October 7, 2020

To the Editor:

In less than one month, the election of our lifetime — already underway — will conclude. On our ballot are decisions that will determine everything from the fate of our democracy to how equitable our schools will be in the coming years. Please make sure to vote, and to send your ballot in as early as possible so that any problems can be remedied before November 3.

The most secure way to vote is by using the drop-off box in the Princeton Municipal Building (400 Witherspoon Street), which is securely emptied every day. Voting at the polls on Election Day will be by provisional paper ballots, whereas mailed-in ballots will be counted starting on 10 days prior to November 3, so if you want your vote to be counted and tallied on November 3 — vote by mail and early.

Importantly, your ballot includes a ballot measure question — question 3 — regarding postponing redistricting by two years when census results arrive late. This year, due to COVID-19, the results will be delayed. However, the question is not asking you to decide what will happen this year, but rather, to amend the New Jersey constitution so that the effects of COVID-19 linger for generations.  more

To the Editor:

As I filled out my ballot this morning, I felt not only gratitude for being able to vote, as I always do, but I also felt special appreciation for those capable and dedicated members of our community who have done so much for our community already and who are willing to continue to work for all of us by running for office.

We are fortunate to live among such wonderful neighbors!

Francesca Benson
Bainbridge Street

To the Editor:

Princeton lost our leading sustainability and wellness champion when Stephanie Chorney passed away after a brave struggle with cancer.

An incredibly supportive role model for so many of us in her relentless efforts to make our school district a better place for our kids, teachers, and staff, Stephanie was leading the sustainability and wellness charge back in the day when those issues weren’t even on most people’s radars as important topics that needed to be addressed.  more

To the Editor:

Our excellent school district faces many challenges, today and in the future. Two of the biggest issues — fiscal responsibility and ensuring equity for all students — have been the hallmarks of Michele Tuck-Ponder’s tenure on Princeton’s Board of Education.  

During her three years on the Board, Michele has consistently and thoughtfully considered every budget and program decision through the eyes of the taxpayer and the impact on our children, particularly those children who are too often marginalized. As a 30-year Princeton resident, former mayor and member of town Council, current member of the Princeton Housing Authority, current chair of the School District Equity Committee, and mother of two children educated in PPS, Michele knows all too well these intersecting issues of fiscal responsibility and equity. She has brought this unparalleled experience to bear on our schools and their relationship to every aspect of our community.

Michele has demonstrated vigilant attention to responsible planning for our children’s futures. She had the courage to stand alone to vote against the $129M referendum because she believed there had not been sufficient investigation and consideration of the best possible utilization of existing space, expansion, and facility improvement. Ultimately setting aside this large referendum proved to be the wise path that allowed the district to focus on its absolute priorities with a smaller, successful referendum, while providing time to plan effectively and build the expertise to evaluate options regarding facilities improvements and needed expansions.   more

To the Editor:

David Saul makes many excellent points in his letter (“Residents Should Consider Quieter, Less Polluting Battery or Electric Leaf Blowers,” September 30). 

Two additional points:

1) Recent developments in battery-operated lawn maintenance equipment provide leaf blowers that are in fact capable of handling large properties. Many municipalities have switched to battery-operated equipment for their parks. Harvard University no longer uses gas-powered equipment for its large campus. So owners of large commercial properties will find that commercial-sized battery-operated lawn maintenance equipment is available to meet their needs. 

2) One does not need to use leaf blowers at all, even in the fall. Raking leaves is a viable alternative. After all, before the invention of leaf blowers, all leaf work was done with rakes. Raking can be done as fast as leaf-blowing, or even faster. In a letter to Town Topics a few years ago (November 15, 2016), a Princeton resident told of a race between his raking and three men with leaf blowers:

“One afternoon, I walked into my front yard with a rake in my hands at the same moment that, coincidentally, a crew of three yardmen drove up to the neighbor’s house across the street, armed with leaf blowers and a riding mower. It was a true Paul Bunyan moment, but even more extreme as it was three on one! The lawnmower and two leaf blowers attacked the neighbor’s yard as I dug in with my rake. The lawnmower kicked up tremendous dust in addition to the 100+ decibels of noise that all three machines contributed to the otherwise quiet air around us. When the mower was done, that operator started up the third leaf blower and began his work. They finished the yard, put away their equipment, got into the truck and pulled away from the curb … just as I raked the last rake-full of leaves onto the curb. One silent man vs. three internal combustion machines — a dead tie. But I still think I won the contest.”

Phyllis Teitelbaum
Hawthorne Avenue

To the Editor:

I knew there would be problems. My mail-in ballot came today. Here’s what happened.

1. Too many ballots: My house has two voters. We received three ballots. My daughter hasn’t lived with us for 15 years. Yet the Elections Board still deems her “active.” Invitation to fraud?

2. Which signature? I signed my security envelope with the “short-form” signature I’ve used all my 50-year adult life. Oops! I then recalled that the Election Board has on file my adolescent full-name signature from when I first registered a half-century ago. At the polling place, where I sign a registration book before voting, my previous signatures always prompt me to sign the old way. Now I’ll have to go to the Elections Board to get a new ballot.

3. Enclose ballot in security envelope? I then watched my son vote. After marking his ballot, he inserted the ballot and security envelope separately into the mailing envelope. That would have disqualified his vote. I corrected him. Will everyone follow directions exactly?  more

To the Editor:

I sincerely respect the research and passion of the young PHS graduates that submitted their letter (”Current and Former PHS Students and Athletes Express Support for Restroom Facility, Mailbox, September 30).

I enjoyed sports at PHS/college, too bad there is so much deferred maintenance. We had mold when I was at PHS in the last century. There is a new facility team in place, hopefully mold will finally become history.

I must respectfully disagree with their argument for half-million-dollar bathrooms on the PHS football field.

I see the spending of over a half a million dollars as another example of not prioritizing operating funds and of wasteful spending. Given the district’s limited funds, time sensitivities, and politics overall, I feel spending such a large amount of the budget sends the wrong message to students, staff, and the community. 

The $2.9 million surplus, half of which are savings collected due to the pandemic, should be used for the expenses listed below, or given as tax relief to Princetonians whose finances have been devastated by the pandemic. The state’s uncertain economic situation could mean less funding in the future for public schools, and then, with this type of uncontrolled spending by the Board, all contributing factors can be very harmful to property values and cause our most vulnerable citizens to leave.  more

To the Editor:

I’m writing to praise the work of the non-partisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project and to promote their Redistricting Moneyball 2020 Map to those looking for concrete actions to revitalize our democracy.

While the presidential and senate races receive constant coverage, state legislative elections are also enormously consequential this year. After the 2020 census, states will redraw their legislative maps effective for the next decade. The details of this work vary by state, but in several states the process is controlled by the legislature. In states completely controlled by one party, this often leads to maps purposely skewed to the party in power. The severity of skew has increased dramatically with the advances in mapping software over the last decade — so called “gerrymandering on steroids.”

In a dreadful 5-4 decision the last term, the Supreme Court acknowledged that partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles,” but decided that it could not be resolved in federal courts. Effectively then, the next round of partisan redistricting will be unconstrained from any pretense of fairness. more

September 30, 2020

“AN AMAZING GUY”: Dago Villanueva, just promoted to general manger at The Meeting House restaurant, came to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago. He has been in the restaurant business ever since, working his way up from porter to bus boy, to waiter to host, to front-of-the-house manager, and then manager. (Photo courtesy of Dago Villanueva)

By Donald Gilpin

When the pandemic hit New Jersey in March and all non-essential businesses faced a shutdown, Dago Villanueva sat down with Amar Gautam, The Meeting House co-owner, every day, trying to help chart the way forward for the Witherspoon Street restaurant that had opened just four months before.

“We didn’t know week to week if we were going to stay open,” said Gautam.  “But Dago never wavered throughout the pandemic. He was this force of ‘Let’s try,’ ‘Let’s do the best,’ ‘Let’s create a new business model,’ ‘Let’s become a takeout restaurant,’ which we had to do  — and he stayed with us.”

Gautam described how he had met Villaneuva before even buying the restaurant. “He’s a person you see everywhere. I knew him working in restaurants and walking around town,” he said. The previous owner of what used to be Two Sevens Eatery told Gautam, co-owner of The Meeting House with his wife Amanda Maher, that he’d need someone to help run the restaurant and that Villanueva was the right man  — “the best we’ve ever had.” more

THE PLACE TO DANCE: “In the classes, everyone wants to do well, so when they see they are making progress, they work harder. The greater portion of our students are serious about it,” says Douglas Martin, who, with his wife Mary Barton, owns and directs Martin Center For Dance. Shown are advanced students in the Modern Technique class.

By Jean Stratton

“Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most
beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation
or abstraction from life; it is life itself.”

“The Dance of Life”

—Havelock Ellis

Such thoughts are not only for professional dancers, who devote themselves totally to their art, but to those amateur dancers, young and old, who love to dance to the music and aspire to be the best they can be.   

All these dancers are happy to know that the Martin Center For Dance is now open and offering ballet instruction at all levels. Beautiful dancing makes the music sing, and when done really well, it flows like a dream. The instructors at the Center know all about that.

Located at 11 Princess Road in Lawrence Township, the Center is owned and directed by the husband and wife team of Douglas Martin and Mary Barton.

Both are experienced professional dancers, choreographers, and teachers, who are joined at the Center by faculty members and former dancers and choreographers Mary Pat Robertson, Maria Youskevitch, and Kirk Peterson. more

To the Editor:

I recently heard the president of Vassar discussing her school’s phased-in reopening. I’m not entirely up-to-date on PPS’ current phase-in plan, but here’s a variation on phase-in.

Since no one wants to be told what to do, could you ask which teachers — and how many — want to return and feel ready to do so? I think you surveyed how many families are ready.

If you opened conservatively and slowly by starting with, say, two classrooms at each EL, maybe three-four at JW and four-five at PHS, you could both see and demonstrate the level of safety at each. Bringing all back is scary for all concerned, but being able to see the progress — or problems — would reassure teachers, families, and even townspeople in general, like me. Give these cohorts 14 days minimum before admitting another group. more

To the Editor:

My wife and I are voting for Adam Bierman for the Princeton Board of Education for many reasons. Adam is young, intelligent, enthusiastic, and highly qualified for the job.

Adam was born and raised in Princeton. He was educated in Princeton schools and was a substitute teacher in the school system. He lives in Princeton and is acutely aware of the many challenges facing the Princeton school system. This vital young man would bring many good qualities to the Board.

Adam may be young, but he has many good qualities in his judgment. That is why I urge everyone to vote for a real Princetonian and a real asset to our community.

Joseph King
Linden Lane

To the Editor:

As a longtime Princeton resident, past student, and current parent in Princeton Public Schools, and former member of the Princeton Little League/Princeton Girls’ Softball (PLL/PGS) Board of Trustees, I am writing to express my wholehearted support for the election of Jean Durbin to the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE).

PLL/PGS is the largest recreational youth sports league in Princeton, each year providing hundreds of children ages 4 to 13 with the opportunity to learn and to play baseball and softball. The league is made possible by countless hours of volunteer work on the part of parents serving in numerous capacities, from coaching to field cleanup to “Snack Shack” stocking, and everything in between.

Jean was PLL/PGS’ unsung hero for almost 15 years, as she coordinated ongoing activities and family participation efforts that created an open and inviting community experience for everyone involved in our league. Whether it was organizing events for teams and families from out of town during PLL’s first ever hosting of a Little League International NJ State Tournament to inviting sibling spectators to work with her in the Grover Fields “Snack Shack,” Jean was integral to our culture of inclusiveness and fun. She and her husband worked to recruit children who might not otherwise play, and ensured that they had the necessary equipment and transportation to and from practices and games. more

To the Editor:

This year’s Board of Education election is a critical one for our community. All residents should be engaged and concerned. In its coming term the Princeton Public School Board of Education will be carrying out arguably its most important role: Conducting the search for and hiring a new superintendent to oversee the daily operations and long-range planning of the district, supervise school principals and district staff, and manage fiscal operations. 

The Board’s choice of a superintendent will impact the vibrancy, vision, and strength of Princeton Public Schools for years to come. As a community we need to entrust this choice to the Board of Education candidates with the deepest knowledge of the district and a demonstrated commitment to serving the needs of all students while effecting positive change. In short, we need to re-elect Beth Behrend and Michele Tuck-Ponder. more

To the Editor:

I write in support of the candidacy of Paul Johnson, Karen Lemon, and Bill Hare to the Princeton Board of Education. The slate has made a commitment to walk the walk on the chronic academic achievement gap in our schools. Public schools can’t be blamed, after almost 20 years of trying, of hardly making any progress. We are coming around to the idea that change requires much more than academics. We need to address the social and economic disparities in which children are born.

But what is clear is that the process of implementing solutions starts in the schools.

We use standardized tests to monitor progress on narrowing the gap, and to measure teacher performance. We also use test scores to decide students’ academic and professional destinies, and socioeconomic status. The high stakes create incentives to “cheat” in ways that are both obvious and less so.  Wealthy students get extra coaching to maximize their scores. Teachers “teach to the test” to the detriment of students real learning. Schools relegate academically challenged students into special education and other remedial tracks, with unintended and counterproductive consequences.  

Standardized tests have been blamed for hurting the quality of public education and criticized as invalid and unreliable metrics of student achievement because of their strong correlation to socioeconomic status. More colleges are no longer requiring SAT/ACT scores. Because of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education has granted blanket waivers of all federally-required tests to all 50 states for the 2020-2021 school year. New Jersey canceled the state’s tests for the 2019-2020 year and may do so for the current year. This crisis may force the education establishment to come up with alternative metrics of student and teacher performance. But, however we measure it, we can’t make it go away. more

To the Editor:

I was delighted to see that my friend Mark Freda is running for mayor. Mark is perfect for that position and I encourage all who can vote to support his candidacy.

I have known Mark and his extended family for over 40 years. I first met him as a fellow member of the Princeton Fire Department and later interacted with him when I was a member of the Princeton Borough Council and then the Princeton Township Committee.

There isn’t anyone in town who knows more about the inner workings of the Princeton than Mark. I also doubt if there is anybody who has put in more unpaid time serving our community.

In short, Mark has the leadership skills and the depth of experience we need in these difficult times.

Please support Mark this November.

Richard C. Woodbridge
Governors Lane

To the Editor:

I am writing as a 25-year resident and public school parent. While I am honored to serve on the Board of Education, I am writing in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the Board.  

This year’s School Board election is enormously important, and I am strongly supporting Beth Behrend and Michele Tuck-Ponder for re-election and Jean Durbin for election. These three extraordinarily talented women have unique skills, professional backgrounds and perspectives that will ensure that our excellent schools remain strong and that the difficult challenges we face are addressed by experienced community leaders.

Beth, Michele, and Jean are committed to providing an excellent and equitable education for every child through data-driven decision making, priority-based budgeting, and ensuring that high quality teachers, coaches, instructors, aides and staff help all children thrive and grow using 21st century best practices.

In addition to being accomplished professionals, Beth, Michele, and Jean have exemplary and proven track records as community volunteers and leaders.  more

To the Editor:

This is our truth of Jean Durbin.

We know that Jean is a caring, committed person who serves our community in so many ways. She does the work that needs to get done and doesn’t just talk about it.

We’re so honored to support Jean Durbin for a seat on the Princeton Public School BOE because we know she will work hard to continue to make our schools better for all of our children.

Jean Durbin listens … and then puts her whole self into solving problems and getting the work done.

We not only watched her work, but I [Fern] work side by side with her on our Princeton Civil Rights Commission.

Please, Princeton community members, exercise your right and vote Jean Durbin for PPS BOE.

Larry And Fern Spruill
Oak Lane

To the Editor:

Some residents of Moore Street, Jefferson Road, and Harris Road recently submitted a petition to town Council requesting a reduction in the proposed scale of the town-sponsored mixed-income project to be located on the Franklin Avenue parking lot and adjoining public housing site. The stated reason is that the project would be “out of scale” with the neighborhood.

First, I would point out that these folks are not, strictly speaking, neighbors. The immediate neighbors are the residents of the multi-family project located directly across the street — none of which signed the petition. (The other immediate neighbor is the cemetery.). Indeed, there are also no petitioners from the directly adjacent John Witherspoon neighborhood. Did the petition organizers “forget” to consult with the people who will be most directly affected — or did they not respond, possibly because they would welcome the transformation of the parking lot and aging public housing into a new residential community, with additional retail and restaurants?

Second, none of the petitioners have any credentials in urban planning or real estate. My wife and I — both urban planners — have no problem with the proposed scale, and will not mourn, for one minute, the loss of that parking lot or the sad-looking public housing.  more

To the Editor:

With the beautiful fall season upon us we can soon, unfortunately, expect it to be marred by the heavily increased use of constant ear-piercing noise and air pollution from gasoline powered leaf blowers. Especially with the life threatening COVID-19 pandemic, affecting primarily our respiratory systems, we should be rethinking the use of these outdated, inefficient, highly polluting machines which contribute to climate change.    

There are much better alternatives available in battery or electric leaf blowers which can be used by homeowners as well as commercial landscapers. The health of these workers is grossly affected by the constant use of these noisy, polluting machines, as is the health and quality of life of residents.

According to the California Air Resources Board, for the best-selling commercial leaf blower, one hour of operation emits smog-forming pollution comparable to driving a 2016 Toyota Camry about 1,100 miles, or approximately the distance from Los Angeles to Denver.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), states that gas powered leaf blowers can produce noise at a level of 90 decibels.  Exposure for two hours can cause hearing damage, potentially impacting both operators and surrounding neighbors. more

To the Editor:

There is a lot of discussion about the achievement gap in PPS. We need, first and foremost, to start looking at this as an opportunity gap. One of those gaps is between the test scores of white and Asian children vs. the scores of Black and Brown children. Yes, there is a significant gap. We all know that standardized test scores are only one indicator of achievement and that such tests themselves have inherent biases. 

But if we are really serious in Princeton about addressing this opportunity gap, then we have to make decisions differently and spend money differently. It means that every decision about programs, about hiring, and about spending have to be looked at through the lens of equity – who gets helped and who gets hurt? It means that we need to make sure that every child has equal opportunity to the best education in order for them to achieve success in whatever they want to do in life. It means that we have to continue to invest in programs like pre-K education to ensure that every child in Princeton starts at the same place educationally and that every child is at or above reading level by the third grade.  It means that we need to provide the best possible resources and support for our children with special needs. It means that we must hire more teachers and staff that are Black and Brown that our children of color can relate to and see themselves in and so that our white children see successful professionals and leaders of all colors and races. It means that we have to make tough decisions to fund programs that not only favor privileged members of our community, but that lift up and provide equal opportunity for those that lack resources.  more

To the Editor:

We are writing as current and former Princeton High School (PHS) students and athletes because we have recently heard criticism of the Board of Education for approving the construction of a restroom facility next to the high school fields. We want to express our support for the bathroom facility because we believe it will be incredibly helpful to all students, particularly student athletes.

This bathroom facility was approved by Princeton voters as part of the $26.9 million referendum from 2018 and was identified as the highest athletics priority by many parents and families. 

This is because having this facility is a matter of convenience and equity. Taking 10-15 minutes to go to the school building to use sanitary facilities is a challenge when you are competing and particularly difficult for those in a wheelchair or with limited mobility. The new restrooms will be accessible and connected to plumbing and stocked with sanitary supplies, including menstrual products. 

This restroom facility includes three bathrooms: a woman’s restroom, a men’s restroom, and a gender neutral restroom. We believe that this is setting an important precedent in our district of including gender neutral bathrooms on all of our facilities, so that nobody has to feel uncomfortable or unsafe using a restroom. This is something we strongly urge the district to do at the middle and elementary schools as well.  more

September 23, 2020

OPEN-AIR ENTHUSIASM: “We believe every detail counts. When we are designing, creating, and installing your patio, outdoor kitchen, walkway, landscape lighting, or a new varied landscape for your yard, our team pays attention to every detail from start to finish. We bring our experience and expertise to every project, and make your dream a reality.” Brian Knisely, center, owner of Cedar Creek Landscapes, is shown with manager Daniel Reed, left, and operations manager Rob Cortina at one of their projects.

By Jean Stratton

From the age of 18, Brian Knisely knew he wanted to have his own company and provide customers with beautiful outdoor living opportunities, whether with handsome hardscapes or lovely landscapes.

That dream came true more than seven years ago when he opened Cedar Creek Landscapes in Pennington, with headquarters on Pennington Titusville Road. It was the culmination of many years in the landscaping business, with time spent mastering  the work — from in-the-field training and hands-on application to sales and administration.

“I grew up in Pennington, and worked for landscape companies in the area from the time I was 18,” says Knisely. “We worked across the board, including landscaping, hardscaping, and maintenance. I learned all aspects of the business and got a real overview.”

His background and success in sales was also helpful, giving him an added dimension as he took the big step in opening his own firm. His careful planning and experience set the foundation for a successful business adventure. more

To the Editor:

This week’s edition of Town Topics includes a flyer insert that outlines Jean Durbin’s background and candidacy for a seat on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. Please take a look.

This is an important Board election. There are eight candidates for three seats on the Board. We need Board members who contribute to the business of the Board in a professional, constructive, and collaborative way. We need members who take seriously the Board’s role, and who see that improving education for all our kids requires investments up front. more

To the Editor:

I write this note in unwavering and strong support of Mark Freda for mayor of Princeton. I am extremely honored to write about my support for Mark’s candidacy as he has led Princeton into new heights. Mark’s connection to me and my family begins well before I was born. My grandmother and Mark’s mother were friends even before Mark was born. My mother, having been a few years younger than Mark, speaks very highly of him from a young age to now. I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside Mark in varying capacities over the past eight years in emergency services.

My professional capacity with Mark began when I was in high school as a wide-eyed recruit to Princeton Emergency Services. Mark always made me feel special, important, and part of the team. He has continued to do that throughout my time working alongside him. I feel it’s important to mention that beyond Mark’s leadership abilities, he’s a good man with great values. He is someone that you can count on. More importantly, he’s a compassionate and caring individual who, no matter how busy he is, makes time for you.

Mark’s leadership strengths are second to none. Mark consistently steps up to lead in situations. He takes a natural command of situations. Mark has also shown decisive and effective decision making. Difficult situations come up often, and Mark is able to weigh the options quickly and decide what is the most appropriate course of action. He sticks with that decision and is very decisive. I’ve also noted that when situations evolve, so too does Mark’s responses. more