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Change is afoot in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District

by Amie Rukenstein

On January 4, 2021 the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) swore-in one returning and two newly elected School Board members Adam Sawicki, Andrea Driver, and Anita Williams-Galiano respectively. In addition, the Board unanimously confirmed the re-election of Board President Deborah Linthorst and then elected Board member Jessica Grillo as vice president. 

Grillo, who represents Hopewell Borough to the Board, was elected by a margin of just eight votes last year after a hotly contested race. Her campaign centered on the need for more diversity of voices in the Board of Education. In 2019, all Board members shared similar demographics — all white and between the ages of 47-54. At the time, the Board administration also reflected a similar demographic. Grillo, at age 34, has pre-school age children and reflects a much younger mindset. Another younger voice, John Mason, 41, was elected at the same time as Grillo and was the Board member who nominated her to the vice president position Monday night.

After Grillo was selected as vice president, her speech was a pointed two sentences: “Thanks for your vote of confidence. I think Deb and I will be a good partnership – we don’t always agree with each other and that is a good mark of a strong leadership team.”

This year’s two new BOE members, Driver and Williams-Galiano, who also campaigned on the importance of a diversity of representation, will be the first Black members of the BOE in more than a decade. 

In an email to MercerMe, Williams-Galiano commented: “I would love to take the opportunity to thank voters for getting to the polls at such a difficult time in our world history and thank them for their vote of confidence in bringing new and diverse voices to our HVSB. I would like to recognize and affirm that we, as HVRSD, already exceed standards by most academic measures, and still, we have work to do to enrich our students with global and social leadership skills, including preparing students and empowering them to do their part in creating a school environment that welcomes all to learn from one another and be themselves. I look forward to standing for a curriculum that values our rich historical tapestry and ensures students can more easily explore Vocational Ed., the Arts, and STEM opportunities.”

Superintendent Dr. Thomas Smith commented to MercerMe: “We feel that the District has taken on a leadership role in our community with regard to our efforts to advance the conversation around equity. We have a lot more work to do and I couldn’t be happier that people want to join us on our journey to help make the district and our community a better place and more reflective of the world around us. It is no secret that individuals who come with a wide range of experiences, perspectives, and skill sets provide better solutions and enhanced decision-making. In addition to being accomplished people in their own right, our newest Board members and recent administrative hires help bring a fresh eye to everything we do. More importantly, they know our goals and are committed to helping us move the District forward.”

During the meeting, both Smith and Sawicki commended Linthorst’s leadership as Board president during the unprecedented challenges that occurred this past year.

Both Smith and Linthorst noted Sawicki’s many years of valuable service to the BOE. Despite being the longest-serving and only incumbent re-elected in recent years, Sawicki also has proven to offer a unique perspective to the Board; he made headlines in 2019 as the only HVRSD board member to vote against a school budget that also had drawn rebuke from the three Hopewell Valley mayors.

Commenting to MercerMe, Sawicki stated: “I am very happy to begin my fourth term on the Hopewell Valley Board of Education, and am excited to work with our new members, my returning colleagues, Dr. Smith, our administrators and staff. I look forward to helping progress our equity, social emotional learning, grading, school start time and facilities initiatives. I also hope to see continued Board coordination with our local municipal leadership during our budget development process, which was found to be very beneficial last year.” 

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