Six Secaucus residents vied for three open seats on the Board of Education in this past Tuesday’s election. The winners were incumbent Norma Hanley with 710 votes and new members Louis Giele and Joan Cali with 879 and 840 votes respectively.
This is the first time the Secaucus school board election was held in November. In January of this year the school board voted to move the election from April to November, despite protests from some residents, including Mayor Michael Gonnelli.
Among the three other candidates vying for positions on the nine-seat board were incumbent Kelli D’Addetta, who came in fourth place with 661 votes, and Tom Troyer, who was looking to regain the seat he held beginning in 2009. He failed to regain a seat in 2013 and 2014 and came in fifth place in the recent election with 627 votes. Also running this year was Dorothy Nicholson, who garnered 286 votes.
Hanley, a human resources professional, has been serving as an interim member of the board, appointed in April when former President Gary Riebesell stepped down and John Gerbasio became president, opening up a vacancy.
Both Giele and Cali are former educators in the Secaucus school system. Giele retired this past January after serving for 40 years, first as a social studies teacher and then as dean of students at the high school. Cali retired in July after nearly 40 years in the school system, first as an elementary school teacher in Connecticut and then a math teacher and guidance counselor in New Jersey.
“A board has to be diverse in order to be effective.” –Norma Hanley
“Change is inevitable,” said Board President Gerbasio after the election. “A different point of view is always a good thing. I envision nine people who may not agree on the process but they certainly agree on the end result. The children are our first priority. Our responsibility is to those 2,200 kids in the system.”
“I bring a parent’s perspective,” said Hanley about what she adds to the board. “My child is in the school district.” A resident of Secaucus since 1999, with family history in town dating back to 1986, she has one daughter in eighth grade in the middle school.
“A board has to be diverse in order to be effective,” said Hanley. “I think we have a great mix of educators and prior educators and business leaders.”
Hanley has a 20-year background in human resources, primarily in the media, broadcasting, and entertainment. “I have experience in labor negotiations and contracts, labor relations, recruitment, learning and development, policy development, governance, so many very valuable traits to bring to the board,” she said.
Her main focus as a board member will be “to see more open communication not only with the community but also with parents. It’s very important for parents to understand the role of the board and the important job they do. We are representing the community.”
“As far as enhancements in the educational curriculum,” she continued, “I would leave that to those with an education background who can speak to it much better than I can.”
Born and raised in Secaucus, Giele has been coaching football for 43 years and is a high school basketball official with the state. His wife is a guidance counselor in Ridgewood High School and he has two grown children. Recently retired after 40 years as an educator in the Secaucus school system, he is serving on the board for the first time.
“I know all the board members,” he said. “I had a couple of them in school. When you teach 40 years in a small town you know everybody.”
Like Hanley, he is concerned about improving the communication between the board and the community, especially during board meetings, where he objects to the requirement that attendees sign up before the meeting for a chance to speak.
“I’ve heard it over and over,” he said. “Open the lines up between the administration, the board of education, and parents. We have a responsibility to listen to what they say.”
His other major concerns are improving services for special needs students, making the school system more attractive to students currently leaving for charter schools, and improving the curriculums, such as theater arts, music, and STEM. “They’re currently well rounded but we have to do more,” he said.
A resident of Secaucus for about 20 years, Cali retired on July 1 after a 40-year teaching career that saw her begin as an elementary school teacher in Connecticut and spend the last 15 years as a guidance counselor for grades 7 and 8 in the Secaucus Middle School.
“As a guidance counselor I’ve heard a lot of concerns voiced by the parents,” she said. “I would constantly say, ‘I can’t do anything; I’m only the guidance counselor.’ Now I have an opportunity to investigate their concerns and see if anything can change or should change, and how do we do that.”
As a former president of the teacher’s union as well as a counselor, she saw the stress that resulted from the introduction of PARCC and the changes to teacher evaluations, and she wants to see solutions to some of the problems these caused.
“Now the president came out saying maybe we’re over-testing,” she said. “I wouldn’t jump in just yet [with changes]. I want to see where the federal government is heading. I was a math teacher so I’m very analytical. I don’t jump into anything. I want to hear all sides first. We have to explore these things.”
“People know me in this town,” she continued. “My focus has always been on the children. I wouldn’t have stayed with Secaucus if I though the education the students were getting was substandard. It’s a great education but we have to tweak it.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.