September 23, 2020

To the Editor:

I’m certain the more than 70 others who attended the virtual Board of Education Candidates’ Forum share my gratitude to Leighton Newlin and the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association (WJNA) for hosting this timely and instructive event last Saturday, September 19. 

After listening to each candidate’s platform and their solutions to longtime and emergent local educational issues, attendees acquired information and insight to assist them in casting an informed vote in the upcoming seminal Board of Education election for a new direction for Princeton’s public schools.

Capping off the excellent meeting was a presentation by Anton (Tony) Nelessen, who has been teaching urban design and professional practice, first at Harvard and currently at Rutgers, for the past 39 years. Nelessen spoke on affordable housing, zoning, sustainability, and smart growth with particular reference to  the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.    

Linda Sipprelle
Victoria Mews

To the Editor:

It is time for a change. For years, I’ve watched with dismay as members of Princeton’s Board of Education (BOE), with a few notable exceptions, have consistently failed to examine each question put before them with a critical eye.

The role of a Board member is to draw upon their experience, expertise, and analytical skills to deliberate with their fellow Board members to make informed decisions. It is not to serve as a rubber stamp.

Sadly, the leadership of our BOE discourages dissent among Board members in exchange for conformity to the wishes of both the administration and a small, but vocal, cadre political insiders who have for years set the BOE’s agenda.

As part of their effort to stifle public discourse, last year the BOE leadership spent taxpayer funds on legal fees to silence fellow Board members who shared information about topics of significant interest to the community. more

September 16, 2020

To the Editor:

The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area and Princeton Community Television will host a virtual forum with candidates running for the Princeton Board of Education on Wednesday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. Questions for the candidates should be emailed to lwvprinceton@gmail.com by September 27.

The forum can be viewed on Comcast channel 30 (Princeton only) and Verizon FiOS channel 45. It will be streamed on Princeton TV at princetontv.org, and at facebook.com/PrincetonTelevision. A recording of the forum will be available on VOTE411.org, at Princeton TV’s sites and at lwvprinceton.org and facebook.com/LWVPRINCETON. It will be rebroadcast on PCTV. The candidates’ written responses to League questions will be available at VOTE411 after September 21.

Because of the pandemic, the November 3 general election will take place mainly as a vote-by-mail election. Please note:

1. Every active registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail. An active voter is one who has voted in the 2016 and/or 2018 general election. With the ballot, the voter will also receive a postage-paid envelope for returning the ballot. If returned through the mail, it must be postmarked by Election Day, November 3, and received no later than November 10 to be counted. Secure drop boxes will also be available in every county. Unlike the primary election, voters can also return their completed ballots personally to the poll workers at their polling place.  more

To the Editor:

As a fellow Princeton resident, my family and I have known Jean Durbin and her family for almost 15 years. Through the years, we have seen Jean’s strong commitment and service to our community. She has served our community in many different roles, either as a leader or a team member: Littlebrook PTO co-president, Princeton Little League, YMCA, Princeton Education Foundation, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, and others.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work very closely with Jean as a co-chair for the Princeton Education Foundation Gala. I witnessed the tremendous passion and commitment that Jean has for our children and schools. As a Princeton Public Schools parent, she truly understands our experiences along with the gaps in resources and funding in our school district. Jean was a key factor in mobilizing our community to participate in our Gala committee and event, which resulted in over $70K in funds raised for our schools. Jean and I worked well as a team and I appreciated her thoughtful, organized approach to our work together.

Jean’s past community roles clearly demonstrate her ability to listen and work collaboratively and creatively. She brings an optimal mix of professional and volunteer experiences to address the challenges that our schools are facing, including educating our children during a global pandemic and addressing injustices rooted in structural racism. Jean’s work with the Princeton Civil Rights Commission and her years of championing for those who have been historically disenfranchised or marginalized will serve her well as a Princeton Board of Education member.  more

To the Editor:

While I’m thrilled to see so many candidates for the Board of Education (BoE), I fear splitting the vote, i.e., not changing anything. Voters have tried for years to elect a community-supportive BoE majority. The odds are tough because the BoE’s mailing list dependably covers a majority of those who actually vote.

(This year’s vote is all mail-in. In-person votes will be provisional votes, subject to rejection on technicalities. If you want your vote to count, vote the moment your ballot arrives. Call the Mercer County Board of Elections the following week at (609) 989-6773 to be sure it’s counted.)

Because this BoE needs a new majority, ready to work on January 1, I have listened for all eight candidates’ views on the BoE’s 2018-2020 accomplishments. Here’s a review:

Although Cranbury residents pay less in school taxes while you pay more and more, the BoE majority voted to accept Cranbury’s 280 students for no additional contribution, and to expand PHS to accommodate them. more

To the Editor:

I’d like to publicly thank the Princeton Recreation Department and Community Park Pool staff for opening the pool this summer.

Being able to swim laps and run into friends provided some feeling of “normal” during this unprecedented time. I truly appreciate their willingness to open and staff the facility.

Gay Bitter
Moore Street

To the Editor:

With Mercer County’s mid-September hazardous and electronic recycling days coming up, wouldn’t it be excellent if Princeton reopened its River Road Convenience Center again? The facility closed due to corruption by one or two Sewer Operating Committee employees and illegal dumping of hazardous waste at the site by a contractor.

Prior to this, however, SOC had already moved its two dumpsters for Princeton residents’ use (after purchase of the necessary coupon) to the front of the site, near River Road. This new location may not be in the area affected by the illegally dumped waste. Why can’t the town re-open the Center? I  am surely not the only one still with coupons and plenty of stuff to throw out. When will Princeton give us back our dump?

Robert Milevski
Mount Lucas Road

To the Editor,

I write to endorse Beth Behrend for re-election to the Princeton School Board, where she has served as Board president for the last two years. I worked with Beth on the board of The Watershed Institute prior to her election to the School Board and as a result was confident that our schools and taxpayers would benefit from her election to the Board three years ago. I also serve on Princeton’s Citizens Finance Advisory Committee and understand the significant impact that our public schools have on taxpayers’ wallets.

Beth has now established a record of leadership that proves she is the right person for such a challenging and important position. Beth has used her organizational skills, diplomatic temperament, clear thinking, and strong work ethic to advance our schools on so many fronts: financial transparency and budgeting, equity and racial literacy, community engagement and collaboration, and navigating the rapid shift to remote learning while addressing the ongoing challenges of meeting student educational, emotional, and nutritional needs in a pandemic. These are just a few of many examples. more

To the Editor:

I had the honor and pleasure of serving as the interim executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton for the past two years. It was a labor of love. However much I put into the organization, I received back so much more. To be a part of the team that does so much for Princeton and the surrounding communities, particularly the underserved, was thoroughly rewarding. Two things in particular that I learned that I’d like to pass along.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that in my 23 years of living in Princeton prior to being ED, I was not sufficiently aware of the history of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. The Arts Council takes very seriously its commitment to serve all the residents of this neighborhood and to respect the historical roots of our building as the Black YMCA and the neighborhood community center during the last half of the 20th century. In these times when many of us have committed to learning what we can about the roots of systemic racism, I’d encourage everyone to read I Hear My People Singing – Voices of African American Princeton by Kathryn Watterson.  It is bracing to learn why Princeton had been referred to as “the North’s most southern town” and to realize we all have plenty of work to do right here in our own backyard. more

To the Editors:

We are extremely pleased to write in support of Beth Behrend’s run for a second term on Princeton’s Board of Education. In her first term, Beth demonstrated her collaborative approach to problem solving, an unwavering dedication to securing the well-being of all of our district’s children, and her commitment to planning responsibly for our future. Her experience on the Board of Education has shown both vision and a deeply professional, practical ability to get the Board’s work done in the most effective, equitable, cost-efficient manner. 

During her Board presidency, Beth Behrend has led collaboratively by bringing diverse people together to tackle a series of difficult challenges. As one example, at the start of Beth’s term, the district faced a growing student population and school overcrowding, along with widespread ambivalence about a proposed referendum. Beth was instrumental in the School Board’s decision to rethink its approach, and ultimately find a successful path to advance the most urgent issues, including the recent HVAC installations and upgrades that are proving critical to the district’s ability to provide ventilation and COVID-safe environments.

Beth Behrend is that rare leader who is able to simultaneously steward public schools through present challenges, while paving the way for future success. She believed a community-driven process could ensure that solutions to overcrowding would reflect the town’s deeply-held values for excellent education and affordability. Toward those goals she led the Board to organize two citizen committees, the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (in which we have been involved) and the Future Enrollment Committee. In facing complex decisions, Beth’s leadership shaped a process whereby the community can review options, provide ideas, and help make choices based on expert analysis of trends in our town’s demographic and other data. In all these efforts, Beth has worked with town leadership — Council, mayor, planning office, and other departments — to collaborate and find creative savings.  The ability to plan effectively for curriculum, facilities, and co-curricular activities is greatly enhanced by this collaboration ensuring that resources are wisely deployed for the town as a whole and Princeton’s children in particular.  more

To the Editor:

As our staff begins to look ahead towards fall programming, we’d like to briefly look back to this summer 2020 and offer thanks to the thousands of community members who chose to be part of one or more Princeton Recreation programs this summer. The summer began with many more questions than answers about what activities could safely be offered, but in the end we welcomed more than 33,000 visitors to CP Pool and saw sold-out registration in almost all 19 weeks of our modified, in-person programming. In-person programming encompassed more than 500 total registrations.

We are proud to say that we continued our commitment to teaching kids how to swim with modified instruction, which meant an adult in the water with each child. Different? Yes! Effective? Yes! Our financial assistance program continued to assist families in need. Our commitment to removing financial barriers to entry remains strong as financial assistance was provided to 100 percent of applicants this summer.

One of the often overlooked benefits of what a healthy community recreation program offers to its community is employment opportunities. Despite the truncated summer season, our programs led to the creation of 123 seasonal jobs, most held by Princeton residents and by employees of our local school district. These jobs led to nearly $150,000 in wages being pumped back into our local economy.  more

To the Editor: 

As the nation grapples with issues of equity and racial and economic justice, it is important to recognize gains even as we acknowledge ongoing challenges. As someone who researches and teaches education policy, I am particularly focused on how these issues play out in our public schools.

Unlike most New Jersey school districts, which are highly segregated by income and race, Princeton Public Schools are very diverse, with students from greatly varied backgrounds including wealthy and highly-educated families as well as students who are low-income, undocumented, and do not speak English. Because of this diversity, our students start school at very different levels of knowledge, as reflected in the gaps in standardized test scores between our more and less privileged students. It is a mistake to blame our schools for those gaps. They are a reflection of who attends the schools, not whether those schools are effectively educating our students. To eliminate the gaps, we would have to eliminate the diversity and mirror the homogeneity of privilege that describes most affluent communities. 

If absolute test scores do not tell us anything about the quality of our schools, what does? Although there is no perfect metric, the NJ Department of Education and education researchers look at the change in students’ standardized test scores year to year to evaluate how much they are learning, a concept referred to as student growth. The NJ Department of Education’s latest school performance report (available on both the district’s and state’s websites), indicates that Princeton students are substantially outperforming their peers across the state in student growth rates. more

To the Editor,

On behalf of the board, staff, and members of the Sourland Conservancy, I would like to thank the 325 participants of the 2020 Sourland Spectacular for riding, running, and hiking to Save the Sourlands.

The New Jersey Forest Service estimates that our 90-square-mile region is on track to lose over one million trees within the next few years due to the invasive emerald ash borer. This damage will impact the fresh air, clean water, carbon sequestration services, and critical habitat the forest provides. Funds from the Spectacular will benefit the Sourland Conservancy’s efforts to plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers on public preserves; remove invasive species; host free guided hikes and educational seminars; lead advocacy efforts; work in partnership with the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum; and more. more

September 9, 2020

To the Editor,

The Princeton community will be well served with Adam Bierman on the (BOE) Board of Education.

Adam is a teacher at the state Division of Children and Families, working with at risk students in Trenton. He attended Princeton Public Schools, where his mother taught, and his father was president of BOE in the late ’60s to early ’70s.

Adam Bierman has the background and experience to help our schools avoid the mistakes that in the past have led to money wasted. He was against spending over $140,000 for non-local demographers. There are many issues involving teachers, students, and taxpayers that he would solve sensibly.

Robert Raphael
Snowden Lane

To the Editor:

Princeton Human Services once again had a successful Book Bag Drive this year thanks to the many donors who contributed to its success. Each year, the department distributes backpacks to over 150 children from grades kindergarten to 12th. This year, the department received an overwhelming response from donors, allowing the department to extend the drive to Princeton middle and high school students, totaling over 230 students who received backpacks.

For the past 11 years, the Princeton Human Services Commission, municipal employees, local businesses, organizations, and residents have donated book bags and school supplies. Due to the pandemic, the department was able to distribute face masks, hand sanitizer, tissues, and ear buds along with the school supplies to students. The items are distributed to children from low-income families who attend the Princeton Public Schools and are entering kindergarten through 12th grade.  more

To the Editor,

For Adam Bierman, Princeton has always been home. His candidacy for Princeton Board of Education gives me the welcome and fitting opportunity to say what I’ve been honored to say before about this dynamic and engaged citizen: Adam Bierman lives his life embracing the spirit of the proud center of learning that is Princeton municipality. For Adam, that means valuing the ability to think for oneself and using what you learn as a call to action.

I first met Adam, an independent Democrat, a few years ago in Princeton Community Village, the oldest and largest affordable housing development in our town, and the place I call home. Bierman came with an open mind, a welcoming spirit, and a sense of urgency. His presence was an antidote to cynicism and prepackaged thinking.

Adam Bierman’s deep knowledge of Princeton is a resource just waiting for the opportunity to benefit all of us. I can think of nowhere more important for him to devote himself on our behalf than the Board of Education.

Erica Mosner
Princeton Community Village

To the Editor:

Ken McCarthy in his letter (Mailbox, September 2) asks if anyone can explain how 18 deaths in Princeton’s population of 28,000 “creates a rationale for a multi-month crippling of the area’s local economy.” The relevant comparison is not the number of deaths that occurred despite the stringent measures, but the number that would have befallen us in the absence of those measures.

It is estimated that 50-60 percent of the population would have to be infected before herd immunity is reached. And the fatality rate among those infected in the U.S. is around 3 percent. Using these numbers for Princeton yields somewhere between 420 and 504 deaths. Therefore the measures probably saved this minus 18, i.e. over 400 and perhaps close to 500, lives.

The correct question is whether saving that many lives is worth the effect on the economy. Perhaps not, but surely a very different comparison. 

Avinash Dixit
Gordon Way

To the Editor:

We are pleased to let our friends and neighbors know how enthusiastically we support Beth Behrend’s candidacy for re-election to the Princeton School Board. Beth reached out to us last year asking that we volunteer our time to join with a number of other Princeton residents with deep and varied professional backgrounds in public finance, planning, and development, and advise the Board on the immensely-complicated challenges our public schools are facing over the next few years. While both of us have spent most of our careers in the private sector, Harry previously served as finance chair of the Princeton Board of Education, and Bob served as an elected member of the former Princeton Borough Council.

Public school enrollments are rising, as Princeton continues to grow and redevelop as a very attractive place for families to live and work. Enrollment growth is already placing significant stress on the capacities of our teachers, and also our school facilities, a number of them built well over a half-century ago. Our projections indicate enrollment growth is likely to continue into the next five years and beyond.

Meanwhile, state-mandated spending caps on school budgets impose severe constraints on the Board’s financial options to address these pressures. Our team of volunteer professionals has been deeply engaged this past year with Beth and her district and Board colleagues in assembling the best data available on these challenges and supporting the work of outside planning professionals who are developing smart short-term and long-term planning options to address these issues. more

To the Editor:

I write this letter in support of Paul Johnson, Karen Lemon, and Bill Hare for the Board of Education, as a private individual, as a Princeton taxpayer, as a volunteer in the community, as a wife, and as a mother of two PHS graduates, 2015 and 2018, and not on the behalf of the Board of Education.

The Board needs engaged, proactive, and compassionate board members who will ensure a budget within the 2 percent cap, will ensure that money is spent so that ALL students are given the tools they need to reach their potential and who will be transparent and trustworthy in every vote they make on behalf of all our students, staff, and parents.

Approximately 30 percent of Princeton households have students in PPS. Paul, Karen, and Bill understand the importance of not only a diverse student body, but also of a diverse staff and a diverse community that welcomes everyone. Paul, Karen, and Bill support the 2 percent cap and will keep taxes lower by managing the expenses and holding administration accountable to their budgets and smarter spending. They want to reimagine our current facilities instead of building new ones. They promise to streamline and look to our community for expertise, instead of just hiring consultants who don’t know or understand Princeton. They promise that even when your children graduate PPS you will be able to afford to stay in Princeton, where you have put down roots and made a home for your family. more

To the Editor:

I have worked closely with Jean Durbin in her role as president of the PCDO (Princeton Democrats). She is both strong and collaborative, not shy about sharing her own ideas, but always open to others’ input. She is incisive and gets the big picture; when analyzing tough issues, she has a good sense of what questions need to be asked and who needs to be included in answering them. Jean is modest and never seeks the spotlight, but serves for the good of the community. 

Jean brings an ideal mix of experiences and strengths to address the unique challenges facing Princeton schools in this time of COVID, growth, and the quest for racial literacy and equity. Professionally her roles have included law, policy development, contract management, and social work.  She has also volunteered to lead and serve in several school organizations, the Princeton Civil Rights Commission, Princeton Little League, and more. As a parent, she adds personal experience to her public commitment to education in our community.

Jean’s unique qualities and experience will serve us well on the Board of Education; I hope you will join me in voting for Jean Durbin this fall.

Liz Cohen
Terhune Road

September 2, 2020

To the Editor:

Even though we are all navigating uncharted territory every day, we  know we need to stay focused on the things that matter, and on continuing to make progress in our public life despite these challenges. That is why I am supporting Beth Behrend for a second term on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.  

We can all be proud of our public schools in Princeton, which are the envy of the state and the nation. But we also know there is still room for improvement, to make things better for all our children. Beth shares this attitude of seeking out constant improvement, and has the experience and vision to keep our momentum towards an excellent, but fair and humane, school system that reflects our highest aspirations as a community. more

To the Editor,

I read the letter from Libby Hicks regarding the renaming of JWMS [“Rename JWMS to Princeton Middle School to Welcome, Represent Everyone,” Mailbox, August 26], and while I largely agree with it, I have two observations and a suggestion.

First, I believe that most of her geographic, finding-the-school issues have been resolved by the advent of GPS.

As for the new name, I agree that it’s a bad idea to rename the school after anyone. How do we make a decision between Albert Einstein, Paul Robeson, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, or any of the dozen-or-more potentially deserving Princeton residents? more

To the Editor:

I am so pleased to see the issue of the gas leaf blowers resurface in Princeton. The loud noise and disturbance they cause are a nuisance, for neighbors, residents, visitors, and animals that share our environment. The noise is a pervasive problem as the current regulations permit blowers to be used extensively.

Town Topics has published many letters from residents for weeks, indicating our community wants a real solution. It well documented that these noisy, highly “inefficient,” air polluting machines are very harmful to humans. The leaf blowers generate dangerously fine particulates which damage the human respiratory system. Summer heat compounds the issue. The chairs of the Princeton Environmental Commission and the Board of Health recently sent a letter sharing that the leaf blowers are a public health concern.

On September 12, 2020, the New Jersey Environmental Lobby will recognize Grace Sinden. a local environmental activist, at a virtual event. For five full years, Grace advocated and worked intensively to get an ordinance passed banning gasoline leaf blowers in Princeton. In 2000, 20 years ago, Council considered an ordinance to ban the blowers. It was sadly defeated due to the advocacy of those that support gas blowers. At that time battery and electric leaf blowers were not readily available. more

To the Editor:

Thanks for reporting the latest local COVID numbers on your front page [Health Dept. Prepares for School Reopenings and Fall Flu Season, August 19]. In a town with a population of 28,000, we’ve had a total of 18 COVID-19-related deaths (which I assume is different from deaths strictly caused by COVID). This makes the per capita death rate 0.06%. You reported the average age of death at 84.6. This is in a state where the average lifespan is 80.

Can anyone explain how this creates the rationale for a multi-month crippling of the area’s local economy, undermining and in some cases destroying beloved local small businesses, and causing untold suffering for thousands of working people, especially low wage workers in the service economy?

Ken Mccarthy
Palmer Square West

To the Editor:

Never have we seen a time when global, national, and local leadership have been so important. It is also a time for creative leadership. We are running as a slate and believe we will provide creative leadership as members of the Princeton Board of Education.

This is not a time for consistency. Consistency has gotten us diverging achievement and opportunity gaps. Consistency has gotten us a culture where staff feel unheard and not prioritized. Consistency has resulted in all families lacking a voice in decision making. Consistency has meant costly financial decisions not centering on education that contribute to driving up the cost of living in Princeton.

Rather than striving for consistency, we believe this is a time for leadership, and together we have built a platform focused on diversity, affordability, and trust.

Nationwide we’ve seen the outcome when diversity and equity are not actively valued or prioritized. This is evident in our classrooms, too. Students should not be valued less because they learn differently, their scores and grades should not be predicted by their race, economic status, or abilities, yet this happens in Princeton schools today. Actions we will take include: implement best practices to address opportunity and achievement gaps; prioritize diversity in hiring and retention; build a culture focused on a set of core values that respects people of all backgrounds. This starts with the Board and superintendent; implementing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative for all rising freshmen; and addressing behavior not in line with our values. more