Who’ll serve our children (and taxpayers)?

Editor’s Note: This week, four out of eight of the school board candidates are profiled, and next week, the other four will be profiled. This week, the three “Kids First” candidates are interviewed, as well as independent Maureen Sullivan. Next week, the “Parents for Progressive Education” slate will be interviewed, as well as independent Ron Rosenberg.

Hoboken’s April 15 school board election may determine which political faction will dominate the presently divided nine-member board.

If you think it doesn’t affect you, you’re wrong.

While Board of Education elections in most towns typically elicit low turnout, they affect how taxes are spent, and also are seen in Hoboken as a predictor of which political factions will win future elections, including the mayor’s race next year.

In Hoboken’s race, nine candidates filed last week to run for election, although one dropped out by the end of the week.

Two of the candidates will be running as independents, while the remaining six have formed slates of three.

The incumbents who will be defending their three-year, unpaid posts are Tricia Snyder, Frances Rhodes-Kearns, and Carmelo Garcia. Snyder is on a different slate than Garcia and Rhodes-Kearns.

Snyder, who was elected last April to a one-year unexpired term on the board, will be heading the Kids First ticket, which includes newcomers Brian Assadourian and Phil Campbell.

The other ticket, “Parents for Progressive Education,” will consist of both Garcia and Rhodes-Kearns as well as newcomer Phil DeFalco.

The independent candidates are Maureen Sullivan, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Connors Elementary School, and former school board member Ron Rosenberg. Rosenberg ran unsuccessfully for a 1st Ward council seat last year, allied with another unsuccessful council candidate, present board member Frank Raia.

Resident Patrick Riccardi withdrew himself from the race toward the end of last week. In a written statement to Board Secretary David Anthony, Riccardi, who is the city’s information technology officer responsible for videotaping both City Council and school board meetings, cited a demanding work schedule and the need to spend more time with his family.

The election, which is open to all registered Hoboken voters, will be held on Tuesday, April 15, with polls open from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Meet the candidates

All eight candidates were asked to provide a brief biography and respond to the following questions:

1. What can you bring to the school board if elected? What separates you from other candidates? What qualifies you to be a school board member?

2. What are the most important issues currently facing the Hoboken School District and how do you plan to address them?

Due to length limitations, the candidate profile pieces will be divided between two weeks, with independent Maureen Sullivan and the “Kids First” Ticket being included in this week’s article, and the rest next week.

Maureen Sullivan

A graduate of Georgetown University where she received a bachelor’s in American Government, 49-year-old Maureen Sullivan grew up in Union County before moving to Hoboken in 2001 with her husband and two children, both of whom currently attend public schools in the district.

A former journalist of 20 years, Sullivan covered such events as the end of apartheid in South Africa and Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China. Presently, Sullivan volunteers at Connors Elementary School, where she is president of the Parent Teacher Organization and a member of the School Leadership Committee through which teachers, parents, and administrators discuss issues that affect the students.

In response to the questions posed above, Sullivan said:

1. When my son began the Saturday U gifted and talented program two years ago, I saw problems with curriculum, safety, and oversight and brought them up to the board and superintendent. I didn’t outline the problem and then expect others to fix it. I worked with several parents to overhaul the long-neglected program. Every day I entrust my children to the Hoboken public schools and I have an obligation to make sure they get the best education they possibly can. As a board member, I will fight to ensure that all Hoboken children get what they deserve: an excellent education.

2. For too long this city has allowed the reputation of our schools to wither. We’ve heard countless times that if you move to Hoboken, you can’t put your kids in the public schools. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the years, we have hired top teachers and upgraded the education we offer. Now we need to take it to the next level and proudly proclaim our excellent programs, such as the partnership with Johns Hopkins University. We must challenge and inspire our students by raising expectations. Our best students need to aim for the best colleges and be shown how to get there. We also can’t ignore those who need vocational, technical and career training.

As a board member, I also wouldn’t forget that I represent the taxpayers, who are willing to pay to educate the city’s children but don’t want to continue handing over a blank check. Hoboken has twice as many administrators per student as the state average and continues to hire more. The administration is content to spend millions on out-of-towners who illegally enroll their children here. Why? I intend to find out when I’m on the board. I won’t be a rubber stamp.

The Kids First slate

Tricia Snyder

Originally from Tallahassee, Fla., Snyder moved to Hoboken in 2000 with her future husband after accepting a position as associate professor of economics at William Paterson University. Snyder graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s in marketing and international business before proceeding to the University of Tennessee where she earned a Ph. D. in economics and a field and finance degree, which is equivalent to a master’s in Finance. The 36-year-old Snyder has two children, a three-year-old who is enrolled in the public school district and another who is only a few months old. Snyder is a member of the American Federation of Teachers Union.

1. As someone who has dedicated her life to education, I bring a unique perspective to the school board that can help further the success of our children. As an economics professor at William Paterson University and the chair of the school board finance committee, I have great knowledge of our budget and how to best use our resources to give our children the best education possible. As a parent of a 3-year-old in our school system and a newborn, I have a vested interest in helping Hoboken build the best schools for today and tomorrow.

2. Until this year, the school board has allowed our schools to operate without a district-wide curriculum. This lack of oversight has constrained our teachers and students and created disparity between our schools.

We now have a great opportunity to develop a curriculum that better supports our students and teachers. In the last few months we created a committee to build the district-wide curriculum. I would encourage parents, teachers, and the community to help us further create a culture of academic success.

To promote student success we must also spend our money wisely. While we have recently created a more open and competitive process for professional contracts, we need to continue to cut costs and use our resources to support our kids.

Our school system is designed to support many more students than we currently have, making our per student administrative cost very high. We need to reduce these costs and increase our enrollment. I am excited to say that the Pre-K program is growing and thriving. Through better communication with parents and the community, we should also be able to help the elementary and high schools grow and provide the education that all of the children of Hoboken deserve.

Brian Assadourian

Originally from North Bergen, Assadourian, a trained pianist, joined the vibrant Hoboken music scene in the ’70s and ’80s, recording and performing music with various artists. In 1998 Assadourian moved to Hoboken with his wife, where they have raised a son who currently attends a Hoboken public school.

Assadourian studied music and composition at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where he received a bachelor’s in music. In the early ’90s, the 46-year-old school board hopeful began his own herbal iced tea company called “Tea West.”

Since then, the candidate has become the president and CEO of his own company, called BigAppleGrocer.net, which delivers grocery food to people living in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Manhattan.

1. I thrived in an urban school system where I was considered an excellent [scholar], an outstanding athlete, an accomplished musician, and also a leader of my peers. Now, having built successful businesses from the ground up, I can draw from both my rich educational experience and my entrepreneurial skills to help direct our Hoboken Schools toward the goal of growing into a model urban school system. Additionally, with my son attending the Wallace School and previously the Brandt School, I can draw from personal observation the areas we need to develop.

2. Clearly, the most fundamental issue on the table is the formation of a district-wide curriculum so that all Hoboken schools are on the same page, academically. It is, however, of equal importance that student’s needs on both ends of the spectrum are met, balancing the objectives of those struggling to keep up with those who are ahead of the curve. For this reason, I would hope to see the creation of a mentoring program for students needing extra support, an internship program with local entities offering practical experience, as well as expansion of the accelerated and honors programs.

Furthermore, we need to immediately address the issue of student safety. For instance, the Wallace School houses approximately 800 students in an urban setting, and yet there is no consistent police presence to oversee the safe arrival and dismissal of those children, let alone be stationed at the school in the event of an emergency.

I would also work to implement term limits for board members, to ensure the infusion of fresh perspectives and flexible work dynamics to govern our school board.”

Phil Campbell

A graduate of Fairleigh Dickenson University, where he earned a bachelor’s in communications, Campbell, who was born and raised in Hoboken, currently works in sales out of a Paramus-based Mercedes-Benz dealership which happens to be the second-highest grossing Benz dealership in New Jersey.

The 35-year-old Campbell attended Connors School as a child and participated in various city sponsored sports leagues throughout his early years in Hoboken. Presently, Campbell, who is single, also belongs to the Hoboken Chapter of the NAACP and is presently pursuing an MBA at Fairleigh Dickenson.

1. If elected to the school board I will bring a strong understanding of the youth and the culture of Hoboken. As a third generation Hobokenite and a product of the school system, I am familiar with the needs of our students and the importance of the solid foundation necessary to pursue higher education and to succeed later in life.

2. One of the most important issues currently facing our school system is that they have been operating without a district-wide curriculum. We need to develop one that will benefit all students with the same quality and access across the entire district. The key to success is to ensure that the needs of the children are always first and foremost and that our resources are allocated wisely for them.

“Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.” I was taught this Native American saying years ago, and in observing what has been going on in our school system for the past few years, I decided I needed to become more involved. I understand how difficult it is to effect the changes that we need in our schools, but thanks to the work of Tricia Snyder and other Kids First members, I think we are on the right path.

I have witnessed the landscape of our city and the world change, and its time for us to ensure that our children are better prepared to deal with those changes to achieve a greater level of success through education. That’s our responsibility.

Michael Mullins can be reached at mmullins@hudsonreporter.com


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group