MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ - Residents of Mountainside had the opportunity to listen to Board of Education candidates Mauro Wolfe and Jordan Hyman and ask questions during the "Strong Schools, Strong Town: Meet Our Candidates" evening, Thursday, Sept. 3 at the Community Room of the Mountainside Boro Hall.
Hyman and Wolfe are running for the two open seats in the Nov. 3 election against incumbents Jeane Parker and Kate Motz.
The candidates provided introductory statements on their background and insight as to why they are running for office. More importantly to these candidates, they want to hear from the citizens.
Hyman, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, is an eight year resident of Mountainside and parent of three young children. Hyman's "want" to be involved "started with the kids."
"For years, it has been good in Mountainside," said Hyman. Now, with the "uptick" of issues and concerns, it's clear that it's more than one thing that people care about, he said. "I think I can add something. -- I think our board has done a really good job, but they can do better."
When the opportunity to run for the board came up, it was a clear decision to go for it, said Hyman."It's about transparency, it's about action, it's about listening and making a difference where we can, if we can."
Wolfe, a partner with a law firm in New York, has lived in Mountainside since 2006, and is a parent of a sixth grade daughter. As an immigrant from Panama City, education represents the "American Dream" to Wolfe.
Wolfe applied for an open vacancy on the board four years ago and was not selected. "It shows that I had an interest for at least four years. -- Watching and following the board is something that I have done during that time period. Over the last 9 to 10 months, it has been really important to me -- understanding what direction the board went with the [high school] Send/Receive relationship," he said.
Wolfe commented on the current status of Mountainside's elementary school ranking. He mentioned that two years after moving to Mountainside, the schools were ranked 50th in the state in 2008. Now, the Mountainside elementary schools are not listed among the top 200 schools in the state, while neighboring towns have multiple schools listed.
Wolfe is also concerned about the The Enrichment Program, TEP. The parents are pulling kids out of the program, he said. "It doesn't suit their availability and it doesn't provide the kind of vigorous academic challenges that parents want."
"I think we can do better," said Wolfe. "There is nothing wrong with challenging our children to do the very best they can -- to be the very best academically, socially, in sports and in all factors of life."
The issue that we are trying to address is about how good can we be as a community, how great can we be as a community in terms of our education and our town's ability to bring that out in our kids, said Wolfe.
Wolfe would like the board to lead the charge and discussion on integrating the school with the resources within the community and outside of the community.
"We need to do more to share information," said Hyman. "People don't know -- there are a lot of people that have no clue about the election -- whether it's about TEP, Send/Receive or school rankings."
The curiosity is there and the candidates want to seize the opportunity to engage the residents.
Residents asked the candidates questions concerning a span of topics that included:
- Candidates' long term commitment
- Engaging residents without school age children
- Thoughts on Gov. Livingston High School (financial, student experience, academic and influence of the Mountainside board "liaison") and alternative Send/Receive options
- Answer to the financial issues at the local level with teacher salaries, class size, technology, TEP program
- Long and short term goals
In closing the evening's discussion, a citizen asked the candidates to simplify their priorities if elected, both short and long term:
For me, short term is easy -- it's definitely something that can be addressed -- it's better communication. That goes from social media, to when you release board meeting agendas, and how we promote board activity. There is no reason we can't do that. Push it out through all channels. TAP into Mountainside exists now, we should be using all of this.
Long term, fiscally responsible Send/Receive deal that is long term. It is going to take a bit of rolling up our sleeves and putting all the options on the table. Are we making the best decision at the end of day. Based on what school we ultimately send our kids to -- we need to stabilize this. That will have an affect on elementary class size and quality of teachers -- we will keep teachers.
From my perspective, it's wrapping our heads around the Send/Receive relationship. Understanding both fiscal responsibility of switching and also whether or not the RFP process is being fairly and adequately run. If there is an opportunity to go to another school district that is a top product school in the state, we have a responsibility to determine and make everything possible. Which means, from my perspective, the board makes an affirmative effort to sell the school and our children to those districts.
Second, I would like to closely examine the issue of how more effective the TEP program can be for our kids in elementary schools.
Wolfe also agrees on improving communication between the board and the community.
Long term, I think the issues about integration between the school and the public library and externally with great corporations should be addressed.
Editor's Note: TAP into Mountainside is now accepting candidate statements for the upcoming election. Candidates may submit up to one statement per week through the Sunday prior to Election Day. Each statement may be accompanied by photos.