MILLBURN, NJ — On Monday night, the Millburn Township PTO Conference hosted a virtual forum, giving the Board of Education candidates the chance to share their opinions and plans with the public.
There are four candidates running for three available three-year term seats. Three of the candidates are current members of the Board, including President Alex Zaltsman, Louie Shen, and Jamie Serruto. Zaltsman, Shen, and Serruto are all running as a united ticket. Christina DiCosmo, who is not a current member of the Board, is also running.
All topics and questions were provided by the public and the forum was moderated by former BOE President, John Westfall Kwong.
Before getting into specific topics and questions, candidates each gave an opening statement, explaining exactly why they are qualified for Board election.
Shen described the tangible impact he was able to make over his three years on the Board, including “redesigning the transportation department, pushing through a new homework policy, and fighting COVID.”
DiCosmo has worked in education for over 20 years as a general education, special education, deaf education teacher, sign language interpreter, and yoga instructor. She expressed a desire to “give back” to the community, using her perspective working with teachers and students.
Zaltsman cited his past experience, saying, “in the last two years as president, I believe my leadership and organization skills have been effective in leading the Board… I believe I have made a difference and will continue to do for years to come”
Serruto also cited his past experience as a graduate of Millburn High School Class of 2020 and 2020 Class President, having attended the Millburn school district K-12. He said, “I believe that with Alex and Louie, we can maintain excellence and bring our district to the top for years and years to come.”
There were several key topics covered, ranging from the budget to implementing anti-racist curriculum. This article will summarize the views of the candidates on two of these key topics with the understanding that each candidate has much more to say on many more issues. These two topics were chosen based on the frequency with which they have been discussed during Board meetings within the last six months.
Returning Students to In-School Learning
- “Please provide your viewpoint on what criteria should be used to evaluate the return to school.
- “What criteria should be in place when COVID is detected by either students, staff, or teachers?
- “What measures should be in place to assess if the latest approach is working well?”
DiCosmo addressed the topic first, suggesting that the district speak with other districts in the area to compare what works and what doesn’t work.
Zaltsman followed with the reminder that “we are obligated by the state of New Jersey to open schools.” The criteria used by the district for keeping everyone safe is in compliance with state rules and regulations, and the district is in contact with other districts to learn what other safety measures can be taken.
Serruto said, “safety is the top priority in our district… I’m very comfortable with our policies regarding cases and tracing et cetera.”
Shen agreed. “The number one thing is safety and another thing is we need to have a balanced approach.” He elaborated that “the guidelines are changing every week so it’s really important to follow the rules.”
Implementing Anti-Racist Curriculum
- “Would you support infusing an anti-racist curriculum into our overall curriculum for students on an ongoing basis, not just in an occasional workshop et cetera?
- “What would you do to ensure that we have an inclusive and equitable opportunity for all students, specifically through a racial equity lens?”
Serruto began by citing his pride about the work that has already been done towards the anti-bias and global diversity goal in the district. “We need to continue to engage our stakeholders and to provide students with the tools to create that mindset, specifically at the kindergarten level.” He explained that he wants to continue building that mindset in vein of how the middle school adapted its summer reading curriculum.
Shen also cited his pride working towards a more diverse district through his service on the Personnel Committee. With fellow Board member, Oyin Owolabi, Shen said, they “reach out to as many qualified minority candidates as possible.”
DiCosmo said, “character education is always important,” however she wouldn’t use the word “anti-racism.” Instead, she would say, “sharing the beauty of everyone’s background and who they are.”
Zaltsman stated his absolute support for implementing anti-racism curriculum. “This is front and center and it has been front and center for the past three years,” he said, “it will continue to be front and center.”