This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education Candidates. All candidates will be featured individually during the week leading up to the November 2019 election.
WEST CALDWELL, NJ — Meet Chris Elko, a candidate running for Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education in the upcoming election on Nov. 5.
Chris Elko is a 7-year resident of the Caldwell-West Caldwell community and a labor attorney for Marriott International. He and his wife, Erin, have three children: Robbie, Luke and Harper. Luke is currently a first grader at Wilson School.
Q: Why are you running for board of education? (Again, if incumbent?)
A: I am so grateful to the Board for putting Full Day Kindergarten on the ballot last year. I spent months talking to parents, handing out lawn signs and going to meetings to support that cause. It was an amazing experience and now I want more. I want to find a permanent fix for over-crowding issues. I want to guarantee a safe and secure environment for our kids. I want to improve our special-needs services and enhance offerings for gifted students. I want to find efficiencies and innovations that save the district and the taxpayers as much as possible. And I want to do all of those things and I want to do them as soon as possible.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: Successful boards need different perspectives. As an experienced labor attorney, I’m a seasoned advocate and battle-tested negotiator. As a Six-Sigma trained efficiency expert, I’m very focused on process and efficiency. And as someone who has served on boards since I was 20 years old, I know how to set a strategy and see it to conclusion.
But style matters also. My approach is extreme responsiveness and over-communication. I look forward to engaging parents and students and providing concrete answers. Improved communication with everyone (teachers, parents, non-parents, etc.) will surface concerns early and get feedback on solutions quickly. Extreme responsiveness and over-communication can change the dynamic of the Board for the better.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: My biggest concern – by far – is space. Our towns are a big draw for young families. That’s great news!
But our school district must develop a concrete plan to address crowding in our schools. Just this year we changed the boundaries for Jefferson and Lincoln and added an extra class in Washington, all due to over-crowding concerns. These are band-aids, and we should be working with urgency for a permanent, long-term solution. If elected, I will work aggressively and proactively to utilize all of the available space we have and give our students and teachers the room they desperately need succeed.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Caldwell-West Caldwell Public Schools district?
A: The Caldwell-West Caldwell schools are great. I have two young children that will be going through the schools and, so far, I have been impressed with each and every teacher and administrator. On a day-to-day basis, I believe our schools are among the best in the state.
I do have some concerns about how quickly we address big issues. The demographer report from a few years back suggested a decline in Lincoln’s student population, but the opposite is true – what is our plan to fix the space issue long-term? About 20% of our student population have special needs, but we have continuing and systemic issues with that department. We used to provide buses for middle school children along dangerous routes but then we stopped. Why, and what is the cost of restoring that service? Space, special needs and security are the three most pressing issues that I have heard from parents. All three issues, if left unaddressed, impact the safety and well-being of our students. The Board must act on those issues with an extreme sense of urgency.
Q: What should people know about you that they might not know already?
A: I always do the work. Our superintendent and administrators are the subject-matter experts and the Board should rely on them. But I’ll be reviewing every data point and listening to every concern or comment along the way. For major issues like space, special needs and security, I will seek out every data point, read through every regulation, speak with every expert and leave no stone unturned. I cannot promise how I will decide any given question, but I can promise that I will collect every available piece of information before making a decision. If elected, I will do the work.