New Board President Looks to Year Ahead
Finishing construction, finding solutions to high school parking problems, and hiring a new superintendent will be the main issues new School Board President Anne Burns intends to tackle in the upcoming school year in the Princeton Regional School District.
"It's going to be a busy year. We have enough on our plate," said Ms. Burns, listing teacher contract negotiations next January as another large concern.
The 14-year Township resident has been a member of the School Board since 2000, serving as its vice president for the last two years. At the Board's April 27 reorganization meeting, Ms. Burns and Charlotte Bialek, the former Board president, switched roles. Ms. Burns will now serve as president, while Ms. Bialek will become the Board's vice president.
In regard to construction, Ms. Burns said a high priority is making sure that schools open on time this year, after the district had a delayed opening last year due to construction.
"I want the elementary schools to look spectacular in September so that teachers have time to get their classrooms together," she said. "We don't want a repeat of last year. That's a huge priority."
Last Tuesday she and other members of the Board had the opportunity to walk through John Witherspoon and see what progress has been made on its new academic wing, which should be complete before September.
"You can really see how wonderful the space is ... It was really very exciting," she said.
Born in Wayne, Ms. Burns graduated from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. She wrote for the school's newspaper, The Collegian, however, her career went in another direction once school was over. Starting with a career in public relations for a hospital, she eventually wound up working for Gov. Brendan T. Byrne, writing speeches and press releases. Once she became pregnant with her first daughter in 1980, Ms. Burns left her job and began volunteering.
The mother of five children, Ms. Burns' two daughters, 21 and 19, both graduated from Princeton High School. Her sons, 11 and 9, attend John Witherspoon Middle School and Community Park Elementary, respectively. Her oldest daughter died in childhood of a sudden illness.
Ms. Burns has been a Princeton resident since October 1990. A former resident of Hillsborough, she said she and her husband, a cardiologist in New Brunswick, were looking for "a more stable school district."
"Our girls had been in three different schools in three years," she said.
With children in both the elementary and middle schools, Ms. Burns says her main priority is getting construction complete on time, particularly at the elementary schools.
Since the district's $62.3 million budget passed by a margin of 2 to 1 at the end of April, Ms. Burns said she has felt very encouraged.
"The budget is potentially a very scary thing," said Ms. Burns. "But despite how difficult the fall was and how people were upset [over construction problems], we seemed to be able to address things ... It just goes to show that people really do support education in this town, even when it really hurts their pocketbook."
Now, the new Board president must turn to the biggest issue at hand, which is finding a new superintendent. The Board officially accepted Dr. Claire Sheff Kohn's resignation from her position at the April 27 meeting.
Dr. Kohn recently sent out a proposal to 10 search firms to help the process of finding a new superintendent, said Ms. Burns. The Board is asking for all responses to be sent back by May 13, and search firm interviews will take place on May 18.
"I've received one [response from a firm] during this past week, and I expect to get the rest soon," said the president.
Ms. Burns said that the Board may vote on a search firm on May 18, or wait for the Board's meeting on May 25.
"We need to move quickly because we have a lot of stuff we need to get done ... We want to get a lot of the work done before school ends," said Ms. Burns.
Talking to parents, teachers, and staff in the district to get an idea of what criteria should be used in the search for a new superintendent is a rather time-consuming task, and one that is much easier to get done while school is still in session, she said.
The Board will also be interviewing two candidates to serve as interim superintendent at their May 25 meeting, and may select someone that night, she said.
"We're hoping for sooner, rather than later," said Ms. Burns.
High school parking problems will also be addressed in the near future, as neighbors of the high school met with Ms. Burns on Monday to discuss possible alternative solutions.
"Kids have started parking on Jefferson Avenue, but they're still parking on Moore Street and getting ticketed like crazy," said Ms. Burns. "The [students] and parents are upset, the neighbors are upset, and part of me is upset too."
Ms. Burns said that the original construction plan for the high school included a plan to add additional parking. However it was taken out because residents complained it would take away too much green space.
The plans were changed with the understanding that an alternative solution to short-term and long-term parking would be found, which hasn't happened yet, she said.
"So far the short-term parking solution seems to be that the Borough tickets the kids," said Ms. Burns.
But the new Board president said she intends to work to find a solution to the problem in the near future.
"I'm confident that we can work together to find a solution, but it's going to involve some short-term compromises," she said.