Without a local debate this year, MercerMe asked questions of candidates running for HVRSD Board of Education based on ongoing community issues in the vicinity. The answers in this article have been provided by Michael Coco, who is running for HVRSD Board of Education.
What professional and personal skills do you bring that would make you a successful board member?
I have experience serving as a board member on non-profit and community organization boards. As an attorney, I am knowledgeable in contracts and negotiations. I currently work in risk management and can assess and reduce lawsuit potential, as well as evaluate and alleviate safety concerns. My experience as a registered nurse will provide insight on school health and safety.
How would you balance the need for students’ safety with the need for a welcoming school climate? Do you support any staff members having a gun in school?
I support mental health first aid and similar programs that help our students recognize peers in need and prevent tragedies. Schools must be secure and have emergency plans that are adaptable to various scenarios. School “lockdown” policies must be updated and adapted based on the most current research in the area of critical incident response. Our students and the community must pursue education on firearm safety and prevent unauthorized access to firearms. With the exception of a well-trained and vetted security officer, I do not feel that arming all staff is the safest option for our students. Students should also be taught and practice good hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases, which will keep students safe from severe illnesses.
How well does the District address issues related to racism, bullying, the lgbtq community, and income disparity? What, if anything, should it do differently?
Both the State and District have in place anti-bullying programs. HVRSD strives to make all students feel welcome regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. I plan to work with our school administrators to continue this practice of inclusion. There are always new challenges that should be addressed on a case-by-case scenario that takes into account the safety and well-being of all students.
In addition to academics, our schools now educate our students in such topics as social-emotional wellness and suicide prevention. Do you think this is appropriate? How well do you think the schools do in communicating with parents and the larger community about sensitive subjects?
Schools should address the mental health and social needs of all students. I strongly support projects that promote suicide prevention, social wellness, and mindfulness. The district recently communicated with parents and the community regarding mental health support, and it periodically announces mindfulness exercises. Though I support these programs, the school must keep parents and the community well-informed. These programs work better when parents, community members, and schools are on the same page.
Please comment on this year’s budget process.
The budget is always a difficult topic, but also one of the most important. The Board must protect the needs of the students and teachers while keeping the taxpayers in mind. Hopewell already spends more money per student than other districts in Mercer County. We need to ensure that the money is being spent efficiently. As a Board member I will take great care in reviewing budget proposals to make sure that any money spent would benefit students directly. I will also review bulk purchasing practices and capture the best market prices. With respect to employee benefits, I will work within the law and framework established by the State to review creative ways to collectively bargain with benefits providers and secure the best benefits for our employees at the lowest cost.
Do you think that standardized testing is the best way to measure student achievement? If not, what do you think is better and how would you implement it?
Standardized testing might not be the best way to measure student achievement, but it is still used by most schools and universities as a way to compare students from different academic backgrounds. Because standardized test use is so common and important, the District must use similar standardized testing practices as at least one measure of student achievement. Not conducting standardized testing would place our students at a competitive disadvantage. However, the schools also should encourage achievement in areas that highlight student creativity, such as programs in science, engineering, technology and art.
Are you running as part of a slate, and if so, why?
I am not running as part of a slate. I believe the school board should be independent and comprised on individuals from different backgrounds who can bring a diverse set of skills and views to the Board. Aligning oneself to a slate often creates the type of partisan deadlock and inefficiency that is found in other areas of government.