By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — The four candidates at the Long Branch Board of Education Candidates Forum on Nov. 2 all stressed their backgrounds in and understanding of education, and said that the board needs to work as a team for the good of the school system. The forum, sponsored and run by the Long Branch School Employee Association and moderated by the High School Debate Team, was attended by incumbents Donald Covin, Dr. Michele Critelli, Avery Grant, and Luci Perez, one of the challengers running for the three seats in Tuesday’s election. Unable to attend were two other challengers, John Zuidema Jr. and Bill Chasey Jr.
The candidates have been stressing their experience and ties to the community.
Grant, who is running again because “I understand the benefits of education,” was certified as a Master Board member in 2014, indicating high training. He also chairs a statewide task force on student achievements.
Critelli, who has worked in education for 30 years, and recently went back to school herself to her doctorate degree, is District Supervisor of Guidance at Monroe Township High School.
Covin cited his 32 years in education, as coach, teacher, and principal. He currently has a business where he goes to different schools, serving as a mentor and advisor.
Perez served on the Board of Education from 1999 until January of this year, and said that she has been involved with the Long Branch school system on all levels, from sending her kids there to the PTOs and PTAs to the board.
In their campaign literature, Zuidema and Chasey noted their community service.
Zuidema has been involved in Pop Warner Football, the Get On The Bus Tour, and Long Branch Youth Basketball and Baseball.
Chasey, a retired police officer, served as former Captain of the Long Branch First Aid Squad and the Atlantic Fire Company.
A Team Effort
One of the things all candidates said at the forum is that this is a team effort.
“The board functions as a unit; not as nine individuals with nine separate agendas,” Perez noted.
Covin agreed, saying that as a former coach he uses the team analogy. You may not agree with the rest of the group, “but as a team member, you express how you feel and then you go with the team.”
To extend that metaphor, the way the board is structured means that not every member is involved with every play, or decision. One of the questions asked of the candidates was about how to ensure fiscally responsible spending.
Since the board is broken up into committees, that’s primarily the responsibility of ones associated with finance, Grant said. The members of each committee study the field in depth and report back with recommendations to the board, which either accepts that report, or requests the committee look at alternatives.
Another issue is that the Board isn’t involved with day-to-day issues. Those are overseen by Superintendent Dr. Michael Salvatore and his staff.
That isn’t to say members don’t think about it. They say they are very conscious about the effects spending has.
“You’re looking at the tax base, and you’re saying… as a taxpayer yourself, what impact would it have?” Covin said, adding that he also considered seniors and those on fixed income.
In recent years, the school has started seeking out more grants. Some can make a substantial difference.
A diverse community
The candidates all spoke about how the school works to serve the diverse community. When announced the DREAM act, to allow undocumented immigrants to pursue college, Long Branch schools held workships for the students and parents, Perez noted.
The school offers bilingual courses, English as a Second Language, and more.
But some issues, the school can’t address by itself. One of the questions candidates were asked dealt with working with legislators to help minorities.
Congressman Frank Pallone has helped several families with students in Long Branch with immigration issues — but there are limits, Grant noted.
“We have issues with some of the parents coming in with clouded backgrounds. Some problems we just can’t solve, but we try.”
Several years ago, both the salutatorian and valedictorian in Long Branch High School couldn’t go on to college because of their immigration status.
“It’s horrifying to have children you tell, ‘you can be anything you want to be,’ but they can’t,” Perez said.
Board members say there are many techniques that should be examined to ensure all children are getting the most out of school.
Covin noted that he’s been consulting at Shore Regional recently, where all students take a shop class and arts class. He says it’s important to prepare those who aren’t looking at college.
“Let’s make sure we bring along those students that maybe want to be a plumber,” he said.
Perez said that, “the key is good teachers,” and noted the school system has a rigorous hiring policy to select quality educators. It also offers many scholarships.
Grant suggested the school pursue a technique used by the Army: a year after a training course, the student and instructor are sent a survey to see what worked and didn’t, so things can be adjusted.
Critelli said that one of the issues is not just making sure the students know about opportunities such as going to college or choosing a scholarship,
“We need to reconnect with them,” she said, reminding them of the opportunities and making sure they understand how to take advantage of them. “Let them know we’re here to support them.”