October 14, 2020

To the Editor:

We are writing a letter of support to endorse Jean Durbin for election to the Princeton Board of Education. My husband and I have only been in Princeton for six years, and we don’t have children yet, but we understand the importance of this race. Good schools translate to good communities, and a School Board member has a direct role in shaping the future of what Princeton Public Schools and the municipality will look like. We strongly believe Jean Durbin has the vision to make our community a better place for everyone.

As members of the LGBTQ+ community, we look for someone that can speak on our behalf and look at issues through the lens of our community. I [Nick] see it first-hand as a fellow commissioner on Princeton’s Civil Rights Commission. I trust that if Jean has any questions or concerns on policy issues pertaining to LGBTQ+ youth, she will seek input from community members like ourselves.

As community volunteers, we know that Jean is well-prepared for the role. Jean is the type of person that you wish would run for office, and we were elated when we heard the announcement. We first met Jean when she was president of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO), and have since volunteered alongside her for campaigns for local representatives. Simply put, Jean shows up when help is needed, and this School Board race is a great example of her lending a hand to the community.  more

To the Editor:

This year, the School Board will face essential decisions for the future direction of our schools, most importantly the selection of our next superintendent. We are writing to support the re-election of Board President Beth Behrend and Vice President Michele Tuck-Ponder. Both have a proven record of working collaboratively with community partners to support our students, promoting equity while responsibly managing the finances of the district.   

The Board, under Beth and Michele’s leadership, has gone beyond rhetoric to implement programs that address equity. It has been proven that early intervention makes a difference in educational outcomes. Through partnership with the YWCA and grants from both the Burke Foundation and the state, free pre-K was expanded by 75 additional students with dual Spanish/English instruction.  

Remote learning was a challenge to many of our students who did not have home computers. Through the 1:1 Technology Initiative, funds were strategically redeployed from the existing district technology budget to ensure that all students have equal access to school programming in the pandemic. An anonymous grant of $250,000 funded the necessary broadband and hotspots necessary to deliver instruction. more

To the Editor:

Harrison Street becomes more unsightly week by week as more and more overhead power supply lines and telecom cables are installed, and the slightest burst of wind, rain, or snow causes power outages, sometimes lasting just a second (which is enough to disrupt computers, cable TV, and so on), but sometimes much longer. Something must be done, and here is an example of how New York City did it (The Atlantic, October 2020, page 68):

“In early 1889, telegraph, telephone, and utility companies were given 90 days to get rid of all their visible infrastructure. New York’s industrial forest of utility poles was cleared, allowing some residents to see the street outside their windows for the first time. Underground conduits proved cheaper to maintain, and they could fit more bandwidth, which ultimately meant more telephones and more electricity.”

That is the kind of firm action we need from our town government.

Avinash Dixit
Gordon Way

To the Editor:

On Sunday afternoon, October 4, I fell on Franklin Avenue. A young man approached and asked if I was OK. When he saw that I was not, he helped me to the nearest home and knocked on the door. The three residents came outside, gave me a chair, and then some paper towels to help with the bleeding. The young man, who I believe is a student at Princeton High, called an ambulance and all four good Samaritans stayed with me until it arrived. 

I want to thank everyone who very thoughtfully helped me that day. Please know how much I appreciate your kindness. My gratitude also extends to the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and Princeton police officer Pinelli, who quickly arrived on the scene.  

I wish I remembered everyone’s name so I could thank them in person but, unfortunately, I do not. I hope they see this letter and know how extremely grateful I am for all of their help. I feel very blessed to live in such a caring community. 

Joan Levin
Witherspoon Street

To the Editor:

I would like to say a few words in response to Mr. Pyle’s recent letter regarding his problems with  mail-in voting [“Noting That Mail-In Voting Can Have Too Many Problems For Such a Crucial Process,” Mailbox, October 7]. I would like to point out that this manner of casting a ballot has been with us and used successfully for many elections. Only recently, and as part of a concerted disinformation campaign, has its efficacy been called into question. Mr. Pyle is mistaken on several of his points.

No. 1: If Mr. Pyle’s address has received a ballot for someone who does not reside there, it’s because that someone has neglected to inform the proper offices of her change of residence. As voters and citizens, it is up to us, not the government, to insure that our voter information is correct and up to date.

No. 2: It is also up to us as individual voters and citizens to insure that our signatures are up to date. This is a vital part of our voting profile, no matter how we cast out ballot. If there is any question, go to the town hall and update your signature!

No. 3:  It’s up to each and every one of us to “follow directions exactly”!  It’s not that difficult. more

To the Editor:

When our ballots arrived this week, we were excited to cast our votes for Beth Behrend, Jean Durbin, and Michele Tuck-Ponder for Princeton School Board, and hope you’ll do the same. We have worked closely with all three and know they will contribute thoughtful and inclusive leadership on behalf of our kids and our excellent public schools. 

As president and vice president of the School Board, Beth and Michele have led the Board with a focus on data-driven policymaking, fiscal prudence, and equity.  In addition, they are good listeners and experienced community leaders. Together, they have stabilized school finances, improved facilities, and developed equity initiatives to address the stubborn achievement and opportunity gaps. more

October 7, 2020

PIZZA PERFECTION: “Our aim is to offer the most delicious homestyle food with fresh organic ingredients and the time-honored method of terracotta oven cooking. We are proud to bring our artisanal pizza and specialty dishes to all our customers.” Tino Procaccini, chef/owner of Tino’s Artisan Pizza Co., is shown with one of his signature pizzas in the popular Kingston pizzeria.

By Jean Stratton

Benvenuta! Buon Appetito!

This invitation to enjoy lunch or dinner at Tino’s Artisan Pizza Co. has welcomed customers for the last nine years. Located at 4428 Route 27 (Main Street) in Kingston and initially known as Osteria Procaccini, it introduced many diners to Neopolitan-style pizza, which is cooked in terracotta ovens from Italy at very high temperatures.

“Because of the high heat, up to 800 degrees, the pizza cooks very fast — in 90 seconds, and this brings out the flavor more intensely,” says owner/chef Tino Procaccini.

Offering high quality food has been his focus since 1999, when he and his brother John Procaccini opened La Borgata Ristorante & Pizzeria in the Kingston Mall. Still in college at the time, Tino attended classes every morning, and then spent afternoons and evenings in the kitchen at the restaurant.

The work ethic has always been a very important concept in the Procaccini family, he notes. His parents had come to the U.S. from Italy 48 years ago, and as boys, he and his brother helped out in their father’s landscaping company. more

To the Editor:

We are reaching out to the greater Princeton community to help save the life of a community volunteer, father, grandfather, friend, and 40-year resident, Aiden Doyle. Aiden has been diagnosed with AML, Acute Myleoid Leukemia, a rare cancer of the blood which interferes with the production of essential blood cells and platelets.

Aiden is under the care of the staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Department of Leukemia, and they have informed Aiden that he could possibly be cured with a stem cell transfusion from a matching donor. The ideal donor is between the ages of 18–44 years old and of northern Europe descent.

We will be on Hinds Plaza, Wednesday, October 14, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with Jair Thompson from the New York Blood Center and Bethematch.com, who has offered to provide up to 100 swab kits order to find a match. It is a self-administered COVID-safe cheek swab. You swab the left cheek in your mouth and then the right. It takes three minutes and is in a kit, so you can take the kit, walk to the side, take off your mask, and administer the kit, then put the swabs back in the kit and hand it in right on Hinds Plaza.

The Princeton community has a long history of helping those in need and Aiden, his friends, and family will be deeply grateful for your support.

Jack and Debbie Morrison
Colfax Road, Skillman

Emily and Johan Firmenich
Mountain View Road

To the Editor:

At the very top of the list of things I consider most important in the upcoming BOE election is the ability for all candidates to grasp the fact that, along with many other integrated measures, the Board must work together to change the culture of not just the high school but the elementary schools as well.

The two candidates running independently that are most able to do that are Hendricks Davis and Michele Tuck-Ponder. More diversity on the Board will certainly add to the discussion on equity and create greater balance and insight when dealing with sensitive issues on race and race-related matters.

Who is not familiar with Michele Tuck-Ponder’s long list of achievements over many years of selfless public service to others, and currently as the BOE vice president and chair of the Equity Committee?  She has displayed independence, leadership, and a collaborative demeanor during her tenure. A former Princeton Township mayor and 30-year resident with two children that have gone through the PPS system, she sees problems not only as an administrator but also as a parent expanding her understanding of solutions. more

To the Editor:

I want to thank every School Board candidate for the upcoming election. Princeton is blessed with an impressive pool of well-qualified residents stepping up for public service.

I am giving one of my three School Board votes to Adam Bierman — a candidate pledged to maintaining Princeton public education excellence who has the courage, honesty, and credentials in equal measures to do so.

Over 36 years of living in Princeton, every School Board candidate has pledged that achieving education excellence is their No. 1 goal.

Adam Bierman is no exception; in addition, he is the candidate resolutely bringing attention to the wider community issue of: what is the cost effectiveness of School Board votes so far in improving educational excellence?

One such contentious decision highlighted by Adam is the superintendent-led School Board vote in 2018 to allow Cranbury — a town 8 miles away — to send their students to Princeton High School until 2030. 

Superintendents leave Princeton as they all do and did for professional and personal reasons. They are not held accountable for the long-term fiscal consequences for residents who have made Princeton their hometown. What will happen to the Princeton property tax rate that is directly tied to the public school budget — approved by the School Board in April at $95.6 million for the 2020-21 school year for 3,758 students?  more

To the Editor:

I am writing as a PPS parent and private citizen, and not on behalf of or authorized by the Board of Education, of which I am an elected member.

I believe that we have an excellent opportunity with the Board of Education (BOE) election to advance student achievement for all children, restore trust in the Board, and make Princeton affordable again. The diverse “slate” of Paul Johnson, Karen Lemon, and Bill Hare, plus Adam Bierman, are uniquely qualified to advance these important principles.

These four candidates have outstanding backgrounds to fulfill the policy, planning, and oversight role of the Board — in a fiscally responsible way. They will prioritize spending on that which is most important for the academic excellence and student experience that we desire for all our children. The “slate” and Adam Bierman will work to expand and improve existing facilities first rather than construct or purchase expensive new facilities such as Westminster Choir College. more

To the Editor:

We are writing to support the re-election of Beth Behrend to the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. We have each gotten to know Beth, in part as past co-presidents of the parent teacher organization of several elementary schools in town, and have seen firsthand the dedication and aptitude Beth has for this role.

Beth came to every meeting of the Parent Teacher Organization Council we attended. We were always impressed by how genuinely open she was to input, how thoughtful her questions for all of us were, and how much she emphasized the need to hear from parents and teachers as part of School Board decisions, meetings, etc. She always clearly had the best interests of students and families in mind as she spoke and as she set priorities for her work and the Board’s agenda. more

To the Editor:

As a parent with children attending both Princeton Charter School and Princeton High School, I am writing this letter to support Jean Durbin (Column L) for the Board of Education.

Simply put, Jean Durbin represents everything that’s good about Princeton and you should vote for her.

I’ve known Jean for over a decade. Of course, Jean is highly intelligent and capable. She has the intellectual and emotional balance of someone possessing both social work and law degrees, and has generously volunteered her time and experience by serving as PTO co-president at Littlebrook, president of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, on the Civil Rights Commission, as a fixture at Princeton Little League, and more.

But Jean actually has skin in the game because she has children attending Princeton Public Schools!  more

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