September 23, 2020

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

To the Editor:

We are writing in support of Beth Behrend’s re-election to the Board of Education (BOE). We believe it is crucial and necessary for Beth to continue her dedicated leadership to the BOE, our students, and our schools.

Since being elected to the BOE in 2017, we have witnessed Beth devote limitless time and skills in finding significant cost-savings measures through the introduction of priority-based budgeting, reduced expenses, and tighter controls. She has also been a steadfast promoter of the district’s equity goals through restorative justice, racial literacy, and the implementation of free pre-K. Her leadership during the switch to remote learning has been crucial. more

To the Editor:

These are truly unprecedented times and now, more than ever, we need engaged School Board members focused on transparency and accountability in Princeton Public Schools. We firmly believe that Paul Johnson, Karen Lemon, and William Hare are the right team to drive a fresh approach in implementing solutions on issues of diversity and affordability. Most importantly, their focus on equity to make sure all children’s needs are met is critical in helping our schools evolve into the modern environment in which they exist.

We have had the privilege of knowing Paul personally over the last four years. His commitment to humanity, strong relationships within the community as a second-generation Princetonian, and creativity when it comes to fundraising are assets he will bring to the Board in his pursuit to make our schools a shining example to the rest of the world.   more

To the Editor:

We are supporting Michele Tuck-Ponder for a second term on the Princeton BOE. Michele has the leadership experience that we can trust to help us make the critical decisions ahead on equity, facilities, budget, safety and educational excellence.

Michele will continue to address systemic and institutional racism in our district, particularly in the areas of discipline, special education classifications, hiring, and academic achievement. She will continue to look at every decision and every expenditure through the lens of equity for every student — LGBTQ students, immigrants, those with learning disabilities, students of every color and ethnicity, and regardless of their economic status. As chair of the Equity Committee, she will continue to lead the coordinated response to inequity in our schools.  more

To the Editor:

Last week, we opened the doors to The Burke Foundation Early Childhood Center at YWCA Princeton. With temperature screenings upon arrival, staggered pick up and drop off to avoid crowding, and masks worn by staff and many of the children we serve, it wasn’t the opening we imagined, but it’s the one our community needed.

Many schools are transitioning to online learning — and for older children, it’s the most practical approach — but 2-year-olds can’t be taken care of via Zoom. In addition, social interaction is crucial to social-emotional learning, a pillar of early childhood development that our curriculum prioritizes. For this reason, we’re introducing an after care program for children between the ages of 3-6, who may be learning remotely during the day, to get a few hours of social interaction and physical activity.

During the construction of The Burke Foundation Early Childhood Center at YWCA Princeton, we opened our summer childcare program at a licensed childcare facility just a mile away from our building. Our program ran from July through August, and our staff and the families we serve adapted quickly to our new safety protocols. This allowed us to employ staff who were temporarily laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, and we gained valuable experience that has prepared us to open our childcare on a larger scale. The health and safety of our staff and the families we serve is our highest priority, and there were no cases of COVID-19.  more

To the Editor:

We are writing to enthusiastically endorse Beth Behrend for re-election to the Princeton School Board, where she has served as Board president for the past two years. We have known Beth for many years through her work with our children’s schools, initially as leader of the Riverside PTO. She is a woman of exceptional intelligence, integrity, and energy – and equally important, warmth. In our decades of living in Princeton, Beth and her family are amongst the kindest and most thoughtful people we have ever met.

Under Beth’s leadership of the BOE, Princeton Public Schools have accomplished a great deal of positive change. We have improved our school facilities, stabilized district finances while addressing overdue building maintenance to achieve even greater cost savings, welcomed talented new hires at all levels, initiated free pre-K for scores of students, promoted important equity initiatives and racial literacy, provided all students equal access to new technology, and supported a rapid shift to remote learning, but there is more work to be done.

In a time of significant change and uncertainty, Beth has proven to be a leader we can count on to help us navigate successfully and ensure we deliver an effective education to all children that reflects the values of our community. Please join us this fall in re-electing Beth Behrend to the Princeton Board of Education.

James Bash
Eva Martin
Anne Caswell-Klein
Grady Caswell-Klein
South Harrison Street

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) and the Mercer County Democratic Committee, I would like to extend an invitation to all voters to join us for a virtual meeting this Thursday, September 24 at 7 p.m., to hear from our special guest, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, as well as Congressman Tom Malinowski, and our own representative Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. The meeting can be accessed at princetondems.org.

With the untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the political landscape has changed yet again. Please join us to learn the latest news on what is happening nationally and in New Jersey as we near Election Day, November 3, 2020. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Jo Butler
President, PCDO
Hibben Road 

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

HOMESTYLE: “The customers are so happy that we have re-opened. They are coming all the time, even during the pandemic. They say they feel it’s like coming home because so many people know each other.” Lyn Farrugia, owner of Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette and Bakery in Hopewell, is enjoying one of the restaurant’s popular salads.

By Jean Stratton

It’s all about family at Aunt Chubby’s in Hopewell. Family history, family tradition, families coming together — whether they are genetically related or through friendship and reaching out to others, who then become “family.”

“Our staff and customers are like family,” says Aunt Chubby’s owner, Lyn Farrugia. “We all take care of each other like family. We have had a great deal of help from so many people starting the business. Many of the Hopewell residents and longtime Aunt Chubby customers supported us, and continue to support us.”

Aunt Chubby’s Luncheonette and Bakery, at 1 Railroad Place in Hopewell, is a true treasure. Its history is both unique and engaging.

The building itself dates to 1903, when it was a general store and gathering place for the community, a tradition that continues today.

Evolving over the years, it continued to serve the community, eventually becoming a luncheonette. more

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

BEST BARBECUE:  “We use only fresh seasonal ingredients and select cuts of meat, making our delicious Texas-style barbecue the perfect Barbecue Experience.” John Procaccini (left) and Matt Martin, owners of More Than Q Barbecue Company, stand beside “Bubba,” their special steer mascot.

By Jean Stratton

That unmistakable wood-smoked aroma, the unique flavor, the tasty texture… indeed, barbecue in all its forms appears to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue — literally and figuratively!

Increasing in popularity all the time, with new restaurants springing up all over the country, it is said to be more popular in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.

One of the latest eateries to emerge is More Than Q Barbecue Co., located at 3522 Route One North in The Square at West Windsor shopping center. Opened June 30, it is owned by John Procaccini, “Z” Pappas, and Matt Martin.

Known for their success in establishing many restaurants in the Princeton area, including Osteria Procaccini, Trattoria Procaccini, and Pj’s Pancake House, among others, Procaccini and Pappas continue to look for new dining experiences for their clientele. More Than Q is the 10th restaurant under the auspices of their restaurant management and consulting company, Gretalia. more

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