Three seats available on North Brunswick Board of Education

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NORTH BRUNSWICK – Four candidates are seeking the three available seats on the North Brunswick Board of Education.

The terms of Anthony Brooks, Ingrid Dillon and Gloria Gonzalez are up; Brooks and Gonzalez are seeking re-election. Former board member David Brockman and newcomer Eman Arafa are also seeking the three-year terms.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Name: Eman Arafa

Resident: for 13 years

Children: Two daughters are graduates of North Brunswick Township High School.

Profession: former Head of School of Noor-Ul-Iman School, the only New Jersey Association for Independent Schools (NJAIS) accredited Islamic school in New Jersey; has worked as an educator for 25 years at every level of education in both the public as well as the independent domain: classroom teacher, staff representative, dean of academics and head of school.

Certifications: holds New Jersey teaching licenses for Kindergarten through fifth grade content knowledge, and for Kindergarten through 12th grade English; holds a Master of Science in Education with a specialization in Reading and Literacy; aspiring to attain a doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Experience: served on the board at Noor-Ul-Iman for the past six years; experience finalizing annual school budgets and overseeing school financial, legal and educational policy

Community service: was a member of the Parent Teacher Association at John Adams and Parsons elementary schools; was also a class mom where she helped students with reading, gave presentations to students about diversity and chaperoned field trips; previously served as a Model UN coach; every Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the past 10 years, has helped gather and donate food and home goods to local food pantries; has initiated, planned and participated in breast cancer awareness drives

Campaign issue – school safety: “As parents, we have all become increasingly concerned about school and student safety. During my time as Head of School, I worked with parents, local and state police, and federal agencies to ensure the safety of my students and buildings. Whether it was during or after school hours, during the week in classes or on the weekend at events, I made every effort to ensure the students were safe and will do so for all of North Brunswick’s students. Safety, however, goes beyond just making sure buildings are secure. Programs that address mental health issues, depression, and bullying among our children today must be a focal point in our schools. In addition, our buildings need to be healthy so that our kids can be healthy. Our students should not be forced to miss weeks of school while we scramble to fix foreseeable health problems. As Head of School, I consistently prioritized my students’ health and security by working closely with local police and fire departments, community members, and faculty and staff; and I will bring that same rigor and experience to North Brunswick.”

Campaign issue – taxpayer burden: “As Trenton begins to uphold its responsibility to our students, our town needs to uphold its responsibility to our taxpayers. Our school board needs to understand that fiscal responsibility is just as important as education. We should be spending our money wisely to ensure the needs of our students are met while also bringing down the taxpayer’s burden. As the head of a cash-strapped school, I learned how to make every dollar count and did so under the heavy scrutiny of the school community. If entrusted with our town’s money, I’ll ensure our tax dollars go further, our families get the best education for their children, and our taxpayers see the relief they deserve. As a homeowner and taxpayer myself, I believe that there is a need for close scrutiny on how our hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

Campaign issue – high school retention: “In order for our students and schools to succeed we need to ensure that our school policies serve the educational needs of every type of learner. Our high school is made up of a diverse student body; students of many ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and academic capabilities come together with the expectation and right to learn and succeed. We must ensure that each student is able to find both curricular and extra-curricular programs that meet their diverse learning needs and interests. Our board needs to look into how we can increase our high school retention rate – which is currently 10 percent lower than the state average retention rate. Only through a dedicated and honest assessment of our policies can we ensure that our students are getting the education they need and deserve.”

Name: David Brockman

Resident: for 39 years

Children: seventh grader at Linwood Middle School, fifth grader at Livingston Park Elementary School

Profession: project manager for a construction management firm; currently works as a the site lead at the Bristol-Myers Squibb New Brunswick location.

Community service: The Hugs For Brady Foundation for pediatric cancer; coach girls softball for the North Brunswick Baseball Softball Association

“I served on the Board of Education from January 2015 through December 2017. Last year I had an unsuccessful reelection bid but still have a desire to serve the community that I have lived in most of my life,” he said.

Campaign issue – overcrowding: “I was heavily involved in the 2016 referendum to build a new middle school that will help relieve the overcrowding situation. Being a construction project manager, I am very interested in the progress of the new school and realize how important the timely opening of that school will benefit our district.”

Campaign issue – equal education of all children: “Special education students are just as important as general education or advanced proficient students. Equal educational opportunities for all children is a must no matter where they are on the spectrum. My two children are very different learners but both should be afforded the same opportunities to achieve success, as should every child in the district.”

Campaign issue – school security: “In today’s society, our children’s safety in and around the buildings has to be in the forefront of the Board of Education’s and superintendent’s minds. The district has been very proactive with security measures such as armed retired police officers and security vestibules; however, we can never be complacent with our implemented

Name: Anthony R. Brooks, incumbent
Resident: for 12 years
Children: no school-aged children
Profession: insurance advisor
Experience: has served on the school board for 6-and-a-half years
Community service: Buddy Ball Basketball coach; supporter of SEPTO (Special Education Parent Teacher Organization)
Campaign issue – safety: “It’s very important to provide a secure environment for students and staff to work in without the constant fear of violence. As a board member I’ll be certain to continue considering cybersecurity, terroristic acts and other emergency situations that threaten the safety of students and staff. In order to enhance the school board efforts, I will continue to attend training sessions, listen to students, staff, parents and members of law enforcement in order to stay abreast of the current issues and concerns. By doing so, I will be able to support the necessary policies and protocols, along with the expenses we may incur to provide additional layers of security.”
Campaign issue – support services: “Since I’ve served on the board I have been aware of the various challenges students may have that will impede their ability to learn. As a board member it’s a priority that students and staff have the necessary tools, services and support needed in order to thrive. With that being said, I will continue to be a champion for academic support so students that need assistance with Math, English, language development, cognitive development or mental health concerns will have the necessary support. Though support is important, the timing of that support is just as important. Continuing to offer a variety of professional development opportunities are needed so the staff will be well prepared to identify a need as early as possible and equipped with the knowledge and tools to administer that support in a timely manner.”
Campaign issue – curriculum: “As I consider the growth and development of all of our students, appropriate curriculum that will prepare our students for the future is so important. However, we must be mindful of the various learning styles and varying aptitude levels. It’s important that we challenge the students at every level, provide them with opportunities to apply their knowledge and gain practical experience, thus preparing them to succeed at the next level of their life. I will continue to support a rigorous curriculum that develops a critical thought process and helps our students establish a solid foundation from which they can continue to grow and develop onto independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Name: Gloria N. Gonzalez, incumbent

Resident: family has lived in town for 35 years; came back to the area in 2003. Her two younger siblings attended elementary, middle and high school in North Brunswick and her mother worked for the North Brunswick School district until her retirement.

Children: Son was born in 2004, attended Judd Elementary and is now an eighth grader at Linwood Middle School

Profession: Previously, sales and digital marketing with Johnson & Johnson. Currently, Regional Operations lead, Latin America & U.S. Surgical and Injectables, Digital Channel Enablement at Pfizer, Inc.

Certifications: Certified DARE TO TRY/Innovation Coach through her employer

Gonzalez has served on the Board of Education since being appointed to cover an unexpired term in February 2015. She then ran and was elected to a 3-year term in 2016. She served as board president in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Community service: Member of the North Brunswick Juvenile Conference Committee; active volunteer at Judd Elementary and in annual district events such as the Aubrey Pappas 5K, Read Across America, and serving on school board committees.

Campaign issue – improper funding by the state: “As a taxpayer, I am frustrated at the failure of our political appointees to honor the funding we have been owed for too many years. As we have done since I joined the board, we will continue to be a vocal presence in Trenton, demanding that our fair share of the tax dollars homeowners pay be returned to our community. In the meantime, we remain fiscally responsible, proactive and strategic to ensure our schools are safe, and our students and staff have the resources needed to thrive. I have signed as a petitioner in a law suit against the New Jersey Department of Education for not sufficiently funding North Brunswick schools while taxpayers in our community are  paying more than their local fair share to Trenton.

Campaign issue – schools, services and staff: “The construction of the new middle school is well underway and we are excited about opening its doors for the 2020 school year, providing not only state of the art learning spaces, but additional arts and athletic spaces for the community. The remodeling of space at Linwood Middle school to relocate the Board of Education offices and the Early Childhood Center currently housed in a rented school in Milltown, are the second phase of the scope approved in the new school referendum. Our township continues to attract diverse learners and the success of our programs have drawn new families to bring more children to our district. I am committed to ensuring we remain focused on attracting exceptional educators and administrators and providing safe learning environments for all.”

Campaign issue – charter schools’ segregation and financially duplicative practices: “Charter schools were originally created to give public students choices when their local school was failing. Despite our district being designated as “Highly Commended” by the NJDOE, charter schools continue to recruit students that the district and all taxpayers are required to fund. Charter schools are required to represent the township they serve, however, they have systematically become private schools benefiting from public monies. As a result, North Brunswick taxpayers are funding programs in multiple charter schools, that they are already paying for in the local public school district. Making the situation even more expensive for taxpayers, all five of the charter schools that the North Brunswick Township taxpayers are forced to fund are not located in North Brunswick, or even in Middlesex County. For this reason, North Brunswick residents pay more than $3 million in tuition and transportation for charter school students. More than 85 percent of all of the North Brunswick Township students recruited by charter schools are from the same cohort. There are very few children of color, special education students, or English Learner students recruited by these schools. This is unacceptable for a school district and community that celebrates its diversity and is committed to all children. To fight this social and educational injustice, the North Brunswick Township Board of Education, under my leadership, has demonstrated public support for all public school children regardless of the school that they attend; passed public resolutions protesting the expansion of charter schools with public funding, as well as their segregation practices; filed an appeal against the New Jersey Commissioner of Education’s approval for charter expansion, [which is] pending before the Appellate Division of the N.J. Superior Court; and authorized the superintendent to give testimony to the N.J. State Board of Education president regarding segregation practices of charter schools. I am committed to the fight for an end to duplicative practices and charges to North Brunswick taxpayers by charter schools.”