SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ – The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education held its Candidate Night on Tuesday, Oct. 13, via Zoom. Five candidates are running for three seats (two in Scotch Plains, one seat in Fanwood). In the introduction section of the evening, each candidate said why they are running for the Board of Education

Amy Boroff, whose Fanwood seat on the school board is up for reelection, has a degree in childhood education, and is a volunteer at the JCC, and Social Justice Matters. She recognizes that sitting board members are not to comment publicly on policies, but that they do listen to all comments. She also understands the BOE is a governing body that votes according to the majority, despite their own views.

“All of the decisions made by the board affect me and my family,” Boroff said.

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Maggie Savoca, the other candidate for the Fanwood seat, is a non-profit consultant who runs her own company.

“I am running for the Board of Education because the leadership, transparency and accountability are important to me,” Savoca said.

Savoca says her record stands for itself and that with great leadership, people feel valued, goals are met, and missions are fulfilled.

"Accountability for the mission of the district, the goals of the strategic plan, and the implementation of the policies are overseen by the administration of the board. If elected I promise to be accountable to students, parents and taxpayers, and will represent the community with integrity," Savoca said.

Dr. David Levine, a candidate for Scotch Plains, is a pediatrician and an expert in post-partum depression and anxiety. Levine is on the board of Postpartum Support International, where he has been involved in professional outreach and strategic planning for the organization. He has lived in Scotch Plains for 6 years and has two kids, a first-grader at Coles and a 3-year old at JCC Preschool.

“I will be a strong voice on the board for our children's overall wellness as it is linked to their education and future opportunities and will be transparent and honest about what I do and do not know,” said Levine. 

He feels his experiences make him an ideal candidate, and says the board could benefit from my expertise when dealing with the pandemic. “We need a forward thinking voice to move forward. I promise to do everything in my power to be that voice,” he added.

Karen Mitchell, who is running for reelection in Scotch Plains after filling Cindy Clancy's unfinished term, is a licensed social worker in New Jersey.

“I'm running for the kids and I understand how these years are important and critical for them to develop the foundation they need to succeed beyond their time in Scotch Plains-Fanwood schools,” said Mitchell. 

Mitchell says she will think, collaborate and communicate with her fellow board members She says she is qualified for this position because her job is to listen in her private practice to her patients and create a plan to help them move forward. The social worker says she can use her skills to listen to voters, students, teachers, administration.

“I am running because I care about other parents trying to do the right thing in a pandemic. I am qualified because of my experience,” Mitchell concluded.

Evan Murray, an incumbent for a Scotch Plains seat on the board, is a lifelong resident of Union County, a resident of Scotch Plains for almost 10 years. He has been a member of the Board of Education for six years and is a parent with two children currently in the school system.

“I fully understand the needs of our two communities from the perspective of both parents and the school administration,” said Murray, who listed his proudest his achievements on the BOE as implementing all day kindergarten, adding additional security measures and personnel to the district’s buildings, and helping to install lights on the field at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.

All Board of Education candidates were given the chance to answer some questions about their campaign and the work they aspire to do for the board. Below are the questions and answers from each candidate. 

Question 1: How will you make communication channels between the towns, families and education community more frequently transparent and effective for everyone, separate from mandatory Board of Education meetings and posted meeting minutes?

Savoca: “Communication is very important and should be part of the strategic plan. There should be different channels of communication. We've done events like coffee with the superintendent. We need to update how we communicate and let the community  know what’s going on in the process.”

Levine: “The pandemic version of communication means more technology and something done via Zoom to speak with members of the board. Perhaps opening up on social media, to allow us to better communicate with the public and guiding them toward FB pages and the district website.If we cannot publicly respond we need to figure out why we can't and see if that needs to change.”

Mitchell: “Communication and transparency are incredibly important. Amy is on the communications committee, and they are doing a great job tracking emails and sending information and surveys out to the community. Communication needs to be presented on the different levels of the environment, micro level to families, mezzo level to the towns, macro to the county level. We can do this multiple ways, we have had town halls via Zoom already, though we are restricted on social media. We are one of you, we are transparent, and we are representative of each other.”

Murray: "We need to do more in this aspect. Education must be continually evaluated and worked on. We did begin frequent meetings with mayors and town councils. Make sure they are brought into projects we want to take on. I believe the community relations committee is looking to do more frequent communications to the community about what is going on in the district.”

Boroff: “Last year we brought on an expert to improve community relations and communication. We'll be working on our communications plan. It's important to send more information as to why we can't cooperate.”

Question 2: Teaching children about bias and diversity in society helps prepare them for the real world. What would you do as a BOE member to encourage the district to provide educators with ongoing training opportunities to deliver more authentic and appropriate instruction to a diverse group of students?

Levine: “We've had Zoom sessions at the academy. We understand implicit bias. Many of us do not know the bias that can work its way into our lives. We need to understand bias and learn not to pass them on to our students.”

Mitchell: “It's going on right now. To see everyone the same is to look at them differently. There is professional development about white privilege, bias and making a difference. It's happening now. I support these efforts and the continuation of them.”

Murray: “Teachers need to be responsive. We’ve had workshops offered by professional organizations. One of the best courses was on diversity. We need to continue to push in the district to understand unconscious bias.”

Boroff: “The initiatives ongoing are tremendous. Professional development opportunities are ongoing. Dr. McGarry has brought a lot of wealth of information to this area.”

Savoca: “We need to engage parents. Students must feel represented in the curriculum. We have to have a plan to react to George Floyd murder and the Columbus Day controversy to have children learn from those things, process them, and look at curriculum to see what we can do.”

Question 3: Do you have any personal conflicts of interest including relatives who work for or provide services to the school district, or any financial interest that would cause you to need to recuse yourself from involvement in BOE?

Murray: “My wife is a teacher in another district, when discussing contracts and teacher’s salaries, I cannot be a part of executive meetings until the contract has been closed.”

No other candidate reported any conflict of interest that would require them to recuse themselves.

Question 4: Most candidates have expressed a commitment to anti-racism, equity and representation. How do you plan to incorporate these efforts into a forthcoming strategic plan, and how do you plan to make them measurable and specific so that progress and accountability can be measured?

Murray: “Community involvement is paramount. We have strategic planning sessions. Feedback is good, but it's not fantastic. There needs to be participation. Without knowing information, I can't offer until what they are.”

Boroff: “A really important factor that comes out of plan is the annual review of the superintendent, so we can measure programs introduced. We can hold the superintendent accountable. Equity is a big part of that. If there is a goal of incorporating more books, we can do that. We have formed a racial equity task force.You can't just add books. We have to evaluate this in a vigorous way.”

Savoca: “I had the pleasure of speaking with a group of parents about how anti-racism is important. I can see a larger community committee being formed. The goals have to be measurable and time sensitive. If you pick 100 books that depict people of color- when will they be purchased by? That would go into the evaluation.”

Levine: “I would be looking at existing programs throughout academia. You have to have verifiable metrics. I have spoken with groups to see if they have programs instituted in other school districts. If it didn't work, some can be tried. None of this will happen immediately.”

Mitchell: “Representation is important, it's shown by what's already been done. We need a curriculum to include more Coretta Scott King titles so that all children see themselves as leaders in the future. Not just a white perspective.”

Question 5: Social media can be a great tool for communicating local information. However, the misuse and spread of false information can be damaging. What is the role of the BOE to ensure privacy as it relates to discipline and academic conditions while also holding adults accountable for posting about private matters for public consumption in common theory?

Boroff: “There is a big lesson that every adult needs to consider. BOE members are not commenting. Spreading information that is false - we are working with communication specialists to guide people where they can get correct information. We can't clarify on social media. In some cases, the information is private. People call others out by name knowing they cannot respond.”

Levine: “The BOE can’t dictate, we have a responsibility to compose ourselves as adults. I'm a physician, I understand privacy. If we don't control the message better, it gets out of hand. The Board has the trust of the community so that it comes from us.”

Mitchell: “We have to meet parents where they are (on social media). We are examples for each other and our children. I'm a social worker, we have privacy. Social media is no place for personal information. The responsibility is on us. What outlets can we let that out so there is a level of decorum.

Murray: “Individuals cannot act upon. People have a lot more time on their hands. We talk about bullying in school. I've seen cyber bullying online. There are people who don't care who they hurt. We have to be good corporate citizens. Social media can hurt as much as it helps.”

Savoca: “Someone who understands privacy issues from previous employment should not be on social media. One individual board member does not speak for the whole board. As far as what we've seen on social media, it's because the community doesn't feel it's heard by the Board.”

Levine: “I agree with Maggie. We can't ignore when the house is on fire. We need to have systems in place. When there are complete misrepresentations, we can't sit back until the next meeting.”

Murray: “Individuals cannot make decisions for the entire board. Character attacks are happening a lot. We aren't allowed to speak on them. People then go on the attack on social media and put it out there - it's a lot of misinformation.”

Question 6: The district will be going through a strategic planning process shortly. What do you feel should be the most important part of the new plan and why?

Savoca: “Responding to social injustice. Correcting it in our community and the world at large. Making people feel included is important.The budget will drive what we can do on all these issues.”

Levine: “The most important thing is the mental health of students, specifically high school students. School start time is too early. A later start time leads to lower depression and anxiety and increased wellness and test scores. They are piloting this in New Jersey. It is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to improve the outcomes for students who are entering college. Sleep can never be underestimated. Our kids are overstressed, overworked, and we can do something about it.”

Mitchell: “Most important is respect: who they are, respect for our teachers, respect for parents who give everything and are challenged with virtual learning. Taxpayers need respect also. Respect of the administration to structure the environment. The most important thing is respect.”

Murray: “First is community relations and communications. Second is diversity inclusion and equity across all our students. Third is health and safety, social and emotional well-being included in that. Make sure each component is measurable and reported at meeting and other frequency”

Boroff: “Equity, wellness, and communications. The strategic plan will be my third one. When we talk about communication, some things are easily solved. Once we establish better systems, it comes down to communication. The great programs we are doing with equity, without communicating that, it's hard.”

At the end of the evening, each candidate was given the opportunity to offer their closing statements.

“I am running because I believe I can change the status quo.  I would like to serve on a board which looks forward to engaging with the community and holding the administration and themselves accountable to the students, parents and taxpayers. The board should be actively engaging our community. We are neighbors. We can speak to each other,” said Maggie Savoca.

“I am very passionate about continuing my work on the school board. I have always given 110% to everything that I am involved in. I am a man of my word and would be working for what is in the best interest of the community, but more importantly the students and staff of our district. I have been honored to serve our students and their families for the past six years, and should I be given the opportunity to continue I promise to carry us forward with integrity and dedication,” said Evan Murray.

“I am ready to dedicate the time it takes to represent the community for the betterment of our schools. I have the training in child development and the experience of being on the Board. The BOE experience has allowed me to better understand the layers and collaboration needed to make change,” said Karen Mitchell.

"It is clear that our challenges do not begin and end with COVID. There is more work to be done in our community to improve the welfare of all our students and instruct them all on how to become good citizens and future leaders of our community, state and country. Opening them up to new ways of thinking, creatively and critically, is our responsibility. Challenging them to do better is our goal. All our students should have an equal opportunity to achieve these goals and part of the board’s responsibility is to assist them as best as possible. Having new voices, both creative and critical, on the board is necessary toward trying to meet these goals. That is why I am running for this position," said Dr. David Levine.

“We are lucky to have an incredible administration, staff and teachers who work tirelessly and cohesively to ensure we are providing SPF students with an equitable and meaningful education. Being an effective leader means putting aside your differences, valuing the opinions of experts and peers even when you are so certain that yours makes more sense. There is no way to be an effective leader without appreciation and respect for and of others, that it is not the strength of the individual but the strength of the unit and how they function together,” said Amy Boroff.

To view the entire Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education Candidates Night, click below:

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