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Somerville Borough School District {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

Somerville Public Schools provide the highest quality education through an environment that promotes individual excellence.The election is for three Board of Education members. Each serving a three year term.
CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
  • Norman Chin

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    Robert M. Fenster Teacher

  • Derek J. Jess

  • Candace Matthews

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    Melissa Sadin Educator

  • Denise Van Horn Retired Educator

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Biographical Information

What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for serving on the Board?

What do you consider the three most important challenges facing our local public schools at this time? How would you address these challenges?

Do you think that the current civics education in our schools is adequate? If not, what do you think can be done to improve it?

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Qualifications/Experience Public school social studies teacher for 25 years in nearby Hillsborough, parent of two school-age daughters, Somerville resident since 2001.
Campaign Address 172 East High Street
Campaign Email bobfenster@gmail.com
Website http://facebook.com/bobfensterboe
Members of boards of education have to consider the views of a variety of stakeholders, including the four most important: students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. My professional and personal experiences have given me insight into all of these groups. My daughters, Lily and Maggie, have been in the Somerville school system for the past ten years where they have had a wide variety of experiences. I have been a high school social studies teacher in Hillsborough for the past 25 years working with thousands of students in classes and an array of extracurricular organizations I advise. Finally, I have been a taxpayer in Somerville since 2001, suffering along with the rest of the community every year when the new tax bill arrives. For the past year I have regularly been attending Somerville Board of Education meetings where I have seen impressive achievements by Somerville students and staff alike, while simultaneously identifying areas of concern. During my career I have also attended dozens of Hillsborough Board of Education meetings where I have observed a number of practices that I believe should be adopted by Somerville with regard to how the Board of Education itself runs with a significant amount of transparency, how it welcomes communication with the public, and how it manages to streamline administrative costs. With regard to transparency, one simple step would be to use www.boarddocs.com to share electronic copies of all public records instead of withholding them from the public. In terms of communication, I challenge voters to go to the BOE website and find an address for the full Board. At the time of this response (mid-September), the BOE website still lists the old superintendent and provides a copy of his contract despite the fact that he left at the end of June. Finally, for administrative costs, I find it difficult to believe that 18 administrators, each getting over $100,000 are necessary for three schools.
TESTING - A vast amount of class time is dedicated to test prep and administration; time that would be better spent on learning. PARCC is poorly designed, especially for 3rd graders, and diagnostically useless. Worst of all, it adds a level of stress on a generation of students who are already experiencing anxiety at an alarming rate. Assessments are critical to successful education, but they are best designed and implemented by teachers who work directly with their students, not by a for-profit corporation that has an incentive to produce results that lead schools to rely on test prep materials produced by the same corporation. Somerville should follow the example of schools that have passed resolutions calling on the state to remove PARCC as a graduation requirement.

ACCOUNTABILITY - High taxes and the 2% cap require that every penny be spent wisely. The public has a right to know where all the money is going, but the BOE’s level of transparency is lacking. Agendas refer to attachments that are not shared with the public. Members of the community cannot know how much money is being spent on items like professional development, where such events are taking place, or which staff members are involved. Despite my efforts to get the Board to be more forthcoming, I've had to resort to filling out Open Public Record Requests to get access to basic financial information.

START TIME - It’s hard to understand why we insist on requiring teens to get to school by 7:30 am and expect them to perform their best. Chronic sleep loss leads not only to poorer academic performance, but a higher risk for depression, risky behaviors, and athletic injuries. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control all have studied the issue and concluded that if our kids are allowed to wake up later in the morning, that they’ll be more focused in the classroom, achieve more, be healthier, and get to school on time at a higher rate.
I don’t think anything we do in our schools is more important than civics education. Our school system is preparing our children not only for adulthood, but to be active citizens of their community. Too often “civic duty” is boiled down to voting in November, ignoring the myriad ways that citizens can participate in their communities and in our democracy. Somerville and most other school districts in New Jersey do not teach civics as a separate course, instead folding it into U.S. history courses. That seems entirely appropriate for Vanderveer School and Somerville Middle School, but at the high school level, it’s problematic. The state requires two years of U.S. History and the 2017 New Jersey Student Learning Standards provides a dizzying array of learning goals to be completed in those two years. As a consequence, civics can get short shrift as teachers have precious little time to spend on subjects like how public policy is created. I would like to see our US History curriculum adjusted so that a semester of the two years, or at the very least a marking period, be given over to a specific civics focus. This approach would be compliant with the state law, just necessitating an adjustment by teachers to distill the actual history portion of the class to three semesters. Although that might seem initially daunting to our teaching staff, most of the country manages to teach US history in two semesters, so clearly it can be done. Ultimately the Stamp and Sugar Acts are less important information for students to retain than how public policy is made, and how they can impact it.
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Qualifications/Experience Professionally, I am a life long educator. I hold two Masters degrees and am very close to completing my doctorate in special education. I have taught every grade from 3-12. I have been a building administrator for 12 years. Currently I am working as a Director of Special Education. I am the program director of a nation non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents and teachers who love and serve children with developmental trauma. In addition, I am on the Somerville School District Curriculum Committee, the Trauma Sensitive Schools Task Force, and am very active in my church, where I am a trustee and the advisor for the Junior/Senior Youth group. Recently I worked with members of the Children’s Hope Initiative to create an organization called, Resilient Youth of Somerset that is dedicated to spreading awareness of trauma-informed care in Somerset County. Our school and district leadership is strong, knowledgeable and committed. I my first term as a member of the Board of Education, I served on the curriculum committee, policy committee, and safety committee, and was voted vice president by my fellow members. I also served as a State Delegate and representative to the County Board. I also served as vice president of the County Board of Education and as a representative of the state special education committee.
Campaign Address 12 Riviera Drive Somerville, NJ 08876
Campaign Email melissa.sadin@gmail.com
I am seeking re-election to the Somerville Board of Education. I am an active and involved member of the Somerville Community. I have served on the Somerville Education Foundation. In addition, I am on the Somerville School District Curriculum Committee, the Trauma Sensitive Schools Task Force, and am very active in my church, The First United Methodist Church in Somerville, where I am a trustee and the advisor for the Junior/Senior Youth group. Recently I worked with members of the Children’s Hope Initiative to create an organization called, Resilient Youth of Somerset that is dedicated to spreading awareness of trauma-informed care in Somerset County. Professionally, I am a life long educator. I hold two Masters degrees and am very close to completing my doctorate in special education. I have taught every grade from 3-12. I have been a building administrator for 12 years. Currently I am working as a Director of Special Education in Morris County. I am the program director of the Attachment & Trauma Networks’ Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools, a nation non-profit organization dedicated to supporting parents and teachers who love and serve children with developmental trauma. I believe that we have a strong educational foundation here in Somerville. Our school and district leadership is strong, knowledgeable and committed. I my first term as a member of the Board of Education, I served on the curriculum committee, policy committee, and safety committee, and was voted vice president by my fellow members. I also served as a State Delegate and representative to the County Board. I also served as vice president of the County Board of Education and was a member of the state special education committee.
The three most important challenges facing our local public schools now are; the school-to-prison pipeline and the imbalance of discipline for children who are African American or who are receiving special education, the lack of funding from state and local government for an increasingly high number of state and federal mandates, and balancing the need for accountability with the development of the whole child. The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to describe the high number of high school students who are suspended in school that become a part of the juvenile or adult justice system upon graduation. Research shows that students suspended twice in high school are more likely to repeat a grade, fail courses, or drop out. Research also shows that African American students are being suspended more than twice as often as white children for the same infraction. In my first term on the Board, I assisted in the creation of an alternative high school program for children with unique learning needs. Students in this program can take online classes and attend school at alternate hours. Our high school suspension rate has decreased tremendously. If re-elected to the Board I will work with the administration to provide cultural competency training to the staff at the middle school. New Jersey is a leader in unfunded mandates in the country. Unfunded mandates are calls for programs or practices that schools receiving public funding are required to implement without additional funding to support the program or its implementation. If I am re-elected, I will continue to serve as a delegate in the State Assembly and work with state senators and congressmen and women to address this issue. Although NCLB has been reauthorized, NJ students continue to be among the most tested in the country. I worked with the high school administration and the superintendent to reduce the testing of our high school students while maintaining accountability.
The current civics education in our schools is not sufficient. While the New Jersey Common Core Standards address civics education, not enough schools are taking advantage of the opportunity to expose our children to the possibilities. If re-elected, I will work to create a third academy option at Somerville High School that provides authentic civic career opportunities. Architecture for Global Learning in the curriculum is needed to help faculty and administrators strengthen their understanding of global learning and develop their capacity for translating mission-driven institutional global learning goals into concrete curricular and co-curricular experiences that are flexible, rigorous, and relevant to students. Foreign language proficiency and cross-cultural understanding should, ideally, go hand in hand. However, foreign language programs do not always successfully incorporate global learning practices into curriculum and miss the opportunity to help students develop global perspectives. If re-elected, I will work with the administration to reinforce these concepts in our curriculum.
Qualifications/Experience Resident of Somerville for 39 years. Classroom teacher for 30 years District test coordinator for 6 years
I have been a resident of Somerville for over 39 years with both of my children attending the Somerville Public Schools for grades K-12. My professional life as an educator spanned 36 years – in the classroom for 30 years and then as a district test coordinator for my final 6 years. My grandson is starting school in the district and I now have the time to give my energy and knowledge of the educational system to my town. Having served on many professional committees over the years I fully understand the give and take needed for them to work and produce results.
There are numerous challenges to local public education at the present time.

One such challenge is getting parents to be fully involved in their child's education. It is difficult to fully engage a child in their education if there is not support from home. Parental involvement shows a child that parents are committed to help them do their best. Including the parents in programs of learning that showcase their children is one way to encourage attendance. In cases where there is language barrier children can act as “teachers” for the parents. Parental involvement also has a positive effect on student behavior. It has been shown to have a positive impact on disrespect, tardiness and bullying in the classroom setting. Providing a well rounded education for all children becomes increasingly difficult while maintaining fiscal responsibility. The board must work to keep all areas of the curriculum fully supported so that students have the ability to explore areas such as the arts and music as well as the needed activity provided by physical education. A third area of concern is infrastructure. We must plan ahead to project the needs of our buildings so that we will be prepared to keep them up to date and ready to handle the students of the future.
While civics as a subject is touched upon during the elementary and middle school years it has taken somewhat of a back seat due to the stress of the core curriculum. It is spoken of around election time but that is about it. Waiting for high school history classes to gain even a cursory understanding of our government is “too little, too late”. There needs to be a curriculum set so that basics are being built upon each year and every child is exposed to the same information. In that way by the time the student reaches high school history class there is already a base to build upon and further explore the workings of our government.

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