This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on West Essex Board of Education Candidates. All candidates will be featured individually during the week leading up to the November 2019 election.
NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — Meet Jann Skelton, a 13-year resident of North Caldwell running for West Essex Regional Board of Education in the upcoming election on Nov. 5.
Jann Skelton, a pharmacist and president of Silver Pennies Consulting, Inc., currently has a 9th grader and a 12th grader attending West Essex High School.
Q: Why are you running for board of education? (Again, if incumbent?)
A: One of the primary reasons I am running for this position is to elevate the performance of the Board and improve the quality and reputation of our District, specifically improving academic performance and access to educational opportunities. Academically, only 61% of West Essex students are proficient in reading and only 45% of students are proficient in math.
West Essex High School is ranked 5th overall in Essex County, behind Millburn, Livingston, and Montclair public schools. This same poll ranks West Essex as the #1 best school district for athletes in the state. I’m very concerned by that gap. I’m glad we are #1 in athletics. I also want us to be #1 in academics. We owe it to our children to ensure that West Essex is educationally sound and that all students are able to achieve their full potential.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: For six years, I was elected to serve on the NCBOE, supporting our students in grades K-6. My primary focus was to improve communications and relationships with parents, the North Caldwell community, and the press, resulting in greater transparency and more cohesive engagement with other stakeholders in our town. I led initiatives such as the biweekly electronic newsletter informing parents of developments in the District and the classrooms and numerous open forums to discuss major initiatives, such as possible school expansion.
My role on the NCBOE finance committee and my MBA education provide me with the skills required to ensure that the BOE is fiscally responsible in its decision-making and implements sound financial policy. I leveraged that experience to make certain that the District was forward looking – pursuing strategic planning over multiple decades – rather than year-by-year planning. I strongly advocated for engaging a demographer to study the development in the District so that we could adequately plan for our long-term space needs.
I also served for five years on the NCBOE policy committee, facilitating the adoption of sensible and legally compliant Board policies. During my three years on the NCBOE curriculum committee, I oversaw the development of the curriculum in a dynamic environment, ensuring that resources needed for learning were available both to our teachers and our students.
In 2010, as President of the North Caldwell PTO, I worked with the North Caldwell Foundation for Education (NCFE) to merge our respective organizations into the current North Caldwell Partnership for Education (NCPE). This effort offered a unified and structured approach to raising funds to provide our students with learning resources and facility improvements as needs were identified (e.g., Smartboards, laptops, field improvements) and ensuring that money was saved and properly invested to support the long-term endowment of Foundation funds. Over my five years on the NC PTO/NCPE Boards I worked to implement a website for the organization, managed the family directory (Buzz Book), and worked with other board members to launch a formal hot lunch program and the After-School Enrichment Program.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: Like many residents, I am very concerned about the impact of housing development on our schools. During my 6-year tenure on the North Caldwell Board of Education, our District monitored and assessed these housing issues, even conducting two demographic surveys to understand the changing dynamics and how potential development within North Caldwell would impact our elementary schools.
West Essex’s issues are much more complex. All four sending districts are experiencing housing growth and development. Development at Greenbrook Country Club will increase the number of students from both North Caldwell and Fairfield. Roseland and Fairfield have more available land for development, allowing for even more potential growth within these communities.
The current West Essex Board of Education has not conducted appropriate planning to account for the anticipated increases in students from across the District. They have not conducted a demographic study, the baseline data that would be required to make necessary planning decisions. To say that the District is behind in assessing and planning to ensure that we can appropriately accommodate all students, is an understatement. As a result of my leadership on the North Caldwell Board of Education, I have an in-depth understanding of the need for strong and accountable leadership on this specific issue.
Q: Tell us about your other career and/or other ways you are involved in the community.
A: I have a degree in pharmacy from West Virginia University and earned my MBA at George Washington University. I have owned and managed a successful healthcare communications company for the past 15 years. The ability to leverage my leadership qualities with my understanding of the value and importance of timely, transparent, and relevant communications is an example of my unique contributions.
In my professional life, I have decades of leadership experience in several national professional and service organizations. I serve on the Board of Advisors for the American Pharmacists Association Foundation and on the Advisory Board for the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy. I also serve as adjunct faculty for four schools and colleges of pharmacy. My personal passion is working to raise money and awareness for pancreatic cancer, and I have been recognized as a top national contributor by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, raising over $180,000 over the past seven years.
Q: Do you believe the district currently provides equitable supports for all learners? If so, why? If not, what would you like to see enhanced or added?
A: Unfortunately, the West Essex Regional School District does not provide equitable support for all learners. I feel that students at the honors and AP levels are well supported, with exceptional instruction and varied opportunities for learning. Special education students are also supported by a capable team, although the breadth and depth of support and services are not as extensive as North Caldwell students are exposed to within our elementary schools. The biggest challenge within West Essex is the ability to provide solid academics, in fundamental courses, for students that may fall in the middle. Generally, the math programs are sub-par, requiring many parents in our community to hire tutors to teach basic fundamentals. State testing scores validate the deficiency in math instruction at West Essex. The foreign language program is not strong. Course selections within the sciences are not robust, particularly for students looking to apply to colleges with competitive, science-based programs. Programming for students who may wish to pursue an education in the trades or other vocational careers is also limited. I will work to ensure that the Board of Education prioritizes high-quality educational opportunities for all students within the District.