This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on Livingston Board of Education Candidates. All candidates will be featured individually during the week leading up to the November 2019 election.

LIVINGSTON, NJ — Sasha Pailet Koff, an 11-year resident of Livingston running for Livingston Board of Education in the upcoming election on Nov. 5.

Basic background:

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Sasha Pailet Koff currently serves as the senior director of Global Supply Chain Digital Operations, a leadership role within Johnson & Johnson, and has also previously held professional roles in management consulting, sales, marketing, and strategy for the federal government (White House, Navy and USPS) and specialty chemical arenas.

Originally from the New Orleans area, Koff attended Metairie Park Country Day School for grades K-12 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Mechanical Engineering from The George Washington University and an MBA from Columbia University. She currently holds the professional designations of Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Global Management Accountant (CGMA). 

Koff’s husband, Matthew, is an associate scientist at Hospital for Special Surgery in the Department of Radiology and Imaging as well as an Associate Professor of Biomedical Imaging in Orthopaedic Surgery Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. He was raised in the Philadelphia area and received a BS in mechanical engineering from The George Washington University, a master’s degree and a Doctor of Philosophy in biomedical engineering from Columbia University and completed his postdoctoral studies at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN.

Married just shy of 20 years, has two children currently attending Livingston schools: one in elementary school and the other in middle school. They are also the proud K9 parents to Charlie.   

 

Q: Why are you running for board of education? (Again, if incumbent?)

A: I am running for the board of education because of my passion for public service, a genuine interest to contribute to our community, and a desire to share my skills and help our school district continue to excel. Years of professional, school, and community participation have given me the foundation to effectively contribute to the board of education.  

For years, I have held roles of increasing responsibility in my professional career.  Leading global teams with budget responsibility in excess of $180M, I have identified and grown new business models, improved operations for stable entities, and managed the turnaround of declining businesses.  These experiences have provided me with real-world opportunities to hone my skills in communication, collaboration, budget management, and mission delivery.  All of these skills will make me an effective board member.

For years, I have led and worked with multiple community groups. I have worked with present and past school board members in this district and in other school districts across NJ. I’ve worked closely with elected officials on legislation dealing with education. I have taken on board positions with many non-profit organizations such as the Bruce J. Heim Foundation, The Jewish Federation Camp Scholarship Committee, and The George Washington University Alumni Committee. I’ve proven repeatedly that I can keep an open mind, listen to the needs of our community, and translate those needs into real results that have a positive impact on our schools.

For years, I have actively watched and participated in Livingston Board of Education public sessions. I have learned that successful board members engage with all members of the community in order to understand the needs of the community. Successful board members attend frequent training sessions in order to understand what is required by law and to learn about emerging trends in education.  They build relationships with board members from other school districts to exchange ideas and adopt best practices.  They are comfortable assessing and making budgetary decisions that are in the best interest of the community. They have the skills necessary to evaluate data provided by the administration to assess the district’s performance against set policy. They are willing to ask tough questions in a respectful and constructive manner and work with fellow board members in a collaborative fashion. Successful board members understand and accept the importance of confidentiality, and they recognize that their actions must be in the best interest of the community not for personal gain.

I have the skills and abilities to be this kind of board member and I want to use them.  That is why I am running and I ask for your vote.

 

Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Livingston Public Schools district?

A: Ironically, one of our greatest strengths can address a significant weakness in our schools.  In the elementary grades, there is time and energy spent in matching teachers with students based on the teacher’s skills and the student’s learning styles.  Time is also set aside to enhance the cross collaboration of teachers within a grade level and across grade levels.  This matching strategy and cross collaboration ensures a better understanding of how the curriculum is being implemented in the classroom, provides opportunities for staff to share best practices, and provides support for teachers to successfully meet the learning styles of each student. The goal of the matching efforts and cross collaboration is to set both teachers and students up for maximum success. 

When our children transition to 6th grade, and for the remainder of their time in the district, these efforts are not continued with the same degree of rigor. Given the strength, talents, and size of our teaching staff, we have the opportunity to use our elementary school matching process throughout a child’s time in our district.  As a result of the departure of numerous department heads and administrators in recent years, the practice of holding cross collaboration K-12 discussions, similar to those that occur in the elementary schools, has been inconsistent. We should look to institute a consistent practice of frequent discussion within grade levels and across grade levels PreK-12 by subject area.  This process will allow for clearer insights that can lead to improvements in our curriculum, enhanced development of our teaching staff and can lead to greater personalization and success for each individual student.  

 

Q: In what area(s) would you like to see more support?

A: While we have a comprehensive K-12 curriculum and a counseling staff of 50+ professionals, including 3 substance abuse counselors in the district providing support, multiple forums have highlighted gaps in student and parent education surrounding issues that are impacting our students, such as anxiety, depression, bullying, substance abuse, sexual identity, social media intimidation, and more. Our district is fortunate to have Healthy Community Healthy Youth (HCHY), Livingston Municipal Alliance Committee (LMAC), and involved resident advocates and mental health professionals. They can help us to work as a team to address the stigma associated with mental illness and identify problems, provide better support, and channel resources to design and deliver meaningful, accessible solutions for improved social and emotional wellness for students and community.

The ability to learn is highly correlated to the mental and physical well-being of the student.  According to the Hope report, 16%+ of students have seriously considered suicide, 12% contend with diagnosable anxiety disorders, 20% between the ages of 13-18 are living with a mental health disorder, and 50% ages 8-15 diagnosed with a mental illness are not receiving services. These findings indicate a dramatic need for us to spend time and energy partnering with parents, teachers, administrators, township health department and organizations to identify and implement services.  I believe this is among one of the most important issues we face in our schools and our community, one that needs more support.

 

Q: Name one budget item you would like to see either increased or decreased and explain why.

A: We are fortunate to have a strong school system and members of our community who understand that excellence in education takes hard work, a willingness to cooperate with others, and a commitment to listening to the voices of parents, children, and families.   Those elected have a tremendous responsibility in passing policy to ensure our schools are run well and a fiduciary responsibility to ensure every dollar paid in taxes is used wisely. 

As I study the budget, the one budget item I would like to see increased is in support of our staff who provide supervision and instruction for extracurricular activities, such as the arts, robotics, forensics, and sports. These are opportunities for our students to expand upon the work being undertaken in the classroom by providing students the forum to build their skills and showcase their talents. I believe there is a need for us to address the banding used for these stipends to ensure equitable financial compensation in exchange for the commitment required and to ensure we attract the best staff for these roles. As this needs to be addressed in our teacher contract, I would encourage dialogue during negotiations to designate budget for these supports.  I believe we can offset the proposed increases for these funds by obtaining all funding due to our district from the state. For years, I have worked closely with elected officials such as our state Assemblywoman Mila Jasey’s office to successfully pass laws to improve state funding for Livingston Schools. We should also look to work with our township and other districts to identify opportunities to reduce expenditures of our procurement contracts and to non-profit organizations like the Livingston Education Foundation to secure funds to offset these costs.  As the Chair of LMAC, I have had an opportunity to work collaboratively with the BOE, Township, HCHY, and other non-profit organizations to secure funding for enrichment programs. My experience as a board member of numerous non-profit organizations such as the Bruce J. Heim Foundation, The Jewish Federation Camp Scholarship Committee, and The George Washington University Alumni Committee leads me to believe we have an opportunity to leverage and obtain philanthropic donations for these efforts. 

 

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

A: People may not know that I grew up with Scottish Terriers.  Scotties are an independent, short statured breed known for their tenacity and sensitivity. They are good watch dogs, very loyal to their families and have a strong confident self-image.  In hindsight, I recognize that I not only adored my childhood pets, but learned a great deal from them. I possess many of the same attributes of my beloved Scotties and learned from their shortcomings.  I am independent in thought and deed; however, unlike my stubborn pets who almost never gave in, I keep an open mind regarding issues.  Once all the facts are on the table and the pros and cons are weighed, I am not afraid to take an unpopular stand.   I will fight for what I believe is right for the families of Livingston. Like my Scotties, I have a short stature, however, I stand tall with steadfast convictions of right and wrong. I am tenacious in pursuing my goals, but sensitive to the opinions and impact of my actions on others. My goals will always be to pursue what is in the best interest of the district, mindful and sensitive to the needs of all.  Like my Scotties, I am a good watch dog.  I have an instinct to investigate and understand if danger is present and to alert those around me when dangers are identified.  I am not content to let sleeping dogs lie. I believe in being proactive and in engaging others in seeking out ways to correct insufficiencies and enhance opportunities. When insufficiencies are noted or opportunities present themselves, I believe the best solutions result from diversity of thought and collaborative solutions.  As a board member, I know it will be my job to guard “our family”—my job to be vigilant in guarding the well-earned respect and success of our district and to nurture and help shape its future.   Like my Scotties, I have a strong self-assured confidence that I have the skills, temperament, and passion to do the job right.