(Editor’s Note: Elections for the South Plainfield Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 5. This year, five candidates are vying for three open seats; incumbents Deborah “Debbie” Boyle, Tom Cassio and Jim Giannakis and are seeking re-election while Cherie Glover and Bill Seesselberg are vying for a seat as well. TAPinto emailed all five candidates the same questions, the candidates answers will be published one per day this week unedited.
My journey of leadership began in 1998 when I became a member of the South Plainfield Riley Grammar School PTSO and began chairing the Riley School Drama Club presentations for the next five (5) years, incorporating all grades into the various plays that we presented. The only funding for these drama plays was fundraised monies from the PTSO. I recruited parents to design and make costumes and scenery. A tremendous gratification grew from being the leader to the parents and the students and seeing the accomplishments that we enabled.
In 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 I was elected Grant School – grades 5 & 6, PTO President and President of the 6th grade class trip to Stokes Forest. I was able to work with many parents to fundraise approximately $10,000.00 towards the 6th grade trip by hosting pasta dinners, a super 50-50 and holiday dances.
In 2007 through 2017 I was elected The South Plainfield Middle School PTO President, again being the leader in fundraising events, dances for the students and bringing in the police department and various other programs to help the students with seminars for awareness of substance abuse. My leadership skills helped others to come forward and create important programs for the students and staff.
In 2007 students and parents wanted the South Plainfield High School to offer a swim program. I became the chairperson to enable the high school to incorporate a high school varsity swim team by fundraising to fund the program. Through a joint effort between ideas and collaboration we were able to raise $17,000.00 to begin the high school varsity swim team.
I began attending the South Plainfield Board of Education meetings in 2005 and 2006 and submitted my candidate form for Election to the Board of Education for 2007. There were 7 candidates for the Board of Education, and I was one of three elected to the South Plainfield Board of Education with the highest amount of votes.
I became the alternate delegate to the Delegate Assembly and in 2008 I became the Delegate to the NJSB Delegate Assembly, for the next 8 years.
In 2008, I was a part of a committee along with the South Plainfield Mayor, the South Plainfield Business Administrator, a councilman and the South Plainfield Board of Education President who worked with the Rutgers University MBA program to design a Shared Service Agreement between the Borough of South Plainfield and the South Plainfield Board of Education. This agreement came to fruition in 2008, and I was the Chair of the Shared Service Team for 9 years. We were able to share purchases and programs with the Borough and save thousands of dollars.
In 2014, I was voted by the Board of Education as Vice President of the Board. The Board President and I collaborated with the Board to continue to promote our staff and students.
In 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 I was voted by the Board of Education as President of the Board. The Board Vice President, the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, the Business Administrator and the Board worked together. I learned to listen to ideas of the Board members and worked well with the Superintendent to ensure that all members had a voice. I learned it was important to include all stake holders in decisions in regard to formulating new programs, curriculum and student achievement while including the staff in these initiatives to move the school district forward.
I was chairwoman of the South Plainfield Board of the Personnel Committee, Transportation, Residency and the Shared Service Team.
In 2009 a Board of Education member of the Shared Service Team and I worked with the Captain of the South Plainfield Police Department for 8 months on the Federal Judicial Grant (COPS) for cameras for the South Plainfield High School and the Middle School. We were awarded a matching $180,000 Grant for the installation of approximately 125 cameras for the Safe and Secure School program.
In 2013 and 2014 the South Plainfield Borough Engineer and I worked on the Safe and Secure Streets program for a lighted pathway for school crossing on Maple Avenue, South Plainfield, where students cross in a very busy county roadway.
In 2015, I was elected as The Middlesex County School Board Association Vice President of County Activities working along with School Boards Representatives to bring in various speakers.
In 2016-2017-2018-2019 I was elected as The Middlesex County School Boards Association President serving two consecutive terms. I recognized that it was important to incorporate the ideas of the members of the County Team along with boards of educations members to bring diverse and important topics to the County Meetings. One of the most heartfelt programs that I am proud to be a part of along with the Superintendents Association is our “Unsung Heroes” recognition dinner where two students from every Middlesex County town, who have met challenges in their lives and have worked through those challenges, are honored.
I have been a member of the New Jersey School Boards Legislative Team for the past ten years attending the Legislative meeting in Trenton. I have spoken in committee with regards to many issues that face school districts such as special education funding, security, the school funding formula, etc. As Middlesex County School Board’s President, I have visited Congressman Pallone, Senator Diegnan, Assemblywomen Yvonne Lopez, Nancy Pinkin, and Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak to discuss serious concerns facing school districts (i.e. IDEA, COAH, Funding Formula, English Language Learners, Special Education.) along with Christopher Jones, NJSBA Legislative Advocate. I have written articles published in our local newspapers. Over the past ten years I have reported back to the South Plainfield Board of Education each month at the Committee of the Whole meeting, which are televised and incorporated into the minutes.
I have penned a resolution on the Topic of Defining the Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Law due to the serious charges to staff and students and having to encompass the scope of the charges. I worked with the attorneys for New Jersey School Boards on a more definitive definition of HIB terminology. This resolution was forwarded to the State Department of Education.
Leadership in Legislation provides other members the opportunity to voice their opinions and work together to ensure that their sentiments move forward to our elected Legislation members. Again, a leader must encompass ideas and suggestions of all constituents so that everyone is heard.
In 2018, I met with Assembly speaker Coughlin with regards to a resolution that I penned with regards to Board of Education members and Social Media. Mr. Coughlin was going to bring this resolution forward.
In 2018, I was appointed to the New Jersey School Boards’ Association Finance Committee by State School Board Association President Sinclair.
In 2006, I began to video tape every Mayor and Council Meeting and every South Plainfield Board of Education meeting through 2019 and airing those meetings on COMCAST and the South Plainfield Borough Website and the South Plainfield Observer newspaper website, as a community service for those community members who are unable to attend meetings.
I have been a member of the Borough of South Plainfield Public Celebrations Committee responsible for the Labor Day Parade for 12 years and chairwoman since 2015-2016-2017-2018.
I am the Chairwoman for the South Plainfield Mayor’s Wellness Committee since its inception in 2012 hosting town wide Mayor’s Health Fairs and Autism Awareness Events and working with the South Plainfield Police Department to host National Night Out.
I am a member of the South Plainfield Cultural Arts Commission – 2019 voted Vice President I am also a member of the South Plainfield Elk’s and the Chairwoman for Education for the South Plainfield Suburban Woman’s Organization
I write articles for the local newspapers to keep the South Plainfield residents informed on all the events that are upcoming in South Plainfield and the Middlesex County School Board.
I am a member of the South Plainfield Education Foundation and 2018-2019 Vice President. I have written an article for the School Leader Magazine approximately 6 years ago on Shared Services with the Borough of South Plainfield. South Plainfield Board of Education Attorney Joseph Roselle and I hosted an Action Lab at the School Boards Convention in Atlantic City approximately 6 years ago.
In 2018, I was appointed to the South Plainfield Board of Education “Referendum Committee”, which reports on the progress of the referendum projects. The Referendum passed the South Plainfield Community for $28,000,000 in 2017.
I have continually participated in Professional Development Programs hosted for credits by the New Jersey School Boards Association including School Law. Dr. Genco, who was the South Plainfield Superintendent in 2011 gave each board member a book to read on being a Team Building. We all read the book and discussed the importance of being a team player. I have also read “Becoming a Better Board Member”, to further my development and leadership roles. As the Middlesex County School Board President I have brought numerous professional development seminars to the meetings, i.e. “How to Prepare a School Budget, “Special Education Development” and most recently “Social, Emotional, Mental Health” Learners, and “Things a Board of Education Member Can and Can’t Do”, which is very informative. I have reported to the South Plainfield Board of Education the programs that have been brought to the County Meeting, during the Committee of the Whole Board meetings, which are televised.
It is my opinion that Board of Education Elected Officials should participate in these Professional Development Programs that are hosted because it offers the opportunity to ask questions and hear various practices that can be instituted in our school districts. One of the most recent professional development programs was in regard to formulating an area in the classrooms that can be used as a safe area for students who are experiencing extreme trauma from lifestyles they experience at home. I spoke about this Trauma Area at my South Plainfield Board of Education Meeting on February 13, 2019. It is important for a leader to bring forth these programs and move the importance of the development of these programs and include all board members in the discussion.
It is my opinion that a Board of Education member must read and understand all aspects of a school district budget, finance, curriculum, bills list, and ask questions. It is our responsibility to understand and know what we are voting on. As elected officials we need to listen to the needs of the community, parents and students and bring them forward to the Superintendent and to let the superintendent work on the issues that we feel are necessary. It is my opinion that it is imperative for all board members to attend many of the various programs that the students are involved in, so that the students know that they are supported. In May 2019, I was awarded the highest certification that a Board member could receive being “The Certified Board Leader”, through 40+ hours of conferences.
TAP Question: Why are you running for re-election to the South Plainfield Board of Education
I began attending Board of Education meetings, both Committee of the Whole and the Public meetings in 2005 and attended all meetings for the next two years. I had three children in the school system. I learned about the way the board operated, the issues before the board and decided that I would like to be a member of the board of education to make a difference and contribute on behalf of all the students and staff. In 2007, I ran for the Board of Education and was elected. I knew that it was a huge undertaking and that I would have to devote countless hours as a board of education member. I enjoy being a member of the board of education and working together with the board members in the advancement of our teachers and students in the school district.
TAP Question: In your opinion, what is the role of a board of education member?
As a board member, our job is to set policy with all board members, be a part of the budget formulation and asking questions and voting on the budget. A board member should be totally involved, support the staff and students of the district and be the voice of the people. A board member cannot micromanage the administration including the principals. When a determination is made by the administration we can discuss and ask questions but have to follow their regulations. The principals have the right to determine the participation of their students in various events including PTO program events. All board members should collaborate together for the betterment of the school district.
TAP question: What do you feel are the top three (3) issues affecting the South Plainfield schools?
Top issues in the South Plainfield schools are:
Social Emotional Learning - Supporting our teachers and students. Continue professional development for our staff and insuring all our students receive the help they require.
Mental Health - Ensuring that the students who are affected by mental health issues have the professional help they need. This issue has become a Statewide issue and many programs are being set in place to help all students
School Funding Formula and Extraordinary Aid for Special Education - The board of education is held to a 2% Cap on the budget. The 2% Cap creates hardship for the district as it continues to create issues in funding all the programs and curriculum that the school district requires. As a NJSBA Board of Directors appointment as District Legislation representative for the 18th district and a member of the NJSBA State Finance Committee we bring information to our Senators and Legislatures for the continued dire need for State School Funding Formula to be followed along with Extraordinary Aid for Special Education funding from the Federal and State Government .
TAP question: If elected/re-elected to the Board what is the first thing you would look into:
Support existing initiatives and offer new initiatives including items not included in the referendum I.e. air conditioning interactive with the heating unit in the new field house at Jost Field
Window dressing for the new windows that were installed at the middle school and will be installed at the grammar schools. The sun glare is affecting the teaching staff and the students. While the windows have a slight tint the glare still comes through those windows.
Increase languages that are not available at the present time to help students who attend our schools and limits learning for those students who do not speak the languages that are currently offered. This was an issue that I brought forward along with the teachers association President and Vice President when we met with Congressman Pallone.
Continue with STEM, STEAM, Chromebooks one on one for the Grant and grammar school students and continued curriculum based learning
TAP question: What are some of your accomplishments as a member of the board?
The Board operates as a whole, and there are numerous accomplishments that have been brought to fruition.
In 2008 Board of Education President Jeff Seider, myself along with Mayor Anesh and Councilman Bengivenga and CFO Cullen attended conferences with the Rutgers University MBA officials and students to establish a Shared Service Program for South Plainfield. A certificated shared service program was formulated and instituted. The cost of the program and certification was shared by the Borough and the Board of Education at the cost of $2,500.00 for each entity. As chairwoman for Shared Service for the Board of Education along with Councilman Rusnak we were able to institute multiple shared service initiatives and save thousands of dollars.
In 2008, myself and board member Robert Jones work with the South Plainfield Chief of Police and Captain Brempt for six months applying for the Federal Judicial C.O.P.S. grant for School Security, which we were awarded a $180,000.00 matching funding grant for 125 cameras to be installed in the high school and middle school. We received commendations from Congressman Mike Ferguson and Assemblyman, now Senator Patrick Diegnan.
Full Day Kindergarten was instituted by the Board of Education, which I was a member of.
As Board President I requested that a Special Education Committee be established
I worked with the Borough Engineer Len Miller in applying for a Grant for Safe and Secure Schools for a lighted path on Maple Avenue and the Police Athletic League (PAL) in approximately 2014/2015,, along with a proposed lighted sign on the intersection of Hamilton Blvd. and Belmont Avenue but the funding for the grant was not available at that time for these initiatives.
Submitted a proposal to the State of New Jersey School Boards to award Superintendent Lishak’s initiatives for the Special Education program in our district. Dr. Lishak was commended for her initiatives by presenting her with a Certificate.
TAP question: What do you like best about South Plainfield Schools?
I like that we offer differentiated learning for all levels of education. I feel that our schools truly promote community. When parents have concerns, they should be addressed with respect by all involved. Parents have the right to go above and beyond to the next level with their concerns and respect should be maintained in giving and receiving correspondence.
The school district continues to offer programs in academics, music, arts and athletics including clubs and extracurricular activities, all which are continually expanded.
Teachers, staff, supervisors and administrators have the availability to attend Professional Development Conferences to help our students thrive and achieve in our schools. We need to continually support our teachers mentally and emotionally. No book, to date, has been written to self-teach our students and we need the professional education that is taught to our students by our teachers. We need to continue to give our teachers the tools they require to work with all our students.
TAP question: Why should residents elect/re-elect you to the South Plainfield Board of Education? What makes you the candidate of choice ?
I am extremely passionate about being a board of education member. I am constantly available to everyone. I have a proven track record of all the things that I have even involved with. I continue to state that as elected officials we are the voice of the people and the children. I have always listened to all who have reached out to me providing the chain of command that they need to proceed to, but I will always “Bring IT”. I am very adamant about this concept. I will continue to be their voice. I am vocal at meeting and bring the concerns of residents, just as I have always done. Meeting videos, information in the minutes should be thorough and factual and public should have the “right to know”.
All Board of Education members should be apprised of the same information by having the courtesy of giving and receiving information and input. I will continue to ask questions and “Do my homework”.
TAP question: Is there anything else you would like voters to know?
Along with the board members, continue to support all learning initiatives. I will continue to bring issues forward to Trenton and continue to meet with congress, senate and assembly persons on pressing issues that affect the school districts, as a member of the Middlesex County School Boards executive board, and continue to bring professional development programs to board members through the county association. I will continue to be a “Voice” in Trenton. I have received the highest award that a board member can achieve and that is a “Certified Board Leader”, by committing over 60 plus hours of attending conferences, seminars, school law events, all documented. I was elected Middlesex County Vice President (4) years and Middlesex County Presidents (4) years, in accordance with the by-laws. The Middlesex County Team had extreme confidence in my leadership to continue to support my election. I was Vice President of the South Plainfield Board of Education and President of the South Plainfield Board of Education for (2) consecutive years.
TAP question: What line are you on the ballot?
I am Line 1 or as shown on the ballot Column E.