The Hopewell Valley League of Women Voters held a forum for candidates vying for one of three available seats on the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) Board of Education on Wednesday, October 18th at the high school’s television production studio. League President Joann Held moderated questions directed at incumbents Adam Sawicki and Alyce Murray, and newcomer Darius Matthews. The fourth candidate, Sarah Tracy, was unable to participate due to a scheduling conflict. The forum was televised live and will be rebroadcasted on local community access channels. Rebroadcast information can be found here by the end of the week.
The forum was composed of opening statements, questions asked by the moderator, two rounds of cross questioning where candidates posed questions to each other, and closing statements. For the moderator questions, candidates were rotated in who received each question first. Those who answered first had two minutes to answer, the remaining candidates given only 30 seconds to respond.
In the opening statements, Darius Matthews shared that he moved to the area a year ago with his wife and young children because they were attracted to the “natural beauty of the area, camaraderie of local citizens, and most importantly, because it had one of the highest quality school systems in the state of New Jersey.” Matthews has an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and graduate degree from Dartmouth College. Prior to moving to Hopewell Valley, he was a board member of a New York school of learning and communication development that taught children living on the autism spectrum. “The communities are integrally linked to the quality of its public school system,” he said.
Alyce Murray is currently the Board Vice President and has been a member since 2015. She is Chairperson of the Policy Committee, and a member of the Education/Program and Technology Committees.Murray has an undergraduate degree in Biology, with a minor in Chemistry, and concentration in business, as well as a graduate degree in Secondary Education from The College of New Jersey. She is a licensed real estate agent for Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty in Pennington where she resides with her husband and four children.
Adam Sawicki has been on the board since 2011 and currently is a member of the Education/Program and Policy Committees, as well as Chairperson of the Personnel Committee. Sawicki is a graduate of M.I.T. and Villanova University. He works as an aerospace engineer and technical fellow for the Boeing Company. He and his wife have three children who attend District schools and one who started Cornell University this fall.
Though Sarah Tracy was not in attendance, an opening statement was read by Held. Tracy and her wife have three children in the district. She graduated from Rider University with an undergraduate degree in Accounting and works as an executive in the financial services industry. She has over 30 years of experience in accounting, finance, and operations.
For the moderator question, “What should the relationship be between the school board and administration, and between the school board and the public?” Alyce Murrary answered, “Collaborative. The best way to work together is by communicating with honesty, integrity, and respect. I believe we do that, but I believe we can do better in making sure the community is aware of everything we do by streamlining communication with them.”
In the evening’s first round of cross questioning, Alyce Murray asked Darius Matthews what fresh idea he had for the District. He said, “Ask questions. One of the most impactful ways to change and learn is to understand why things are the way they are. Things might be uncovered that can be improved upon.”
When Adam Sawicki asked Alyce Murray what she thought were the attributes of a good, effective Board of Education member, she said, “Showing up. It’s a volunteer position and we all live busy lives. Making this your priority is a big piece of being an effective member.”
Darius Matthews asked Adam Sawicki what he learned during his tenure on the Board. Sawicki said, “I’ve sat on several committees and have learned a bit about a broad range of topics that affect the Board. The most important thing I’ve learned is the importance of the Board being collaborative within itself and the administration. We now have a clearer vision for where we want to take the District and where the community wants the District to go. It’s evident in the overall productivity of the initiatives we’ve been able to do in the last number of years.”
In response to the moderator’s question, “In the 2016-2017 school year, the District reported 11 instances of violent behavior and 21 instances of substance abuse. What more can be done to counsel students about these behaviors and to protect the student body from these behaviors?” Sawicki answered, “I think we should continue to do the work we’ve done over the last few years. We have substance abuse counselors in the high school and middle school to help students struggling in these areas. We’ve done staff training so they can recognize the signs, we recently implemented a policy to address vaping in terms of its implications to smoking. We’re also looking at other programs across the state.”
In the second round of cross questioning, Sawicki asked what Matthews’ philosophy was on standardized testing and what can be done to improve PARRC participation rates. “I think that standardized tests are just one measure of many that show the health of a district. I think improving the participation rate must involve reaching out to parents and educating them about the test’s purpose and how students benefit from them. Tests shouldn’t be one-sided. It allows students to see where they are relative to their peers and relative to their college readiness should that be something they strive for,” said Matthews.
At the close of the debate, candidates congratulated each other for what appeared to be a very positive, respectful and prospective debate.