PLAINFIELD, NJ - Residents and PEA members assembled at the BOE Administration Building to hear from Plainfield Board of Education candidates on Thursday evening during the PEA-sponsored Candidates Forum.
PEA President Eric Jones said, “the 2017 Candidates Forum was an awesome success - despite the disturbing absence of three candidates. The five who attended provided great insight into their thoughts and vision as potential Board Members."
Those five in attendance included Timothy Priano, Tera Phipps, Avania Richardson-Miller, William "Tony" Contreras, and Harry Watson, Jr. Aisha Eustache, Cameron Cox, and Terence Johnson were absent.
Jones added, "the attendees provided feedback on their exit ticket as well as conducted an anonymous mock election. The results will be shared with the attendees and our membership-at-large.
"The format was well-received, and our guests left with a deeper understanding on their options in November.”
Vashon Hill, Jr., PEA Secretary, said, “the event turned out to be a huge success. PEA (Plainfield Education Association) is extremely thankful to the community members, PEA members and NJEA members.”
After opening remarks, the first question for the candidates centered on their views of what they see as the primary roles of the Board of Education and senior staff.
Priano said the Board needs to find a suitable Superintendent, someone who will be involved with the children, and someone who is free from other influence that could sway them from the goal of educating the children.
Phipps, an educator who works in the Orange Public School District as a Technology Coordinator, said it comes down to accountability. She added that it's the responsibility of the Board to make sure the schools are run properly, and to ask questions of the Superintendent on how money is being spent and why decisions are being made. The senior staff needs to hold teachers accountable to make sure the students are successful, Phipps continued, and noted that each stakeholder needs to do their job.
Richardson-Miller answered, "I see a district as a complete system, and with all components working together, every component has the ability to affect the other." She said the Board has the critical responsibility to define the criteria by which a Superintendent should be selected, to select that Superintendent, and to establish the criteria for which the Superintendent will be evaluated.
Contreras said, "we have to make sure we hire the very best." Policies have to be reviewed, and there's a need to make sure the money is being spent correctly, he added. Senior staff need to make sure the students are getting the best, and there should be a system in place to evaluate senior staff, principals and teachers. He also said documentation of these evaluations needs to be maintained.
Watson responded, "The Board is supposed to oversee policies and procedures in the district, something we haven't been doing," adding that policies are outdated.
Another question the candidates were given centered on how how they think the school district can better engage parents and families in public education.
Contreras said there has to be a greater outreach to the Hispanic community, adding that as someone who has come from that culture, there tends to be a strong reluctance among that demographic to engage with people in authority.
Richardson-Miller said that the district needs to be more inviting to the Hispanic community, creating pages on the website in Spanish, and providing Board agendas and minutes in Spanish.
Phipps said as a parent herself, it is unrealistic to expect all parents to come out to all events. She said it is necessary to find out what the parents need, and to build positive relationships.
Priano noted, "Involvement in the community is very important," adding that exposure to the arts and sports are critical for students. "We need to stop charging our children in this city whose parents are taxpayers to use our fields that the schools own." He continued, "it's a way to bring the children back into the school yard." He also noted there can't be an 'us against them' attitude.
Another question for candidates required them to comment on what qualities they would look for in a Board President if they were elected.
Answers ranged from the need for professionalism; and respect, for both fellow Board members and parents who come out to meetings; someone who is a people person; and someone with an educational background.
Priano said, "someone who is recognizable in the community," and someone who can extend a hand to both the city, and to businesses in town. He also said the district needs a PR campaign to highlight the positive in Plainfield schools to stem the flow of students who are leaving the district for charter schools.
Candidates were asked to grade the current Board. Contreras said he'd give them a "C" while the other candidates all gave an "F."
When asked for a 'think outside the box' idea for the Board of Education to implement, Contreras said, "to really get the Board to reflect what's going on is to put a Hispanic on the Board," which elicited some cheers from the audience. He also said the Hispanic community doesn't see "one of us" and added, "so putting me on the Board would be thinking outside the box!"
Derel Stroud, Campaign Manager for the Phipps & Richardson-Miller for Plainfield School Board said, "Tera Phipps and Dr. Richardson -Miller demonstrated their clear understanding of the role of the board of ed, and their commitment to the children of Plainfield. It’s such a shame that candidates Cox, Eustache, and Johnson chose to skip out on such a great event discussing the issues that are important to the future of our children. On November 7th, voters have the choice to skip out on them."
Closing remarks from Stroud's candidates:
Closing remarks from Priano, Watson and Contreras:
The next chance for community members to hear more from those on the ballot in November will be a the League of Women Voters of Plainfield Candidates Forum, scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 1st. The location has yet to be announced.
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