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Get to Know the Candidates in Tuesday's School Board Elections

Today is the date of the first school board elections New Brunswick has seen in nearly 20 years. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

On Tuesday, voters in New Brunswick will vote to fill two brand-new seats on the New Brunswick Board of Education in the first school board elections in New Brunswick in two decades.

In preparation for the elections, Unity Square has distributed a nonpartisan questionnaire to the candidates for the purpose of the community to learn more about them.

Below, find the questionnaires reprinted from Unity Square's official blog.

Five candidates are running for two seats. One seat is a one-year term and the other is a two-year term.

Candidates seeking the one-year term:

Diana Fajardo, 54 Remsen Ave.:

What motivates you to seek this office? As a parent of a child that attends one of our city schools, I am extremely motivated to become a member of the Board of Education because I enjoy having an active role in not just the education of my child, but of all the students of the city. Being able to actually make a difference in the way our children are educated by listening to the real concerns of fellow parents and residents prompts me to become more involved. 

What will be your top priorities as a member of the School Board? As a member of the school board, my top priorities would be the children and having more parent involvement. Our city schools currently have wonderful programs in place that help our students go far in their lives, but unfortunately there aren’t enough students and families that take advantage of the resources available to them. It is important that everyone be aware of all our city schools have to offer in order to get the full benefit of being a student in our district.

How will you seek to foster parent involvement? As the current PTO president at Lord Stirling Community School I can really appreciate when parents get involved in their children’s education. We as parents need to remember that we are our children’s first teachers and that letting them know we care about what they do and how they perform in school makes a big difference. I would encourage more participation by asking that PTO/PTA members attend board meetings and relay information to parents about activities both they and their children can get involved in.

How will you ensure that students who are immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants receive equal and high-quality educational opportunities? Given the demographic in New Brunswick, immigrant students and their parents have to be considered a strong focus. As a former ESL student in the New Brunswick public school system I can attest to the drive and determination of the teachers whose careers have been devoted to helping students not just learn the English language but also helping students and their families become more assimilated with the new culture. Supporting groups like the Bilingual Parent Council and Puerto Rican Action Board, two organizations that add to our school district in assisting Latino families by facilitating programs, providing informational workshops, and promoting overall awareness is of the utmost importance.

How will you support all students, from the gifted to those in need of extra help? Every student in our school district is important. Students that are classified as gifted need to be continually challenged, and ensuring we have current materials for them to thrive would be a priority. Likewise, for children that require extra help, ensuring that we have the staff to meet all of their needs is of major importance. And for all of the children that fall between that spectrum, I would look forward to establishing programs that assist every child so that they can achieve their goals.

Cedrick Goodman, 29 Joyce Kilmer Ave.:

What motivates you to seek this office? As a tax payer and lifelong resident born and raised in the City of New Brunswick and graduate of the New Brunswick school system, I know first-hand the impact of obtaining a good quality education. With the graduation rate of our school children around the rate of 58% while maintaining the status of an Abbot school district I determine this as troubling and very problematic. I see the need for a better system of oversight and fiscal accountability that could help improve in program areas that remain unproductive and help address those deficiencies for our students. In my view there is no justification for our schools’ lack of performance and low test scores compared to other students in NJ. 

What will be your top priorities as a member of the School Board? My first priority will be to evaluate all current program services and funding to determine what areas are in need of improvement or re-evaluation of their affectability. I would like to develop a system of fiscal oversight, accountability and better parent participation; improve relations between administrators and parents and develop a more welcomed environment at all school board meetings to improve parent participation; and seek out ways to reduce government waste. New Brunswick is considered the Hub City and attracts millions of visitors and employment opportunities for residents everywhere our schools should be a model of success for the state. Our city is the host of economic powers such as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Johnson & Johnson, Brystol Meyers, Devco, St. Peters University Hospital, and Rutgers University our State University. 

How will you seek to foster parent involvement? I truly feel that board members should take a more active role in reaching out to parents within the community to develop a better working relationship that would encourage more parents to take an active role in their children’s education. I would like to propose a system of questions to obtain more input from parents who have concerns and what challenges or improvements do they recommend we should consider. I think televised school board meetings would accommodate any parent unable to make the current meetings and assist them in taking a more active role in relations with board meetings. This information will help find solutions to those challenges. Board members must develop better dialogue with parents and better relations which in turn would create a more welcoming and friendly atmosphere at all school board meetings.

How will you ensure that students who are immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants receive equal and high-quality educational opportunities? I would seek advice or consultation from those professional who are bilingual and evaluate all current programs and services being offered by our schools and determine which if any can be improved or what we can develop to meet the growing demands of the Latino population. This means improvements in hiring bilingual staff to attend address parents’ concerns and answer their question at schools. Develop a system of translation for parents at meetings or parent/teacher conferences. Are current programs of bilingual and ESL programs providing the best results. What English classes are available for parents so they can communicate with teachers/administrators.

How will you support all students, from the gifted to those in need of extra help? I will make an active effort to provide every service available to both gifted and challenged student to connect them to the best tools and services available. I will evaluate all available resources at my disposal and recommend according the students’ needs the programs or services that suits each student’s described need. I will encourage students to seek my input if frustrated in the classroom and contact teachers to let them know I care and available for student assistance. I would like to propose programs that would allow a partnership with students from Rutgers University and Middlesex County College who could take a more active mentoring and tutoring role in preparing our kids for college.

Candidates seeking the two-year term:

Ronald Hush, 144 New St.:

It has been my commitment to work with students and their families to ensure they are afforded a quality education and a safe environment to learn. I have volunteered many years, working with youth of all ages, returning knowledge and wisdom I’ve gained during my years of service. At the core of my efforts is the desire to prepare youth to face upcoming challenges to surpass previous generations on their journey to adulthood. I believe our children are the most important “Gem” of our existence in America, and as a gem is precious so are our children.

What will be your top priorities as a member of the School Board? As a member of the School Board, I will acclimate myself to the duties, policies, and procedures as mandated by the Department of Education and the New Brunswick Board of Education. Second, in my role as Board Member, my priority is to sustain a safe environment for New Brunswick students that are conducive to learning. Third, I will serve as an advocate for New Brunswick families and youth who seek to use a quality education as a platform to success.

How will you seek to foster parent involvement? Parental involvement is an integral component to the success of our students, school district, and community.  Our current system fosters parent organizations/associations such as Parent-Teachers Association or Parent-Teacher Organization. I am aware of the challenges that parents face when they are unable to attend a meeting or an event.  I am committed to improving our parent participation by periodically attending these meetings; therefore, encouraging parents/families to attend. I will work with my fellow board members, Superintendent, and parent-focused groups to enhance our current system throughout the district.  Parent involvement is the foundation of a quality school district.

How will you ensure that students who are immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants receive equal and high-quality educational opportunities? My concern is not one specific group of students but that all students receive the same quality education. I understand that our students have various challenges that require specific attention; we presently have various curriculums/programs that address the needs of our students and their families. It is my intention to work with my Board of Education colleagues, the Superintendent, and Community based organizations to continue to develop culturally competent initiatives that support a quality academic experience. I believe when we work together, our families and children have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams for success.

How will you support all students, from the gifted to those in need of extra help? As previous mentioned, all New Brunswick Students have the right to quality education. It is paramount that we do not isolate a segment of the population; rather we provide a holistic approach that addresses each student’s unique capabilities. This will require the families, community, my board of education colleagues, and the Superintendent to identify the various talents/needs among our student body. Once identified, we as a community will work to nurture the talent, address the need, and support all our student success. These ingredients will support a quality education for our students that will prepare them for the future.

Jerry B. Mercado, 69 Pennington Road:

What motivates you to seek this office? As parent and taxpayer, I see the need for better oversight because most of our schools in New Brunswick have students with low test scores compared to other students in NJ. We also have a low (56%) graduation rate in the high school. My taxes increase and I don’t see an increase in the performance of our schools. I also bring a great deal of board experience. I was a New Brunswick Housing Authority Commissioner for 5 years, member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment for 8 years, and current President and Founder of New Brunswick Little League, a 501c3 organization.

What will be your top priorities as a member of the School Board? I would like to help increase parent participation, evaluate all programs and their funding to make sure we are getting our money’s worth, and find best practices to become a higher performing school system. With all the resources available to New Brunswick, a State University, J&J World Headquarters, and two teaching hospitals, we should have the highest scoring students. I would like to see us touting about the many Blue Ribbon schools within our district. I think our capacities should be able to overcome any challenges we face.

How will you seek to foster parent involvement? We should ask parents what are their challenges and why are they not able to participate. This information will help find solutions to those challenges. If the problem is that they work during the week and are not available to participate then we should be outside the box thinkers and offer opportunities to participate on weekends. The only limits are the ones we set for ourselves. We also need to improve our customer service skills. Some parents complain that they don’t feel welcomed at their own neighborhood school. We should also make parents feel empowered in their children’s education. 

How will you ensure that students who are immigrants themselves or whose parents are immigrants receive equal and high-quality educational opportunities? We need to make sure we have bilingual staff to attend and answer their question at schools. We need to have translating services available at meetings or parent/teacher conferences. We need to make sure our bilingual and ESL programs are working. Working means that children are being transitioned from being monolingual to bilingual with English being at the same level or higher than their peers. We also need to embrace the student’s culture and immerse their peers so we can create an atmosphere of tolerance and unity. Offer English classes for parents so they can communicate with teachers/administrators. 

How will you support all students, from the gifted to those in need of extra help? For the students that are gifted, we should be prepared to assign more challenging work and create special study programs for them and publicize this to parents. These competitive programs may deter parents from sending their children outside our school district when they see low test scores reported. For the students that need extra help, we should place them in programs that address their challenges and helps them catch up to their peers. We should use the resources that are at our disposal, for example student mentors/tutors from Rutgers University is one example.

Martin Arocho, 8 Dewey Drive:

At press time, Arocho had not yet submitted responses to the questionnaire. His information will be published when it becomes available.

A sixth candidate, Antonio Finney, announced this week that was dropping out of the race to support Goodman.

The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Do you know where your polling place is? Check https://voter.njsvrs.com/PublicAccess/jsp/PollPlace/PollPlaceSearch.jsp

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