All 10 Jersey City BOE candidates talk career readiness, local control and budget

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All 10 Jersey City Board of Education candidates attended a debate where topics such as career readiness, local control and the annual budget were discussed.

The start of the forum challenged each candidate to speak about two attributes that would be a “valuable asset to the vision of the board.”

Jersey City Board of Education candidate Angel Valentin, running on the Education Matters slate with Gina Verdibello and Sudhan Thomas, boasts his 12 year run on the board.

Valentin stood up and explained to the attending public that “it’s the best service you can give to the young adults and to the city.”

Asmaa Abdalla, who is a running under the Jersey City United slate with Matthew Schapiro and Luis Fernandez, was one of three candidates who were products of Jersey City public schools that has a passion for talking about firsthand experiences inside the schools.

Mussab Ali and Kimberly Goycochea, both 19 years of age, are also from Jersey City public schools and are running mates.

Ali talks about using McNair, his Alma mater, as a model to promote project basis learning.

Meanwhile, Goycochea believes her experience witnessing how teachers instruct students how to behave in front of the trustees would create a closer-knit relationship between students and board members.

Verdibello, who holds an art history degree and experience in grant writing, would like to focus on grants for the district as part of her initiatives.

Luis Fernandez, a pastor, and Matt Schapiro, who specializes in corporate communications, both believe in cohesiveness with the community, amongst board members, businesses and other entities in order to get grants and gain local control.

Sudhan Thomas, a CEO of a finance company, touts his experience in managing large budgets and large staffing. He also highlighted his teaching experience as a teacher at the 9/11 History Museum.

Mark Rowan, an independent candidate, is focusing on central office commitment and is the only one that said “Jersey City public schools are good, but there is always room for improvement.”

Natalia Ioffe is the president of the parents council at Public School No. 16, where the forum was held. She has experience in cultivating funding for student’s needs. Since her involvement with P.S. 16, the school’s charitable contributions went from $16,000 to $60,000 in three years.

While most candidates had similar tactics as to college and career preparedness, a few had some more innovative ideas.

Abdalla would like to see a policy initiated where the student counselors do more than assist in college applications.

Additionally, Verdibello firmly believes in putting an end to PARCC and Common Core testing because “not all kids test the same” and this can be a problem for a student’s future plans.

Schapiro wants to push push for college and career readiness at a younger age since most kids who are entering the 9th grade and not prepared for a high school level of education.

“We really need to start young and we need to make sure that our kids, who are in kindergarten and first grade that they are getting what they need,” he said.

As far as local control, Rowan pointed a finger at the current board as to why this still hasn’t happened yet.

“The board of education last year is dysfunctional, and my understanding is that local control is in jeopardy because of the lack of cohesiveness with the superintendent, central office and some of the personalities on the board of education,” Rowan exclaimed.

Ali and Goycochea stated that they have “no political ties”, so their “true focus is on the students,” with Ali stressing that they are the only team not receiving funding from a super PAC.

Thomas replied to Ali’s claim about having no political ties, said “We have support from all levels of the government” and “this speaks on our earnest efforts to be partners and work within the various groups of the government.”

Thomas explained that in order to gain local control, everyone involved must be able to work together.

As for the budget, Valentin pointed out that the board spends too much money on outside counsel.

Verdibello, sharing the same sentiments as her running mates, stated the board is “top heavy” when it comes to salaries and the budget should really be looked at.

Fernandez also spoke about the importance of community collaboration in order to tackle the budget.

“It’s time for us to have conversation with developers with our city council, with the people who are in power and start speaking about partnerships in order to alleviate,” explained Fernandez.

The forum was hosted by the Historic Paulus Hook Association and moderated by Dr. Leila Sadeghi, the executive director for the Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership.