Editor’s Note

It’s that time of year, you start seeing lawn signs pop-up all-over town, highlighting a candidate for office. As you drive by, you wonder who that person is, or what that role even does. Then you think, when do I vote and how will I decide who to vote for?

It’s important to understand the nuances of the 2021 voting procedures, as there are some differences this year in New Jersey. And it’s equally important to know your options for each elected position. So, this month, Princeton Perspectives has put together everything you need to know to vote informed with our issue Voting 2021 – A Comprehensive Local Guide.

What do people around town think about the upcoming elections? We once again bring you the Pulse of Princeton, a compilation of video comments from locals. We asked them what campaign issue is most important as we head into this year’s general election.

Last year, the November election took place primarily via mail-in ballots. This year, that is not the case. Most voters will go to the polls, but where and when should you vote? Mercer County Voting Details 2021: What You Need to Know shares all of the latest voting rules and details this year’s ballot questions, so you are well prepared.

So, you show up to the polls on the right day and time, but have you decided who to vote for? Who’s Running? Get to Know Your General Election Candidates explains what official positions will be on this year’s ballot and shares information from each candidate to help you better understand who they are and why they are running. This should help inform your vote.

Though there are increasingly more parties entering into major office races, such as the Libertarian, Socialist Workers and Green parties, the Democrats and Republicans historically are the largest vote-getters. What are the biggest differences between those major party candidates running for governor and legislature? It depends who you ask. In It’s Time for Practical Leadership in the Statehouse – a Local Republican’s Perspective and What’s at Stake in the Statehouse – a Local Democrat’s Perspective we bring to you two contrasting views. Read them both and see where you align.

There are many matters that hang in the balance, depending on who is voted into office. And those are important to you. So, where is Princeton at…on COVID, inclusivity, politics and more. We’ll get into those details in our November issue.

We hope Voting 2021 – A Comprehensive Local Guide explains everything you need to know, and you are able to make a confident decision at the polls.

Pulse of Princeton: What campaign issue is most important to you as we head into this year’s general election?

Mercer County Voting Details 2021: What You Need to Know

If you thought that voting in the 2021 elections would be just like it had been in the years before COVID, think again. There are some major differences that you need to be aware of as you plan to vote in this year’s general election.


The biggest change for the 2021 General Election is that all New Jersey voters will have the option to vote early. For nine days at the end of October, you can vote your local ballot at any of eight county voting locations.

“Both the Governor and Legislature felt the implementation of early voting in New Jersey needed to begin because of the convenience factor it presents our voters with, coupled with the fact that it will allow all of the eligible voters in Mercer County to plan ahead and choose an option that is easiest and most convenient,” explains Paula Sollami Covello, Mercer County Clerk.

Early voting will be held Saturday, October 23 – Saturday, October 30th between 10am-8pm and Sunday, October 31st, between 10a-6pm. It does not matter where in the county you are registered, you can show up at any of the sites during the open voting times and cast your official vote.

The early polling locations are:
PRINCETON: Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N. Harrison Street
TRENTON: Cure Arena – Gate C, 81 Hamilton Avenue
HAMILTON: Courtyard Marriott, 530 Route 130
EAST WINDSOR: Mercer County Library, 138 Hickory Corner Road
EWING: Element Hotel, 1000 Sam Weinroth Road East
LAWRENCE: Mercer County Library, 2751 Brunswick Pike @ Darrah Lane
WEST WINDSOR: Mercer County Community College – Conference Center, 1200 Old Trenton Road
PENNINGTON: Pennington Fire Department, 120 Broemel Place

When you enter a polling location for early voting, you’ll find new electronic polling books to keep track of voters. They hope to help eliminate fraud by confirming whether you have already received a mail-in ballot or have tried to vote at another location. As you head towards the booths, you’ll notice something else new – the voting machines. To ensure a verifiable paper trail, Mercer County has purchased new machines that have optical scanning. To record your vote, you will first cast it on a paper ballot then have it scanned it into the tabulator. There will then be both a computer and paper record, so your vote is backed up.

“The paper will then be dropped into a bin which can be accessed if there is a question about the outcome of the election,” details Sollami Covello. “You will not walk away with a paper receipt, but you can rest assured there is a back-up for your vote.”

If you prefer traditional voting, at the polls on election day, that is still an option. November 2nd will remain voting day and you can cast your vote from 6am until 8pm at your regular polling site on that day. You’ll find that location on the sample ballot you receive in the mail or by using the polling place search tool here.

Unlike last year, mail-in ballots are not automatically being sent to your home. You will only receive one if you are on the state’s permanent vote-by-mail list or have requested one by returning the application you received from the county or downloading one online here. This must be done by October 26th. You can also apply in person for a vote-by-mail ballot as late as 3pm on November 1st. You can deliver it to the Board of Elections office, mail your ballot back (postmarked by 8pm on Nov. 2nd) or utilize one of 20 dropboxes around the county to securely place it, including two in Princeton at the Municipal Building and by the Dinky Station/Wawa at Princeton University. You cannot bring your mail-in ballot to a polling location. Once it leaves your hands, you can track that it was received using this link. It is important to note, if you are on the permanent vote-by-mail list, you are ineligible to vote on a machine at a voting location. If you missed the deadline to opt-out and want to vote in person, your only option will be to fill out a provisional ballot at a polling site.


On your ballot, in addition to voting for elected officials, you will find two public questions this year.

Are you a fan of sports betting? Would you like to expand what college sports you can bet on? Right now in New Jersey you are not allowed to place a bet on a college athletic event taking place in the state or on an event that a New Jersey college team is participating in. Ballot Question #1 will ask voters if you want to create a constitutional amendment permitting the state legislature to pass laws that will allow wagering on all college sports and athletic events, even if they take place in NJ or a NJ team is taking part. The wagering will only be allowed at a casino or horse racetrack.

If you vote yes, you support laws to allow wagering on all college sport or athletic events.

If you vote no, you want to continue to prohibit sports betting on college competitions held in NJ or competitions that involve a NJ-based college team.

Currently, only 17 states allow betting on in-state college sports.

Ballot question #2 also relates to gambling, but this one refers to bingo and raffle proceeds. As it currently stands, there are many groups in New Jersey that are allowed to conduct games like bingo and raffles, but the proceeds are only allowed to go towards specific uses such as those that are educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited. Today, only veterans and senior citizen groups can put the proceeds of those games back into supporting their group. The ballot question will create a constitutional amendment allowing approved organizations including veterans, charitable, educational, religious, fraternal, civic and senior citizen groups, volunteer fire companies and first-aid or rescue squads to also use the proceeds from games like bingo or raffles to support their groups.

If you vote yes, you will allow the organizations permitted to hold raffles and bingo games to keep and use their net proceeds.

If you vote no, you will continue to prohibit all groups, except senior citizen and veterans’ groups, from using the bingo and raffle net proceeds for themselves.

In Mercer County, there is an additional voter referendum on the ballot to determine how funds raised for the County Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Trust Fund should be allocated. Of the monies raised by the existing levy, the question suggests at least 50% should go towards preservation of parks, farmland and other open space, up to 30% towards recreational development and/or historic preservation and up to 20% for stewardship of the land. Currently, up to 20% of the funds are allocated towards recreational development and/or historic and only up to 10% can go towards stewardship of the land. There is no tax increase being proposed, merely a reallocation of the funds.

If you vote yes, you approve increasing the allocations for recreational development and/or historic and stewardship of the land.

If you vote no, you vote to keep the allocations as they are.

The Mercer County Planning Department and Park Commission requested the allocation increases, and the Board of Commissioners approved the ballot referendum to expand recreational offerings and allow for more acquisition, stewardship and preservation.


Though you can vote early, you can’t vote late. All votes must be cast by the official voting deadline of November 2nd, and most often, unofficial results are provided that night. But mail-in ballots have until November 8th to be received and the County Clerk actually has until November 15th to provide official election results to the Secretary of State. The Board of State Canvassers will then certify the general election results by December 2nd.

To ensure that you vote informed, make sure you also check out Who’s Running? Get to Know Your General Election Candidates which provides you with insight into each elected role on this year’s ballot and the major party candidates that are running. It may not be a year for national offices, but many important seats in state and local government are up for grabs. Those officials often make decisions that have the most impact on your day-to-day lives.

Who’s Running? Get to Know Your General Election Candidates

We’ve all seen the COVID pandemic highlight how much control governors have over the state. And it’s essential to understand that a lot of the changes made at the state level are pushed through by the legislature, the State Senators and Assembly people. Though New Jersey will not be voting on any national offices this November, knowing the importance and power of the state’s top roles should be enough to get you to the polls.

Additionally, there are key roles in county government, local seats and those on Princeton’s Board of Education that are up for grabs. Each of these positions impact your taxes and play a role in many decisions that affect your day-to-day life.

Princeton Perspectives wants to help inform you by detailing what each role does. We also aim to introduce you to the major party candidates vying for each seat. To do this, we asked the candidates to share their perspectives on the office they are pursing and why they are the best candidate for the job. We hope this helps you understand your options. The candidates are listed in the order they appear on the ballot.


New Jersey is one of only six states in the country where the Governor is the only state-wide elected official. Once elected, the governor is responsible for appointing all cabinet-level positions (with Senate approval). This position has a two-term limit, so one could choose to re-elect Phil Murphy to serve his second term or to bring in Jack Ciattarelli for a first term.

New Jersey Governor Candidates: Jack Ciattarelli (R) and Phil Murphy (D)

Jack Ciattarelli, who is running with Diane Allen as Lieutenant Governor, says his parents’ work ethic and integrity is what made him who he is today. The grandson of immigrants, Ciattarelli went to college, got his masters and is a successful businessman. He previously served Princeton for eight years as Assemblyman for the 16th District then lost his bid against Kim Guadagno to be the Republican candidate for Governor against Murphy in the last gubernatorial election.

If elected, Ciattarelli hopes to lower property taxes, upgrade infrastructure, make healthcare more affordable and support law enforcement. He intends to create parent councils to work with school boards and a new cabinet-level position to help improve New Jersey’s urban areas.

Phil Murphy, who is running with Sheila Oliver as Lieutenant Governor, says his policy decisions are shaped by his upbringing, coming from a family that lived paycheck to paycheck and where he put himself through college with loans and part-time jobs. He went on to become a successful businessman and served as Ambassador to Germany under President Obama before being elected to his first term as Governor of New Jersey.

Murphy is proud to have raised the minimum wage, expanded family leave and invested in innovation during his current term. He is also confident that his commitment during the COVID pandemic to bring in PPE and testing equipment, provide relief to businesses and set up vaccination sites played a major role in keeping New Jerseyans safe.

Every four years, all 40 State Senate seats are up for election. This year, in addition to choosing a governor you will have the opportunity to vote for the one State Senator for the 16th Legislative District, of which Princeton is a part. Kip Bateman is retiring as the State Senator, leaving no incumbent in the race. The senate works alongside the General Assembly as the legislative branch of NJ government, passing bills on policy, spending and taxes.

New Jersey State Senate Candidates (District 16): Michael Pappas (R) and Andrew Zwicker (D)

Michael Pappas spent years in local government, on Franklin Township Council, as it’s Mayor and on the Somerset County Board of Freeholders before serving a term as U.S. Congressman for New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District. In the U.S. House of Representatives, he was Assistant Majority Whip and a member of the Small Business, National Security and Government Reform committees. Today, as he works as the Township Administrator for Bridgewater, NJ, he wants to represent NJ once again, this time in the State Senate.

“The people of New Jersey have been struggling for a number of years, and those struggles worsened this past year with the onslaught of the pandemic,” Pappas explains. “Seeing the untold devastation for families who have lost loved ones and individuals whose businesses have been decimated, I had to roll up my sleeves and try to help.”

Since his time in Congress, Pappas worked to help New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands as the U.S. Small Business Administration Regional Administrator, where his experience delivering financial assistance, business and minority enterprise development and management counseling taught him skills he plans to use in the Senate.

“I hope to continue the strong leadership Legislative District 16 has had in the State Senate with Senator Kip Bateman, and I will work hard to get New Jersey back on the right track,” adds Pappas.

Andrew Zwicker is a physicist and science educator, running to become State Senator after serving in the Assembly for the 16th Legislative District for the past four years.

“The chance to move to the Senate will provide me with an even greater opportunity to advocate for the people of the 16th as we come out of an unprecedented health and economic crisis and to put forth public policies that will help ensure that NJ is an even better place to work, play, and raise a family than ever before,” states Zwicker.

To continue Senator Bateman’s efforts in environmentalism, Zwicker believes his scientific background gives him a unique perspective. He also intends to continue pushing for increased voting rights, as he has since his first bill as an Assemblyman. If elected to the Senate, Zwicker also wants to continue his work supporting small businesses and the innovation economy. He feels he is the best candidate to do so.

“There are significant differences between myself and my opponent when it comes to women’s healthcare, gun violence prevention, climate change, and more,” Zwicker notes.

All 80 seats in the General Assembly of New Jersey are filled for two-year terms every two years, in odd-numbered years. Together with the Senate, they make up the legislative body of New Jersey state government. Voting as part of the 16th Legislative District, those in Princeton will choose two people to fill the two open Assembly seats.

New Jersey General Assembly Candidates (District 16): Joseph Lukac (R), Vincent Panico (R), Roy Freiman (D) and Sadaf Jaffer (D)

Joseph Lukac has been a part of the Manville, NJ community since birth. An Electrical/Instrumental Supervisor for IBEW Local #102, he served in the US Army as a Combat Engineer for over 10 years, and now serves his town as part of Manville Borough Council. In addition to being a member of several local organizations, Lukac has also served on the Manville School Board, and is currently Chairman of the Manville Republican Municipal Committee, all roles which he says have educated him on community needs and prepared him to become an Assemblyman.

“I have been a problem-solver all my life. As an elected official in Manville, I found millions of dollars in grants, eliminated $10,000,000 in debt, balanced the budget, and prioritized preserving our environment with our Sustainable Manville and Green Teams, “Lukac details. “I will bring my problem-solving skills to Trenton and deliver results for Central Jersey.”

Lukac intends to focus on improved funding for schools that he claims will soon be overcrowded due to mandated high-density housing. He also attributes the housing to some of the severe flooding that Manville and other local communities recently faced. Lukac says state legislators need to better look out for the communities they serve.

“Our middle class, small businesses, union workers, and main streets are what make New Jersey great – but Trenton has all but forgotten about us,” claims Lukac. “Instead of improving the business climate, our current Legislators have increased our borrowing and given us less and less in return – even failing to ensure our unemployment safety net works for those who need it the most.”

Vincent Panico hopes to follow in the path of Senator Kip Bateman and turn this seat Republican. An experienced businessman, Panico works in IT and is currently working towards his MBA. Prior to that, he spent his college years working at Hunterdon Central and Purnell School.

“As I worked in schools, I developed a passion for education reform and wanted to transform today’s classroom into a better environment for our students,” Panico shares.

He was first elected to the Readington Township Board of Education in 2012, after which he joined the Board at Hunterdon Central, where he believes he has been a proven advocate and demonstrated fiscal responsibility.

“My first four years on the Hunterdon Central Board were spent fighting for a better environment for our students and educators at the High School. After being a vocal advocate and helping to hire a Superintendent, I was elected to President of the Board of Education.”

Roy Freiman is running for his third term in the Assembly for the 16th Legislative District. He says his business experience at Prudential Financial, working in data analytics and strategic planning, taught him skills he utilizes to collaborate in the Assembly.

“My single greatest accomplishment since being in the Legislature has been getting my bill, the Secure Choice Savings Program Act into law,” Freiman shares. “This legislation set up a system for residents to access retirement plans being that many jobs don’t offer one. Since its enactment, this program has been able to help 1.7 million more New Jersey residents help save for retirement and their future.”

Freiman has also spent his time in the legislature fighting for women’s reproductive rights, the environment and small businesses – a top priority should he get re-elected.

“One of my main priorities will be helping our small businesses, the backbone of our economy, to not only fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic but to come back better than before,” adds Freiman. “As a legislator, I take very seriously the role of advocating for issues big and small together.”

Sadaf Jaffer just completed two terms as mayor of Montgomery Township, NJ where she became the first South Asian female mayor in New Jersey and the first female Muslim mayor in the United States. A postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, Jaffer hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the Assembly by continuing to build trust and engage communities, as she did in Montgomery.

“This approach was central to my signature initiatives including Montgomery’s crisis communications plan which I spearheaded, and which helped us maintain some of the lowest COVID-19 infection and fatality rates in the state; the workshop meetings I organized for Black community members and youth activists with our police leadership to prioritize racial justice; and the Youth Leadership Council I established to elevate the voices of young people who are energized to lead,” Jaffer shares.

She wants to prioritize equitable access to healthcare at the state level and feels her experience leading during a crisis is what this role needs.

“As a member of the Assembly, I will work with my colleagues to pursue an economic recovery that creates green jobs and protects our environment, promotes civil and human rights, and empowers an inclusive public health approach, particularly to women’s and maternal healthcare,” Jaffer adds.


In addition to the state roles, Mercer County voters are voting on two county races this November, Surrogate and County Commissioner.

County Surrogate is the elected Judge of the Surrogate Court and serves many roles over Probate Court and as Deputy Clerk of the New Jersey Superior Court Chancery Division Probate Part and Family Part. When someone passes away, the Surrogate determines the passing of assets to heirs. Surrogate roles also include being the custodian of funds awarded to minors, handling probate, reviewing and certifying adoptions and appointing guardians for persons that are incapacitated.

County Surrogate Candidates: Doug Miles (R) and Diane Gerofsky (D)

Doug Miles is running for County Surrogate in an effort to end the one-party rule of County government, which he feels is costing taxpayers.

“There are no checks and balances on uninterrupted Democrat Party power and manipulation of County expenditures or legislative and policy initiatives for more than 20 years,” Miles shares. “I am concerned that the County Surrogate office and associated Surrogate Court functions may be overstaffed and under-automated via absence of modern applied technology and use of best practices such that we are wasting taxpayer dollars by as much as 20 to 30 % of a multi-million-dollar department budget that cannot be accurately counted by any inquiring taxpayer.”

Miles feels his professional experience can help him reduce the costs of County Surrogate operations and help transform them technologically.

“I have 20 years of experience in wholesale banking and investment which support a key component of wealth creation, preservation and transfer,” explains Miles. “My years as a fintech software entrepreneur are also highly relevant to applying data science and workflow automation in judicial as well as financial operating settings.”

Diane Gerofsky has served Mercer County as the County Surrogate for 25 years and is running for her sixth term. During her tenure, Gerofsky has opened satellite offices around the county in Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hopewell, Ewing, East Windsor, Robbinsville, Hamilton and Pennington. To better explain office procedures, she has written newsletters and an FAQ booklet in addition to authoring the Surrogate Bench Book, a teaching manual for other Surrogates. Colleagues have recognized Gerofsky’s strong ethics by awarding her leadership roles in numerous professional organizations.

“Under my leadership, the Surrogate’s office has gained the distinction of being a top-notch government office serving with the compassion and efficiency that our constituents expect and receive,” Gerofsky explains.

Throughout the pandemic, while the courts and Court House remained closed, Gerofsky moved the office into her home to continue to be able to serve constituents that need to verify original Wills and death certificates. If re-elected, she has plans to continue scanning historic paper files and expanding opportunities for people to utilize the Surrogate services.

“I am looking for future expansion in a new location to further enhance the staff, allow for a search room for the public, a conference room to meet families in private and a records storage area to bring all files back from outside storage,” she shares.

The other County Role on the ballot this fall is that of County Commissioner. The county level of government is run by the Mercer County Executive, working alongside the legislative body known as the Board of County Commissioners. Made up of seven members, the part-time legislators are elected for three-year terms, and this year there are three open seats.

Board of County Commissioner Candidates: Richard Balgowan (R), Michael Chianese (R), Andrew Kotula (R), Samuel Frisby (D), Kristin McLaughlin (D) and Terrance Stokes (D)

Richard Balgowan is a civil engineer and has been a Hamilton Township resident for over 50 years. Currently President and Founder of RM Balgowan Forensic & Engineering Services, Balgowan has worked as a civil engineer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, as Hamilton’s Director of Public Works, as a bridge and highway construction manager and as a highway and municipal engineering expert. In his roles, particularly with NJDOT and Hamilton Township, he has steered many environmental practices.

“I wrote Hamilton Township’s Climate Action Plan, Green Fleet Policy and drafted a Green Building Ordinance that required commercial and municipal building construction to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards,” explains Balgowan. “I believe there is much we can do to improve our environment such as increased recycling, reduced landfilling and capturing/using methane from our landfills and wastewater treatment plants as an energy source.”

A top priority, if elected, is to better educate residents about the county recycling program so it can work more efficiently and send less to landfills. Balgowan would also like to change the Commissioners’ meeting schedule so that meetings are held throughout the county, not just in Trenton, and at a time more residents can attend. He things this will help promote transparency in county government.

“There is currently no transparency. Things that the public should be aware of are swept under the rug and kept hidden,” claims Balgowan.

Michael Chianese retired in January after 25 years in State Government. An electrical engineering by training, Chianese has held higher management positions that had him oversee computer infrastructure and manage major projects. Locally, he has handled budgets while serving on the Board of Commissioners for Mercerville Firehouse and as past GOP municipal chair of Hamilton Township.

“I managed many multi-million-dollar projects. I could give you example after example of the very big work we did. I’m an honest taxpaying person that wants to restore credibility to the county government,” shares Chianese. “I’m anxious to get in there with a fine-toothed comb and look at it to make sure they’re doing the right things.”

Chianese wants to join the Board of County Commissioners to offer better oversight because he says the current Democratic leaders have been brushing incidents, such as car issues with Brian Hughes and missing funds, under the rug.

“We all pay a lot of taxes in the county and we deserve a whole bunch better than to be lied to. And we never got to the bottom to learn what corrective actions they took,” Chianese notes. “We need a balance. We need some Republicans on there and some Democrats, that’d be a perfect formula. But it can’t be a one-party rule anymore. They can’t be trusted.”

Andrew Kotula is a lifelong New Jersey resident, who moved from East Windsor to Hamilton after seeing his taxes increase 70% over 16 years.

“With our recent move to Hamilton, four years ago, we have already experienced a property tax increase of over 25%,” shares Kotula. “When we consider that our current Governor has said publicly, ‘If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, we are probably not your state. Not my State? I have been living in this state my entire life and I found this to be troubling. We have a great state, and it should not be a state for only those that can afford to pay the fee to stay.”

Kotula says it’s the Governor’s statement that pushed him to run for County Commissioner, where he is eager to add a different perspective to the currently all-Democratic board.

“It is time to we had a Commission that fairly represents our entire county, and I would like to become a Conservative voice to our county and provide a conservative approach to the issues that affect everyone in our county.”

If elected, Kotula, who creates training schedules and sets and works within a budget as a Technical Instructor for Xerox, would like to see county government be more accessible. He suggests a 14-day notice on major budget votes and also recommends open meeting times shift to locations around the county and start an hour later to better welcome interested, constituents who work.

Samuel Frisby is currently serving as Chairman of the Mercer County Commissioners and is seeking re-election.

“My brand of leadership is thoughtful, dynamic, innovative, action oriented and done with integrity,” offers Frisby. “I have had the fortune of working as a leader in the private sector, Higher Education, Municipal Government as a Cabinet Member, and currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of the County’s oldest direct services non-profit, the Capital Area YMCA, which serves Ewing, Lawrence and Trenton.”

Frisby believes we need to continue dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, supporting residents, local governments and businesses in the recovery process. If re-elected, he also wants to continue working to improve county infrastructure.

“Our County Jail is one of the oldest in the State and sits in a community without water service. Our County Airport is inadequate for any type of practical use for the volume it produces and its high occupancy rates. We have been slowly taking care of our bridge infrastructure over the past few years, but we still have so many bridges to rebuild; including the Lincoln Avenue Bridge, which will be the most expensive bridge in our County’s history,” he adds.

Kristin McLaughlin has served as an elected member of the Hopewell Township Committee since 2016, where she served as Mayor in 2019 and 2020.

“When one is elected, one shoulders the questions, hopes, and needs of every member of a community. That is a responsibility that I do not take lightly,” explains McLaughlin. “In Hopewell Township, I have focused on finding ways to do more with less. Producing a responsible, forward thinking budget has always been a priority.”

McLaughlin wants to take her experiences building community in Hopewell and use them to build better opportunities in the county, ensuring mental health and addiction programs best serve those in need, reassessing county infrastructure and transportation needs and ensuring use of county school offerings.

“It is a win-win for the County to have an educated, innovative population which can attract existing businesses and build new ones from the ground up,” McLaughlin offers. “I would like to see us invest in new bike and walking trails which link our communities together and provide ways for people to get to work that do not rely on cars. The role of government is to build and strengthen existing assets, and to create pathways to opportunity where they are needed.”

Terrance Stokes is seeking his first term as an elected official. A Trenton Central High School and University of Pennsylvania graduate, Stokes spent years working in investment banking before returning to his high school alma matter as a history teacher, academic advisor and outreach specialist. He may be new to public office but says his experience has laid a strong groundwork for this role.

“In my current capacity, I assist students, families, and schools with finding solutions to obstacles hindering them from experiencing success academically and socially. We work together to come up with outcomes that are mutually agreed upon by all parties,” shares Stokes.

As Founder and President of the Trenton Youth Development Initiative, which aims to develop and empower young children and their families, Stokes has been a leader in his community. If elected as County Commissioner, he plans expand on those experiences in office.

“My focus would be on ensuring that resources are available for families and young people in need.  Additionally, I will focus on creating environments for sustainable economic growth and development as well as the efficient coordination of County services and resources.”


Princeton currently has two seats up for grabs on Council, each for a three-year term. Two Democrats are running unopposed, as no Republicans or other party candidates entered into the primary for either of the seats. Your vote demonstrates support, but there is no minimum vote required for them to win.

Princeton Council Candidates: Eve Neidergang (D) and Leighton Newlin (D)  

Eve Neidergang is running for her second term on Princeton Council. Living in Princeton since 1985, Neidergang has worked for ETS and held multiple volunteer roles, including PTO President at Riverside, Friends of Princeton Public Library and with the Princeton Community Democratic Organization. Today, she works as the Watershed Institute’s Volunteer Coordinator while serving Princeton on Council.

“I’m proud of what Council has accomplished during the last two plus years, especially most recently in the face of the challenges of COVID. We responded quickly and efficiently to allow our businesses to stay open, assisted residents in need, boosted the capacity of our health department and kept taxes flat in 2020,” Neidergang shares.

She hopes to continue helping with pandemic recovery and to put a focus on environmental issues such as reconceptualizing the waste stream, adopting sustainable landscaping practices, installing electric vehicle charging stations and more.

“As a progressive Democrat, I am committed to the broad values of inclusion and social justice, climate sustainability and smart growth, and providing opportunities for our businesses and for all who work in our unique and diverse community,” offers Neidergang.

Leighton Newlin is running to take over the seat being vacated by Dwaine Williamson, who is not seeking re-election. Newlin feels his professional experience coupled with his years of volunteering in the community make him the right candidate for the role.

“As a first-time council person, and longtime resident, I am able to identify the issues, however I do not have all the answers to solve Princeton’s problems,” shares Newlin. “I do however trust myself to view and examine the processes, programming, policies, and procedures; asking the right questions and looking at all situations through a wide-angle lens, with a narrow focus on diversity, inclusivity, equity, and social justice.”

Last year Newlin retired after 30 years as the Director of Special Services at a Residential Community Release Program in Newark. Prior to that he worked in retail, first opening and owning his own shops in Boston, MA and then around the country with Reebok. But it’s his work in and around the Princeton community, as chair of the Princeton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, co-chair of the Witherspoon Jackson Neighborhood Association and on the Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee that he feels have educated him about Princeton – where he notes the high cost of living needs to be addressed.

“It is important to me that Princeton remains a town where all families can establish and put down roots.  Princeton has historically been a community for all people and my platform is Smart Growth…Wise Choices because I want to make sure that Princeton remains a town where all can put down roots and call Princeton home,” Newlin states.


Ten elected candidates sit on the Princeton Board of Education, nine from Princeton and one from Cranbury. Three of those seats are opening in 2022 for a three-year term, and there are four candidates campaigning for your vote.

Princeton Board of Education Candidates: Mara Franceschi, Jeffrey Liao, Brian McDonald and Betsy Baglio

Mara Franceschi has lived in Princeton for 11 years, during which she has dedicated many years as a volunteer in the schools on the PTO Council as well as on the Johnson Park PTO, as Treasurer and then President. With an MBA from Columbia University and as a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), she has served on Princeton’s Citizens Finance Advisory Committee and as Assistant Treasurer for Friends of the Library.

“I am an extremely proud product of a public school education, both primary and secondary school and college, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” Franceschi shares. “I also have over a decade’s work experience in the financial services and asset management industries, working for firms such as GE Capital and Bank of America. I believe the combination of my extensive experience volunteering in the schools and my background in finance will benefit the Board in its decision making/planning.”

Franceschi is excited for the opportunity to work with the new superintendent, but also feels there remain challenges ahead due to the district’s aging facilities and its increasing student enrollment.

“Maintaining our facilities is both an investment in valuable hard assets and the minimum required to provide a clean and healthy learning environment for our children. Successfully balancing critical, necessary investments in our schools, while keeping tax increases to a minimum, is essential,” she offers.

Jeffrey Liao believes that the legal, fair and rational decision-making skills he has obtained as an Intellectual Property Attorney will provide a great advantage to the Board. He is relatively new to Princeton but is very open to listening to the community and student needs and feels his fresh perspective will benefit the important decisions that need to be made.

“In addition, by adding a representative to the Board who is an Asian American, I will be able to help the Board better take into account the perspectives of the substantial Asian American community in our schools and town and improve communication between the Board and the community it serves (in both directions),” Liao explains.

If elected to the Board, Liao intends to do what is necessary to keep schools open for in-person learning by minimizing the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in the schools using the latest science-based precautions.

“Only by continuing such precautions as long as is necessary can we ensure that traditional, in-person learning can continue with minimal future disruptions to our children’s educational, social, and mental health needs, as well as the childcare needs of working parents, without endangering the health of our students and district staff,” Liao adds.

Brian McDonald is running for re-election to the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education after serving his first term, where he says he has put his background in finance, facilities and planning to use as chair of the Board’s Finance Committee and co-chair of its Operations committee.

“The District has dramatically improved its financial position and is one of sixteen public school districts in New Jersey with a “Triple-A” rating,” states McDonald. “Administration and Board efforts have increased financial transparency and moved us from a budget deficit to a surplus. Significantly, we have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, and we have had declining tax increases over the past two years, with a current budget that includes a 0.56% increase in school taxes – the lowest in many years.”

As a current Board member, McDonald played a role in the hiring of new Superintendent Dr. Carol Kelley, which he says was a critical step forward for the district.

“Equity remains the Board’s top priority, as well as my own, and I will work hard to support our new Superintendent, Dr. Carol Kelley, as she seeks to build on what is great about our schools while addressing our shortcomings to ensure that every child receives an excellent education and is given the opportunity to fulfill their potential,” McDonald notes.

Betsy Baglio is running for re-election, having served as a member of the Board since 2016.

“I am running for a third term as a member of the Board of Education because I want to ensure that our students are academically, socially and emotionally supported as they return to full-day, in-person school. I also believe that the pandemic has shed light on many ways we can improve our schools, and, as an educator, I am enthusiastic about continuing to engage in the work of the Board of Education for the benefit of all students in our schools. 

Baglio says she is currently the only educator on the Board and feels her unique perspective have been a great benefit to the wide-ranging committees she’s served on including Finance, Negotiations, Policy, Student Achievement, Equity and Personnel committees. One of her major tasks was finding Princeton Public School new leaders.

“During 2020 and 2021, I led the Board of Education’s interim superintendent search, the search for a superintendent search firm, and the permanent superintendent search that culminated in February of 2021 with the unanimous hiring of Dr. Carol Kelley,” Baglio explains. “The Board of Education’s permanent superintendent search process was long and arduous on Zoom, but was also collaborative, engaging and ultimately successful because of the perspective and commitment that each Board of Education member brought to this work.”

To utilize the knowledge you now have about the candidates running for office, it’s important to know how and where to cast your ballot. Click the link to read our other article, Mercer County Voting Details 2021: What You Need to Know, to learn everything you need to know about this year’s new voting rules, ballot questions and more.

Editor’s Note

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to study a semester abroad in London, England. While there, I made it a point to travel every weekend I could to a different part of the United Kingdom or to countries around Europe, for it was relatively inexpensive and easy to do so. I found myself exposed to cultures, people and places that opened my eyes and created a spark in me. When I graduated, this experience guided my decision to move to New York City, where I could be surrounded by as much excitement as possible.

Several years later, a television news reporting opportunity brought me out to work in Trenton, NJ. My husband and I had to decide where in the area we wanted to settle, and as you can imagine, we chose Princeton. Not only did it offer us a great deal of the diversity, culture and excitement we had grown to appreciate, but once here, we found ourselves raising children alongside people from all over the world that had also decided to call Princeton home.

In this month’s issue of Princeton Perspectives we recognize how lucky we are to have so many people from so many countries bring their families, their cultures and their traditions here. In The International Culture of Princeton – Why Many Call it Home, we look at what is attracting people here and how all of these contributions help make the town what it is.

Residents are out and about these days, and eager to share with you their point of view. For this month’s Pulse of Princeton we asked them what aspect of Princeton’s international culture is most meaningful to them. As varying as the people living here, so are their answers.

How is it that Princeton, a New Jersey suburb falling halfway between New York City and Philadelphia, is home to people from so many foreign countries? In Living the American Dream Right Here in Princeton we share with you where everyone is from and offer insight into many of the reasons they are here.

One Family’s Story of Coming to Princeton, for Good takes this issue even deeper and more personal. Like many, the Tholens family came here temporarily for a job. Read on to find out about their journey and why they’ve stayed.

Princeton isn’t what it is just because people come from other countries to live here, it is also welcoming and interested in creating worldly citizens of its own. In Local Immersion Schools Offer Much More than a Bilingual Education we take a look at the dual-language programs offered around town and examine what they are teaching.

For many that come here, becoming proficient in English is an important step. How Princeton Helps Adults Learn the English Language provides insight into how adults are able to learn or enhance their knowledge of the English here.

And don’t forget our Perspectives Revisited at the bottom of the site, where we provide you updated information related to stories we’ve covered in the past.

It’s no wonder why people come from around the world to live here, when we see the beauty of the seasons start to change, as the leaves begin to fall to the ground. Our American democracy is also a big attraction, and as the November general election is approaching, it is time to make sure you know all you can to take part in the process. The upcoming election will have us voting for Governor, state Assembly and Senate seats and many other candidates. Get ready for our October issue, which will tell you everything you need to know to vote informed!

Until then, all of us at Princeton Perspectives hope that you enjoyed the summer months and are taking advantage of its final weeks.

Pulse of Princeton: What aspect of Princeton’s international culture is most meaningful to you?

Living the American Dream Right Here in Princeton

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are reminded of what it means to live in America. Nearly 30 Mercer County residents were amongst the 2,977 who perished that day as terrorists sought to challenge the freedoms of American life. While they took mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons and dear friends – they could not take away the American spirit or the desire from those abroad to live the American dream here.

In fact, in the weeks, and years since that fateful day, numerous families from war-torn countries have sought refuge in the United States, with Afghan and Iraqi refugees settling in places like Princeton, Lawrenceville, Hamilton and Montgomery. Today, 20 years after the attacks, our country is once again helping Afghan refugees. Interfaith-RISE (I-RISE), a Highland Park-based affiliate agency of USCRI (US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants) works with local assistance from the Princeton chapter of I-RISE and The Jewish Center’s Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee (TJC/IRRC) to assist and relocate families. Earlier this year I-RISE brought 47 Afghans to central New Jersey with another 125 of them making this area home after the recent US withdrawal.

“USCRI has the direct lines to the State Department and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and we provide on-the-ground support for these families when they first arrive,” explains Louise Sandberg, Coordinator of TJC/IRRC. “Our Committee has worked with families and individuals from Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Saint John, Guatemala, El Salvador, Tibet, Syria and Turkey.”

The refugees that have sought to resettle in Princeton came here because they have a friend or family that has offered support or because the committee was able to find affordable housing to assist them. Coming to the Princeton-area, they join a growing international population.

While there is no exact data available to detail how many nationalities are represented amongst the Princeton population, 2019 Census statistics indicate 28.5% of those living in Princeton, NJ are foreign-born – including 43% from Asia, 30% from Europe and 19% from Latin America. Some come here seeking refuge and assistance, and others come here to join family, follow opportunities in their profession or to advance their education.

Having internationally prestigious institutions like Princeton University (PU) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) plays a large role in attracting an international population to town.

Of the 271 visiting scholars at IAS this year, 124 of them are international and hail from 37 foreign countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Students from 58 countries (representing 13% of the incoming class) came to Princeton when PU welcomed its newly enrolled freshman 2 weeks ago. The students are citizens of countries including Albania, China, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Rwanda. At the graduate level, the 713 incoming students hail from 54 different countries. Due to COVID hampering the arrival of many international students last year, the last compiled data of the entire PU population from its 2019-2020 school year shows 2,053 international students were enrolled. A combination of undergraduate and graduate students (at a 1:2 ratio), those students vastly increase the international population of Princeton. Most of the students that came from other countries to study at PU are from China, Canada, India, United Kingdom, S. Korea, Germany, Australia, Turkey, Brazil, France, Italy, Russia, Mexico, Spain and Romania but there was also at least one student from each of 95 additional foreign countries, all represented in the map below:

In addition to the international student body and faculty the local educational institutions entice to Princeton, pharmaceutical and other high-tech businesses also attract numerous professionals to Central Jersey from around the world.

“New Jersey is our corporate home, and we are proud to have more than 13,000 world-class employees in New Jersey working across our campuses,” shares a Bristol Myers Squibb company spokesperson. “Bringing innovative medicines to patients depends on a workforce with diverse experiences, perspectives and personal backgrounds that reflect the patients and communities we serve around the world.”

Of those coming either temporarily or permanently for education or job opportunities, some come alone to this area, but many bring along their families. The Princeton Public School (PPS) system has approximately 45 languages spoken amongst its student body today. Some of the students come with proficiency in English, but many others need support to learn in our English-based schools.

At each of the four elementary schools there is a fulltime English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher assisting 20-30 students who qualify for ESL services. Princeton Middle School has a specialist that co-teaches English with one of the English teachers, as well as separate ESL classes. There was also an aide hired last year to help the Spanish-speaking ESL students who need additional support for their science, math and social studies classes. In the past five years, Princeton High School has enhanced its program to meet the needs of its many Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE). The high school engages multiple ESL teachers and has several co-taught classes to help this largely Latino population.

“For the other half of our ESL kids who come from all over the world, we have support classes in English, language arts and writing workshop classes. We also give them support in math, science and social studies if they need it,” explains Priscilla Russel, PPS Supervisor for World Languages.

Many adults that come here also take ESL classes to learn or improve their English language skills. Princeton Adult School and YWCA Princeton offer several classes. PU also has a language program for its own students. To learn more about what ESL is and how people living here have benefitted from these programs you can read How Princeton Helps Adults Learn the English Language in this issue. To further practice the language, Princeton Public Library offers ESL conversation groups, currently online.

With a desire to improve their English, many of the people that come to Princeton from abroad are highly educated. More than 81% of the municipal population overall has a bachelor’s degree or higher (56% have post-grad education), according to the 2019 Census. Additionally, less than 8% of the total Princeton population lives below the poverty line. Some of those people are here from other countries, in need of assistance.

Of those it helps, the Princeton Department of Human Services estimates 65% are Hispanic (mostly from Guatemala and Mexico), 20% are Black (many from Haiti and Ghana), 10% are Asian (from China and India) and 5% are Caucasian.

In addition to providing information and referrals to community partners that offer ESL, citizenship and driving classes, Health & Human Services assists people when applying for programs like General Assistance, SNAP (food stamps), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Well Baby Health Clinics as well as refers them to partners who provide meals and affordable housing.

The department occasionally serves refugees coming to this area, but they are most often assisted by organizations like I-RISE and TJC/IRRC. The incoming refugees are often in need of housing they can afford or that can be covered through community programs. If you have or know of residential locations that could fit this need, you can click here to contact Louise Sandberg.

Part of what makes Princeton so enticing to people from around the world is the municipality celebrates its diversity and strives to bring everyone together. One of the ways this is done is through Welcoming Week, which this year is being held until September 19th.

Welcoming Week Flyer – ADA Checked “During Welcoming Week, we join cities across the world to promote unity, diversity and inclusiveness to build strong connections and affirm the importance of community,” explains Veronica Olivares-Weber, Princeton Human Services Commission Chair. “Welcoming Week is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together as a community to affirm that Princeton is a place where we want to weave together all residents to be a part of the fabric of our shared future.”

The internationality of this suburb also creates great opportunities to learn about other places and get exposed to tastes and traditions from a variety of cultures. These are a benefit whether you are new here or have lived here all of your life.

Many foreigners and immigrants have opened restaurants and experiences that offer a taste of their home country to Princeton. The flavors of China, India, Japan, Italy, Greece, France, Syria and so many other countries can be found in eateries across town. You can learn dances, shop for cultural mementos, enjoy international artwork and more at numerous locations. In fact, a sampling from every continent worldwide is available around the Princeton area and you can read more specifics from our April issue in You Don’t Have to Leave the Princeton Area to Experience the World.

Many come to the United States and retain their home citizenship, either as part of their identity, with a desire to return one day or because they are here only for a set amount of time. Others come and over time, decide this is where they want to stay and become a citizen. On Friday, September 17th, you can see the embodiment of what this means as the Princeton Public Library hosts a naturalization ceremony (closed to the public this year).

Though terrorists sought to destroy American freedoms on 9/11 twenty years ago, the way of life here is still something many seek out. As we honor the memories of those lost that fateful day, we can feel pride in the fact that the Princeton community has kept the American spirit going, inviting those from all over the world to make it their home.

Local Immersion Schools Offer Much More than a Bilingual Education

Studies have shown that bilingual education creates students with more empathy and cultural awareness, enhances one’s ability to think and process concepts and provides a wider range of opportunities. So why is it that most Americans speak predominantly just one language when throughout most of the world it is quite common to speak two or more? While most Americans will learn concepts of a second language through school, the latest census data (2019) shows that only 35% of Princetonians speak a language other than English at home. There is, however, an increased desire for children to start learning a second language at a younger age and ultimately become bilingual.

Within Princeton, there are three language immersion schools – one each in Spanish, Chinese and French. All operate a little differently, but the goals are the same. To have their 8th grade graduating students fluent in 2 languages and cultures.

“Students are not only learning how to speak but also how to reflect, write, read. Those are the big differences between someone who can speak a language fluently, verbally but can’t necessarily reflect on a high-end subject,” states Dominique Velociter, Interim Head of School at the French American School of Princeton (FASP). “Students coming from French-American schools are often are more mature, have better time and work management skills and also tend to be more easily adaptable.”

Corinne Gungor, a teacher from the French Ministry of Education, came to Princeton and started FASP in a church basement 20 years ago. She ran the school, growing it through the years to its current location on Mapleton Road and this year handed over the reins to Velociter. FASP is one of roughly 50 similar schools in the states, part of a larger network (of approximately 500 schools worldwide) that is accredited by the French government but also by the local department of education here.

“Our program is very serious, very thorough and the French government creates a national curriculum. So, we really have experts that design the French part of the curriculum and its years and years of research and improvements we’re offering,” shares Velociter.

Students as young as three can begin in the school’s Maternelle program, a preschool program of the French government which aims to be more elaborate and sophisticated than traditional American preschool programs. FASP has chosen to combine this French curriculum with techniques and teachings of the Montessori method, creating a robust but individualized preschool experience taught in 90% French. As the children age up, the elementary school is taught in 60% French, 40% English and then becomes 50/50 in the middle school grades, so that all students are proficient in French but are also prepared to attend local American high schools.

The 165+ students are a mix of expats who want the bilingual education and locals who believe in its benefits. 57% of the current student body are English-native speakers, 28% French-native speakers and 15% are speakers of another native tongue. They usually learn some classes in French, some in English and some a combination of both. Math and French are taught in both languages, Science and other STEM classes as well as music are taught in English and social studies, art and physical education often in French.

“The secret recipe for a successful program is to use native teachers. That’s part of our relationship with the French government,” Velociter explains. “Most of our teachers for this program are actually teachers from the French Ministry of Education who are coming here on an exchange visa program and who are authorized by the French government to come and teach in our schools. They exchange with us their culture and then they bring back some of the American culture they’ve developed in the states when they go back to France or other countries.”

By the end a young child’s first year, they are usually pretty comfortable with the French language and often by the time they leave the school after 8th grade they are completely bilingual. It is not uncommon for an FASP graduate to enter AP French as a high school freshman, a course commonly taken by upper classmen. Similarly, the Chinese-language immersion school, YingHua International School (YHIS), sends students into AP Mandarin classes in 9th grade.

What started as a weekend school, YHIS was created out of a desire for families that wanted more. It was founded as a formal private school in 2007 and has existed in various locations (including a church basement) leading up to its current building on Laurel Avenue on the border of Kingston. With 108 students enrolled this year in The Early Learning Program through 8th grade, it is now exceeding capacity at this space and is hoping to move somewhere larger within the next five years.

Immersion in Mandarin, teaching of Chinese cultural lessons and an International Baccalaureate curriculum is what draws people to YHIS. There is a mix of local families that want the language proficiency for their child, families that move here from Chinese-speaking countries and want to continue with the language, as well as some families with one parent of Asian heritage that want to pass along a Chinese education. There are 23 nationalities represented in the school and 46% of the students at YHIS are from a non-Chinese heritage family. All go there for the benefit of a dual language education.

“A lot of families are drawn to us, they hold the assumption and it’s been backed, that learning an additional language helps to expand your world view, helps to make you more empathetic,” notes Kayla Sorin, a YHIS English teacher and Director of Community Relationships. “A lot of our families have expressed an interest in having their children immersed in another culture, because of the soft skills that can be made by that.”

Like FASP, YHIS starts with intense immersion. 100% of instruction from preschool through Kindergarten is in Chinese. In first grade, lessons are 20% in English up to 25% in second grade, 35% in third grade and 45% in fourth. Middle school classes, grades 5-8, are taught in 50% Mandarin, 50% English. Classes are taught in one language or the other, not mixed, but the teachers collaborate on their lesson plans to create continuity between the classes.

“We want to work out listening and verbal skills. The younger age they pick up quickly, so when they enter first grade, they’re very comfortable speaking in Chinese and they acquire knowledge,” details Wen-Lin Su, YHIS Director of Academics. “Our students overall, their proficiency achievement is higher than the majority of the schools, even higher than other immersion schools.”

As a private school, YHIS 8th grade students have an opportunity to earn a Global Seal of Biliteracy, indicating a high level of proficiency (normally achieved at the high school level) and a high percentage of them earn it. Last year they tested their 7th graders to see how they would fare, and two achieved it as well. To help them get to this level and enhance and test their verbal knowledge, YHIS has joined the Association of New Jersey Chinese Schools, a consortium of Chinese-language schools that competes with other students, who are most often from homes where both parents speak the language.

“Our students participate in a Chinese poetry recitation contest, Chinese karaoke singing contest and Chinese speech contest and we’ve won a lot of trophies,” Sorin explains. “One of our recent graduates, whose parents don’t speak Chinese at home, just graduated from our 8th grade class and she won the national contest.”

Though students come from around New Jersey to attend YHIS, most are from the greater Princeton area and they have all become a very tight knit community.

Across town, what was once a neighborhood Princeton Public School (PPS) is now the newest dual language program in Princeton. Seven years ago, Community Park Elementary School started one dual language cohort of students in kindergarten and another in first grade. Now there are nearly 400 students taking part in what has become the district’s centralized dual language immersion school.

“When we started, we were only permitted to tap into the Community Park neighborhood for our students, and we kept saying we’d like to be able to invite all of Princeton to participate,” recalls Priscilla Russel, PPS Supervisor for World Languages.After about 3 years we got that permission, so now anyone who moves to Princeton may enter our program.”

The program was actually 10 years in the making, and it landed at Community Park because the school Principal, Dineen Gruchacz, was the elementary Principal interested in taking it on.

“We wanted to offer the opportunity for our native Spanish speakers to hold onto their language (and culture!) while learning English,” Gruchacz notes. She adds that the district also chose this language program because “Practically speaking, Spanish is widely spoken around the world and bilingualism is a global skill.”

Community Park already had three strong native-Spanish speaking teachers on staff to initiate the instruction, so it was a natural transition into the 50/50 one-way immersion program model that is followed, which means half of the academic time is spent in English and the other half in Spanish. One English and one Spanish teacher partner together in each grade with science, math and Spanish language arts taught in Spanish where the teachers do not speak any English, from the very first day. English language arts and social studies are taught in English.

With the goal of developing communicative and cultural competence and confidence, the program expanded adding a grade each year as the students aged up. This year all Community Park students grade K-3 are in the immersion program, though there is still one 4th grade and two 5th grade traditional classes in the building. In two years, there will no longer be any cohorts but all grades at the school will be dual language.

“When children started in 6th gr last year at the middle school, they were able to hire a bi-lingual native speaker to teach social studies, so the children made the switch from math and science into social studies and Spanish,” Russel shares. “Karen Encalada created a new (social studies) class in Spanish and she’s doing the same thing for this year’s 7th grade. We want to continue the program through 8th grade, so we have one more year to go to fulfill that dream.”

The transformation of Community Park into an immersion school meant (for most grades) it’s no longer a traditional community school for the neighborhood. Students from around Princeton are now able to choose it, starting in Kindergarten or first grade and likewise, neighborhood families that don’t want to enroll in such a program can choose to send their children to one of the other three district elementary schools. Due to the pandemic, they haven’t tested the kids in two years, but they are anxious to see if the dual language students surpass their monolingual peers on standardized tests, as has been the case elsewhere.

“They work very hard flipping back and forth when they need to. Of course, the amount of language, their proficiency level is so much higher than in a normal foreign language program. They just use it for everything,” Russel explains.

And that is the goal of these bilingual programs. Though each school does things in their unique way, they all have the common desire to generate a new generation of empathetic, worldly, bilingual speakers and thinkers in the Princeton community.

Editor’s Note

Most of us spent the summer getting out more and resuming some of the activities we’d avoided during the previous 18 months of the pandemic, thinking the worst was behind us. And while the high vaccination rates in Princeton should prevent severe illness or death for most, Princeton is starting to see a return of COVID infections. The Delta variant is assumed responsible for 90% of NJ’s COVID-19 infections over the past 3 weeks, a trend that is starting to appear in town as well. Should this become more severe, it could prompt the municipality to enact some changes. For now, mask mandates are only being required at K-12 schools (per the governor), yet the Princeton Health Department is advising people to resume wearing masks when indoors, especially if going home to unvaccinated people.

Beyond COVID concerns, there are several other changes taking place or being discussed around town. In this month’s issue of Princeton Perspectives, Local Changes on the Horizon in Princeton, we are taking a deeper look into a handful of them.

Within our four articles, we only have space to cover a few of today’s main issues. Some of those are top of mind as we asked people around town what issues concern them the most, and some people have others to highlight. Watch our Pulse of Princeton to hear all of their comments.

We do know that 71% of Mercer County voters made a statement by choosing “Yes” on Question 1 in November. That vote was in favor of decriminalizing cannabis in New Jersey. Now, it is time for municipalities to decide whether or not to allow the licensing of cannabis businesses. What are the options? Where are the plans headed? We break it all down for you in Should Princeton Welcome Cannabis Businesses to Town Now That It’s Legal? Read it now to learn where things stand and stay tuned as our municipality makes its plans going forward.

Many groups around town are weighing in about whether or not to follow Summit, Maplewood and Montclair in creating restrictions around gas-powered leaf blowers. There are concerns about the environment and health that are being discussed and one of our guest writers shares those considerations for you in Changing the Landscape Project Encourages Residents to Reimagine Their Lawns.

Princeton taxpayers may soon vote to take on another referendum, in a school year marked with a lot of change. In Leaders and Goals Take Princeton Public Schools in New Directions we share details about this referendum proposal, as well as introducing you to several of Princeton Public Schools’ new leaders.

And you’ve seen the changes in town, spurred by COVID, providing expanded outdoor spaces for eating and more places to walk, bike and enjoy getting around. Our guest writer explains some of the transportation options and the future plans in Transportation Options Make It Easier to Get Around Town.

Perspectives Revisited offers a look back at information we’ve shared in the past and updates it. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of your screen to find out this latest news.

We are grateful to be able to share what matters to Princeton and provide specifics and details about the many local changes on the horizon. As the final weeks of summer are upon us, Health Officer Jeff Grosser says the increase in COVID cases in Princeton are being linked to international and inter-state travel, and indoor gatherings. So, please be safe.

The international nature of Princeton, which perhaps plays a role in all this travelling, is also something that makes this town so special and unique. Next month, Princeton Perspectives will take a look at the many nationalities and cultures living here together.

Please continue to share our magazine with others and click here if you have topic ideas you’d like to see us cover. We wish you a fun and healthy end to summer!

Pulse of Princeton: What issue in Princeton concerns you the most?