August 2, 2017

Six Candidates Will Run for School Board

Six candidates have filed to run for three available seats on the Princeton Public School Board in the November election, according to Mercer County Election Supervisor Bonnie Epps at Monday’s filing deadline.

Beth Behrend, Jenny Ludmer, Julie Ramirez, Jessica Deutsch, Michele Tuck-Ponder, and James K. Fields will be vying for the three-year, unpaid positions. There are 10 regular Board members, plus two student representatives.

No incumbents will be seeking re-election, as current Board members Fern Spruill, Justin Doran, and Connie Witter will all be stepping down in January at the termination of their three-year terms.

Critical issues on the horizon for the school district include plans for a facilities bond referendum in March to address over-crowding, the possible acquisition of the Westminster Choir College campus, legal battles and ongoing conflict surrounding expansion of the Princeton Charter School, and widespread community concerns over academic stress, bias, and inclusiveness.

Beth Behrend, a corporate lawyer, school volunteer and leader, Riverside Drive resident, and parent of three children who have been through Princeton Public Schools, served as PTO president and vice president of Gardens at Riverside, has been on the PTO council and has served on the boards of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, the NJ League of Conservation Voters, and the Princeton School Garden Cooperative.

Ms. Behrend’s particular priorities include supporting recent initiatives to promote wellness, balance, and racial literacy; tackling challenges by following leaders like the Bell Committee, the wellness and athletics working groups, the special Education PTO, and the active “green teams” across the District; developing a 20-year vision for the District, while optimizing the use of existing facilities and improving energy efficiencies and
sustainability; improving communication, responsiveness, and transparency within the District; and modeling for the students how careful listening, respectful dialogue, and “out-of-the-box” thinking can lead to creative and equitable solutions.

Describing herself as “a parent and enthusiastic volunteer for Littlebrook and John Witherspoon,” Jenny Ludmer, a scientific writer, analyst, and researcher, said, “I’m eager to do more.” She emphasized, “The academic stress and bias issues facing our children are unacceptable. With three kids in the PPS system, I’m committed to alleviating these issues and more, so that every student can find both meaning and success.”

A Princeton resident for the past six years, now on Caldwell Drive, Ms. Ludmer led the annual Science Expo at Littlebrook, championed the school garden and the Green Team at Littlebrook, served as PTO vice president for communications, served as a member of Princeton’s Complete Streets Committee, a member of Sustainable Princeton, and co-leader of the Social Action Committee of The Jewish Center.

Emphasizing her concerns about academic stress at PHS and disturbing incidents of bias in the schools, Ms. Ludmer said, “As a member of the Board, I intend to provide a welcome mat and an open door policy. With a strong willingness to listen and learn, combined with thoughtful analysis and persistence, I can add a meaningful dialogue to the Board. And perhaps most importantly, I am willing to ask the hard questions to ensure the Board has a variety of voices that truly reflect our diverse population.”

Julie Ramirez, a project manager for over 20 years, last fall began work with the Office of Finance and Treasury at Princeton University. Her family, currently living on Stone Cliff Road, moved to Princeton in 2003, and her four children are all in Princeton Public Schools.

“As a member of the Princeton Board of Education,” she said, “I will dedicate my time and energy to the following objectives: maintaining the excellence of our schools; providing a learning environment that fosters success and minimizes stress; and promoting inclusiveness of all children in the community. No one should be left behind.”

Jessica Deutsch, who has two children who have been in PPS and are now in college, has been a college and pre-med advisor to students at Princeton University and Rutgers and privately to high school and college students and parents all over the country. The Riverside Drive resident has served on the boards of the 101 Fund, Common Ground, and the Friends of the Princeton Public Library. She founded the social media group Princeton Balance.

“I want to support innovative teaching and curricular development for authentic learning and purposeful engagement,” Ms. Deutsch said. “I want us to work toward research-driven policies and a healthier culture so that all of our students can thrive and achieve their full potential.”

A Princeton resident for almost 26 years, now residing on Laurel Circle, Michele Tuck-Ponder served two terms on the Princeton Township Committee and three years as mayor. Since leaving public office, she has led a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Girl Scouts and YWCA, and she has worked at Princeton University. She currently operates a consulting firm, Ponder Solutions, and serves on the board of Morven Museum and Gardens and as board chair of the United Front Against Riverblindness.

“As the parent of two children in the Princeton Public Schools,” she wrote, “I am familiar with many of the successes and challenges facing our schools. After thinking about it for a year, I decided to run at this time for two primary reasons: first, because I have the background, experience, unique perspective, and knowledge to contribute toward moving us closer to fulfilling the PPS mission; second, since I can’t do anything about the chaos engulfing Washington, D.C., I am energized by the opportunity to act locally to make our schools a better place for all children.”

Ms. Tuck-Ponder’s daughter Jamaica, a 2017 Princeton High School graduate, gained widespread attention over the past two years for her online blog that focused on bias incidents in the schools.

Mr. Fields, a resident of John Street, has lived in Princeton since 2003 with his wife and three children. Before arriving in Princeton he was an associate pastor and dean of students at a school in Maryland, and he currently serves as interim director of the Christian Union at Princeton University.

“Next year, I will have two children who will be attending Princeton Public Schools,” he said. “Overall, I’m running as a concerned parent who has decided to take action to be the change that I want to see within the school system, specifically regarding the socioeconomic and racial disparity in our school system.”

The School Board’s principal responsibilities include setting and maintaining policies, approving the annual school budget, representing the community’s educational philosophy, and hiring and annual evaluation of the superintendent.