The township’s Home and School organization hosted a board of education candidate forum on Oct 13, an event moderated by the Moorestown Braver Angels Alliance, a grassroots organization that seeks to depolarize politics.
The forum was an opportunity for the community to get to know each of the six candidates – Danielle Miller, Billie D. Thomas, Claudine Morano, Mark Villanueva, Dr. Mark Synder and Dr. Brooke Mailhiot.
Candidates responded to questions, with the first touching on the topic of communication.
“Parents want to feel they can communicate issues of concern to the school board in an open and free manner,” said co-moderator Karen Reiner. “Do you embrace parental and student input into school issues, including curriculum, books and social issues, to help strengthen their experience in Moorestown schools?”
“In the context of communication, I see it in a couple of different ways,” Synder said. “There’s the way we communicate as a board with the public, and making sure that’s transparent and that information is easily received and reasonably understood … I always advocate that the first place that parents go is their actual teacher.”
“If they don’t get a great answer, go to their principal; those are the people who have the best understanding of what’s going on in the classroom with their child,” he added.
“What is the role of a board member in contributing to curriculum decisions, including teaching methodology?” Reiner asked. “Some examples are math and science collaborative learning – which seems to be a new thing in the schools – classes without textbook(s), etc.”
“My understanding is that board members do not have direct influence over the curriculum,” Thomas responded. “ … From my understanding, the board has very little input or responsibility as it pertains to the curriculum.”
The forum also touched on the topic of social and emotional learning (SEL).
“How would you like to see the SEL program expanded or changed?” Reiner asked. “Do you feel that parents should be allowed to opt their children out of SEL instruction?”
“I think SEL in the context is … in terms of developing an environment in our schools, that is inclusive of all views, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, is very important, particularly as it pertains to ensuring that our kids feel safe, and that we are doing our best to limit any mental-health distress that may pervade schools these days, particularly coming off of COVID,” Villanueva noted.
“I think that it is very important to continue focusing on SEL, and I think it should be something that is developed across everything that we do.”
“Approximately 30 percent of township high-school students belong to a racial minority group – Asian American, Pacific Islander, Black and/or Hispanic – and we also have students who self-identify as part of the LGBTQ-plus community,” said co-moderator Richelle Rabenou.
“The staff and administration do not reflect this diversity … What would you do to close this gap or not?”
“Representation, 100 percent, is important, and having staff that is representative of our student community and student body is a great aspirational goal,” Morano responded. “I do believe there’s tactics we can deploy in hiring diverse talent, but I think it comes from the top …
“Ideally, pipeline programs through the state should be expanded and encourage students’ diverse backgrounds to enter into the very valued profession.”
“What role do you believe the board of education plays in addressing the achievement gap that occurs across racial and ethnic differences?” Rabenou asked.
“I think learning loss was seen by every student over the past couple of years,” Miller answered. “ … I believe it’s our duty as a district to assess each student individually and address every student’s needs, no matter the color of their skin (or) where they’re from, And we need to create individualized plans to ensure that every available tool and resource is in place to close that gap of learning loss.”
“ … We need to find all gaps for all students and all student performance and address them,” Mailhiot stated. “We need to listen to our teachers … They’re seeing our children … daily.”
“We need to bring them into the conversation to assist us with analyzing this data and seeing where the gaps lie.”
To hear responses from the remaining candidates, check moorestownhsa.org for the entire forum or visit https://www.mtps.com.