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Bernards Township School District {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

The mission of the Bernards Township School District is to provide a superior education which results in academic excellence, responsible behavior, good citizenship and fosters social-emotional development so that ultimately each student will be able to: Maximize his/her potential. Become a contributing member of society. Maintain a commitment to life-long learning. Achieve the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards at all grade levels.The election is for three members. Each member serves a three year term.

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  • Candidate picture

    Lauren Beckman

  • Karen Gray

  • Candidate picture

    Ruchika S. Hira

  • Stephanus “Iwan” Juwana

  • Suzanne Schafer Skalski

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?

What changes would you support or oppose to keep out students safe in our schools?

Professionally, I have a degree in Industrial Engineering from Stanford University. I have 20 years of experience in a corporate environment managing people and processes and have attended quite a few meetings and been on numerous committees where we need to agree and compromise and negotiate. I am professional, hardworking and have a history of working with others effectively. I respect rules and processes.

Personally, my husband and I moved here in 2011. We are homeowners with 4 children who have attended Cedar Hill, WAMS and currently 2 attend RHS. Over the past 16 years (7 in CA and 9 here in BR) I have been actively involved in the public school system volunteering for positions in the classroom as well as peripherally in positions such as VP PTA and chairing fundraising and sporting events. Additionally, I began substitute teaching in 2016 so I could continue to be involved in the schools. I feel like all these years raising my children and volunteering and working for their schools and activities have prepared me and given me the direct experience and background to be a positive contributor to the Board of Education. Furthermore, I attend Board meetings and recently attended a Candidates Briefing held by the NJ School Board Association.

I don’t expect to have all the answers today, but I am a quick learner, I am passionate about education and our community and I want our schools to remain top in the state.
It’s difficult to say what the top 3 issues are, without having been deeply involved in the myriad of issues in front of the Board of Education today. However, here are several issues that jump out to me as being important challenges which should be addressed.

1) Vaping/drugs/alcohol abuse — At the last BOE meeting, Kaitlin Cartoccio presented the Pride Results Survey. The survey results showed Basking Ridge has a higher average drinking rate than the U.S. average. And vaping isn’t treated seriously by students. I think this is a community problem and our students, parents, teachers, administrators and Board members all have to work together on this one.

2) The early start time currently in place for the Middle and High Schools — American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 or later. School districts around the country are moving to this. It’s not an easy task, but there are creative/flexible solutions that other districts are using to address this issue which we should explore.

3) Student stress — Between school work and sports and band and drama and forensics and SAT prep and other extracurriculars (the list can be quite extensive as many of you know), our kids are amazing but have so much on their plates! They need down time to recharge. I would like to see vacations be vacations; kids who take downtime with their families during the holidays should not be penalized.
Personally, I think our civics curriculum is excellent and that the teachers are doing a great job at motivating and engaging my children in their social studies classes. There are spirited debates and group projects at the High School level. And we have very lively and informative conversations at the dinner table. While there is always room for improvement, unless data or survey results suggests a broader problem, my perspective is that our school district seems to be doing a fine job in this area. One exception (pointed out by my husband, a US Army veteran) – our kids need to learn that placing their hand over their heart during the national anthem at graduation is a sign of respect for our country.
The district has added a lot of safety measures since we have moved here. I was subbing when there was a safety drill and another time when there was a lock down drill. It was pretty intense for me, not having experienced a lock down when I was in school, but the kids handled it quietly and orderly. I think preparation is key. Also, having a police officer and two sets of locked doors at the High School entrance seems safer. However, we must keep up the focus. We should be open to evaluate ideas which other districts have implemented as means for continuous improvement, especially those that can be implemented with minimal cost and minimal impact to our students’ daily schedule.
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Campaign Address 89 Morristown Road, Basking Ridge, NJ
Campaign Email ruchikahira@gmail.com
I am mother of two (2) children, four (4) and ten (10). I grew up predominantly in Central Jersey. Academically, I graduated from New York University (NYU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. I have a Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law where I was the Marketing Editor of the Rutgers Journal of Law and Public Policy. After graduating from law school, I went on to complete a one (1) year judicial clerkship in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part. I have several certifications, including a certification in mediating disputes from the Harvard Negotiation Institute. I presently practice family law at a boutique law firm in Passaic County comprised of seven attorneys. I am also a volunteer attorney for Manavi, a non-profit organization that advocates for South Asian women facing domestic violence. As a practicing family law attorney, I am always trying to balance emotions, finances and the law, to advocate for my client and to assist them in making decisions that are in the best interest of their children and family. In order to properly advocate for my clients, I need to listen to them. It sounds simple in concept, but not so easy. Truly listening to them allows me to ask the right questions and to understand what their needs are. I often have to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions under challenging circumstances. I utilize experts (e.g. forensic accountant and psychologists) all the time in my cases and have the ability to analyze data and conduct research. It is this same skill set that I would bring to the school board. I would address the biggest challenges facing the district in the same way that I would address the biggest challenges in my day to day work as a family law attorney: to listen, process, research, analyze and attempt to find a solution, while balancing all interests involved, especially those of our students.
1. Vaping and teenage drinking: the recent survey taken by students in our district reflects that the percentage of students in our school district drinking and vaping is higher than the state average. We need strict policies to address and combat vaping and the use of e-cigarettes in our schools. We need to educate our students about the risks. Perhaps having outside speakers come in and speak to them would have a greater impact than just presenting the material in a class atmosphere. Teachers need to be on high alert for e-cigarette products and we need to consider the pros and cons of installing vaping detectors in bathrooms. Our students’ health and safety is a priority. Also, what is being taught during school hours need to be reaffirmed at home and during after school activities, by parents, coaches and supervisors. Last, we need strict enforcement of our policies.

2. Student Stress Levels: recent surveys indicate that our students are experiencing high levels of stress and lower levels of joy when it comes to learning. I believe we need to further explore what is causing the stress that our students are feeling. In order to find a remedy, we need to know what is the root of the stress and anxiety that they are experiencing. We need to outright ask our students, if academic pressure is causing you stress, what exactly would alleviate the stress you are feeling. We need to further examine academic curriculum and implement more ways where students can connect personally with the material they are studying. Starting school at a later time is another thing the district is considering and I absolutely support that.

3. Implementation of the Rotating Drop Schedule: I believe the students will most certainly benefit from this new schedule. However, I strongly believe that we need to research other school districts that have implemented this schedule to guide us.
I do not believe it would be fair for me to comment either way on whether the current civics education in our schools is adequate or not. I am aware that our Social Studies program at the middle and high school level incorporates civics education, which includes exposure to the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, institutions of government, civil rights etc. The curriculum provides students with opportunities to engage in a real work activity that allows them to apply what they are learning in the classroom. We also have extracurricular activities and clubs premised on civics education. So, I believe we really need to ask the students whether they believe the current civics education in our schools is adequate. However, if you asked my 5th grader how our state’s government is structured, she probably could not answer the question, even on a simplistic level. As such, I do believe we could incorporate some more dialogue at an earlier age.
I would support all changes necessary to keep our students safe in our schools. That is a priority.
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