WARREN, NJ — Watchung Hills Regional School Board has two seats up for grab in the upcoming election on Nov. 3.
Peter Fallon is running for the one, three-year seat representing Warren and Michael Birnberg is running of the one, three-year seat representing Watchung.
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1. Why are running for Board of Education?
I believe that for our schools to thrive and improve we need people on our boards of education who are dedicated to improving education; who are fiscally responsible, and who have the time to learn what the issues are, how the board works and how you can help accomplish improvements in the school as a member of the Board of Education. In my four terms on the Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education, I believe that I have shown whose qualities.
2. What are your qualifications for this position?
In my last four years on the Watchung Hill Regional High School Board of Education, I served as President of the Board for two years and I was the head of the Finance & Operations Committee of the Board of Education the other two years. During those years, I helped lead the efforts to successfully pass two referendums which brought state aid to pay for 34 percent of two different projects — aid that would not have been received if we had not passed those two referendums — without any tax increases resulting from either referendum. The first referendum replaced the turf on the stadium field and the second is for transforming the media center/library into a multimedia learning commons which will have spaces that facilitate collaboration among students on group projects, independent study, enhanced technology use including virtual learning, as well as space for presentations, exploration and both small and large group instruction and updating outdated electrical system panels and distribution boards installed between 1957 and 1964. I was one of the two board members who were the driving force for the adoption of the District’s first-ever strategic plan nearly five years ago. I have been active as a board member on the committee working now on the adoption of the next five-year strategic plan. From 2018 to 2019 I served as a member of the New Jersey School Boards Mental Health Services in Schools Task Force.
3. The single most pressing issue facing our school district is ____ and this is what I intend to do about it:
The most pressing issue right now dealing with the coronavirus pandemic with the complete and utter lack of any clear and coherent guidance from either federal or state health and education officials. Because of this lack of guidance and coordination, the administration and the Board of Education of the Watchung Hill Regional High School has had to work with county and local officials to devise strategies and procedures to deal with everything from keeping our students and staff healthy, to determine what PPE equipment to purchase and what building improvements we need to invest in to improve health and safety, and, most importantly, how to deliver quality instruction to our students while some are at home and others are in the classroom. In the last six months, both the administration and board members have spent huge amounts of time in committee meetings and making decisions on all of these issues and all the while the pronouncements from the state on the guidelines or regulations that we have to comply with keeps changing, and it is still changing today. The remote learning that our staff is delivering now is much improved over the remote learning we were able to provide last Spring. But there are still many more challenges — including how we can effectively teach the full Advanced Placement curriculum for all of the AP classes while having much less in-class time than in a normal school year. Integrating both indoor and outdoor sports and extracurricular activities with the hybrid schedule is also a great challenge. I am going to continue to work with fellow board members and the administration to address these continually changing issues.
4. What are other issues you would like to see addressed in the school district?
We have to complete the adoption of a new five-year strategic plan. One of the great benefits of our first strategic plan is that it helped to focus the board, the administration, the staff, and the students on three main areas for improvements and as a result, we did see improvements in these areas over the last five years. Those three areas were improving social and emotional wellness which addresses mental health and stress issues and resources in the school; preparing our students better for success in post-secondary learning; and integrating creative, innovative, and interdisciplinary learning to inspire success in a changing global community. Social and emotional wellness will remain a part of the new strategic plan, but we are still working on what the other main pillars of that plan will be. Continuing to be fiscally responsible and finding creative ways to bring more experiences to our students will always be an issue in this time of difficult budget pressures. Finally, ensuring a well-rounded education based upon students’ needs rather than simply performing well on standardized tests is something we have to continually work on. We need to keep pushing for tests that will inform our administrators and staff as to what things we are not teaching well rather than tests that are only designed to compare one district or school to another. This is especially difficult in a state like New Jersey where the state Department of Education keeps mandating different standardized tests every few years.
This article originally appeared on the Warren Patch