Five Candidates Vie For Three Spots in School Board Election
By Donald Gilpin
With the November 8 Election Day less than six weeks away, the competition for three positions on the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) is heating up. Two new candidates, Lishian “Lisa” Wu and Margarita “Rita” Rafalovsky, are challenging three incumbents, Debbie Bronfeld, Susan Kanter, and Dafna Kendal, in the race to serve a three-year term on the BOE.
For this article, the challengers, Wu and Rafalovsky, were asked to introduce themselves, provide some background information, and comment on why they have chosen to run and, if elected, what their priorities on the board might be.
At press time, Wu, who has run for Princeton Council and for Mercer County Executive in recent years, had not responded to multiple requests for information. Town Topics plans to include profiles of Wu and the other candidates in election coverage during the coming month.
Rafalovsky wrote the following in her response:
I live in Princeton with my husband and two children, ages 8 and 11. We moved here 12 years ago for the highly rated public schools and for the diverse, thriving community. For me, education is personal. In 1988, at age 8, I came to this country as a poor, non-English speaking political refugee from the former Soviet Union. I’m a product of N.Y./N.J. public schools, and I strongly believe that quality public education is the greatest equalizer.
Over the years, I have grown increasingly concerned about the trajectory of our school district.
In 2009, PPS was nationally ranked by U.S. News in 94th place; in 2022 we were 490th. Additionally, test scores across our district declined significantly since 2014 — see publicschoolreview.com. While rankings are not the “final grade,” they are indicative of overall perceived quality. This precipitous decline occurred despite the fact that our town’s spend per student remains above most school systems in N.J. This is not a fair return on our community’s generous investment.
I consider myself lucky and grateful to this country for accepting my family and for allowing us to achieve our American Dream. To show my gratitude, I would like to give back by doing all I can to restore our focus on academics so that all students have equal access to an excellent education.
To restore our district’s strength, we should:
- Improve district governance, which requires reliable data and measurable goals. PPS has a $90-plus million-dollar budget. The Board should move toward a more goal-oriented relationship with the school administration, make data-driven, evidence-based decisions and set measurable goals to track performance of major strategic initiatives. In addition, simply saying we want to achieve equity isn’t enough. What equity means for the district and how the district measures equity is unclear, so how will we know if what we’re doing will achieve it? My definition of equity is equal opportunities, not equal outcomes.
- Focus on attracting and retaining outstanding educators in all staffing areas, including study aides and ESL experts. Hire more multilingual staff.
- Improve district communication and community engagement. PPS and the Board should increase listening to all stakeholders and democratically solicit regular feedback from staff, students, parents, and community members. Students should be regularly surveyed about their classroom experience.
- Create tangible, enriching opportunities for all students by leveraging the intellectual capital of our community. For example, (a) assign champions to talented economically disadvantaged students and (b) create an Advisory Board of industry experts and local University faculty to advise PPS and champion exclusive research, mentorship programs, and internships for all our students.
We can do much better with the talents and resources that we already have, if only we are more creative and efficient. My professional background is in financial services and management consulting. I have the passion, skill set, and tenacity to work with PPS leaders to define measurable district goals which will be the base for evaluating performance and establishing accountability. I firmly believe that these actions will enable PPS to recover our place as the top district in N.J.