Earlier this year, five candidates put their names forward for three open seats on the Princeton Board of Education: Molly Chrein, Thomas Hagedorn, Meeta Khatri, Dennis Scheil, and Andrea Spalla. Mr. Scheil has dropped out of the running, citing personal reasons, so there will be four candidates for the three three-year term seats when residents vote in the November 5 election.
Even though he is no longer a candidate, Mr. Scheil’s name will appear on the ballot because he withdrew after the deadline for inclusion.
In a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters last week, all four candidates responded to questions from the League and from the public. A second forum, sponsored by the Special Education PTO, will take place Monday, October 28, at 7 p.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS). The public is encouraged to attend.
Incumbents Ms. Chrein and Ms. Spalla have been on the Board since 2010. In addition to their seats, a third seat was made vacant when Dorothy Bedford stepped down after serving six years and moved to Pennsylvania. The remainder of her term has been served by former Board President Anne Burns.
Ms. Chrein has lived in Princeton for almost a decade and is a Womanspace volunteer. She chairs the Board’s personnel committee and is a member of the student achievement committee. She also serves on the board’s negotiations team and is the liaison to the JWMS PTO. She has two children at Princeton High School (PHS): senior Lily Hyman and freshman Nathaniel Hyman. “I am passionate about public education and believe it is crucial to our democracy,” she said.
Ms. Spalla currently chairs the student achievement committee and is a member of committees on facilities and external affairs and personnel. A former attorney, she serves as the Board’s vice president and is liaison to the PTO Council and to the PTO at Riverside School.
A Princeton resident since 1998, Ms. Spalla has two sons, both went to Community Park School: James Royer is now a 7th grader at JWMS and Benjamin Royer is a 9th grader at PHS. “My legal background and knowledge of policy, governance, finance and contracts informs all my school board work. I am dedicated to serving our community. As a public school parent, I am enthusiastically committed to participating in the district’s robust process of continual improvement, so that every child gets an excellent education, every day,” said Spalla.
A professor of mathematics at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) for 17 years, Tom Hagedorn has lived in Princeton for almost two decades. His son Nick Hagedorn is a second-grader at Community Park Elementary School. Through his involvement with the school, Mr. Hagedorn has become informed “on many of the important issues in public education.” He has been a supporter of the school’s Edible Garden, participating in garden days and tending the garden during the summer, and co-organized a Chess Club in the fall and spring of last year. “Education has been my life’s vocation,” he said. “I am passionate about educating the whole student and ensuring that each student is given every opportunity to fulfill their potential. Academics are a top priority, but our children’s success should not be measured solely by their test scores.” If elected, Mr. Hagedorn hopes to use his experience as coordinator of a TCNJ-wide program to improve student graduation rates to help solve issues that currently confront the school district. He describes two priorities: “1: to set specific five-year benchmarks to ensure continued progress on tackling Princeton’s achievement gap; and 2: to help create a strategic plan for the Valley Road building to benefit the students and the community.”
“I would solve these issues through greater dialogue between parents and the community. While consensus may not be possible, I believe open discussions enable new innovative solutions. I also favor regular forums on education issues,” said Mr. Hagedorn.
Meeta Khatri moved to Princeton two years ago after having lived in West Windsor and East Windsor. A long-time educator, she has owned and operated a supplemental education learning center in Hamilton since 2002. Both of her children, Nikita Khatri and Anush Khatri attended St. Paul’s School in Princeton. “As an educator and owner of a learning center, I instruct children pre-K through 12th grade from five different public school districts,” said Ms. Khatri. “Regular interaction with their families, over 11 years, has informed me of the critical opportunity I have to boost student achievement. At my center, kids who remain enrolled for more than 12 months achieve a year above grade level in both math and reading. This goal is achievable for all students irrespective of their socio-economic background with a very small investment of time and money.”
“As an educator, I have extensive experience of both public and private schools in Mercer County and I would like to bring a fresh perspective to the board and to education policy,” said Ms. Khatri.
Asked about challenges facing the school district at the recent candidates forum, both Ms. Chrein and Ms. Spalla described budgetary concerns, new teacher evaluation and student testing systems, and the transition to a new superintendent. “The best way to deal with all three … is to keep our priorities straight and not become reactive but to be flexible while keeping our larger goals of excellence and achievement for each child always at the forefront of our decision making,” said Ms. Chrein.
In response to the same question, Mr. Hagedorn also identified financial pressures on the schools as a pressing issue as well as the challenges of the new state-mandated evaluation system. In addition, he called for “community expertise” on the future of the Valley Road School building and the achievement gap. “The district should work with the community to create specific plans to meaningfully close the achievement gap within the next five years,” he said.
Closing the achievement gap for low-income students was also a priority for Ms. Khatri who suggested “providing extra after school and in school attention on a daily basis, for as long as it takes.” To address unfunded state mandates, she raised the idea of students taking standardized tests digitally online. The burden of state-mandated evaluations. she said: “can be best achieved by providing as much information to those being evaluated in a timely manner, transparency within the process will ensure minimum strife. In the long run evaluations should happen on a regular schedule, with a process of feedback and remediation in place.”
The next candidates forum takes place at JWMS Monday, October 28 at 7 p.m. following an Open House from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.