate and small business experience, my focus has been and will remain on bringing my diverse background in serving our school community. My wide range of experience includes recruitment and human resource management, contract negotiations, sales management, and leadership development. Through these experiences, I have learned to balance the varied needs of all involved to help create innovative solutions. I approach each decision with an open mind and make strong strategic decisions that require gathering information, balancing needs and concerns, and thinking through both short and long-term implications. I am committed to utilizing these skills on the Cranford Board of Education for another three years towards the betterment of our school community.
Della Valle: I am an educator. I taught at a private hospital. I taught high school math in self-contained, general, and inclusion classrooms. I graduated from Drew University with a degree in mathematics and minors in dance, Italian, and education. My math background allows me to be analytical and solutions oriented. I have a Master of Science in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University. I am pursuing a doctorate degree in education at Seton Hall University. My education provides me with the skills needed to make thoughtful decisions using data and education understanding. Currently I am a high school instructional coach. I support teachers to ensure high quality instructional practice. My background gives me the knowledge to think about creative solutions to contribute to our district plans.
How long have you lived in Cranford and how are you involved in the community?
Petschow: I have lived in Cranford for 29 years and I am a very active member of the community. I am a small business owner in Cranford as well as being an active volunteer. Volunteering as a board member on the Cranford Baseball and Softball League, softball and baseball coach as well as being the current Board of Education President. In the past I also volunteered on the Downtown Management Corporation board and was the president of the Cranford Chamber of Commerce. Following in my father’s belief in the Cranford community, I’ve been brought up with a strong belief in the sense of community. I believe being exposed to these beliefs along with my experiences have helped me bring a lot to the board of education.
Mallon: I have been a resident of Cranford for 23 years. I have been very active in the Cranford Public Schools for the past 16 years, since my first child started kindergarten. I have participated in countless PTA and school activities. I am currently a member of the Cranford High School Booster Club and Co-coordinator of the fall and winter Snack Stands for home sporting events. I was active in the Cranford Baseball and Softball League for over 10 years. I was a Board Member and the League Sponsorship Coordinator. I was a Team Manager for Spring, Summer and Fall teams and I was a Co-coordinator for the Cranford Fall League for five years. I have been a Trustee for the Cranford Youth Sports Club since 2010. The Cranford Youth Sports Club supports the current Middle School Baseball and Softball programs for which I was a Co-Co-coordinator for five years. My family belongs to St. Michael Church here in Cranford.
Carbone: I have been an active member of our community since we moved to Cranford over eleven years ago. When my girls were younger, I was a Girl Scout Leader, class mom, and active PTA member. Over the years, I have been part of Project Home, Cranford Newcomers’ Club, and St. Michael’s MOMs Club. In addition, our family continues to actively support our schools and community organizations through our family business.
More recently, I have focused my volunteering through my Board responsibilities. In addition to serving as the Vice President of the Board for the past two years, I currently serve on the Policy Committee (Chair), Communication Committee, Technology Committee, and Joint Action Committee. I also serve as Board Liaison to the Cranford Fund for Excellence (CFEE), the Friends of CHS Performing Arts Group, and Parent Teacher Council (PTC).
Through these committees and groups, I have aimed to use my collaborative nature to build strong partnerships with the different stakeholders such as the township committee members, police personnel, and Board Members of our local organizations. I have worked hard with my fellow Board members to ensure we have an environment that fosters open and honest discussions to collectively arrive at the best decisions for our children, teachers, administrators, tax payers and overall community.
Della Valle: I have lived in Cranford my entire life. I graduated from Cranford High School. I am a parishioner at Saint Michael Church. I was a member of soccer and track teams in town. I was a member of the Academy of Performing Arts. I would like to thank you in advance for your support. I look forward to your vote “Column 2” on Tuesday, November 7th.