There are four candidates for three seats on the Montville Township Public Schools Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election. TAPinto Montville recently asked them five questions. We will be running their answers individually as part of a series; the order of the candidates’ responses was chosen at random.

MONTVILLE, NJ – TAPinto Montville recently asked board of education candidate Michael O’Brien five questions. Here are his responses.

Tell us a little about yourself.

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I grew up in a large Irish family in Clifton, NJ. A product of a parochial elementary and secondary education, I graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1968. Shortly after graduation I came to Montville to interview for a teaching position at the new high school which was to begin in September of that year. At my interview I was hired on the spot by Bob Lazar, who would become a mentor to me over the coming years. I have always taken pride in being among the original staff of the MTHS Mustangs. That interview with "Mr. Lazar" (as I always then referred to him), became a turning point of my life.

After a few years teaching and coaching at MTHS, I moved to our town and it was here that I met my wife Linda who lived in the community (this being the other crucial turning point associated with Montville). Together we have five wonderfully successful children (now adults), all of whom went thru our school system from kindergarten to high school graduation.

Over the years I had great experiences being associated with the staff and students of our school system. As I continued my education in more advanced courses, including administration, and as I became more involved in civic matters, I developed such a connection to our community that I never really considered moving elsewhere. After over 40 years at MTHS I became the last remaining member of the original staff. It was then I decided to retire (another turning point). But my connection with the school was so strong that I continued my association in other venues. Soon, I was encouraged by community members to run for the Board of Education. I consider it a special honor and responsibility to have served in recent years as a trustee and feel that I have special experience and insights that adds to the to the appropriate oversight of the district.

Simpy put, other than my deep love for my family, my adult life has been about the Montville Township school system and the community it serves. It has been, and remains, my life work. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I sincerely feel that I have been blessed in so many ways beyond what I can list. Since that day that I walked into what was then called Central School, and at the end of a 40 minute interview, hearing words I'll never forget, my life changed forever.........The words from Bob Lazar were: "Come on, let's get your books, and I'll show you your classroom"........

What challenges face today’s student and what can the school district do to help manage those challenges?

The condition of society today poses special challenges for educational systems everywhere. 

First, and most prominent, is to secure the safety of our student population. In the last several years the Board of Education in partnership with the Township Committee, has taken steps to recruit trained professional personnel and implement policies to enhance  the safety of our facilities. This is an ongoing process which will be continuously evaluated, supported, and improved as necessary. 

Secondly, in an advanced technologically oriented economy it is necessary for the skills and knowledge being provided to our young people to keep pace with societal needs. Therefore, in addition to what may be termed “traditional learning” it is essential to provide the personnel and resources to remain current and competitive with the advancing expectations for both higher education and workforce readiness. 

Third, the school years need to be a time for each student to pursue their dreams and abilities in a safe, pleasant, bullying free environment. Students should have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, sports, the arts, music, and other productive endeavors. The challenge is to provide these opportunities in a fiscally responsible manner. The current Board with the work of an effective administration has faced this challenge and brought in budgets well under state recommended caps. It is our goal to continue to do so. 

Are the new New Jersey Student Learning Assessments an improvement over PARCC?

Time, space and discretion prevents a complete narrative regarding the testing bureaucracy. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably good educational practice to asses student progress periodically. The question of if the SLA will be an improvement over PARCC can only be answered over a span of time. That answer will come from the professional staff as they assess the impact and quality of test revision. I am optimistic that changes in testing procedures mandated from the state level will be an improvement, and compliment the curriculum while allowing for the many tasks expected of our schools. Keep in mind that testing is an evolving practice; as experience with standardized tests clearly demonstrates. In other words, be prepared for ongoing revisions. 

What changes or improvements do you think the district needs? Or, what areas of weakness do you see in the district?

The terms used in your question are "changes", "improvements" and "weaknesses," I personally prefer the term challenges. Montville Township has supported a high quality school system for many years. In various articles, categories, assessments, evaluations etc. our district has generally ranked in the top tier of school systems in the state. Keep in mind that these various lists are often changing the criteria and methodology as they go along. The challenge is to maintain, and improve upon, the level already achieved. The role of a school trustee is not to "run or administer the schools; the role is to see the schools are well run while meeting the needs of our young people. This is done by balancing the input of parents and professional staff as they identify specific areas that need improvement as related to curriculum, facilities, staffing, special needs, extracurricular areas and so on. Listening to this input and supporting the implementation of identifiable improvements, while staying fiscally responsible, is the obligation of a conscientious trustee. 

Why do you feel you are uniquely qualified to be a board member?

I have been involved with the Montville Township School System, in varying roles and capacities, serving continuously, for over 51 years. Being part of the educational system in our community is a natural fit for me; and other than my family, our school system has been my life's work. The safety and welfare of our young people remains my highest priority. Each student is entitled to the opportunity to have a through and efficient education, and it is the role of the Trustees to insure the availability of this entitlement. I consider being involved with the oversight of our school system a high calling and a special responsibility.

 Editor’s note: TAPinto policy does not allow editing of candidates’ answers.

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