RANDOLPH, NJ - The Randolph Board of Education selected Robert Soni to fill long-time board member Al Matos’ unexpired term after interviewing three candidates at Tuesday’s meeting. Soni will serve through the January 2019 to complete the term and has the option to run for reelection.
Soni has lived in Randolph for 10 years and has three children in the district ages 11-, 14- and 16-years-old. His family “picked Randolph because of the district. It was not because of bears or foxes or coyotes.”
He currently works at Nokia, and during his time in the tech industry he has lived through challenging transitions and growth.
“I bring innovation to new product,” he said in his opening statement. “I have survived because I’m creative and generally try to inspire others to do hard work.”
He has a vision for Randolph as an “inclusive community that values its school and its children” and plans to focus on communication, collaboration and construction during his time on the board.
In addition to his career experience, Soni’s father was active within the teacher’s union as a professor, and he grew up witnessing teacher contract negotiations.
“What I didn’t learn then, I’ve learned working with German, Finnish, French employees who are all unionized,” he continued. “It is important for their to be a partnership, and I think it’s important for the board to have a partnership with the union.”
Soni commented that policy set by the board should be easy to execute, understanding the human element, but that “chains of command can and should be broken when they need to be.” However, the board cannot replace the chain of command for parents to go through the teacher, the principal and then the superintendent with a problem.
He plans to support policy creation that is “implementable by design, but we recognize that we're human, that we fail, and we have to have an opporunity to deal with failure. If we create policy that has a recoverable phenomena associated with it, with humans behind it, then we can recover from it."
Referencing Superintendent Jenn Fano’s statement on the need for collaboration and transparency at all levels, Soni “appreciated the transparent budget process” the board followed this year and found all information easily accessible for the residents.
While Soni has not taken an active leadership role participating within the district until this point, his work role has changed to allow him more time for volunteering in this position.
The board asked where he saw the district improving in the next few years, and Soni mentioned the declining state revenue and how that will impact the budget going forward. “There’s a forecast that is future-minded, so we are able to continue to improve our facilities,” he said.
He also mentioned the cost of sending students out of the district, not only special services students, but also those who attend Morris County School of Technology instead of Randolph High School. “Why? What are they offering our children? We know that this generates cost for us,” he asked.
In his conclusion, Soni mentioned the Randolph’s “unique challenge. It has the big and small problem,” he said. “They [parents] want the largest array of experiences for our children, the most diverse possible number of sets of services, athletics, sports, music, academics, but at the same time we want to make sure we create an environment that is actually small.”
The board also interviewed Eliza Schliefstein and Lavina Sequeira for the vacant seat on the board. Schliefstein hoped to bring her experience in biotech start-up communications to the table, and Sequeira considered her years as a professor of education an asset to building relationships with the Randolph teaching staff.
Sequiera commented on the importance of teacher training, because “it’s hard to empower students if teachers are not empowered.”
When asked areas the district could improve over the next few years, Schliefstein pointed out the “educational system is not nimble enough” to keep up with the changes in technology and society, and they no longer work with the “little red schoolhouse” they grew up in. The budget managed by the board is similar to the mid-sized companies she works with every day.
“Education has evolved into having to run a business… because of the way dollars need to be spread, that requires a business mind as well, and it takes time away from our educators,” Schliefstein said.
After hearing from the three candidates, the board went into closed session to vote for the replacement. Soni will be participating in the next public board meeting on August 21.