In the Secaucus Board of Education election on Tuesday, Nov. 8, there are three open seats to be filled. Issues in the school district include the amount of technology, the need for more funding from the state, changes in curriculum, and ways to put students first. The nine-member board votes on policy, personnel, and school funding. Another issue involves the Interim Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops, who will be replaced by a full-time superintendent voted on by the Board of Education members. A search committee was formed in late 2015 to look for the replacement, and then make a recommendation to the board.
Mayor Michael Gonnelli said he won’t be endorsing anyone this year.
When Councilman Gary Jeffas becomes the new town administrator in January his council seat will be taken by current Board of Education President John Gerbasio. Although he is running for reelection for the Board of Education, with his council position Gerbasio will be forced off the school board ballot if appointed to the council, but is still awaiting approval from the council.
In the Secaucus Board of Education election on Tuesday, Nov. 8 there are three open seats to be filled.
School budget, funding
The three incumbents running are current Vice President Jack McStowe, Gerbasio, and Kathy O’Connell. Opposing the incumbents are Steven Kilawattie, Sharon Dellasave, and Tom Troyer.
McStowe said, “[The school district] could use more funding. We are not funded very well through the state. I believe we receive less than ten percent of our budget through the state, and the rest is from taxpayers.”
The new middle school addition has been built onto Secaucus High School. The renovations are nearly finished, with only the new gymnasium and media center needing some final touches; both schools are in use.
Troyer said the most recent change-order amount for the current construction contract to build an addition of a middle school onto Secaucus High School is $22,555,323.98. The cost has been on the rise due to 47 change-orders that were placed to increase the funds needed to finish the project, Troyer said.
“The new addition to the middle school is to enhance education, and it holds more classrooms, a gymnasium, and a new cafeteria,” McStowe said. “It was a $28 million project and is in use now.”
McStowe is seeking his fourth term for the board. McStowe has lived in Secaucus since 1974. He is also currently the director of the Secaucus soccer program, and has been for 18 years. McStowe has also been a long-time member of the K&S Club, which is a local organization that helped families in need for 30 years. McStowe said he has his family’s full support, including his two children who are both graduates of the Secaucus school system.
McStowe said he’s also working on implementing a full-day of school for preschool students. Currently, pre-schoolers attend school for a half-day. “The process is not going to take too long,” McStowe added.
The full-day preschool would be funded through a tuition-based system, and will not come from grants or the taxpayers’ money.
“I served the public and children of the school district for the past nine years while on the Board of Education,” McStowe said. “I want to continue serving our kids.”
Troyer was elected to the board three times before he lost his seat in 2012. Troyer lived in Secaucus since 1959. He was teaching in Union City for 45 years before he retired. Troyer has also been involved with the Housing Authority in Secaucus. His wife passed away 11 years ago from cancer, and his children, 55 and 56, went to Union City schools before his youngest son graduated from Secaucus High School after its creation. Troyer is concerned with the funds from the construction, and he also wants to keep politicians out of the Board of Education. Troyer said politicians are most likely the reason recent Buildings and Grounds Supervisor John Scheiner was hired and resigned shortly after.
Wanting to improve student education, communication
Incumbent candidate O’Connell was born and raised in Secaucus. She said the way to improve student education is to continue to develop new and veteran teachers’ skills.
“Continuing to hire and train teachers that are growing with 21st century technology, policies, different types of professional development, and opening opportunities for teachers is a way they can always keep improving,” O’Connell said.
“Even veteran teachers are developing their skills like this, and new teachers are looking to those veterans as a mentor,” O’Connell added.
O’Connell is currently teaching in Union City at Union Hill Middle School. “I’m a veteran teacher, and I’m always learning from other teachers, it’s great, helping to mentor new teachers.”
While O’Connell has been on the board she said 40 percent of students are back in public schools rather than charter schools. “I’d love to see 100 percent,” O’Connell said.
New candidate and retired Secaucus High School English teacher Sharon Dellasave said a way she’d like to improve student education through better communication between students, administrators, and parents.
“I’m a good communicator and I will listen to parents, students, teachers, administrators, and such,” Dellasave said. “I believe we need to do that, because communication is important. I will ensure any policies and educational needs for students. Specific issues like literacy, reading and writing are important to me, and stronger curriculum.”
Dellasave was a teacher in Secaucus High School for 31 years, and started teaching at the high school in 1983. “I’ve written many curriculums as a teacher.”
As for technology, Dellasave said she would like to see technology, group work, and creating between students integrated.
“I would have to say that technology is important, but I would like to see more student driven technology where they can meet with each other and discuss ideas together, and look at their needs, not just in their own lives,” Dellasave said. “I’d like to see them try to create technology ideas that will make life better, and students are making this happen all the time.”
Another form of communication Dellasave wants to improve is a policy for students to feel comfortable talking about bullying or cyberbullying. “I think also many people are concerned about cyberbullying or bullying in person. We do currently have a policy that addresses bullying, but I think we need more communication.”
Dellasave added, “The students don’t like to admit they’re bullied, because they have to feel comfortable in revealing that. Next to home, school should be the safest place for them, and there aren’t students who feel that way.”
During her career, Dellasave was a founding member of the Professional Development Committee. She was also a past executive board member of the Parent Teacher Student Association at the high school, and board member for the teachers union. Currently in her retirement, Dellasave belongs to a memoir writing group and poetry group at the library.
A candidate who has also never been on the board is Steven Kilawittie. He’s 22-years old, and a full time college student.
“I am a different face in this race years election,” Kilawattie said in an email. Kilawattie has lived in Secaucus his whole life, and graduated from High Tech High School in 2013. He’s been involved in the Junior State of America, an after-school program that studies politics and debating. Kilawattie said the school district could use improvements in the curriculum such as the Physics First Initiative for freshman students. Physics or chemistry is usually taken at a junior or senior level.
“The goal of the initiative is to have an introductory physics course to have students understand chemistry and physics, but I don’t think freshman need it, because they’re not really learning physics,” Kilawattie said.
“There are certain things that aren’t being applied in the course, like certain levels of math, because they haven’t taken calculus yet. I would have never went along with that decision,” Kilawattie added. With hopes of fixing this program he said he would also focus on liberal arts education, and to expand the arts programs.
Kilawattie also said he wants Mayor Michael Gonnelli to be more involved with the school system.
“Whatever way we push this school system forward, I want him involved.”
Another way to improve the school system, according to Kilawattie, is to increase communication between parents, students, and administration. “We need communication. The Board of Education needs to share their vision with parents and teachers, because they have to be part of this as well.”
“If I become a member, I want to hear from teachers, students, and parents to have some type of transparency for them to feel comfortable coming to the board,” Kilawattie added.