Board of Education candidates field questions on district issues at forum

The PTO Presidents Council hosted a Meet the Candidates Forum on Oct. 18, allowing candidates to speak on school programs, policies and plans for the future

Residents and voters had the opportunity to meet and question the five Washington Township Public School District Board of Education candidates at the Meet the Candidates Forum, hosted by the PTO Presidents Council, on Oct. 18.

Incumbents Ginny Murphy and Julie Yankanich, along with newcomers Raymond Dinovi Jr., Dominic Ruggerio and Thomas Gleason are vying for three, three-year terms on the board this November.

At the public forum, moderated by League of Women Voters treasurer Barbara Kutscher, candidates were able to respond to a variety of questions concerning the township’s schools, students and educational policies.

Yankanich is finishing her second year on the Board of Education. She is an administrator for Camden County Community College with three children attending schools within the WTPS district. In response to a question on what would be the district’s next “big project” if money were no object, Yankanich said her №1 focus if re-elected would be to advance the opportunity for high school seniors to obtain their associate’s degree before graduation, as well as implement a grants office for the district.

“I know there are ways students can earn their degrees before graduating high school without going to a technical school, and that saves them time, money and student loan debt,” Yankanich said.

Murphy has served on the Board of Education for more than six years, and has been elected as board president for four years. Among her positions on state and county boards, Murphy is a 37-year resident of Washington Township and a graduate of Washington Township High School. Murphy said she is focused on making the district a “forerunner in technology and innovation” by focusing on student achievement with a professional learning academy within the Eileen Abbott Central Administration Building, if re-elected.

Dinovi spent 38 years with the Monroe Township Public School District as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. After retirement, he continued to work as an educational specialist, and became an adjunct for Rowan University. Running alongside Gleason, registered nurse and father of a Chestnut Ridge Middle School student, the two candidates spoke on being advocates for community service, believing strongly in character education within the school system.

“We need to teach values to our children and teach morals to children, so they exhibit those character traits in their everyday lives,” Dinovi said.

Gleason said he is running for a seat on the board to ensure the children of the community “continue to be among some of the best educated in the state.”

Ruggiero promoted reading, writing and math skills, as well as encouraged the instruction of history within the classroom. If elected, Ruggiero said he would support additional stage performances in the school system, instilling the ability to “articulate verbally and in writing” in the district’s students.

“You’re never too old to learn, never too old to follow your dreams,” Ruggiero said.

On the topic of policy-making, the candidates all agreed the hardest decision they foresee would be to vote on issues that would directly affect the students. Murphy said in her experience, redistricting was one of the most challenging choices to make while serving on the board, while Gleason and Dinovi expect a decision involving budget cuts and loss of programs would be the most difficult to make.

Summer assignments were another topic raised by the public at the forum.Yankanich agreed students at the high school level have received too much homework over summer vacation, but would consider a single assignment, designed for a specific grade-level, that would be useful for the students.

According to Ruggiero and Murphy, homework during the summer, weekends and holidays takes time away from families, and should remain strictly throughout the school year.

“Part of education is being able to be a kid and enjoy your summer,” Murphy said. “Let kids be kids more, a lot of learning can occur outside of school.”

Dinovi and Gleason said they also disagree with summer assignments with the exception of a summer reading list, where students have the choice in the books they read throughout the vacation.

To learn more about the candidates and their positions on district matters, residents can view the forum in its entirety on WT-TV Channel 9/36 in the weeks preceding the Nov. 7 school board election. Participate in Education will also host a Meet the Candidates Night on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Eileen Abbott Central Administration Building.