January 8, 2020

BOE Reorganizes, Elects President, VP, Plans 2020 Agenda

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) elected Beth Behrend to her second year as president and Michele Tuck-Ponder as its new vice president at its annual reorganization meeting on Monday night.

Susan Kanter, Dafna Kendal, and Debbie Bronfeld took the oath of office to begin new terms as BOE members. Kanter is new to the BOE. Kendal, who served from 2015 to 2018, and Bronfeld, who has been on the BOE since 2016, begin their second three-year terms.

Behrend and Tuck-Ponder both were elected by 7-3 margins. Behrend was the only nominee for president but received three “no” votes, while Tuck-Ponder defeated Bronfeld for the vice president position.

“Beth has worked tirelessly to make the Board a more collegial, collaborative, and effective governing body, and she has evidenced a great commitment to ensuring that every voice is heard,” said Board member Brian McDonald. “She has fundamentally changed our relationship with the community, she has fostered for more openness and transparency, and has actively worked to strengthen important relationships.”

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve another year as your leader,” said Behrend. “I would like to thank all of my colleagues for their tireless dedication to our public schools. We are pleased to welcome new and returning members tonight who bring strong skills and experience to our team. I look forward to working collaboratively on our shared mission of preparing PPS students for lives of joy and purpose.”

Board member Jessica Deutsch praised Tuck-Ponder’s focus on the need to “lead with our values.” “In my experience, Michele has held absolutely steadfast to this guiding principle, making her an exemplary presence at this table, one that lends naturally to the kind of leadership we continue to need,” Deutsch said.

Climbing enrollments and the need for more classrooms will be one of the biggest challenges in 2020, and in September the BOE retained Milone & MacBroom, a planning and consulting firm specializing in work with public school districts, to validate enrollment growth and capacity data and to engage the
community in a comprehensive facilities master planning project.

The goal in the coming months is to develop, with community input, multiple possible scenarios for consideration by the BOE. The first of several public forums with M&M, where the public can be informed and provide input, will take place on Saturday, January 25 at Princeton High School at 9 a.m.

“As we begin a new year and a new decade as a Board and as a school district, I would ask us to continue to remember that our work is ultimately about building relationships,” said PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane. “It is through building relationships with students that we help them achieve higher levels of joy, purpose, and learning. It is through building relationships with our staff and the community that we can harness our collective wisdom to solve the large and small challenges that face our growing schools.”

Emphasizing the Board’s mission going forward, Behrend added, “We are a Board of ten experienced and dedicated members, united in our passion for public education and our desire to continue to provide the students of Princeton with an education that equips them with knowledge, skills, perspectives, and a love of learning.”