The Hopewell Valley League of Women Voters held a forum, last week at the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Administration Building, with three School Board candidates from Hopewell Township, grilling them on student wellness, the power and role of the Board, and school safety.
The first candidate, Debra O’Reily, a special education teacher in Montgomery Township, emphasized on her experience as a teacher and as an active participant in the school.
“I have been very active in several leadership positions in the district that I teach,” O’Reily said. “Anyone who knows me knows that whatever I take on, I give 110 percent.”
he second candidate, Deborah Linthorst, has volunteered in the District for 12 years and is an active member of four different Hopewell Valley school communities.
“I aim to do my part to make sure they and all the district’s children are adequately supported,” Linthorst said.
The final candidate, Arleen Curran, a self-described “newbie” to government, said she offers a “fresh perspective” as a single mother, social media manager, and owner of a health and wellness consulting business.
“On a personal level, I’m a passionate person about the health and wellness of our children,” Curran said. “Now is the time for me to branch out and make a greater difference in our community.”
Candidates were asked about what they felt was the most important part of the School Board’s goals, between social emotional learning, content mastery, District safety, sustainability and green efforts, and facilities.
Linthorst focused on social-emotional learning, emphasizing its importance in all other goals set forth.
“It goes across so many of the topics I’d like to discuss,” Linthorst said. “When we talk about every other goal for the District this year, that social-emotional learning comes into play.”
Linthorst suggested that language arts and social studies programs should implement more social-emotional learning, stating that children often express their wellbeing in their writing.
Curran agreed with Linthorst’s remarks, noting the high stress students face in personal life and in a competitive district.
“We do put a lot of pressure on our children to perform on an academic level,” Curran said. “I feel we really miss the boat on helping them move through relationships and de-stress.”
Curran even suggested that social-emotional learning could be its own “small program,” rather than adding it to other curriculum.
“It’s imperative that we focus on our children’s social and emotional learning,” Curran said. “It needs to be more than just a little blurb of education.”
While O’Reily agreed on the importance of social-emotional learning, she felt, as an educator, that grading and content mastery should not be overlooked.
“I see the different things that we are implementing so that social-emotional needs are being met,” O’Reily said, referencing her experience in her district. “As an educator, I would want to focus on the grading and content mastery.”
The candidates were asked various questions about the Board’s role and what their future as a Board member may be.
Curran described the Board’s role as “dual,” representing the concerns of citizens and students while also relaying the decisions of the Board to the public. She also said that she believed that she would work well in any role suited for communication, referencing her social media management background.
“I see us as a check and balance to the Superintendent,” Curran said. “We would hold him responsible to implement policies and any goals that we set forth.”
O’Reily’s view of the Board is that of a “policy-making body,” helping implement the goals of District., She also shared her professional experience in participating in Montgomery’s finance and facilities meetings that she said would make her well-suited for a similar role on the Hopewell Valley Board.
“They’re there to support the administrators and educators in the District,” O’Reily said. “The Board needs to be transparent.”
Linthorst agreed that the Board needs transparency and communication, facilitating the schools without being overbearing. She sees herself as suited for a role in communication, and is a “consensus builder.”
“The role of the Board is to make sure the schools are well run but not to run the schools,” Linthorst said.
Finally, the candidates were asked a series of questions regarding improving the schools, with school safety among the topics.
O’Reily, for school safety, recommended relying on suggestions of a security audit, much like the one she witnessed in Montgomery, while being “unsure” about the idea of armed guards.
Linthorst echoed similar ideas, emphasizing preparation and to follow the suggestions of the state security audit, and while recommending more involvement from parents.
Curran felt that expanding social-emotional programs may help cultivate a safer environment, including possible training for staff and students if it’s within the budget.
The three candidates will be vying for two seats on Election Day, November 6th.