Bayonne voters go to the polls on Nov. 3 for the first time in 35 years to vote for Board of Education trustees. Bayonne’s mayor had appointed all school board members until a public referendum last November changed that.
Each year three board of trustee members are to be elected to three-year terms. But 2015 is different, because of the resignations of two trustees during the winter. There will also be an additional one-year seat and one two-year seat to fill out those unexpired terms.
So five members will be elected to the board this year. On Sept. 30, the Bayonne Community News profiled the candidates running for the one-year term. In this week’s issue, the paper
will focus on the six candidates vying for the lone two-year seat: Michael Alonso, Christos Genes, Dr. Thomas Howard, Gina Irizarry, Christopher Munoz, and Frank Pellitteri.
These profiles will finish later in the month with the nine candidates competing for the three three-year terms.
A civic activist and education advocate, Michael Alonso is one of the main reasons Bayonne residents will be voting on this issue next month.
“(I’m) founder of the elected school board movement, which made this election happen,” he said in a written statement.
A real estate professional for 10 years and event planning company owner for 14 years, Alonso was named “Businessman of the Year” by a small-business association.
If elected, his main crusade would be against the federal Common Core curriculum. He said teachers, parents, and students are frustrated with the mandated standards.
“The first thing I would do is take a vote for our own standards,” Alonso said. “There’s nothing ‘common’ about kids. They’re not common or the same. They’re all different.”
Another priority would be the acquisition of greater funding for the school district, possibly by having five fulltime grant writers on staff.
Alonso would also like to relieve the tax burden on residents 55 or older and with no school-age children by not making them pay the school-tax portion of their tax bill.
Alonso graduated from St. Vincent DePaul Grammar School, Marist High School, and Seton Hall and New Jersey City universities.
While much of his work experience centers on a law enforcement career that saw him climb through the ranks of the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department, Christos Genes points to his year of teaching in the Jersey City Public School system as one of his most satisfying.
He also has New Jersey Department of Education certifications in social studies teaching and school business administration.
Genes is concerned with the board as it is run now and the problems it faces. Key among them is the teachers’ contract that is still not settled. If elected, he vows to jump into the negotiations, using his experience attained while sitting in on Sheriff’s Department negotiations.
“This could be of help in present and any future contract talks,” Genes said. “With my expertise and background, I definitely believe that.”
His first priority would be to increase school security and safety.
“I don’t want another Columbine or Newtown in our system,” he said. “We have a good plan in place, but it needs to be tightened up a bit. Nothing is foolproof. Things can happen.”
He disagrees with Mayor James Davis’s recent endorsement of a school board candidate, believing that politics should be kept out of this race.
Genes received two bachelor degrees from Jersey City State College: in political science/state and local government administration, and another in business administration/finance.
Dr. Thomas Howard has crafted a career in education that has spanned 35 years, with 15 of them as an administrator. Included in this these qualifications are New Jersey certifications as a teacher, principal, and school superintendent.
“In this district, there’s not one thing you can do to make it great,” he said. “You need a blueprint that articulates a clear vision for 2020 and beyond. All constituent groups need to have a say in this; where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.”
Howard believes that by using that plan and other initiatives, Bayonne can be the best school system in its class in Hudson County and one of the top-tier districts in the state.
Howard’s signature accomplishment in education was the creation of the Harbor Educational Model, a research-based curricula infused with performing arts. He also was the associate director for a five-year research project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Currently Howard is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Harbor in New York, which serves more than 1,000 students, with a focus on academics and the performing arts.
Howard received a master’s degree in educational administration from Rider University and a doctorate in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Gina Irizarry is a former Bayonne teacher and current English teacher at Kenmare High School in Jersey City.
“I’m truly passionate about issues regarding general and special education, children and parent advocacy, poverty, homelessness, civil rights, and accountability,” she said.
Besides her New Jersey teaching certification, Irizarry holds a master’s degree in education and two subject certifications. She has worked as a coordinator for The Middle States Association, which evaluates districts seeking accreditation of their schools.
“If elected to the Bayonne Board of Education as a trustee, I will do my absolute best to aid in the responsible decision making where policies established within the district are put to work,” Irizarry said.
One of her ideas for the district is to reorganize some of the existing elementary schools, creating two larger middle schools in their place.
“I just think it would be a more unified environment,” she said. “I think the teachers could collaborate better with a smaller amount of grade levels. I think there would be a little more uniformity.”
Irizarry said she would also like to see long-term strategy committees that would include all stakeholders who are interested, including parents and other community members.
Christopher Munoz is a teacher at Hoboken High School. In addition to teaching history, he is the second vice president of the Hoboken Education Association and creative director of the school’s television channel. He has also served on various committees and has written curriculum for the district.
An adviser of Hoboken High’s Hispanic Culture Club, he increased the organization from five members to more than 50. He also created a lecture series.
He has a roster of issues for the Bayonne Board of Education he would like to tackle, including greater board transparency, settlement of the teachers’ contract, and an investigation into the alleged missing $7.4 million in capital funds.
“I’d like to improve communications with the public, with agendas posted 24 to 48 hours before a meeting online, so people can show up and have a positive conversation,” he said.
He would also like to bring innovative ideas, like possibly selling naming rights for the ice rink.
Munoz received a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in special education. He earned his teaching certificate from St. Peter’s University and received his advanced placement training from Drew University in Madison. He is also dual certified in general and special education.
Frank Pellitteri’s education experience comes from a business he owns.
He and his wife, Kelly, own and operate Building Blocks Academy, a pre-kindergarten private school in Bayonne. His knowledge of educating young children has directly fueled one of his goals for the board if he is elected: a full-day prekindergarten in the school system.
“We get a lot of calls from parents. Everyone is working these days, a lot of times both parents,” he said. “It’s definitely needed in the city. Also it’s a great jumping start for education for kids. At that age, at four years old, their brains are like sponges.”
He would also like to stop what he believes is an exodus of good teachers from Bayonne.
“We are losing teachers, experienced teachers, more than ever. We have become a training facility for teachers for other districts,” he said. “When they are hitting their groove, gaining six, eight, 10 years of experience, having learned the ropes and made the mistakes, learned and adjusted, they realize that to advance financially they have to go to another district. So then we replace them with new teachers, and the cycle continues.”
Pellitteri attended St. Vincent DePaul and Washington grammar schools, graduated from Bayonne High School and attended the College of Aeronautics to study aeronautical engineering.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.