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Hopewell Valley Regional School District - Hopewell Township {_getChooseLabel(this.selections.length)}

Three year term, Choose 2 Candidates

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    Michael Coco

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    Peter DiDonato

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    William Herbert

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    John Mason

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    Ashutosh Pathak

Biographical Information

What personal and professional skills do you possess that will make you an effective member of the School Board?

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

How do you propose to balance the following factors: recruitment and retention of excellent teachers, quality of education provided to the students, and the desire of most taxpayers for lower taxes?

What do you consider the most importanct challenges facing the school district and how will you address them?

What are your thoughts on an expanded and broader PEECH (Pre-School and Early Education for Children of Hopewell) program within our district?

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I have experience serving as a board member on non-profit and community organization boards. As an attorney, I am knowledgeable in contracts and negotiations. I currently work in risk management and can assess and reduce lawsuit potential, as well as evaluate and alleviate safety concerns. My experience as a registered nurse will provide insight on school health and safety.
I support mental health first aid and similar programs that help our students recognize peers in need and prevent tragedies. Schools must be secure and have emergency plans that are adaptable to various scenarios. Our students and the community must pursue education on firearm safety and prevent unauthorized access to firearms. Students should also be taught and practice good hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases, which will keep students safe from severe illnesses.
Increasing tax rates makes our district less affordable and less desirable. Districts with lower per-pupil costs and great school metrics are not raising taxes as much as Hopewell. This makes people leave the district, and housing prices decline, as do ratables, which ends up bringing in less money in the long term. Controlling taxes will help stabilize and increase housing values, which increases the overall amount of money available to the district. This money can be used to keep excellent teachers. The school can also partner with community businesses and associations to provide students with quality volunteer and hands-on opportunities.
Safety is a top concern, which is addressed in the prior question. Student health is of utmost importance and can be addressed through a mental health education program. Nutrition must be addressed through education based on the most recent research, and the dangers of over-consumption of sugar and highly processed foods should be discussed. The budget is always a challenge, as addressed in the prior question. Test scores and student readiness is addressed by focusing on a strong foundation, early education, and applied science education in higher grade levels.
I support expansion of early education. Children in the district should be able to benefit from the schools at a young age and gain exposure to their peers. Expanding early education allows the district’s children to enter kindergarten at a similar knowledge level, providing continuity of education throughout the district. Such programs also help families by allowing them to send their kids to a program close to home instead of a daycare outside the district. Costs can be controlled with a tuition-based system. In the future, municipalities and school boards can ask the State government for help supporting these programs financially.
My overall experience serving on the board of education within various committees as well as the continuing effort in training, discussions throughout the district, county and state provides me a unique opportunity to make more strategic decisions that will allow HVRSD to grow and prosper along with the supporting community. I also own and operate a consulting services business where our initiatives are collaboration and business intelligence with a focus on strategic planning and innovations that accelerate critical business decisions. I have helped build two successful businesses from the ground up. Strategic planning, effective goal setting, forecasting and the ability to roll up my sleeves makes me the ideal candidate running.
I would support increasing program funding toward social emotional education. I feel this directly ties itself to the majority of school shootings in the US. Focusing our efforts in this space along with enhanced audio and video surveillance techniques, security protocols, student and staff training will improve the districts overall safety. I will oppose arming campus officers with guns to keep them safe because I feel there is no supporting evidence otherwise. I do not believe continuing our gun efforts will help with school safety.
The quality of all students' education stems from effective teachers who are resourceful, have the opportunity to leverage professional development, are supported in their growth goals, have access to the appropriate resources to do their jobs and are a part of a bigger team. HVRSD has some of the longest retained teachers in NJ. This is due to the reasons I have listed previously. This is also reflective of the average cost of teachers being so high. They are long term teachers who deserve the salaries provided. To keep the tax payer impact low, this district must effectively balance the use of surplus toward the general fund, more carefully plan program costs, and continue efforts in the long-term capital improvement planning process.
School Budget: A rise in the overall costs for health care, services and salaries make it difficult to appropriate funding to continue the efforts of providing an adequate system of learning for all children. The district must look for opportunities to lower these drivers. Ways to achieve this are better long-term capital improvement planning, reduction in health care costs by moving to a self-funding program, reductions in operational expenses and lastly consolidating and or eliminating small programs. Equity and Equality for all children: I will continue my efforts to guide our district toward solutions where all students have the opportunity to be a part of being an active student across all grade levels.
When the district took the opportunity to listen to parents while expanding the all-day kindergarten program, they did not expect to see such a large turnout. Students at this age could benefit tremendously as they would develop earlier skills to absorb this new knowledge and evolve at a much higher rate. As much of a benefit it would be to expanding these programs in our schools it may be difficult to implement due to budget constraints. A more detailed analysis should be made.
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I’ve earned an MBA in Finance and have been a CFO for the past 5 years, so I believe my financial acumen will help me to quickly understand and contribute to the financial and budgeting process. Through years in the military, the corporate world, and volunteering in the community I’ve demonstrated time and again the ability to work closely in groups of people representing various backgrounds and viewpoints, along with the ability to compromise and come to the best solution. I’m now among the majority in the district who do not have children in the schools, but with the perspective of having had children in the district for the past 15 years. Finally, I have a thirst for learning, and a strong desire to contribute to the community.
The safety of our students is clearly a top priority, and we should be open to continually evaluating and discussing ways to improve it. I don’t come into the role with any preconceived notions on what changes might or might not work. I am ready to listen to ideas and make choices that are best for all of the stakeholders, and I strongly believe that any changes we make need to be made with community input, and must be made in concert with our municipal governments and local law enforcement.
Those goals are not mutually exclusive if we work together to make smart choices. While salaries & benefits are the greatest percentage of district costs, many other elements comprise the budget. Above all, we need a more open and transparent budget process that includes specifically identifying the purpose of excess residential tax increases. Prior to this budget, HVRSD had audited Capital Reserves more than double all like-sized Mercer County districts. The 2019-20 budget spends over $2,300,000 more than cap. In June 2019, the board authorized the transfer of $2,500,000 to Capital Reserves explicitly forbidden for use on salaries and programs. As a result, HVRSD costs are the most in Mercer County, eclipsing the #2 by over $1K per-pupil.
Our most important challenge is ensuring graduates are adequately prepared for life after high school. We do a great job of getting kids admitted to college, but how well do they succeed there, and what about those that do not go to college? In many ways, our students attend school in a sanitized “bubble.” We’ve seen issues, as have other schools, with bullying, racism, and suicide. We need to give students additional opportunities for broader engagement with more diverse communities during their time in Hopewell. Ideally, graduates will be able to work with others, self-advocate, have 21st century skills and healthy ways of dealing with stress to navigate the world beyond high school, whether that be college, military or the workforce.
My daughter Caroline started at Hopewell in the PEECH program and just graduated with the Class of 2019. Therefore, having direct experience with the program, I am a fan. That said, the proposal raises many questions. On the surface, an expanded and broader PEECH program sounds like a great idea. If the program improves the quality of our offerings, better utilizes the capacity left vacant by the significant declining enrollment our district continues to experience, and does so in a cost-effective manner, then it may have potential. Those are big ifs and, as they say, the devil is in the details. So, I’ll have to reserve my endorsement on expanding any program until I can see the specifics.
As a USMC combat veteran and working within the Criminal Justice system. I have various perspectives that will help me serve the community. Serving in the Military I have learned the importance of working as a team and finding common ground when facing difficult situations. I have worked as a Bail Bondsman for the past 16 years. In 2015 I was tasked with opening a new office in Philadelphia where I utilized my relationship building skills with many stakeholders to create and continue to run a successful office. My calm demeanor is a strength when navigating different opinions on issues that the Board faces. My willingness to keep an open mind and my desire to continue to learn will no doubt help me serve the schools and the community.
First and foremost, keeping our students safe in school has to be our number one priority. I believe we need to continue to build a strong relationship with local law enforcement and continue to evaluate trainings, drills and security protocols that are currently in place. I also believe that consistency is key to a successful plan therefore, doing a needs assessment and looking at our drills with a critical eye will help keep all our schools in line and on the same page when it comes to security. Having said that, it would be naïve of me to make any assumptions before being able to assess exactly what is in place and in what areas are our strengths and where we can work to make improvements.
First, regarding the recruitment and retention of teachers and the quality of education provided to the students. This can be done by engaging new teachers in a 4 year induction program, where it will focus on supporting the teacher through professional development opportunities and community building. To address the need for lower taxes the Board needs to make smart decisions. HVRSD had capital reserves that were more than double all like-sized districts on the county. In May, the budget passed spending $2.3M over cap, in June the Board authorized moving $2.3M to capital reserves which is forbidden for use on salaries and programs. It is decisions like this which in my opinion should concern the taxpayers of Hopewell Township.
The most important challenges today are mental health & social emotional issues. Kids are growing up in a more stressful environment than ever and we need to change & adjust to the ever changing times. We need to look at the CASEL framework of social emotional learning. We need to use this framework to help our students grow socially and emotionally. As a district we need to introduce students to a more diverse society and teach students skills to be successful in life. We need to teach them to be resilient, good communicators, intellectual thinkers, and to be involved in their community. To counteract these issues we can introduce more culture & diversity into our programs and teach our students the skills they need to be successful.
I would support an expanded and broader PEECH program in the district. I believe early intervention for children with developmental challenges is vitally important for their growth as students and as a whole child. Any chance we have to keep a child in district and have them thrive and is a success for the individual student and for the district. However, any expansion to a program has to be done in a matter that is fiscally responsible. It must ensure that the program continues to provide the proper support and services for the students and that equity is taken into consideration when expanding a program, such as PEECH.
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I am a Physician Scientist trained at institutes like Columbia University, NY.  M D Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and AIIMS, New Delhi. I have spent a decade in academic research and another decade in industry. Currently I am Global Medical Head of a Biotechnology company developing anticancer drugs. In addition, I also established a Non Profit organization - Princeton Foundation for Peace & Learning ( This combination of academic background, leadership of highly efficient research organizations, and a commitment to serve the community enables me to be an ideal member of the School Board. I have been greatly benefitted by my educational background and would love to share the lessons learned to enhance the HVRSD quality. 
I would strangthen measures such as limiting entryways to school buildings; monitor parking lot and student common areas such as hallways, cafeterias, and playgrounds; video surveillance; enhanced school-community partnerships (police surveillance, Neighborhood Watch programs); presence of local police, and/or security guards; srtrict visitor registration and limited areas for visitors in the building, strengtheing of school’s crisis plan and preparedness training such as drills for lockdowns, evacuations, parent-student reunification procedures, and emergency communications protocols; and anonymous reporting systems (student hot lines, (student hot lines, “suggestion” boxes, etc). Such reports will be taken seriously.
Enhancing the quality of education requires "Continous Improvement" through a feedback mechanism that allows incorporating the lessons learned as we evaluate the cost effectivness of various programs and initiatives in HVRSD. More importantly, we need to clearly align on the expectation of the community HVRSD serves. For example, based on my interaction with various stakeholders in the community, the convergence is on cultivating the students into holistic, inclusive, and meaningful members of society that goes beyond the mere academic achievements. Setting up the strategy and "Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)" as per these expectations will allow us to priortize resource allocation, cost optimization, and recruit/retain excellent teachers
During my interaction with various stakeholders, concerns have been raised around the cost of the education. I am also aware of topics such as substance abuse, afterschool bus service, inclusiveness, conflicts between various course offerings, upcoming township development potentially leading to significant increase in the numer of students in the school, and other issues.   Based on these interactions, I feel a significant need of more proactive participation of the community as i said earlier. Even setting aside 1-2 hours in a month by the community members to learn about the value and costs of various HVRSD programs empower them enormously as the key stakeholder and will allow hem to meanignfully participate in prioritization discussions
This program is certainly an important point to consider. Implementing it will, however, require budget/resources considerations. HVRSD is approaching a situation where implenting new initiatives will require re-allocation of budgets from other programs. Again, this will be done in alignment with community expectations for which pro active participation of the community is icritical.     

I can not reiterate enough the value of community participation. Various stakeholders have raised concerns about the level of enthusiasm our community has in participating in events, discussions, or initiatives. I encourage the community members to be more proactive and set aside time to be part of these endeavors to evolve the HVRSD as a community.