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2020 Board of Education Voter’s Guide

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This is an off-year for municipal government elections, so the only local race Franklin residents will vote on is the one for the Board of Education.

There are three Board seats up for grabs this year, and they are being sought by seven candidates. Two of the candidates – Michael Smith and Nishita Desai – are incumbents (Michelle Shelton, whose board term ends this year and had planned on running, resigned after she left the township during the summer).

One of the first-time candidates, Parul Patel, has taken Shelton’s place on the Smith-Desai slate.

Challenging the incumbents are Bill Grippo, a long-time district principal and former Township Council member; Thomas R. Palczewski, Karen Masters and Devakumar Villuri.

The school board has come under intense scrutiny since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Schools were closed to in-person learning early in the Spring, and, while the district had planned to open with a hybrid in-person plan in September, a potential lack of teachers forced the district to open virtually, at least until Thanksgiving.

Below is information the local candidates provided in answer to several questions. If a candidate is not represented, or a question does not appear in one profile that is in another, it is because they did not respond to our questionnaire or did not answer that particular question.

This year voting is by mail primarily, with in-person, provisional balloting also available. A ballot drop-off box is located in front of the Municipal Building on DeMott Lane.

Photo of Nishita Desai

Nishita Desai

Experience If incumbent, how many years have you served: I am an incumbent and I have been on the board for 3 years. Membership in any civic organizations: I enjoy volunteering, I am happy to give my time to better the community and be a role model to our youth.… Click Here For More Details ...

Experience

If incumbent, how many years have you served:

I am an incumbent and I have been on the board for 3 years.

Membership in any civic organizations:

I enjoy volunteering, I am happy to give my time to better the community and be a role model to our youth.

I have volunteered and chaired blood drives for New York blood services for past 7 years. I also chair American Red Cross and American Cancer Society. I have mentored Girl scouts on their journey to Gold award. I am also a Co-leader of a Girl Scout troop for past 10 years and also have served as service Unit 67’s registrar. As a women scientist, I believe we need to mentor girls to help them enter STEM fields, with the help of Women in Science and Engineering and Johnson and Johnson I have led events to train 100 girls each year for 3 years.

I have scouted for food for the Franklin Food Bank in my neighborhood. While my Daughter was at Sampson G smith school I helped with the stage crew and construction.

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

During my first term, I wanted to work on 3 major issues: communication, safety and higher-level courses while preparing them 21st century jobs. Another goal was to introduce more Career and Technical  Education(CTE). In order to accomplish my goals, I worked on communication, safety and curriculum committees for all three years.

On the curriculum committee we introduced honors courses for middle school as well as high school. We also offered many AP courses making sure the students of all races have equal access through our AP equity initiative. The gifted and talented program was introduced at the elementary level. STEM programming is offered across every grade. Equal opportunity to good education is given students of all background- in order to give equity we work teachers and guidance so they can identify students who might benefit from the additional support.  Languages like Latin, French, Spanish are now being offered and taught in middle school. Many CTE programs were introduced in the last three years as well.

The safety and security of the school has improved drastically with improvements at building level as well as training of staff. Safety and security play an extremely important roles especially now in light of COVID.

My goal for the next term is to continue working on safety, security and equity while providing rigor education.

We are living in most unprecedented times, with the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest, My first goal, as board member is to address both of these issues. We have to move forward while keeping in mind the safety and security of our faculty, safety and students while providing the best education we can provide the circumstances. In order to accomplish our goals we have added it to the district goals for the school year 2020-21. The main goal is to ensure safety for everyone while offering rigorous programming. Virtual learning ad social distancing has been difficult for mental health of our students. I want to work with the board to increase social emotional support offered to all students so they can learn to their fullest potential.

We are also addressing equity issues by offering equal access to all students regardless of their race. I am very proud to be chair of curriculum committee where we can work with curriculum supervisors to introduce a more diverse curriculum. We have just approved courses for high school students on race gender and equity as a graduation requirement. I plan to continue to work on AP equity initiative.

Until now our curriculum was Eurocentric which didn’t offer perspectives from any other ethnicities. The curriculum didn’t reflect the diversity of the people who live in Franklin. As you know, Franklin is an extremely diverse community and we should reflect this sort of diversity in the curriculum as well. “Research has shown that students who attend diverse public schools learn more exhibit less racial prejudice” The Century Foundation. Research has also shown that when you teach through a lens that includes the history of the students’ ethnicity, they are more likely to succeed at school. I believe in racial justice in education. If the students find themselves in a safe caring environment, our students will find more success.

As a result of COVID, we had to learn a lot about planning, how to teach while socially distanced. It has taught us that we can teach using our tools such computers, zoom, different applications to reach students in ways we never did before.  The students have also learned to work differently and hopefully we can continue learning from these experiences so that we can truly prepare students while are ready with the 21st century skills

I feel that the teachers have worked on different ways to engage students because we had to teach virtually. We have offered computers and hot spots to all students in Franklin who requested it. We have leveled the playing field for all students, now we have to keep working with teachers to continue to provide professional development such that we can teach learners of all kinds.

I hope you put your trust in my team and me: Smith, Desai, Patel to continue moving forward for your, your children and the community. VOTE ALL THREE!

 

Photo of Bill Grippo

Bill Grippo

Experience If incumbent, how many years have you served:   N/A If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: Former member of the Franklin Township Council- 2000-2003 Deputy Mayor for Franklin Township  - 2002-2003   Membership in any civic organizations: Over the past 42 years I have been a member of several Franklin organizations ranging from First President of Franklin Rotary Club, Marconi Foundation, Heart, MDA, Diabetes, MS Organizations, The Villagers Theater, MLK Scholarship Foundation, The Franklin Food Bank, President of NJ Community Ed Association, several Fund Raising events to benefit Franklin (most recently: The Gazebo) Franklin Chamber of Commerce (Man of the Year/1986), numerous youth organizations and active in St.… Click Here For More Details ...

Experience

If incumbent, how many years have you served:   N/A

If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what:

Former member of the Franklin Township Council- 2000-2003

Deputy Mayor for Franklin Township  – 2002-2003

 

Membership in any civic organizations:

Over the past 42 years I have been a member of several Franklin organizations ranging from First President of Franklin Rotary Club, Marconi Foundation, Heart, MDA, Diabetes, MS Organizations,

The Villagers Theater, MLK Scholarship Foundation, The Franklin Food Bank, President of NJ Community Ed Association, several Fund Raising events to benefit Franklin (most recently: The Gazebo)

Franklin Chamber of Commerce (Man of the Year/1986), numerous youth organizations and active in St. Matthias Parish.

– Chairperson of the Annual July 4th Fireworks.
– Chairperson of the YMCA Franklin Task Force.

 

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

We have unique challenges in this Pandemic era, so my number one issue is in the area of facilities and providing the safest standards of environment for our students and staff.  Specifically I would hope to work closely with the facility committee to determine the needs to upgrade HVAC and all necessary safety requirements, PPE and recommended measures in order for staff and students to be assured of the best environment possible.  I am not only concerned for the present needs but also a sense of preparedness if something unexpected happens like Covid 19 in the foreseeable future.

A second issue :I have always been concerned about is teacher recruitment and retention.  We have many great teachers in Franklin; we want to keep them here by a salary guide that is commensurate with all of Somerset County and professional development, which encourages their personal growth and advancement.  Even more importantly we have a wonderfully diverse community, and the teaching staff always needs to reflect a balance to meet the diverse needs of our students by providing role models and leaders students can aspire to.

The third issue:  It is a fact that there is a wide disparity of economic levels in our community among our student population.  The district has focused on educational equity in recent years and this is good.  This challenge continues especially with the effects of Covid 19 as it relates to family unemployment in many cases and other economic stress to make ends meet.  Many parents face the hardship of working two or more jobs and now assisting with their children’s education. We must continually seek ways to reach out to these parents with outreach programs, parent workshops (virtually) and assistance in the area of guidance counseling if needed.  Communication to parents in a variety of ways must continue to be implemented by the district and individual schools.

No Photo Available

Karen Masters

Experience If incumbent, how many years have you served: I don’t have any experience as an elected official, but I do remember what it was like to be a public school student in central New Jersey.  More importantly, both of my children are currently in the Franklin public schools.  One is in honors classes, and one is in special education, so I have seen a lot different aspects of our school system. … Click Here For More Details ...

Experience

If incumbent, how many years have you served:

I don’t have any experience as an elected official, but I do remember what it was like to be a public school student in central New Jersey.  More importantly, both of my children are currently in the Franklin public schools.  One is in honors classes, and one is in special education, so I have seen a lot different aspects of our school system.  I have a master’s degree in art therapy and I’m sure I would be an effective member of the Board of Education.

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

I started on this journey because when I went to the Franklin Board of Education for help with the special education program I was treated with contempt and dismissed by the board.  Ms. Desai didn’t say a word and Mr. Smith thought it was somehow helpful to tell me that another board member had been diagnosed with dyslexia (my daughter’s diagnosis) and had overcome it.  That was not helpful.

While my husband and I were looking into the school system and what resources it could offer, we learned that Franklin spends millions of dollars to send children to charter schools.  Franklin will spend 17 MILLION dollars on charter schools in 2021.  That was shocking to me.  That’s money that could be spent in tons of other ways.  The voters of Franklin need to be made aware of this and we need a real discussion of what motivates residents to want to take money from the public schools to send their children to charter schools.

I also think that our schools should be friendlier and happier places.  My family has had experience with Franklin Park Elementary School, Sampson G. Smith Middle School, and now Franklin High School.  I know middle school is a tough time, but Ms. Rutledge runs the middle school like a prison.  I don’t want my kids to have to experience that kind of hostility from the school administration.

I know the coronavirus pandemic is ruining everything, but I am hopeful for the future.  I want to plan for our children to take more class trips to learn about arts and culture.  I went to school in a nearby district and I know how many fantastic places are within about an hour of our schools.  Why don’t we have more field trips?

Let’s keep more of the district’s money in our public schools and bring more compassion to our school board.  As a board member, I’ll encourage other members to work together and I’ll have real empathy towards the parents and students of our town.  If someone needs help with an issue, I’ll do whatever I legally can to steer them in the right direction.  I’ll make sure everyone, including special education students, honors students, shy students, musically talented students, athletes, mathletes, is Included and valued.

I’m asking for your vote so that I can serve you and your children in the coming years.  Thank you.

 

Photo of Thomas L. Palczewski

Thomas L. Palczewski

If incumbent, how many years have you served: If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: Board Member - Lacey Township Board of Education   Membership in any civic organizations: 12 years - Religious Education Instructor 10 years - CYO Basketball Coach Issues What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:
  1. Schools need to provide parents/children the option of remote and or classroom training.
Click Here For More Details ...

If incumbent, how many years have you served:

If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what:

Board Member – Lacey Township Board of Education

 

Membership in any civic organizations:

12 years – Religious Education Instructor

10 years – CYO Basketball Coach

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

  1. Schools need to provide parents/children the option of remote and or classroom training. Students are falling behind because they are not disciplined to benefit from on-line curriculum and faculty have not yet developed their ability to teach in a non-classroom environment.

Solution:

There is no excuse for closing the school to classroom training.  Private schools are open and offer parents the option of either classroom, remote learning – or both.  Parents should have the option of choosing which type of learning is best for their child.

People are working at hospitals, department stores, restaurants, and supermarkets, etc.  There is no reason why classroom training should be closed.

As an individual Board Member I would support the commencement of classroom training.  However, since powerful “Unions” have closed our schools to traditional classroom training, parents need to demand that classroom training be an option for all students.

  1. Schools need to better prepare students for college. According to “Great Schools.com”, only 42% of Franklin Township High School Students who attend college returned for a second year.

Solution:

An academic high school should mimic the environment that a student will face when attending college.  Grades should be realistic (not inflated) so that there are no false expectations as to how the student will perform in college.

Guidance to students / parents should be improved.  Guidance Counselors should be referred to as an Academic Coach.   Every marking period, the Academic Coach should be required to meet with each student that did not meet academic requirements.  A plan of action should be made for each student and parents should be continually notified of the student’s progress.

School Administrators should interview a cross section of recently graduated college students and obtain input as to what challenges they incurred in college.  This information should be used to modify the high school curriculum to improve the student’s success in college.

 

  1. Middle State Accreditation is required to validate the effectiveness of our school district.

Solution:

MSA is a voluntary, peer-based assessment of a school district.  Neighboring school districts (East, North and South Brunswick) have achieved MSA accreditation whereas the Franklin Township School District has not.

Just about all NJ schools are accredited by the State.  State accreditation only indicates that a school has met minimum requirements and is generally based on a self-assessment by the school district.  Whereas accreditation by the MSA would identify the effectiveness of the school district.

I would welcome a professional peer review and accreditation by the MSA – a non-biased / independent organization.  This information would provide a basis to further improve the school district.

Photo of Parul Patel

Parul Patel

Experience If incumbent, how many years have you served: N/A If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: No Membership in any civic organizations: Franklin Booster Club, PTOs of Franklin Middle School and Franklin High School Issues What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:
  1. School Health Safety - During these unprecedented times, it is important that we ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children, staff and administrators when returning to school.  
Click Here For More Details ...

Experience

If incumbent, how many years have you served: N/A

If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: No

Membership in any civic organizations: Franklin Booster Club, PTOs of Franklin Middle School and Franklin High School

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

  1. School Health Safety – During these unprecedented times, it is important that we ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children, staff and administrators when returning to school.  For this transition to occur, we should do the following:
  • Ensure appropriate safety protocols are in place to effectively sanitize our facilities and follow all safety guidelines such as social distancing and wearing a mask for everyone.
  • Making sure the air quality is acceptable by maintaining the HVAC systems and ensure proper filtering systems.
  1. Improving our districts anti-racist education among students, staff and the wider community while also making educational equity a part of our strategic curriculum planning.
  • Schools should be safe and free from racism and discrimination.
  • Our students represent many different nationalities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds and I would like to see all students have equal access to programs and instruction to ensure they are able to at minimum achieve grade level standards.
  • Reevaluate current curriculum and programs to ensure removal of any ethnocentric bias.
  • Provide consistent professional development for all staff regarding multicultural education and anti-racism in order efficiently teach and support students of different nationalities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds.
  1. In order to retain and recruit highly qualified teachers and staff it is important we do the following:
  • Treat school staff with respect
  • Give staff the support they need (professional development, supplies, continued education)
  • Include staff in decision making and listen to their feedback to find out what works what needs improvement
  • Reevaluate wages and salaries to ensure we are in line with similar districts to ensure we are able to attract and retain talent.

 

Photo of Michael J. Smith

Michael J. Smith

Experience If incumbent, how many years have you served: Nearly 3 years (2018-2020) If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: NA Membership in any civic organizations: I am a member of the American Chemical Society and the NJACS Organic Topical Group. Issues What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them: When thinking about the any issue, my guiding principle is that the education of our students is the top priority and it must be executed responsibly with the community’s interests in mind.… Click Here For More Details ...

Experience

If incumbent, how many years have you served: Nearly 3 years (2018-2020)

If not, have you held any elected position before, and if so, what: NA

Membership in any civic organizations:

I am a member of the American Chemical Society and the NJACS Organic Topical Group.

Issues

What do you see as your three top issues, and how do you plan on dealing with them:

When thinking about the any issue, my guiding principle is that the education of our students is the top priority and it must be executed responsibly with the community’s interests in mind. This is also performed with the notion that a board member has the responsibility to not administer the schools, but, together with fellow board members, to see that they are run well.

  • Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic: This is likely at the top of everyone’s list of issues. Due to a lack of a concerted federal response and sparse yet operationally complex state response to Covid-19, responsibility for the safety of the FTPS community has fallen on the BOE and administration. I support opening the schools after the thorough determination that our facilities and procedures can provide effective scientifically based safe operating conditions.  As a member of the BOE Facilities committee, I support the ongoing evaluation of all of our schools HVAC systems. FTPS is the only district in Somerset county that is performing a full evaluation of every HVAC systems in order to determine status of each and every room in every school. I want to ensure that we will be able to begin to return to in person learning (likely in stages) as the information and understanding about the virus unfolds not only for the safety of the community but for my two children who attend FHS. My training as a PhD scientist has provided the ability to rigorously and critically evaluate data presented on the coronavirus situation. Additionally, my wife is a registered nurse who worked through the height of the pandemic. Her hands-on experiences and descriptions of the impact of the virus have been invaluable to my ability to gauge the consequences to ensure we get it right. I support the options to not only return to in-person learning, when safe, but also a remote option for those who require it until the Covid19 virus is contained.
  • Continue to enhance rigorous programming by the expansion of innovative college and career readiness programs, affording students the opportunity to pursue their passions with the necessary academic and social/emotional supports. FTPS needs to be an environment where all students feel safe and are encouraged to explore subjects that will prepare them for the future ahead. I support continuing to enroll more students in our approximately 30 varied AP classes, as well as support training programs to become a dental assistant or pilot with in FTPS. I’ll continue to support our art, music and media offerings which are among the best in the state.
  • In order to not only provide renewable energy sources to save the district money, I am supporting the expansion of solar energy projects. We will drive sustainability within the district by continuing to progress through the Sustainable NJ certification program. The realized savings will allow the district to invest in the students for the long term.