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VOTE411 Voter Guide

West Windsor-Plainsboro BOE Plainsboro

Members of the Board of Education are elected by voters in the communities of Plainsboro and West Windsor Townships. Members are elected to three-year terms, and usually three seats are up for election each year. The Board of Education is composed of four elected representatives from Plainsboro and five from West Windsor.
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    Isaac Cheng (N) Pharmaceuticals

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    Russel Melville (N) healthcare executive

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    Peter Syrek (N) Marketing

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Biographical Information

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

What are your recommendations for handling growth of the school district?

What are your thoughts on No Homework Nights?

How would you address the issue of underfunding of the district's Fine and Performing Arts Program, as raised by the recent external and internal reviews of the program?

Current Elected Position West Windsor Plainsboro Board of Education
Career Mergers, acquisitions, and licencing for new drugs and medical devices in pharmaceuticals
Education Wicoff UES (now Millstone) Community Middle School High School North (2008) B.A. University of Chicago (2012) M.A. University of Chicago (2012)
I am a lifelong resident of Plainsboro and a product of WWP schools, giving me a firsthand view on the strengths and weaknesses of our district. As a former student, I’ve pushed for courses that I wish I had myself—such as advanced classes in social sciences (AP Economics, AP Psychology), richer engineering offerings, and a bi-lingual language program in elementary. I deeply empathize with the stresses that our students face, and contribute to the discussion when possible.

While my role is not to micromanage, my professional experience working on management-level decisions in business has enabled me to be an effective board member. My experience negotiating merger agreements has helped during labor negotiations, where we curbed the growth of labor costs while maintaining amiable relations with our staff. My experience forecasting markets and creating projections has helped me to analyze forecasted enrollment growth when making decisions around district expansion.

My perspective as a former student and business professional is valuable to keep on the board, and it will continue to help in our decisions ahead.
This is the biggest issue today. Frankly, our schools are already at capacity, and class sizes are high in WWP. While this has not yet hindered our ability to maintain educational quality, quality will become increasingly challenging to maintain as enrollment expands from new housing development. We have a responsibility to our students—to keep class sizes reasonable and to provide resources for learning. But we also have a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers.

Beyond the expansion of Maurice Hawk, where there is an immediate need for classrooms, it’s too early to start drafting concrete plans and allocating funds for new construction because there are still many unknowns. How many new homes are being constructed? What will be the demographics (family sizes, age of kids, etc.)?

The steady course is to maintain lines of communication with township and developers to stay abreast of the latest developments. As we get firmer numbers, we can then draft plans for new school construction. In the case that we need a new school, the district must go to referendum to raise funds and keep the community involved so that voters can make informed decisions.
I think no homework nights are a fantastic way for students to spend time with family and friends. The work will get done. One or two nights of no homework a year has little impact on a year’s worth of learning, just as one big meal does not destroy a diet, and just as one vacation day planned months in advance does not derail a big project. Our schools should be focused on building long-term habits of learning, and no homework nights allow students a little rest to sustain these habits healthily. They provide students with a little extra time to step away from their work schedule, digest the material, and make memories with their familes.
First things first, I loved our district's fine and performing arts program as a student, and participated in many different performing arts classes and activities throughout my years in district. Furthermore, as a current Board member, I always support the program and sought ways to expand it--approving plans for additional classes and purchasing equipment.

To answer the question, I would not change the level of funding for the fine and performing arts program beyond what is currently planned. It's important to note, in any holistic review of a program, that funding is not by-itself a problem; rather, the results from underfunding is a problem. And I think the results from our fine and performing arts program speak to the fact that we have a fantastic program at current levels of funding.

Furthermore, the actual issues from the program review are in the process of being addressed (e.g. such as weakness of instruction in certain subjects such as drama and dance), which will improve our arts programs more than any blanket decision on funding
Twitter @Melville4B
I believe my experiences, as a 25-year resident of Plainsboro, and my experiences living and serving abroad are unique and particularly relevant to my quest to become a member of the WW-P School Board and to serve nobly in this capacity. From my experiences I have gained intelligence, courage, the capacity to solve problems in an innovative and collaborative manor and, most importantly, empathy and compassion for my neighbors. I was educated both here in this country and abroad. I serve my country as a member of the military, and I have laid my life on the line both here and abroad for all of us. In my professional life as a healthcare executive I strive, above all, for excellence in improving the health of the people I serve, as well as building long-lasting relationships throughout the enterprise while also maintaining and improving the bottom line of our business. I am most proud of being a father, a prominent member of the Plainsboro community, and a good neighbor to all. I believe these qualifications make me a resilient, adaptable candidate and the best person to represent all of our children on the West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education.
West Windsor and Plainsboro are rapidly growing townships, with thousands of new residents with children needing to be educated moving in over the past decade as well as plans for more growth in our district in the near future. Though I do not believe we have done enough as a district to plan for this rapid growth, I am very much aware that we must make forward-looking, prudent plans to expand our physical capacity by building more schools. We really do not have the capacity in our existing schools to expand, so new construction to accommodate the possibility of 2000-3000 new students in the next decade or so is imperative. We must employ the huge array of resources, paid and volunteer, within our communities, to come up with smart, sustainable solutions. We have within our townships educators, real estate and finance experts who can collaborate in ways formal and informal to come up with novel tactics and strategy and to explain these to the community at large. Most importantly, we owe our children the same accommodations we seem to be willing to give the developers who are planning to erect these developments – and profit from them. We must be firm in insisting that our partners
I think it’s important to step back sometimes from the high-pressure environment we’ve created in our schools. Not long ago I was talking with one of my neighbors’ sons, a 6th grader. He said to me, “I love my school, but sometimes there is just too much work. The one thing he asked me for – he knew I was running for the Board – he wanted to know if we could cut off some of the homework. And we should. The no-homework nights give our kids an opportunity to breathe. We are making these decisions for these kids – We need to give them a chance to relax just a little bit – to have just a little bit of fun – to just be kids. Too many times, we adults try to push all of our expectations, admittedly and usually appropriately high, on our children. We have to realize, though, that they are not little adults. They are school students, our next greneation who will be running this town, this country and this world before we know it. We need to both prepare them for that and not abdicate our responsibility to them, until they are ready to take it; not right now, not yet.
Too many times, our educators and officials try to see arts education as the first place we tend to cut funding from. But we can’t forget that the arts have been used, for many in our generation, as an important vehicle for learning from the time we were in kindergarten. Music, painting, sound, dancing, theater, all arts - are important for a well-rounded child. If anything, we should increase funding for the arts, not cut it! Our district – rightly so – is known for its emphasis on math and science, and we are great at it. But did you know that a good background in arts actually helps prepare children for higher-level STEM learning? So many aspects of the arts are helpful to this type of study; the skills they learn because of them spill over into academic achievement. Some of these skills are: visual learning, creativity, problem solving, and confidence. The arts are the building blocks for a culturally and academically rich, well rounded student. It’s important to get arts education to our children from the youngest age. Frederick Douglass once said, “It’s easier to build children than to repair broken adults.” My name is: Russel Melville And I would appreciate your Vote
Career Marketing Executive
Education B.A. in Psychology, Kean University
I believe the success of WWP relies on understanding the needs of ALL residents. As a diverse township, it is important that a candidate grasp the goals and values of each demographic. I have worked with Indian IT companies for over 20 years. My wife is Chinese and we have been married 15 years, with one child in middle school. I am a local citizen, living in New Jersey all my life. Putting these 3 points together, I have an understanding and appreciation of various cultures and can work, live, love and prosper in a diverse community.

At work, I always have to bring various business units together for a common goal. I accomplish this not just through interpersonal skills, but also through the will and drive to be transparent, to gain trust. With trust the lines of communication open and we can work as a team and be productive. We may not always totally agree, but we can move forward as I have given my colleagues the respect to listen, understand, and address their needs.
We need to approach handling growth in the same way we approach everything. We need to have all of the facts and we need to be transparent with those facts. From there we need to be transparent with the possible solutions. Parents and taxpayers have to be fully aware of what the future may hold, whether it is positive or negative. They also need to be part of the solution process as they will be the ones that will live through these decisions.

I believe the community is like family, and families work together during good times and challenging times and ensure they take the best and most educated decisions.
I like the sentiment behind this concept, which is to give students and parents more time together and reduce stress. In theory it sounds great, but there are some issues I have experienced and heard from others. First issue is some teachers are having challenges fitting in the course material with all of these scheduled homework free nights. Second, while the No Homework Night gives children a reprieve one night, the next night they get double the homework. This defeats the purpose of this concept, at least from a stress standpoint.

My suggestion is instead of mass No Homework Nights, we let teachers decide individually if they want to not have homework on a particular night. When I grew up, if we were ahead of schedule, the teacher would give us a break and have no homework assigned or maybe end class early that day and let us do the homework in class. While not a complete No Homework Night, this was something to look forward to and gave us some more time with the family.
According to internal and external reports, WW-P Arts program is “good” compared to our peers in J Districts. I believe we should aim to be “very good” but this comes with some challenges. WW-P is facing many future challenges with developments. Additionally many residents in Plainsboro are extremely upset with taxes. We can’t as a community just spend and spend for every interest without considering the tax burden. I personally feel the Arts and even sports are essential to the growth of a child. With that I can promise I will make it a priority for WW-P to go from “good” to “very good” but it will need to be done responsibly. Responsibility comes by the Board of Education having proper oversight over the Administration’s spending. Essential and beneficial costs (such as the Arts) are a top priority, while non-essential (waste) will be immediately considered to be cut. logo


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