Home » HVRSD HT rep School Board candidates

HVRSD HT rep School Board candidates

by Amie Rukenstein

We asked School Board candidates questions culled from recent MercerMe articles and questions posed by our friends and neighbors. The responses have not been edited except for format consistency, and are posted in the order in which they were returned to MercerMe. We have bolded the original questions for clarity. We gave no word limit and since we did not ask for photos, we are not posting those that were submitted. (We will remember to ask next year).

The candidates for School Board all will represent Hopewell Township – no seats were up for either of the Borough representatives. There is one Township seat available that previously was held by long-time Board member Adam Sawicki, who has retired. (Thanks for all your hard work, Adam!) Two people registered to run for that seat: Dhruv Kapadia and Mark Austin. Kapadia was the very first person, of all the races, to return his answers to our questions. Despite repeated emails to him, Austin did not respond.

There are two three seats up for the 3-year term. The incumbents of those seats are Andrea Driver and Anita Williams Galiano and Pamela Lilleston. Also running are Aileen Matticoli, and John Slotman. (edited 9/26 at 9:16 am. So sorry we got that wrong. Thanks to Pam Lilleston for pointing out that she is a current member of the School Board in a seat to which she was appointed earlier this year).


ONE YEAR TERM

Dhruv Kapadia

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the school board

Hello Hopewell Valley! My name is Dhruv Kapadia and I am running for the 1 year unexpired seat on the HVRSD Board of Education in this November’s election. I am a proud public servant and experienced policymaker, running on a platform centered around Equity, Community, and Success. 

Since graduating from HVRSD, I have gained extensive policymaking experience, serving in local, city, state, and federal government positions across the East coast. Most recently, I have worked for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s Planning Advisory Council, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman’s district office, State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker’s re-election campaign, and the New Jersey Attorney General Office’s Division on Civil Rights, addressing a myriad of policy issues facing New Jerseyans. 

During my time as an HVRSD student, I championed numerous diversity-oriented policy initiatives, most notably having Diwali and Chinese Lunar New Year recognized as holidays on district calendars. As an undergraduate at Boston University, I served as the Student Body President for 2 consecutive years, where I fought for progressive policy including increased funding for marginalized student organizations and greater student oversight over tuition.

As the youngest and only South Asian candidate in this election, I bring a fresh, student-centered perspective that will prove beneficial for our district. For more information about my candidacy, follow my Instagram at @dhruvforhvboe or my Facebook at “Dhruv Kapadia for HVRSD Board of Education.”

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running?

I am running to bring a young, progressive, student-centered perspective to our School Board. Throughout my time as a student, I found the Board ineffective in addressing “on-the-ground” issues facing our student body, specifically as they relate to social justice, community-building, and ensuring post-HVRSD success. Moreover, Asian students represent the fastest growing demographic in our schools, and our Board has not had a South Asian representative for my entire academic life. For these reasons, I have decided to run for our community’s Board of Education on a three-pronged platform centered around Equity, Community, and Success. Detailed descriptions of my policies can be found at tinyurl.com/dhruvforhvboe

3 Are you running as part of a slate?

No.

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?

The shortage of school bus drivers is a pressing issue that impacts both our district and the broader community. To address this challenge, we need a community-oriented approach that involves all local stakeholders. Firstly, it is crucial to ensure that becoming a school bus driver is an attractive, viable, and accessible career option. This will involve working with the school district and local partners to improve pay, benefits, and working conditions for drivers. We should also explore partnerships with local vocational schools or training programs to facilitate the training and certification process of community members interested in becoming a bus driver. Finally, we must maintain an open dialogue with current school bus drivers to understand their concerns and challenges better. By actively listening to their feedback, we can address their needs and create a more supportive environment. 

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall? 

7, while I strongly believe in keeping taxes to a minimum for our most vulnerable residents, we must acknowledge the interrelated nature of strong spending and greater student achievement. New Jersey is one of the most expensive states to live in based on property taxes, and subsequently, it is ranked second in the nation in public school quality. While I understand the importance of keeping taxes affordable for our community’s most at-risk members, I also recognize that investing in education is an investment into our community’s future. I am committed to working collaboratively with fellow board members, administrators, and community members to develop a budget that reflects this balanced approach, ensuring that our students receive the education they deserve, while respecting the financial constraints of our community.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

Racial, socioeconomic, gender and religious equity are important planks of my platform. As a proud South Asian Hindu, I encountered numerous instances of discrimination during my time as a student in HVRSD. Now, as our student body grows increasingly diverse, it is time for the district to respond with culturally competent resources, policies, and curricula. But diversity and representation are not just symbolic words to me – they drive my political work. 

During my time in HVRSD, I worked tirelessly to create an anti-racist learning environment through several diversity initiatives. These initiatives included having Diwali and Chinese Lunar New Year recognized as holidays on school calendars, creating the first-ever formal documentation of religious demographics and racial discrimination within our student body, and spending a year studying the state of racial, socioeconomic, and educational segregation in Mercer County, NJ.

As a prospective Board member, I will continue to advocate for greater equity, especially for our most marginalized students, through the following policy proposals: 

  • Implementing inclusive, representative, and diverse curricula
  • Reforming punitive drug policies & improving drug awareness education
  • Diversifying faculty, staff, & administrators through inclusive hiring practices

In addition to protecting students of color, we must do more to support our staff of color. I have heard several stories of racism and discrimination faced by our staff of color, and I am committed to addressing this issue head on.

7 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?

It is essential to maintain a balance that creates a secure environment for students without compromising the open and inclusive atmosphere of our schools. I believe in a multi-faceted approach to student safety, which includes well-trained security personnel, comprehensive safety protocols, and proactive measures to address potential threats. I also believe that data collection through annual school safety climate surveys to both parents, students, and faculty can help inform our decision making.

However, the presence of firearms in school settings is a matter that should be approached with the utmost caution and consideration. Let me be clear, I DO NOT support staff members carrying guns in school. Instead, I support investing in professional development for school security personnel and ensuring they are well-equipped to handle emergencies without the need for firearms. It is crucial that we prioritize de-escalation tactics, conflict resolution, and mental health support for students to prevent potential threats, rather than arming our already overworked and overburdened teaching staff. Teaching is enough of a responsibility for our faculty, adding firearms to the mix is both impractical and irresponsible.

8 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?

While standardized testing has been a longstanding method for assessing student achievement, it is not without its limitations. Research has shown time and time again that relying solely on standardized testing does not provide a comprehensive picture of a student’s abilities or the effectiveness of our education system. Numerous studies have indicated that standardized tests can be influenced by factors such as socioeconomic status, cultural bias, and test anxiety, which may result in disparities in outcomes for different student groups. To measure student achievement more effectively, I propose we use standardized tests judiciously and in conjunction with other assessment methods including:

  • Multiple Assessments: We should use a variety of assessment tools, including formative assessments, performance assessments, and teacher-generated assessments, in addition to standardized tests. This allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of student progress.
  • Portfolios and Project-Based Assessments: Incorporating student portfolios and project-based assessments can provide a more holistic view of a student’s abilities, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
  • Teacher and Peer Evaluations: Encouraging teacher and peer evaluations can offer valuable insights into a student’s interpersonal skills, collaboration, and leadership qualities.
  • Longitudinal Data: Tracking student progress over time and assessing growth and improvement can be more informative than one-time standardized test scores.

To implement these changes, I would work collaboratively with educators, parents, and educational experts to develop a well-rounded assessment framework that accurately reflects the diverse abilities and needs of our students. And to be clear, this largely falls in line with what many teachers at HVRSD already do! Additionally, I would advocate for adjustments in state education policies to allow for greater flexibility in assessment practices, enabling us to better measure and support student achievement.

9 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?

I firmly believe that our schools should go beyond academics to address the holistic well-being of our students, including social-emotional wellness and suicide prevention. During my junior year at HVCHS, a fellow student tragically took their own life, highlighting the importance of effective suicide prevention and support systems. Based on my experience, it is clear that more can be done to improve how our schools handle such situations and communicate with parents and the broader community. Mental health is a critical aspect of a student’s overall development, and it is essential that we provide them with the necessary resources and education to navigate these challenges. For these reasons, I am prioritizing increasing mental health and wellness resources as part of my “Success” platform plank. 

Throughout my 12 years at Hopewell Valley, mental health often went unaddressed, especially in productive or destigmatizing ways. While the Central High School has implemented some wellness resources in recent years, like safe spaces and recitation, more must be done to support the mental health of our students. This means exploring a variety of policy options, including later start times, better counseling services, or mental health days off. Regardless of the shape these policies and resources take, these changes must be derived from parent and student feedback. 

10 How would you, as a school board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole?

Addressing the disengagement of high school students is a multifaceted challenge that requires a holistic approach. To address this issue as a school board member, I would advocate for the following policies: 

  • Increasing mental health and wellness resources: We must invest in robust mental health services within our schools to help students dealing with anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health/learning challenges. This includes providing counseling, access to resources, and destigmatizing seeking help.
  • Engaging community service from a younger age: It’s no secret that Hopewell Valley is home to privilege. With a median household income far above county and state averages, much of our town’s youth enjoy safe, comfortable, and often disengaged lives. Community service is an activity that teaches us to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves and engage with our community, and should be encouraged from a younger age. For most students, community service is introduced far too late in their academic career, typically through mandatory National Honor Society membership hours in junior year of high school. This should not and cannot be our students’ first formal introduction to community service. We should do more to encourage effective, “non-savior” oriented community service in our district’s youth starting from middle school.
  • Reforming drug policies and education: Rather than punishing students by removing them from the classroom for underage drug use, I would encourage assigning community service hours as a learning experience that involves students in the community without disrupting their education. It is also important to teach students in grades 9-12 about drug awareness, rather than further stigmatizing the issue. Current curriculum relating to alcohol awareness is nuanced and detailed, providing students an in-depth understanding of the risks associated with underage alcohol use. The same cannot be said for drug education. We must shift from the ineffective “Just Say No” policies of yesterday, and embrace the student-oriented policies of tomorrow.
  • Empowering the voices of students: As a freshman board member, I commit myself to meeting with students on a regular basis throughout my term, both inside our schools and outside. As a former student leader with innovative ideas, I often felt unheard by administration and faculty, let alone the Board of Education. It took years of networking and trust-building to get in the room with our district’s elected officials. This must be changed. As elected officials, it is our duty to reach out to our constituents and hear their concerns, ideas, and insight. I plan to hold monthly town halls with students, parents, and faculty leaders. After all, there is no better way to engage our student body than hearing directly from them.

In addressing disengaged high school students, my goal is to create a supportive, inclusive, and flexible educational system that meets the individual needs of every student, helping them re-engage and find success in their academic journey.

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

Transgender students are an integral part of our student body, and we must do all that we can to protect, support, and uplift our trans community. During my time as a student, our district introduced gender neutral bathrooms, a gender-inclusive initiative extremely well-received by the student body. These types of changes are steps in the right direction, but we must do more to create a truly inclusive and affirming academic environment for our trans students. In terms of curriculum, I strongly believe that our health education needs more nuanced instruction regarding gender identity and expression. Likewise, our English and History curricula must do more to highlight the work, struggles, and successes of trans people across the world.

Moreover, I believe that the voices and experiences of transgender students and their families should be actively considered when reviewing and updating these policies. Whether this is increasing investment in gender-affirming products or changing curricula, we should directly engage with our trans community to push forward the most effective policies. Inclusivity and equity should be at the core of our educational approach, and we must do all that we can to ensure that all students thrive and feel respected within our schools.


THREE-YEAR TERM

Pamela Lilleston

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the school board ( about 3 or 4 sentences max please)

As the Director of the Office of Applied Research and Evaluation and Scientific Advisor at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, I support evidence-based policy and decision making through research focused on the safety, health and wellbeing of New Jersey residents. Working in this environment, I’ve not only honed my skills in communication, problem solving, and relationship building but also have come to understand the impact that policy and budget decisions have on the daily lives of children and families. I bring these skills and perspective to my role as a current Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education member.  

Additionally, as a parent of a first and third grader in Hopewell public schools, I hold a first-hand, deep appreciation for the dedicated teachers and staff in our School District and am personally invested in the continued success of Hopewell’s schools. 

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running?

The pandemic has brought new challenges to our students and schools in learning loss, student mental health, and staff burnout. As a current board member, I have partnered with our School District to address these issues – but the work is not done. These are complex challenges that we need to meet with courage, collaboration, evidence-based decision making and experienced leadership. I believe my background as a social scientist, leader in the public sector, and current board member position me well to tackle these challenges in collaboration with my fellow board members, our school leadership and the Hopewell community. 

3 Are you running as part of a slate?

No, I am not. 

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?

Unfortunately, the shortage of school bus drivers is a problem that is impacting not just Hopewell but our entire state and country. Our District has collected wage data from other school districts and has offered competitive compensation to our bus drivers. Beyond that, my experience as a Director has taught me that employees want jobs where they feel valued, appreciated, and enjoy coming to work. Maintaining a climate where students and school staff treat each other and our drivers with kindness, respect and gratitude is crucial to ensuring retention. 

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall? 

School board members represent the voice of the community. This includes not just students and their parents but also residents who are less directly connected to our schools. Considering all voices is a crucial part of the job, including when it comes to budgeting. It’s also clear that supporting children is one of the best short and long-term investments we can make as a community. Research shows that when children are engaged in school, they experience better mental health outcomes, are less likely to abuse substances, and are less likely to engage in problematic behaviors. They also earn higher incomes as adults, experience better health and are more engaged citizens. I rate myself as a 7.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

I am proud of the ongoing work in this District to create a community where everyone is treated with equality, dignity and respect. We’ve instituted restorative justice practices to build com­mu­ni­ty and learning while respond­ing to con­flict and harm, we’ve conducted implicit bias trainings with staff, established Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committees with parents, students and staff and worked to recruit a more diverse faculty workforce. But, there’s more work to be done. As a Board Member, I do and would continue to review our District’s disciplinary and academic achievement data by race and ethnicity to understand where we are making progress and where change is needed; understand best practices in the field as research develops on how to address racial disparities in school; and explore and implement policy solutions with our community, staff and students.

7 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?

As a parent of a third and first grader in Hopewell public schools, the issue of school safety is close to my heart. I support research-informed strategies that foster safer schools without creating undue emotional distress for students. These include creating a positive and trusting school environment, ensuring we have effective crisis intervention and mental health support services in place, and implementing security measures like door locks and single access points. I do not support arming teachers. The decision to hire armed School Resource Officers is one that I think needs to be made in conversation with the community and our local law enforcement. 

8 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?

While standardized testing is one way to measure student achievement, I do not think that any one test in isolation can provide a comprehensive picture of a student’s success in school. Grades, academic and service awards, active involvement in student organizations, and academic mentoring of other students are all metrics that should be considered when defining and assessing student achievement. 

9 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?

Before the pandemic, research made clear that students who engage in social-emotional learning hold more positive attitudes towards school and achieve better academic outcomes. We are now facing a national youth mental health crisis unlike any we have seen before; these skills are more important than ever. To be successful learners, students need to know how to effectively manage emotions, build positive relationships and access help when needed. And, parents are partners in this. Over the past year, the District has implemented “Coffee and Chat” sessions with the Superintendent about sensitive topics as well as live and recorded webinars. As a School Board, we have and will continue to explore how to make these opportunities for learning and conversation more accessible to all parents – especially those with young children or alternative work schedules. 

10 How would you, as a school board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole?

Across the US, youth are experiencing higher rates of anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide and schools are at the front lines of this crisis. As a current School Board member, I participate in the Social and Emotional Learning subcommittee where I help to ensure that the policies and budget are in place to provide students with the mental health supports they need to be successful learners in Hopewell schools. I also do and would continue to partner with our school’s administrative staff to determine whether these services are impacting youth engagement in school and identify opportunities to continue integration of evidence-based best practices. 

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

  1. One thing that makes Hopewell special is our community’s focus on kindness, respect and inclusivity. I am familiar with our District’s policies on transgender students and think they support our commitment to providing a safe and supportive learning environment for all of our students.

Aileen Matticoli

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the school board ( about 3 or 4 sentences max please) 

I have been a resident of Hopewell for over two decades, and throughout that time I have been actively engaged in our community and schools. Having held leadership positions in and serving on various community committees, I have experience working with people from different backgrounds for a common goal, actively listening and considering all viewpoints, and making thoughtful, informed decisions. Most importantly, as a parent of three children enrolled in the district, I have a personal perspective on the challenges our children face, and I know the impact our policies have on their educational experiences.  

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running? 

I want to serve on the HVRSD Board of Education because I believe we need to improve student performance, foster transparency in decision-making, promote a culture that values all families, and maintain a responsible budget. Since the pandemic, we have regrettably seen a decline in standardized test scores and student mental health. This spring, when the board unanimously voted to approve the budget, which included pausing the elementary STEM program, many parents were caught off-guard by the perceived lack of transparency in their decision-making process. The district has committed to DEI initiatives, and we must make sure all members of our community feel respected and valued.  As a tax-payer, I am also concerned with the impact population growth from new housing developments and rising operating costs will have on our school budget.

3 Are you running as part of a slate? 

While I am not running as part of a slate, I do support John Slotman as a candidate.

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?  

The lack of school bus drivers can be addressed by offering a competitive wage, health benefits, and paying for CDL training and licensing for full-time drivers. We could also consider employing drivers part-time, where they commit to only morning or afternoon shifts for more flexibility.  Another option may be to encourage semi-retired individuals or those looking for post-retirement work opportunities to become bus drivers.

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall? 

We need to strike a balance between addressing the essential needs and wants of our district while also following the budget constraints set in place. Our district prides itself on its strong academic programming, small class sizes, and wide array of extracurricular programs. However, we must also remain accountable to our taxpayers, many of whom do not have children enrolled in our district. My philosophy would fall in the middle at a 5 where we continue to offer enriching opportunities for our students, but we make necessary adjustments to prevent excessive tax increases.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

Our district has an equity goal plan of action in place which includes cultural competence training for administrators and staff to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies and practices. At the July BOE meeting, Dr. Treece stated that students with IEPs, boys, and those receiving reduced/free meals are disproportionately represented in our discipline stream, and that it is not necessarily correlated to any specific ethnic group. If elected, I will work to create an inclusive environment for all students, regardless of background or circumstance.

7 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?

Student safety is a top priority, and it is important for us to have plans in place to secure our campuses. Our current system, which requires individuals to be buzzed in, strikes a good balance. Results from our most recent school climate survey show that parents, teachers, and students all express a strong sense of safety in our schools. At this time, I do not believe there is a strong case for arming staff members.

8 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 serves as a valuable tool for tracking trends and identifying gaps in our curriculum, however it is not the only way, nor the best way, to measure student achievement. A more holistic approach considers student grades, unique talents and accomplishments, and community involvement through work or volunteer experiences. We currently have three pathways students can follow to meet their high school graduation requirements, including a portfolio option independent of standardized test scores.

9 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?

Social-emotional wellness, mindfulness, and suicide prevention are important topics that we should include in our instruction. From my experience as a parent, the schools do communicate about these programs, as with “Character Strong.”  However, parents should be provided access to detailed lesson plans and materials to ensure that our children receive consistent guidance and support both in the classroom and at home.

10 How would you, as a school board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole?

Parents, teachers, and counselors need to work together to identify disengaged students and ensure that they receive the necessary support. Our high school offers access to a substance abuse counselor and mental health services for students facing challenges. Additionally, we should explore alternative learning environments for students who may not thrive in traditional classroom settings, such as vocational programs, online courses, or project-based learning opportunities.

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

I have reviewed the current HVRSD policies on transgender students, and they are aligned with the state guidelines. In my opinion, school policies that allow children and staff the discretion to withhold sensitive information from parents may not be the best approach. When parents are well-informed, they can ensure their child’s emotional and educational needs are being met.


JOHN SLOTMAN

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the school board (about 3 or 4 sentences max please)

A: Thank you to Mercer Me for your continued work in bringing independent journalism to the Hopewell Valley area and for the opportunity to introduce myself to Hopewell Township voters.

Our family moved to Hopewell Township a decade ago to be closer to family and, of course, because of the school district’s sparkling reputation. We are a family of four with two children: one Hopewell Elementary and one Timberlane Middle School student. My relevant experience to the Hopewell Valley Board of Education is as an active community member, a skilled and willing communicator, and – most importantly – as a parent of current HVRSD students.

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running?

A: Service. Our community is built on this important concept, and I can think of no better way to support the Hopewell Valley than as a member of the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. I have served the community in a variety of ways, including with the PTO and on a field or court as a youth baseball, basketball, and soccer coach. Serving as a member of our Board of Education is a natural extension of my work in the community. I believe I can offer new ideas and fresh perspectives to this Board of Education, help improve Board communication and transparency, and ensure the Board understands the school issues most important to members of our community.

3 Are you running as part of a slate?

A: While not part of a slate, I do believe our Board of Education is in need of a change in support of additional transparency and community involvement. Aileen Matticoli is also on this year’s ballot and would make an excellent member of the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education.

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?

A: Safe bus transportation – for both students and drivers – is a critical service HVRSD provides for the many children who rely on buses for their daily transportation to school. The Board of Education’s role is to provide the school district with the necessary resources to safely transport these children to and from their educational destinations. The Board of Education should explore budgetary options to ensure sufficient bus transportation for those who need it as well as consider the budget necessary to return bus service for middle and high school students who participate in after school activities. The Board should also seek out best practices and guidance from other districts that have successfully addressed bus driver shortages.

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall?

We must ensure that our school budget is both fiscally sound and responsive to the needs of the community.

For instance, many elementary families were blindsided by the recent Board decision to eliminate the full-time STEM positions. This decision sent a message to the community that STEM education was not a HVRSD priority. While the Board of Education should be diligent in ensuring our limited taxpayer dollars are spent as wisely as possible, the Board should also be responsive to the needs of the community. The decision to deprioritize STEM education was an example of spending as much as legally possible while simultaneously somehow reducing key district services. We can and should do better with our budget process.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

A: The Board of Education can and should support the district’s efforts to create the conditions necessary where both kids and teachers feel safe in their learning environment. We should continue to support community conversations on bias and discrimination and engage those with expertise in these topics to help guide these conversations. The primary role of the school district is to provide a safe environment where all students can focus on the central tenet of the HVRSD

experience: learning. The Board of Education should support the conditions necessary for all students to learn in a safe environment.

7 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?

A: We as a society have far too often been reactive in addressing mental health supports and services for those who need them. Our school district should be proactively addressing the social, emotional, and wellness needs of students and educators. Removing stigma and offering services and supports are critical to creating a safe environment for all students to learn. Bringing firearms into the equation will not have a positive impact on the educationalexperience. As a member of the Board of Education, I will strive to have conversations with community members to better understand and address the complex issues facing our school district.

8 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?

A: Numerous state and federal statutes mandate standardized testing. Local school boards have very little jurisdiction on standardized testing in the State of New Jersey. I trust our HVRSD experts to appropriately administer our testing program in a fashion that makes the most sense for both student and teacher alike.

9 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?

HVRSD’s primary remit is to provide a safe environment for all children to learn. Physical and mental wellness are paramount to achieving this important goal. We should provide students with the tools necessary to meet the daily stresses of school, homework, and other activities. Wellness is critical to providing a safe learning environment for all HVRSD students. In fact, sound student social and emotional wellbeing will help show that we are utilizing our fiscal resources soundly so students can effectively learn.

HVRSD, in general, should improve its parent and community communications on all levels. More frequent and engaging communication can help HVRSD families better understand how decisions are made and/or how changing policies will impact children’s learning. If elected, I would seek out and participate in additional community events to better engage the HVRSD community. This will help facilitate more regular communication as appropriate between the school board and the students, families, and educators HVRSD serves.

10 How would you, as a school board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole?

A: As we can all remember from our teenage years, being a teenager is hard. And for a variety of reasons, today’s teenager is facing a more complex world than we did as middle and high school students. Teenagers are in a stage of constant development of learning and evolution. One way the Board of Education can support teenagers is to model our own ability to learn and evolve as well. These problems are not static, and the Board must be responsive and adaptable to these challenges and all others that recognize their constant changes.

Further, HVRSD is fortunate to have numerous in-house experts and community partnerships to support teenagers and their families as they navigate these life challenges. Therefore, as a board member, I would look to support the experts within the district who engage in this work. Finally, I would look to our Hopewell Valley community along with experts in the area for feedback and guidance to provide continued insight on these issues. Humans are constantly learning and evolving. And our Board of Education should be doing the same on this – and every – issue. The Board should engage experts to provide continuous education on this and all issues facing our school district.

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

A: I am aware of existing HVRSD policies and support them. HVRSD should endeavor to make these policies more readily accessible whether in our schools or on the HVRSD website. The purpose of these policies is to ensure students feel safe to learn at school. We should celebrate and respect the individuality of every HVRSD student.


Anita Williams-Galiano

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the School Board (about 3 or 4 sentences max please)

I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) School Board for the past three years and was honored to be elected as President in 2023. With over two decades in the corporate world, combined with more than ten years of business operations consulting and community engagement, I am deeply committed to my role on the board. My expertise in communication, active listening, policy drafting, team building, and budget management are assets I’m proud to bring to the table.

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running?

As a School Board incumbent with graduates from HVRSD, I am deeply committed to upholding a community that prioritizes educational excellence. Coming from a lineage of four generations of educators, I inherently recognize the profound significance and influence of education. While public education is a mandate, we cannot leave excellence to mere chance. To ensure HVRSD’s unwavering dedication to educational excellence, it’s essential that our School Board and the administration it appoints consistently strive to enhance our district’s capability to serve all students, regardless of their social, cultural, or neurological backgrounds.

3 Are you running as part of a slate?

Yes, I am on a slate with Andrea Driver, the current Vice President of the School Board. We also pleased to support both Dhruv Kapadia and Pamela Lilleston as School Board a new candidate and incumbent respectively.

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?

HVRSD, like many districts nationwide, faces a shortage of school bus drivers. To address this challenge, HVRSD has increased pay, supported candidates in obtaining their CDL, and advocated for state and federal relaxations on bus driver requirements. I’m proud to say, though our contracted service providers are significantly more challenged in this area, the actions taken by our district has allowed us to achieve a fully staffed district fleet. I will continue to support for the district advocacy efforts with the state and federal requirements.

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall? 

The School Board’s fiduciary duty to the community is a solemn commitment. I consider myself balanced in this role, having raised children within the School District and understanding the challenges in retaining our families and seniors. When discussing budgets, I consider not only the community’s high educational expectations but also the realities of the district’s aging facilities, infrastructure, and a growing student enrollment. I advocate for a budgeting approach that questions traditional spending, prioritizes effectively, and upholds the value our School District brings to both students and the broader community.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

As a woman of color with a diverse background, I recognize that well-intended policies can sometimes lead to unintended consequences. My corporate experience in operations and procedure writing equips me to foresee potential challenges for students. Whether it’s policy, budget, or curriculum, I apply a critical perspective, complemented by both community and administrative feedback to the board.

7 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?

Student safety and creating a welcoming environment are two distinct priorities for me. As a School District and Board, we excel in both areas. Our Administration remains committed to safeguarding our students and facilities, while continuously exploring the latest safety standards and approaches.

8 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?

While standardized tests offer useful data for broad comparisons, supporting comparative-studies across state, national and post-secondary education programs within our district, we should aim for holistic assessment methods to ensure our students are well-rounded and academically prepared.

9 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?

Proper social-emotional wellness in children fosters cognitive growth, reduces stress and anxiety, and boosts self-perception. By nurturing this well-being, children are empowered to fully engage in and benefit from the learning process. The Hopewell Valley Regional School District’s mission champions these values, emphasizing the importance of fostering individual talents and resilience. Beyond just countering severe outcomes like suicide, it’s about nurturing every student’s potential, instilling confidence, and preparing them to thrive in our ever-evolving world. Communication to parents is critical and the School District does better than average on this front. Efforts to add the Supernatant’s Coffee and Chats last year were sensitive topics like drug use, suicide prevention are an example of the district’s commitment.

10 How would you, as a School Board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole?

Addressing the multifaceted issue of students’ disengagement requires a comprehensive and nuanced approach. As a School Board member accountable for recommendations, mandates, and policy, my approach along with the rest of the board is to review feedback and data that brought the issues to light. It’s imperative to create policies that not only address the symptoms but also the root causes of student disengagement, ensuring every student has the opportunity to thrive.

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

I recognize the policies and efforts our school has established to create an inclusive environment for transgender and non-binary students within HVRSD. Our district has taken significant strides in this direction, but we understand the journey towards inclusivity is ongoing. We genuinely value diverse perspectives and invite feedback and suggestions from all stakeholders. Our primary goal is to ensure every student, regardless of their identity, feels safe and supported in their learning environment.  


ANDREA DRIVER

1 Please briefly discuss your background and relevant experience to be on the school board ( about 3 or 4 sentences max please)

I have been serving on the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) School Board since 2021, and I was elected to serve as Vice President in 2023.  I was born and raised in Hopewell Valley, am a graduate of HVRSD, and I also chose to raise my children here. I am a 27+ year educator and understand the delicate balance between providing an excellent education to our students, and being fiscally responsible to our community.

2 If you are an incumbent, what brings you back to the School Board? If you are new, why are you running?

What brings me back to the School Board is the privilege to be part of the great work HVRSD is engaged in.  I view it as a tremendous privilege to be able to talk with other community members and hear what their desires are for our students, and then be able to help put those desires into action through my Board service. Our experiences with HVRSD were very instrumental on my and my daughters’ journeys, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be of service to the community in this way.

3 Are you running as part of a slate?

Yes.  I am part of a slate with  Anita Williams Galiano,  the current President of the School Board.  We also enthusiastically support the candidacy of both Dhruv Kapadia and Pamela Lilleston.

4 In what way can the lack of school bus drivers be addressed?

The lack of school bus drivers is a national issue and HVRSD is not exempt.  This makes it a much more difficult problem to solve.  We are constantly revisiting conversations to solve the bus driver shortage in creative ways. HVRSD has done a good job addressing it, by raising the pay, offering support for candidates seeking their CDL, and appealing to the state and federal government to relax some of the requirements to becoming a school bus driver.  

5 If there were a range in budget philosophy where spending as much as is legally allowable on students is a 10 and keeping taxes to a minimum with a lean budget is a 1, where do you fall? 

I fall somewhere in the middle. There is a delicate balance that must happen between spending and educating.  I don’t ever go into a budget planning session thinking how we can raise taxes.  We don’t want to spend frivolously, but we do want to do what’s best for our students, and money must be spent to make that happen. I have retired parents, aunts, uncles, and a grandmother that still reside in this community and I am sensitive to the fact that our seniors may be living on a fixed income. They have contributed vastly to this community. I value those contributions and don’t want to price them out of the lives they’ve built here.

6 How would or do you work to eliminate bias and discrimination in school policies, practices, and disciplinary actions that disproportionately affect students of color?

As a BIPOC woman, I am acutely aware of the ways in which even the most well meaning policies can advance harm for subsets of our student population, that inherent understanding, coupled with my experience as an educator in both a district that is very much like ours, and one that is vastly different, offer a wealth of insight as we enter into these conversations as a board. I will continue to champion open dialogue with the community. We achieve this through committees we’ve created that include our district parents, community conversations that include all our community stakeholders, and the feedback through district surveys and workshops.

7 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?

We can have both a welcoming school climate and maintain the safety of our students and staff. The Board and district administration work tirelessly to achieve just that.  

8 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?

As an educator, I understand the theory behind standardized testing.  I also understand the overwhelming need for districts and parents to have evidence that our district is successful in educating students and how we compare to other districts.  One problem with standardized testing is that it doesn’t take into consideration all of the variables that are present in educating students. 

9 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?

There is a mountain of evidence that suggests that a holistic approach to educating children produces students that are empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and ultimately better equipped to move through life’s challenges. Factoring our students’ emotional well-being into the equation of educating young people builds confidence and removes barriers to learning.  We have access to data that indicates that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young people. Not educating around that or engaging in processes centered around prevention would be a disservice to our student population. The District’s aim has always been to engage in meaningful dialogue around issues like these with not only our students, but the parents/guardians and the broader community. We would be hard pressed to find someone in our community that was not in community with someone suffering with mental health issues, or know someone who lost a loved one to sucide, or perhaps lost someone to suicide themselves. So we will continue to do so in ways that are meaningful and thoughtful.

10 How would you, as a school board member, address the problem of high school students who are disengaged, whether due to drugs, or adhd/anxiety, or COVID, or just being a teenaged square peg in a round hole? 

We have been addressing some of these issues since long before I served on the Board, and our District Staff, and Administrators, with the support of the Board, are constantly imagining new ways to engage students who are struggling to dig in. We are intentional about hiring teachers that are committed to sparking interest in our young people. We are committed to providing the resources that will allow them to broaden the wealth of tools at their disposal. We are committed to being in sync with our ever changing world that allows for a multitude of paths for students. thi the multifaceted issue of students’ disengagement requires a comprehensive and nuanced approach. As a school board member accountable for recommendations, mandates, and policy, my approach along with the rest of the board is to review feedback and data that brought the issues to light. It’s imperative to create policies that not only address the symptoms but also the root causes of student disengagement, ensuring every student has the opportunity to thrive.

11 Are you aware of the current HVRSD policies on transgender students and do you have any opinions about them?

I am aware of the policies and processes built into our school culture to ensure that HVRSD is a safe and welcoming space for transgender and non-binary students. As a district, we have consistently been trailblazers in this regard. However, there’s always room to grow, and more that can be done.  The district administration and Board of Education is open to feedback and suggestions  to be better.  It is our job to provide a safe environment for all our students, as they all are entitled to a safe space to learn.

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