Princeton Board of Education Candidates, Simplified
Posted on by Lisa Jacknow
In Princeton, 48% of your tax bill goes towards the schools. That money goes into the budget of the Board of Education (BOE), overseen by 10 elected members (9 from Princeton, one from Cranbury). It has become the most contested local race for these November elections with eight candidates running for three open spots – two incumbents, one former BOE member and five newcomers.
The Official School Board Election Ballot lists the candidates in columns I through N at the bottom of your ballot. It is important to note 3 of the candidates (a slate) are listed together in one column, but they are individual candidates. You are able to vote for any three running candidates, in any combination.
The candidates have put themselves out there for voters to know, through forums, Q&As, promotions and more. In our attempt to inform you as a voter, Princeton Perspectives reached out to each candidate and created a simple comparison tool to share their thoughts with you. The more you know, the more informed your vote is.
Simply click on the + next to each candidate’s name to compare their responses to our three important questions.
I’m running for a second term on the Board of Education because I believe effective, equitable public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, and I care deeply about preparing our students for the future. I’m the daughter of immigrants; my family benefitted enormously from public schools, and we were taught the importance of giving back to our community. During my first term on the Board, we made big changes and accomplished a lot for our students; I’d love to continue the work and build on the positive momentum we have going. Selecting a new permanent superintendent, mapping out a strategic plan for the future, making real strides towards equity, planning how to welcome more students in appropriate learning environments.
I want to maintain excellent and affordable schools for all Princetonians. While the schools have incredible financial resources available to them, Princeton Public School has the 3rd highest spending per student of 97 school districts in our peer group. And yet in the past, I believe
we have had mis-managed budgets lay off people who do the essential work, teachers and Academic Intervention Specialist coordinators (AIS). New Jersey itself has the highest property taxes of any state in the country and the schools in town are responsible for 48 percent of the tax bill. This is unacceptable to me. By cutting wasteful spending, living more within our means, and favoring our essential teachers over non-essential and expensive construction projects, as part of the board I can help us drive money back into classrooms and ensure that there is respect and transparency throughout the district.
I seek to serve each student and their family, the administrative and support staffs, as well as the broader community of local advocates, volunteers and taxpayers--all of whom are Princeton's "educating community" by sharing the assets of my professional and personal background to further equip the Princeton Public Schools in fulfilling its mission. The assets I bring to service on the BOE include experience leading and working with innovative educational, advocacy and youth-serving organizations and communities; identifying, nurturing and mentoring talented leaders; and leading processes of envisioning the future, planning for growth and change and development of resources to advance excellent opportunities for all.
With the myriad challenges facing our schools, the new administration at PPS, and the growing movement across our country surrounding racial justice and equality and opportunity for all, I am seeking the opportunity to lend my skills, intellect, and helping hands. My approach to problem solving is practical, and as a lawyer and social worker, I've been trained to look at issues from all sides. I tend to rely on research, data, and collaboration and conversation with people who hold both differing and similar vantage points. The role of a Board of Education member is to set goals, offer guidance and implement policy to support and enable the administration to run the District and provide the best education possible for our children that the community can afford. If elected, my goal is to work hard and to do so collaboratively and openly to strengthen our schools and community. I would do this by bringing my experience and ideas as well as the ability to work well with others. My family and I appreciate all that we've been fortunate to experience as residents in Princeton. I'd like to give back and work to help foster consensus and collaboration around difficult issues facing our public schools.
I was on the board for three years with my term ending at the end of 2019. I considered whether or not to run again last year but I was too frustrated at the lack of (1) openness at the top levels for new and creative ideas and (2) a willingness to make changes. However, with an interim superintendent and the opportunity to help select a new superintendent, I saw an opportunity for our district become a leader rather than a follower, but that was not enough to sway me. Then I found creative thinkers like Paul Johnson and Karen Lemon who were willing to form a slate to give the majority needed to make real changes. That pushed me over the edge to throw my hat in the ring as part of a slate of candidates.
As the late, great John Lewis so eloquently put it, “To get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.” We are at a crossroads in our society and we must be proactive rather than reactive. It is time for a change on our school board, it is time we tackle our issues of equity/equality head on, without reserve. It is time for us to be honest with ourselves and admit we have fallen short of the promises we have made to our children in this town. We have failed to be leaders for social justice and reform. I am running because I believe I can be part of the necessary change which will ensure our students and families a better tomorrow. I am running because I genuinely care about the outcome of my five children, three of whom attend Princeton Public Schools (grades 3, 5 and 11) as well as all the children in our community. Most importantly I will work tirelessly until every kid and every family in our town feels like they belong. I will make sure our schools remain diverse, our town remains affordable, and there will forever be trust and transparency between the board and the public.
My biggest concern is the current Board of Education leadership believes we just need consistency. I believe we need strategic and creative leadership if we want to deliver excellent education and support our community in remaining affordable. The achievement of our low-income students, black and brown students, and special needs students has stagnated. We need to focus on the success of all children, and this is not sufficiently occurring today. 48% of our tax dollars go towards our schools. I believe there is an opportunity to improve spending through reducing the use of consultants, leveraging the reduction in our costs associated with bonds retiring in 2022 and 2023, implementing efficiency measures (i.e. I would look to move some of our IT resources to the cloud and consider shared services), and going after public and private partnerships. This will allow us to address not only the opportunity gap of our students but ensure we can meet critical capacity and facility needs, while working to hold the line on our taxes. Along with Paul Johnson and Bill Hare, I believe we can regain our reputation for providing excellence in education for all students, in a diverse community while doing so in an affordable manner. This must be done by including the voices of our teachers, families, and community members. We will push for a transparency as the board makes decisions on spending your tax dollars. We know that building community trust is critical in all working together.
I am a candidate for re-election to the Princeton Board of Education because in these critical times, our challenges require thoughtful, experienced and independent leadership. We have a great school system, and I am committed to ensuring that it is great for every child.
I have a proven track record of making progress for our kids. Under my leadership, by working collaboratively as a board, with our administrative team, community partners and expert volunteers, we’ve addressed a pandemic and moved the District forward on multiple fronts. I bring professional skills in law, finance and governance; two decades of committed community service in Princeton; experience with PPS as a parent and volunteer, and; strong relationships with my board and district colleagues, across the community and around the State. In the past two years while I’ve been Board President, we’ve successfully hired a team of talented senior administrators and found significant cost savings (over $500,000 to balance the budget pre-COVID), stabilized District finances (we’ve got a $3 million surplus to cushion against at least $1.4 million in COVID-related expenses and uncertainty in future State funding), made big strides in improving our facilities (implementing taxpayer-approved referendum projects, updating school facilities with HVAC and health and safety improvements and hired a new facilities director who has jump-started building maintenance and cleanliness) and made concrete progress in support of equity for all students (initiating free Pre-K with dual-language and 3/4 classes, adopting a restorative justice approach to discipline and approving a revenue-neutral, strategic device initiative that provides all students equal access to technology through district-owned computers and providing broadband connectivity thanks to an anonymous donor).
Education is in my family's blood. I am a teacher at the State Division of Children and Families (DCF) working with at-risk students in Trenton. I grew up in Princeton and went through the entire Princeton Public School (PPS) system, from kindergarten to high school. My mother was a teacher in the then Princeton Regional Schools (PRS) for over 35 years, while my father was the President of the BOE during the tumultuous late '60s to early '70s. I believe that my background and experience can help prioritize spending on that which is most important for our students and community. It is my opinion that in the past too many members of the BOE have blindly supported the Superintendent and his administration without asking all the tough questions or exploring every option. As a BOE member and an independent thinker, I promise to scrutinize closely all spending requests and leave no path undiscovered.
I'm not running against anyone, but FOR all the constituents of the Princeton School District and community. I'll let people (voters) make their choices based on their knowledge and appreciation of each of our qualifications. Though I'm not a native Princetonian, I've served the community in a variety of ways as a past member of the planning board, past district committeeman (D), member of the Municipal Consolidation Transition Task Force, chair of the Jim and Fannie Floyd Scholarship Committee of MCCC, active participant in the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association, and others. I helped start the Academic Success Today program at the then, John Witherspoon Middle School with Principal Johnson and Mrs. Linda Meisel, Corner House Executive Director; the High Quest--A Bridge to Success (now Summer Bridge) program of the Princeton-Blairstown Center when I was Executive Director (1993-2004) and brought programs of experiential and social/emotional/character development to Princeton, Newark and Trenton schools.
I think my professional skills and background combined with volunteer service help to position me to serve as an effective member of the Board of Education. My work has enabled me to: (1) learn how a premier nonprofit educational institution functions at the highest level; (2) counsel organizations on an array of practical, strategic and legal issues; (3) manage and negotiate contracts while stewarding resources; and (4) effect strong public policy using evidence and data to inform decision-making.
I currently lead the contracts management program in the Office of Finance and Treasury at Princeton University. Prior to that, I practiced law and served as policy director for NJ Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. I enjoyed five years as the liaison between Princeton University's Office of the President and its Office of Development during a large capital campaign. As an attorney, I have counseled non-profits, municipalities, school districts and a union and spent six years with City of Philadelphia Law Department defending cases in state and federal court. Prior to earning my law degree, I was a hospice social worker in Philadelphia.
The board of education is arguably the most important elected position in Princeton with the goal of educating our kids and overseeing a budget of about $100,000,000. Recognizing the importance of the board of education on every resident of Princeton, Paul, Karen and I sought each other out with the objective of making a difference. Paul’s family has been here for four generations, Karen and her wife want to be here for life, and I don’t plan on ever moving away from our house on Jefferson Road. By necessity, the future of Princeton is important to us. We have some common goals, such as reducing the achievement gap while keeping Princeton affordable and bringing some much-needed transparency to the Board of Education. But each of us brings a different perspective.
When I was on the board I focused on searching for cost savings that would provide significant savings to the district. To name a few savings we recommended: (1) start patients on generic versus brand drugs, (2) move to high deductible health insurance plans with accompanying health savings account, (3) switch the specialty pharmaceuticals provider, (4) regularly review bus routes and usage and then rework the bus routes to ensure a desired level of capacity, and (5) provide supervisors the opportunity to teach at least one or two classes. All of these would save money, none of these would have a negative impact on education or on the employees of the district. Some would have been easier to attain than others but I was frustrated at the lack of willingness at the top to push for these savings. Paul, Karen and I believe that running as a slate of candidates for the board of education is the best way to achieve these goals.
Voters should choose me because I am a 4th generation Princetonian, who is as much vested in this school system as anyone else in our town. Not only do I have skin in the game with three kids who attend Princeton Schools we have a blended family consisting of different races, religions, as well as a special needs child, which gives us insight to many of the issues kids and families deal with on an everyday basis. It has been my life’s work as a student-athlete, coach and mentor to help kids from all walks of life reach their full potential. While we have many other issues, we must also tackle as school board members I believe it is essential that we always remember to keep the children at the forefront, because they are truly what matters at the end of the day. They are our driving force and our guiding light; they will lead us to a brighter tomorrow. I not only have the passion to drive PPS to become a leader and example to the rest of the world, I also have the fortitude to stand up to status quo when it falls short and hinders progress. I have always been a leader and captain and in this position, you can expect nothing less from me.
Paul, Bill and I are running as a slate. We are doing so because we have a vision which we believe is different from those running and those currently leading the board. Our vision is to: Ensure all children receive an equal opportunity education in a safe and nurturing environment; Ensure all parents, guardians, families, staff and our community have a voice in our district; Ensure we can all live and grow and work in a diverse and affordable community. We are also running because we have specific; near term actions we want to put in place to realize the vision. Examples include: accelerating equity training and implementing a cultural awareness course for all rising freshmen, establishing forums for dialoguing with staff and families including the Board of Education meetings, and implementing common sense budget efficiency measures. Then we want to measure how we are doing and share it with the community. Speed is important. The student opportunity gap has existed for years. Leadership and action are needed.
In one word, experience. As a 30-year resident of Princeton, I have served in a variety of roles, serving the community as an elected (Mayor and Township Committee) and appointed official (Commissioner, Princeton Housing Authority) and as a volunteer (Girl Scout Leader; Member, Princeton United Methodist Church). While the other candidates have stated a commitment to equity, fiscal responsibility and excellence, I have a record of service that demonstrates that commitment. As Board Vice Chair, Chair of the Equity Committee and the Labor Negotiations committee, and a member of the Policy and Personnel Committees, I have gained intimate knowledge of the strengths and challenges facing our schools. I am the parent of two children who have attended Princeton Public Schools and excelled. I want the same for all children. And most important, I know how to get the job done.
If elected, what is your top priority and how would you tackle it?
My top priority would be to continue to focus on and improve the experience of our students in the Princeton Public Schools. I want our students to overwhelmingly report that they feel welcome, affirmed, engaged, safe and comfortable in our schools. I want them to report, as graduates, that we have met their needs and that they are prepared for the next step on their life journey. This requires us to listen carefully to student voices and hear how the policies and processes we adopt at the board level play out for our kids -- of every color, ethnicity, ability, sexual preference or otherwise -- on a daily basis. This requires the Board to (i) hire a superintendent who can inspire and lead the PPS organization, as a team, forward toward this vision, and (ii) support and partner in developing and achieving clear and measurable goals — around equity, curriculum and climate, facilities and finances — step by step, year by year, to make it happen.
We need to use our existing facilities more efficiently. Educational capacity at Princeton High School (PHS) and John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) is based upon a utilization factor of 75 to 80 percent. I believe we cannot afford to leave 20 to 25 percent of our classroom space vacant. I feel we should be able to increase utilization to 90 percent with class scheduling software and other efficiencies. I favor teachers over expensive new facilities. We need to take better care of the buildings that we have. I also favor cost-effective and affordable solutions for projected enrollment growth such as adding a classroom into existing schools such as Johnson Park (JP) or Riverside (RS), or the middle school if necessary. JP and Riverside have beautiful campuses with room to add a wing with 6 to 8 classrooms cost effectively, for expansion. Also, I would not support a new facilities referendum before the old referendum debt is fully repaid on February 1, 2022 and February 1, 2023. I will only support the current $27 million referendum that reflects our genuine needs. I will not support a facilities referendum that burdens the operating budget and could lead to tax increases and reduction in teaching staff.
My top and immediate priority as a member of the BOE is to ensure that students, families, teachers, and staff who are returning to school now--in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other issues that have brought considerable disruption to life--have all the support and resources they need for their education, including their emotional and social well-being. I've kept abreast of the work the current board and the Interim Superintendent and staff are doing to facilitate the most positive learning experience for all students. I applaud them for all they have done! As a new member of the BOE I will join in the efforts by offering my support and experience in helping organizations in times of crisis and transition. Concurrent with this priority is, of course, the hiring of a new permanent superintendent. I will actively participate in this process, ensuring that the school district seeks and hires a person of broad, deep, innovative and effective experience in leading excellent, broadly diverse and fully equitable education for all students.
If pressed to choose a single priority, it would be the hiring of an experienced superintendent with strong management skills and a demonstrated commitment to the principles of equity, access and inclusion. A strong leader will help us address the other challenges we face, which are: Protecting the health, wellness and safety of our children, families, teachers and staff as we face the pressures of educating our children during a pandemic; Closing the achievement and opportunity gaps; Providing our children with meaningful racial literacy tools and instruction while fostering authentic dialogue within our schools; Ensuring equity for all of our kids and charting the path forward to ensure that all of our children receive an education to enable them to lead lives of joy and purpose; Facilities planning and maintenance in the face of growth in student enrollment; Educating our children as cost-effectively and efficiently as possible; Advocating for legislative changes to support our schools and community.
My top priority is reducing the achievement gap while keeping Princeton affordable. While technically I’ve given two top priorities, they are closely related. Reducing the achievement gap will have a cost and we need to apply some new creativity to control costs, reduce the achievement gap, and stay within or below the 2% cap. Based on my three years on the board, I fail to see why this isn’t readily possible. The first step is to make sure the new superintendent we hire is someone who is excited about both reducing the achievement gap and finding/implementing cost savings in our operating budget. The other first step is turning to our teachers, the experts in our district, to tell the board and community what needs to be done to reduce the achievement gap. Based on my own kids’ experience in the district, I’ve seen enough excellent, caring teachers to know we have already hired the experts and we can do this.
The top priority is the issue of equity. It was and has always been the Pandemic before the Pandemic we call COVID-19. We must always begin with acknowledging that this is much bigger than a black-white issue, or a have vs. have-not issue. It is an issue of humanity, an issue of moral code, and most importantly, an issue of self-preservation of the human race. It stretches far beyond the electives and a few online courses of racial literacy. It is that which binds us and ensures that every child can achieve their full potential and know they are loved. It is that driving force that allows our children to know their worth and that we value them. If elected, I believe it is essential that we begin to tackle this issue with our search for the next superintendent, because they will be our leader, our captain who will drive and guide our faculty, staff, and students (our team) to a brighter tomorrow. They will uphold and maintain our goals and values. It is also essential that we use the scope of equity in everything we do from policy to educating and everything in between. It is essential that our efforts don’t fall to the wayside and that they are ingrained in the day to day operations of our institution.
My top priority will always be the safety and wellbeing of our students. To that end, I believe the critical areas of focus are: Diversity- we must respect and support all students and families in our school community; Affordability- Princeton Public Schools receive almost 50% of your property taxes and the Board of Education needs to recognize its impact on the ability for everyone to live in Princeton; Trust- Board of Education members are your voice to the school district and all members should conduct themselves accordingly.
When I ran for the school board in 2017, my priority was achievement of academic and social equity for all students in our schools. That has not changed. For the past three years, I have tackled this complex challenge by considering all issues and decisions through a lens of equity; Exhibiting the courage to speak out AND VOTE for (or against) initiatives that disproportionately favor or disadvantage certain groups of students and District staff; Ensuring that our perspective on students is broad and inclusive and does not neglect the needs of our Special Education, LGBTQ, low income and English Language Learners; Calling for accountability, measurement and objective assessment of the District's stated goals. When they are not met, I have demonstrated a willingness to speak out and withhold support until the desired outcomes are met. Understanding the role of a Board Member (The Board does not run the schools, we make sure that the schools are run well) is not easy and requires that we ask hard questions and make difficult decisions.
Lisa Jacknow spent years working in national and local news in and around New York City before moving to Princeton. Working as both a TV producer and news reporter, Lisa came to this area to focus on the local news of Mercer County at WZBN-TV. In recent years, she got immersed in the Princeton community by serving leadership roles at local schools in addition to volunteering for other local non-profits. In her free time, Lisa loves to spend time with her family, play tennis, sing and play the piano. A graduate of the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Lisa was raised just north of Boston, Massachusetts but has lived in the tri-state area since college. She is excited to be Editor and head writer for Princeton Perspectives!
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Did You Know?
15% of Princeton's population is not eligible to vote, as they are not U.S. citizens
14% of Princetonians & 29.5% of Mercer County residents voted for Donald Trump in 2016
Of 70,528 ballots cast in Mercer County in the 2019 General election, 661 were rejected
New Jersey has gone Democratic in the last seven Presidential elections, after voting Republican in the previous six