HOBOKEN MATTERS: The Board Of Education Candidates

 

Almost as important as the Mayoral Election, is the election of Hoboken's Board of Education members. These individuals play a crucial role in the growth and success of our school system.

 

The BOE candidates are running as a slate, which means that there are three candidates to each side, and even though you are able to vote for each one individually, they are running as a team. 

 

To gain a better understanding of each side, LH sent each slate the exact same questions. They were asked to submit their responses as a team, however could specify an answer for each person if desired. The responses are listed below in the order in which they were received. The responses below are 100% unedited & unchanged in any way.

 

Order of listing does not reflect any endorsement or preference. 

This is a non-sponsored post, and serves informational purposes only.

For more information on either team, click the team picture to visit their website and/or FB pages. 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School system?

We are all longtime Hoboken residents - Melanie 18 years, Sharyn 15 years and Chetali 11 years. Together we have 6 children enrolled in the Hoboken Public School district and have a combined 28 years of experience with the district schools through our own children.

 

Hoboken Public schools are a controversial topic, with many transient Hoboken residents citing the schools as a top reason for moving to suburbia. What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

The biggest misconception about our schools is that they aren’t up to par. Unfortunately outdated stories and misinformation continue to circulate which perpetuates a negative perception among the community and, especially families with school-aged children . As parents, we know first-hand what is going on in our schools and the amazing, innovative programming that is taught by a high-quality teaching staff. Our goal is to eliminate the outdated stigma by educating the community about what families can expect when they enroll in the Hoboken public schools. Our children are offered opportunities and experiences to help them to succeed in this very competitive world that we live in.

 

To give a few examples - through the Project Lead the Way science program, students are exposed to a STEM curriculum and hands on learning every day from Kindergarten on. Students are exposed to language opportunities including Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese. Our high school students are offered over 20 AP courses, dual enrollment classes through local universities to gain college credits, the Rutgers pre-medical honors program in addition to the Project Lead the Way opportunity paths in computer science, biomedical sciences and engineering. High Schools students participate in a personal growth period each day where they can explore interests related to academics, life skills, college readiness and other topics. These are just a few of a long list of wonderful academic programs that are available to our students at all grade levels.

 

On top of the district’s impressive academic offerings, the extracurricular offerings are top notch as well. The district offers after school enrichment and homework help. At the elementary level, the after school Passport to Learning program offers programs such as golf, zoology, art, fitness, chess, etc. At the middle school level, the after school Explorations program offers intramural sports (tennis, cross country) and a variety of clubs. In addition, the district is partnering with Stevens Institute of Technology to provide after school academic support for middle school students. The district has a nationally recognized and award winning theater program where children in grades K-12 can participate in the spring productions, competitive athletic teams and an award winning Harvard Model Congress club to name a few.

 

Our High School Senior Graduating Class last year received over $8M in scholarship awards. Students have received acceptances from many colleges and universities including Vanderbilt,

Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State, and The George Washington University. The Stevens Institute of Technology presents the graduating senior with the highest GPA a full 4 year scholarship each year.

 

We encourage parents and community members to come out and see the schools at the various school open house or showcase events that occur throughout the year. We urge parents to talk with parents who do have their children in the Hoboken Public School District as well.

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE, and what is your experience in public education?

Our motivation to become board members is based on our own positive experiences in the district. Plain and simple. This is not a stepping stone to a future in politics, this is a stepping stone to making our district schools Hoboken’s #1 choice. Each of us attended public schools for our own primary and secondary education. We believe that strong public education is the backbone of our society and critical to the success of our community and country. High-quality public education is the great equalizer, giving every child the opportunity to learn and succeed.

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as a representative of the community or of the school system? What does that mean to you?

Both. We are elected by the community to both represent overall community concerns to the administration but at the same time are responsible for representing the needs of the district students to the community. This ties into our message that strong schools and a strong community go hand in hand. When a commitment is made to continuously enhance Hoboken public education while listening and incorporating the concerns and feedback from the community, we end up with academic excellence. When a community has a strong, thriving public school district, everyone benefits.

 

What do you think is the school system's greatest challenges right now, and what are your plans to address this?

The school district’s enrollment is on the up! This year alone enrollment was up ~200 students in grades K-12. So while enrollment is somewhat of a challenge from a long-range facility standpoint, it is a great challenge to tackle! Sharyn currently sits on the Long-Range Facilities committee which will address future enrollment growth and the related facility needs. The conversations have already begun and as board members we would work with the other six members of the board as well as the administration to support a plan that works for the district and the growing community.

 

The two most common complaints that we hear around town are (1) Not all of the public schools are funded equally, and, (2) School placements are random causing some families to attend a school across town when another one is right near their home. Please comment on each these two issues and your plans, if any, to address them. (Please note: this question is only about the public schools, not Charter Schools)

With Sharyn’s current involvement on the board and Melanie and Chetali actively attending board meetings each month, we know that funding equity and programming equality is a district priority. There is no basis for a complaint about equity funding of the district’s elementary schools- not anymore. In fact, as a former Abbott district, the district uses School-Based Budgeting to ensure that district schools are funded equitably.

 

School placements are not random. Several factors are considered when placing students, with priority given to:

●  Homeless students

● Students with special needs need to be placed in the schools where the programs that support them are located

●  Siblings - the district tries to keep families in the same school

●  Proximity to home

 

Because the district elementary schools vary in size (Calabro has 1 class per grade, Connors has 2-3 classes per grade, Wallace primarily has 5 classes/grade, Brandt varies by grade), space can be limited in one school due to the placement priorities highlighted above, making it possible that even if a student lives close to one school, they may be placed in a larger school further away. This challenge is part of ongoing conversations about facility planning as noted in our response above (#5).

 

What is your view of the relationship between the BOE and the superintendent of schools? What is your ideal relationship between the two offices, and how will you work to achieve that?

One of the most important decisions a board has to make is who will lead the District. Hoboken is extremely fortunate to have Dr. Christine Johnson leading the way. Sharyn was involved in the hiring of Dr. Johnson and helped in facilitating her new 5 year contract. It is the superintendent’s role to run the day-to-day operations of the school district, not the board’s. The board’s role is to hire a leader who they trust and who is experienced to do this. As board members, our role is to set policies, goals and objectives for the district and to work constructively with the superintendent and the administration to build a fiscally responsible budget to accomplish those goals.

 

If a parent, teacher, principal or even a student comes to you with an issue or complaint, what do you see as your role in addressing this?

As a board member, if someone comes to us with an issue or complaint, it is important that we educate them on what the proper protocol is in addressing individual issues and complaints. Rightfully so, many people don’t realize that they should not be addressing individual issues with board members but they should be going through the proper chain of command to come to a resolution. If a parent has an issue it is appropriate to first speak with the teacher, then the principal, then the superintendent and then if there is no resolution, the board of education.

 

What is your philosophy of special education and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

Special education is a priority in the Hoboken District Schools. The district has an amazing program and a large student population benefiting from special education programming and the services offered. Hoboken District Schools offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), self-contained and inclusion classrooms, as well as inclusion in afterschool programming. Mr. Mark Mautone, a beloved teacher and respected leader and coordinator for the ABA/Autism Program, was recognized for his work with the ABA program and was named 2015 NJ State Teacher of the Year! This is a tremendous accomplishment for Mr. Mautone and a great accolade to the district. As board members, our commitment is to continuously enhance Hoboken public education for all students. For our special needs children, we will support the superintendent to enhance programming & support services, hire talented and caring teachers and service providers, provide training and support for our teachers, aides & providers to enhance skills and capabilities and support partnership with parents to ensure that children’s individual educational needs are met.

 

Let's end on a fun note- when you aren't campaigning and have some down time, where do you like to go in Hoboken?

Especially at this time of year, any local coffee shop is a must stop! Once we’ve refueled, we enjoy attending school functions, sporting events and the local parks with our active children! It’s always fun to have planned and impromptu “playdates” with friends who we meet up with all around town. Our kids enjoy a variety of extracurricular activities, participating in hockey, soccer, swimming, girl scouts, gymnastics. We also love dining out and experiencing the many restaurants our town offers! 

 

How long have you lived in Hoboken, and do you have children in the Hoboken Public School system?  
1J Anne Marie Schreiber: I am a 20- year resident of Hoboken and I have three children in the Hoboken Public School System. My children have experienced The Nest at Mustard Seed, the Mile Square Early Learning Center Rue site, and are now attending Elysian Charter School. There is a terrible misconception that charter schools are not public. This is FALSE. Charters are funded by the state but face very different funding structures. In fact, they must do more with less. I proudly serve on Elysian’s Board of Trustees where financial management of the school is a prime focus. It is that experience that makes me exceptionally qualified to serve on the Hoboken Board of Education.

 

3J Peter Biancamano: I am born and raised in Hoboken and attended the district schools. I currently do not have any children and I feel that that gives me a unique perspective on the Board of Education. For the past six years on the Board, I’ve been able to approach making key decisions in unbiased ways, focusing on how decisions impact parents and non-parents alike. After all, the decisions of the Board, especially those related to taxes, impact ALL Hoboken voters, not just those with children.

 

4J Lauren Eagle: I am a 15-year Hoboken resident.  I moved here shortly after graduating from the University of Delaware. Hoboken is where my husband and I got engaged, bought our first home, and celebrated the births and many firsts for our children.  My children are students in Hoboken Public Schools and have enjoyed the Mile Square Early Learning Center St. Francis site, Connors Elementary, and Brandt Elementary.  I have had firsthand experience at each of the schools and am very involved.  I co-founded and head the MSELC St. Francis Parent Volunteer Group and am a Board member of the Mile Square Early Learning Center.  It is at the Pre-K and elementary levels where I see many parents seeking clarity on the school placement process.  This also goes hand in hand with ensuring that each school is receiving the same focus and support to achieve success.

 

Hoboken Public schools are a controversial topic, with many transient Hoboken residents citing the schools as a top reason for moving to suburbia. What do you think is the biggest misconception about our schools, and what would you like the community to know?

It is always tough to hear that the reason why a family leaves the Hoboken community is because of the schools. This is why we are so passionate about running for the Board of Education. We want to turn this around by addressing specific issues of concern to parents that, once resolved, would give them peace of mind about keeping their families in Hoboken for the long-term

 

We believe that the biggest misconception is related to Hoboken High School. From what we see and hear from community members (especially families leaving Hoboken), is that they simply don’t view the High School positively. What they might overlook is that HHS has everything and more than any other area high school -- the theater program has won Thespian Awards, the football team wins state championships, and students are now more connected than ever to local Universities for summer programs (ex. Rutgers WISE program) and other unique learning opportunities. We believe that, while there is always room to strengthen our High School, that the school provides incredible opportunities already for our students.    

 

What motivates you to become a member of the BOE, and what is your experience in public education?
1J Anne Marie Schreiber: My motivating factor for running for the Hoboken BOE is my desire to serve the school system but, more importantly, to serve the community as a whole. I attended public schools, my children attend public schools (yes, charters are public!), and I substitute teach in Hoboken. I come from a family of public school teachers and I firmly believe in public education. I have spent the last five years serving on Elysian Charter School’s Board of Trustees both as Vice Chair (current) and as Chair of the Finance Committee. In addition, I am the current Chair of the Nominating Committee and have served on the Facilities, Fundraising, Community Outreach and Planning Sub-Committees of the Board, as well as several ad-hoc committees. I look forward to bringing that experience to the BOE.


3J Peter Biancamano: I am the only candidate with six and half years’ experience serving on the Board. My motivation for serving on the Board has never changed. I want to continue to act as a liaison between the public and the administration. Why? Because I’m a lifelong Hoboken resident and I’m invested in our community. My family has owned a small business in this community for nearly four decades. Having a strong school system is central to any thriving community. I have always ensured that the voices of our community have been heard, whether parents, students or taxpayers. In addition to being the youngest member ever elected to serve on the BOE, I have chaired both the Finance and Facilities Committee and have negotiated contracts with administrators, teachers and custodians. I was also instrumental in the hiring and contract extension of Dr. Johnson, the Superintendent of our school system.

 

4J Lauren Eagle: Last year, I resigned from corporate America to become more involved in my children’s schools, and to add value to the overall school system. I have done that by co-founding and heading the Parent Volunteer Group at Mile Square Early Learning Center (MSELC) St. Francis Site, working together with the Connor’s PTO presidents (past and current), and have become actively involved at the Brandt Consortium Parent Group. I accepted the invitation to serve as a Board member of the MSELC.  While being involved I discovered that a stronger voice was needed to ensure that, no matter which school a child attends, all children receive the same experience as anywhere else.  I felt compelled to step in and be a voice for the students and teachers. My mother was a public school elementary school teacher who later retired to then go back to college to receive her Masters so she could go to the next level. She became a college professor, educating students on how to be teachers themselves.  I was excited to be able to attend the same school as where my mother taught, and continued my education through the public school system in my hometown.  I learned from my mother the importance of supporting schools and teachers so that students can better succeed. 

 

As a member of the BOE, do you see yourself as a representative of the community or of the school system? What does that mean to you?

As Board members, our first and foremost obligation is to represent and make decisions that are in the best interest of the district schools. Of course, that also means that we represent the community, parents or not, because, as Board members, we are also held accountable to the taxpayers of Hoboken because the BOE controls one third of a property owner’s tax bill.  That means strong, responsible fiscal management and spending tax dollars wisely, as well as creating and implementing strong policies and consistent programs across all district schools to further strengthen the intellectual development of Hoboken’s children, and the entire system.

 

Additionally, we believe that there is great opportunity for Hoboken schools to learn from schools throughout the United States. As Board members, we will research best practices and programs used in other school districts and determine how we can bring those incredible opportunities to our students and schools.

 

What do you think is the school system's greatest challenges right now, and what are your plans to address this?

Every school system faces challenges, and Hoboken is no different. In question 6 we focus on the placement process, which is a challenge for our every growing community. Whether it’s the placement process in the early years or questioning whether the high school is on the radar of a wide range of top universities, or simply the reputation of our schools, all solutions require strong leadership—a strong BOE.

 

We believe that the Hoboken community is exhausted by all the talk of “my school vs. your school”, “district vs charter” and “my side vs. your side”. Hoboken is ONE community and the leaders of our educational and political system need to start behaving better, putting differences aside, and start making real changes to strengthen our schools. We chose the word “collaborate” intentionally to be part of our campaign slogan. We need more collaboration and open dialogue amongst Board members. It is only then that we can make thoughtful prudent decisions going forward.

 

A Board is a body, ideally made up of people with differing perspectives, backgrounds and experiences, the diversity of which ultimately leads in intelligent decision making.

We believe that we have the solutions to the school system’s challenges.  Vote134 stands for:

  • Supporting ALL schools and ALL students. Not demonizing and preventing the growth of the charters.

  • Balanced educational opportunities. Reduce uncertainty to give parents need peace of mind.

  • Independent yet collaborative decision making. We will not rubberstamp decisions.

  • Supporting our Superintendent, but challenging her. We need to be leaders, not cheerleaders.

  • Transparent budgeting and thoughtful spending. We will carefully analyze the financial infrastructure of Hoboken’s educational system and ensure that the entire Hoboken community understands how school taxes are spent.

The two most common complaints that we hear around town are (1) Not all of the public schools are funded equally, and, (2) School placements are random causing some families to attend a school across town when another one is right near their home. Please comment on each these two issues and your plans, if any, to address them. (Please note: this question is only about the public schools, not Charter Schools)

(1) Not all of the public schools are funded equally.

Correct. Many factors go into which schools get what funding including size, population, special needs students etc.—so yes, not all schools are funded equally, they are funded based on a variety of factors. But the funding process starts with the principal and the administration of each school submitting their school’s budget to the Superintendent. The Board’s role is to review and pass the district's overall budget – not to micromanage the budgeting process for each individual school.

 

As Board members, we commit to stepping in and closely analyzing the budget to make sure resources are allocated in ways that benefit the unique needs of each school and are fairly distributed across schools. We want to make sure that the administration is asking the right questions when allocating funds.


(2) School placements are random causing some families to attend a school across town when another one is right near their home.

We hear stories daily about this issue and it absolutely needs to be addressed. Last week we were talking with a parent who was distraught over not knowing where her child would be placed. In the ‘burbs, this wouldn’t even be a topic of conversation, but it’s a critical issue in our town. We sat down with Dr. Christine Johnson to discuss our concerns about the school placement process.

 

While Hoboken parents previously had school choice, meaning they could list their school preference, when that choice was removed, it caused extreme confusion since zoning was not introduced at the same time.  This entire process needs to be thoroughly audited and corrected so that parents have peace of mind with school placement. This is an initiative we are excited to lead once we are elected.

 

What is your view of the relationship between the BOE and the Superintendent of schools? What is your ideal relationship between the two offices, and how will you work to achieve that?

It is important that the Board and Superintendent have a healthy, mutually respectful working relationship. After all, we are all serving because we care about the future of our students and schools.  And, in any working relationship, disagreements happen, and that’s just fine if they are resolved through thoughtful discussion. Checks and balances in any system exist for a reason. As Board members, we don’t believe in rubberstamping decisions. And we don’t believe in micro-managing. We believe in collaboration as a way to find solutions. That’s what we would bring to the Board. Putting the past behind. Looking ahead optimistically to the future.

 

If a parent, teacher, principal or even a student comes to you with an issue or complaint, what do you see as your role in addressing this?

The Board of Education is governed by a Code of Ethics disseminated by the state. Any issue or complaint that is received must be reported to the chief educational leader, who in Hoboken, is our Superintendent.  It is not the Board’s role to handle the day to day happenings in the district. The Board’s role is not to micromanage unique situations. Should a teacher, principal or student come to any of us, we would, of course, be sympathetic to their issue, but we would direct them to the Superintendent for guidance.

 

As Board members, we would encourage an open dialogue between parents, teachers and students. And we would not shy away from addressing tough issues. We view ourselves as conduits for the community.

 

What is your philosophy of special education and how will you support the needs of special needs children?

1J – Anne Marie Schreiber: Being the mother of a child with an IEP since his Kindergarten year, I know first-hand, the importance of a strong special education program. Special education is a necessary component in schools and children with both IEP’s and 504 plans need to be served because all kids matter. IEP’s and 504 plans must be followed “to a T” and there is a legal requirement to do so. I will put all efforts towards emphasizing the importance of identifying the children who need these services early on in their education. Elysian did a wonderful job in identifying my sons need for services in October of his Kindergarten year. Early intervention is crucial to a student’s overall success. I am also passionate about the fact that an atmosphere in which special education students are not ostracized is created throughout the district.


3J – Peter Biancamano: During my time on the Board, we've seen an influx of special needs students who are both being educated in district and outside Hoboken. The state has direct guidelines on what special needs students are entitled to, and I have never seen an instance where the district has gone against those entitlements. In fact, the district strives to go above and beyond regarding special needs children.
 

4J – Lauren Eagle: I believe in creating a culture of inclusion throughout the entire school system. We need to ensure that special needs children feel welcomed and cared for no matter what school they attend. They also need to be given the resources they need to develop and succeed.  I view caring for special needs children/ providing special education as a partnership between the school, teachers, parents and students—working together constantly to ensure that all needs are met and we continue to look at how our resources can be further developed.

 

Let's end on a fun note- when you aren't campaigning and have some down time, where do you like to go in Hoboken?

1J – Anne Marie Schreiber: When I have down time, I spend it enjoying my three children. From cooking and baking, to attending Broadway and off Broadway shows, to playing chess and reading, we really try to make the most of our time together. They are everything to me! I also spend time playing piano.  I've been playing since I was five years old. Music has always been an integral part of my life and I take every opportunity I get to enjoy live music. I am passionate about supporting our extremely talented local musicians. I also volunteer at my children's school, from chairing the annual book fair, to chaperoning class trips, helping in the classrooms and serving the school as a member of the Board.


3J – Peter Biancamano: Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge sports fan. While I’m partial to the Cowboys/Rangers/Mets, I really enjoy it all. Spending time with family is also really important to me. I have family from Hoboken all the way to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I have one niece and one nephew and nothing is better than being an uncle. And, of course, I spent time at the deli, which has been rated as having the best fresh mozzarella in the city of Hoboken, M & P Biancamano!
 

4J – Lauren Eagle: In the rare moments I have to myself, I love decompressing at a barre or spin class. More often, however, my exercise involves running around Hoboken to my kid’s schools volunteering and developing programs. Outside of school activities, as a family, we visit the parks, go to a new activity around town, or build something fun at home like a new Lego tower, making our own glitter slime, or playing our favorite board games. My husband and I also try to have “date nights” so we can regroup as a couple. 

 

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