UNION, NJ – Each week, Tapinto Union will be running a series called “Meet the Leaders”.  The objective is to provide our readers an opportunity to hear from Township leaders in government, public safety, education, houses of worship and other areas, regarding Union’s present and future outlook.  

Each leader was asked to share a little information about their background and personal life.  Additional questions varied by job title.  The answers will be published unedited. 

Today, Township of Union Board of Education President Ron McDowell is featured:

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Tapinto Union:  Tell us a little about yourself.

BOE President McDowell:  I moved to New Jersey from North Carolina when I was in the second grade. I began the third grade at Jefferson School when it was the neighborhood elementary school for the children in the Vauxhall section of Union.

After graduating from Union High School in 1971 I went on to Seton Hall University for one year before transferring to Monmouth College. I played basketball at both schools. I received my Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry from Kean University and an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. 

During my 34-years as a research scientist I worked for four different pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey, the last being Johnson & Johnson.

After retiring from the drug industry I acquired a Master's Degree in Special Education from Kean University. I taught middle school mathematics in the Jersey City school district for three years before fully retiring. My wife Tonya and I have two adult daughters and two sons in elementary school in Union. My wife is a school nurse and works for the city of Elizabeth.

Tapinto Union:  How long have you been involved in the Board of Education?  What positions have you held?  

BOE President McDowell:  I was elected to the Board of Education in November of 2014. This is my first time serving in an elected position. I had never been very active with the PTA, but when our daughters were in elementary school my wife was the one involved with the PTA. I served on our town's Juvenile Conference Committee for 25 years. That was a very long and interesting experience but I still believe it provides a necessary service to the children of our community. I will be up for re-election again in November and I hope to continue to be on the board to continue with the good things that are being done.

Tapinto Union:   What have you learned during your tenure as BOE member/President? 

BOE President McDowell:  I have learned that there is a lot involved in running our school district. The real work of ensuring that our school district is well run is carried out by the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, and Business Administrator. Don't get me wrong, the principals and teachers are certainly vital to the education of our children, but the way I see it is that the education process begins at the top and flows down to the principals and then to the teachers. The Board is there to simply make sure that it flows and that the students receive the best possible education.

Tapinto Union:  Can you outline your basic responsibilities as BOE President? 

BOE President McDowell:  My basic responsibilities as BOE President are to make sure that the meetings are run orderly and, along with the Superintendent, prepare the agenda for the meetings.  I am thankful for the examples that the previous two presidents, David Arminio and Vito Nufrio, set for making transparency key to all our public meetings.  I know that as President I still only have one vote and I am reliant on the input and knowledge of the other eight members of our board. The Board's Vice-President, Nancy Zuena, has been great in working with me and I know that we both can depend on each other.

Tapinto Union:  What do you see as challenge(s) for the BOE in Union? 

BOE President McDowell:  I see as a challenge for the BOE is how do we continue to elevate the level of education that our schools provide. I believe that the teaching methodology has changed over the years and that we need to make changes in the way lessons and skills are taught. We have to be able to provide knowledge and skills to ALL our students. Whether students plan to attend college or not, it up to us to make sure that they leave Union High School well prepared to go down whatever road they chose. Just this week we started the distribution of Chromebooks to all our high school student. This was tremendous undertaking for the board and the administrators but we all knew that this type of technology is essential to our student’s success.

Tapinto Union:  What do you see as challenge(s) for Union schools? 

BOE President McDowell:  As for the individual school, I believe that their challenge is to create interest for the students. To present lessons in ways that not only that engage the students but also challenge them to think differently on ways to attack a particular problem. Just as all students don't learn the same way, they may have different ways of demonstrating that they have mastered a subject. I believe that all our teachers know that there may be other ways to assess student learning. It does not always have to be with paper and pencils. The challenge to our teachers may be also to discover new way to assess students.

Tapinto Union:  Are there any new programs/events/initiatives you'd like to discuss?

BOE President McDowell:   In addition to the Chromebooks mentioned above, we're also beginning to work with local businesses like Bed Bath and Beyond, the YMCA, and with Kean University. These are township entities that can and have been involved with projects that are mutually beneficial. The recreation of the academy is another initiative that the board believes will benefits our students. In addition, there will be summer programs going on at just about every school in our district. Again, these are all taking place to offer our students more opportunities to increase their knowledge.

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