NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Four candidates for the two available Board of Education (BOE) seats – Incumbents Mary Misiukiewicz and Jennifer Killea and newcomers Amanda Marano and Ilya Meyzin - took part in the candidate forum on Thursday, Oct. 1. The zoom debate was organized by the League of Women Voters and moderated by Laura Engelhardt.

After their introductory statements the candidates answered a variety of education related questions. (See below for candidate statements as published in TAPinto.) All candidates considered the balance of social-emotional learning and academics one of the most challenging issues the students and families are facing during these unprecedented pandemic times.

To the question of candidates’ vision for education in New Providence Misiukiewicz explained that the BOE has engaged the community in their long-term educational goals. The vision of the district is a collaboration of many stakeholders in the community. Our biggest issues in the next five years are social-emotional learning curriculum as well as preparation for the new housing developments and the potential enrollment increase, she said.

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Meyzin noted that the current students will spend most of their working years in the second half of the century, and therefore the district has to think what kind of intellectual and social-emotional challenges the children will face in their future workplaces. They will need to work in an environment where artificial intelligence (AI) is a real thing. We need to give our children tools to be flexible and adaptable with rapid changes in the world, he said.

Marano noted that one of the biggest issues is how different technologies are implemented into learning. The other important issue is fostering social-emotional learning. Killea said that she shares the vision of the district’s five-year plan which is relevant to Generation Z. It is important to teach not just facts and figures but to also emphasize critical thinking, collaboration and empathy, she said.

The candidates exchanged views on foreign language education noting that Mandarin Chinese could be offered as an online course. Meyzin pointed out that Chinese is a difficult language to learn in isolation. Marano also suggested immersions in a language starting at a younger age in order to achieve better results.

For whether the district should hire more teachers or mental health professionals the candidates said they would like to have more of both. Both Marano and Meyzin noted that due to the Covid-19 more crisis counselors are needed now.

With regard to special education Misiukiewicz noted that the district “does a good job” with special services for students. Meyzin emphasized that the same quality education should be available for all students. Marano would like better district-parent communication so that parents could more easily navigate the special education process.

All candidates agreed that it is important to prepare students to be good global citizens. The role of standardized testing is changing as many colleges are becoming test-optional. However, Meyzin noted that standardized tests are still used as a measuring tool and schools should prepare students to take these tests, especially because not all students can afford private programs.

The candidates were asked their opinions regarding school rankings. Misiukiewicz noted that one of the New Jersey Monthly ranking metrics is to look at the New Providence students and see if they are still in college 18 months after graduating from high school. That is a good marker of success, she said. Meyzin agrees with Misiukiewicz and noted that we need to understand how those rankings are structured. Marano pointed out that many well ranked schools are specialized and therefore not at par with New Providence schools. It is more important to prepare students for future careers and make different options known to them. Killea explained that if the district is able to implement its five-year strategic plan, favorable rankings will follow.

The candidates gave high “grades” to the district’s superintendent for his leadership in handling the ongoing pandemic crisis. Going forward Marano would like to improve the district’s communication structure making it easier for the public to reach different committees directly. She also advocated a student advisory committee in order to voice students’ own concerns. Meyzin also suggested adding non-voting student members to the BOE. Misiukiewicz pointed out that the district has recently upgraded its communications, including the addition of social media platforms. The district has also hired a communication coordinator, she said. Killea is urging members of the public to reach out to board members with any concerns. She said she is in favor of the idea of a student advisory committee.

Lastly the candidates explained their take on the changing demographics.  Killea noted that the district is always looking at this important topic. Misiukiewicz noted that the district is updating its policies to reflect changes in the community. We have to monitor the pulse on how the community has changed, she said. Marano urged the district to build relationships with the borough council and various community organizations. Meyzin explained that he has been impressed that the district is not turning away from difficult and challenging topics. It is important to stand on top of the issues, he said.

The entire candidate forum will be available on the Salt Brook School TV.

Click here for Candidate Statement for Jennifer Killea.

Click here for Candidate Statement for Ilya Meyzin.

Click here for Candidate Statement for Amanda Marano.

Click here for Candidate Statement for Mary Misiukiewicz.