LIVINGSTON, NJ — Meet Vineeta Khanna, one of four candidates vying for one open seat on the Livingston Board of Education.

Khanna is a 21-year resident of Livingston and the founder of Livingston’s Orator Academy, which provides public speaking classes in order to teach students how to articulate their ideas clearly and confidently. She and her husband, Sandeep, have two children, Shivangi and Vihan, who are both products of Livingston Public Schools (LPS) and the couple’s “most brilliant products and most demanding yet giving projects,” Khanna said.

After attending college in New Delhi, India, where she was also born and raised, Khanna received a degree in English Literature and a certification in information technology. She is also a lifelong vocal student of Indian Classical Music.

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See the interview below to learn more about Khanna and her decision to run for Livingston Board of Education.

 

Q: Why are you running for Livingston Board Of Education? What qualifies you for the position?

A: “Educate To Elevate” is why I seek to represent the Livingston community at our Board of Education.

Parenting is a journey of love, an evolution of perspective, and a transformation into a teacher who must lead by example. I have raised two exceptional children in this town. Having both kids go through LPS, and in my current role as a Communications coach, I have a better understanding of the intrinsic issues.

The growing pains are not as benign as they used to be. The current competitive environment is leaving invisible scars on our kids’ psyche. I am advocating for the dire need to give our students a holistic education with an emphasis on Mental Wellness.

Besides being an avid community volunteer/leader, my diverse life experiences of being an educator/entrepreneur for almost 10 years, live radio show host for 16 years, Property Manager for 16 years, Information technology, and six years in the Service industry give me a unique global perspective, an out-of-the-box approach, not to mention a range of expertise that can serve our District well.

My ability to listen and to connect, allows me to be a valuable team player as well as an effective leader. My business background brings with it fiscal responsibility for taxpayers. 

I stand for our students’ social, emotional and relational intelligence, for cultural competence, for diversity and inclusion; for our future global leaders. 

“It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” - Frederick Douglass

 

Q: Which of the recently adopted four district goals is the most important to you and why? How would you like to see the district achieve that goal?

A: All four district goals are key to the continued success and enhancement of LPS district. However, I’d prioritize these as follows:

  1. Social Emotional Learning Instructional Strategies: This has been marked as Focus Area #3 by the district. In my opinion, nothing is more important than MHEW (Mental health & Emotional wellness), especially at this time.

    Childhood is impressionable, and the best time to influence determinants of social and emotional well-being. Studies indicate that MHEW improves cognitive, social, psychological skills, improves attention, and reduces academic stress and anxiety. This is a dire need at this time. Effective strategies, instruction policies, teacher and counselor training will make education a holistic experience for our students.

    We need to consider hiring, training and retaining more counselors to reduce caseload, and provide professional development for the existing ones. Counselors need to be equipped with tools and resources to support students in anxiety, stress management, and closing achievement gaps.

    Existing functional tools such as Schoology could be used for regular check-ins, sharing resources, tips and suggestions to successfully navigate through remote learning, adapt study skills, manage time and take care of their emotional and social health.

    We could consider partnering with Statewide non profits. If we take care of their minds, we’ll see positive results and growth. An emotionally sound mind will be socially smart, relationally intelligent, and culturally competent. 
     
  2. Culturally inclusive, aware, accepting community, has been marked as Focus Area #1 by the district.
     
  3. I bring to the second spot in my priority list as I believe that an emotionally and socially sound mind will comprehend and concur with the need to learn, celebrate and collaborate with diverse backgrounds, mindsets and skill sets. I am a woman of diversity, I’ve invested many years in the Multicultural event in our schools, and I know firsthand the importance of Multiculturalism and Cultural awareness and sensitivity.
     
  4. Enhance Math Instruction and Learning K-8, is essential to keep our students academically progressive. I move it to #3 spot instead of # 2 only because, in my opinion, academic brilliance will come seamlessly to mentally, emotionally and socially intelligent minds.
     
  5. Focus Area #4, Technology for Learning, aligns with my choice as well. Technology is a way of life, an effective tool if used wisely.


Q: How do you think Livingston Public Schools district has handled the COVID-19 pandemic? What would you have done differently or the same as a Board of Education member?

A: The precarious nature of this virus, and the uncertainty and fear surrounding it has been debilitating. The plan to go hybrid has been welcomed as a harbinger to eventual normalcy. But the fact that we had a pandemic on hand was common knowledge in spring.

I am not privy to the data available to LPS and BOE, and the information that has influenced their decisions, thus my opinion would be mere speculation. We do, however, agree that education cannot be compromised, and neither can students’ or staffs’ safety. Dr. Block’s consistent communication has been highly appreciated, but for many parents that’s been insufficient. 

As per NJDOE, “A district that is offering hybrid instruction should first prioritize the maximum use of all available school facility space for in-person instruction in accordance with the health and safety standards.”

In my conversations with several parents and students, the feeling is that the administration may not have looked into optimal utilization of space, especially the large outdoor spaces each school has, specifically while the outdoor temperatures are conducive. Another general community opinion is to have probably considered shared spaces in our town that are compliant with CDC guidelines, perhaps along the lines of the pods that many parents have arranged for their students and friends to provide education and social interaction that is an essential component of schooling.

Consideration of using the outdoor spaces, once a week socially distanced meet ups with peers and teachers, and regular check ins for students’ social & cognitive well-being could have been beneficial. 

BOE/Admin focused on getting the schools ready. We discussed remote vs. in-person vs. hybrid. We considered additional substitutes, but we may have overlooked an integral component of the educational program—counseling—to address the adverse impact of the pandemic on the emotional, social and cognitive well being of our children and teachers.

Some Livingston families have had to deal with loss/trauma, or the stress of losing their jobs, and trying to assist their kids to navigate through online schooling, whether mainstream, IEP, or special education. The concern of families was evident in the attendance at BOE meetings.

The heightened anxiety in the voices of the parents was undeniable. While I’m extremely grateful for the commitment of the Board/Admin on spending countless hours of their personal time over the summer to devise what they feel is a comprehensive solution that serves the community, we needed better outreach.

THIS is the time our students and parents needed counselors the most. We needed to consider hiring, training and retaining more counselors to reduce caseload, and provide professional development for the existing ones, which I believe the district did in the last few weeks.

Counselors are not superhuman. They need assistance too, and we need to equip them with tools and resources to support students in anxiety, stress management, and closing achievement gaps.

Besides the pandemic, the current social climate also requires our public education system to focus on cultural competence. The SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) policy needs diligent implementation.

Existing functional tools such as Schoology could be used for regular check-ins, sharing resources, tips and suggestions to successfully navigate through remote learning, adapt study skills, manage time and take care of their emotional and social health.

We could consider partnering with statewide nonprofits (www.greatnonprofits.org), weareallalittlecrazy.com and even local initiatives such as LivWell 07039. 

Mental wellness, emotional resilience and relational intelligence is key for a prosperous community.
 

Q: Apart from running for the board of education, in what other ways are you involved in town?

A: We moved to Livingston in 1999. I spent my first decade in Livingston acclimating to my new home, town and country while rolling up my sleeves and taking on key roles and responsibilities in the school that became my kids’ second home.

I independently conceptualized the very first Multicultural event in Harrison Elementary School, which engaged the parents as performers besides offering their cuisines for sampling. That profile of the multicultural event has since been adopted by many schools in Livingston. This experience led to a formal PTA role as a vice president, and as a PT Council Multicultural Committee Co-Chair. 

I now serve the town as a member of the Zoning Board, Open Space Trust Committee, and Diversity & Inclusion Committee. I volunteered at the recent Livingston Sings fundraiser, Livingston’s Got Talent fundraiser, Religions of the World, and Women’s Multicultural High Tea.

 

Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?  

A: I am a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. I am fluent in three languages.

Multiculturalism, in my opinion, is our world’s greatest asset and beauty. I’ve traveled to 27 different countries, and know how to say “hello” in several languages. I can sing in multiple languages.

I’ve been a radio show host for 16 years, with my own show that I called, “Coffee Tea & Me with Vicky” that was also featured on NPR WNYC. I’ve been a guest on NPR WHYY.

I was a statewide badminton player while growing up in India. I sing in different genres of music. I briefly played the Sitar in my childhood. I’ve emceed events at large venues such as Nassau Coliseum and PNC Bank Arts Center, with more than 10,000 in attendance.

I think I may be the “Jane” of all trades. I strongly believe that actions speak louder than words. I participate in and contribute to a lot of charities in India & U.S.

My family is my lifeline and my priority. I consult them for most of my life decisions, as what I do affects them too.

 

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