Jersey City Board of Education candidates Matt Schapiro and Sudhan Thomas traded blows at at the final BOE forum hosted by the Statewide Education Organizing Committee (SEOC) at Mary McLeod Bethune Center.
In an opening statement made by Schapiro, running with Asmaa Abdalla and Luis Fernandez under the Jersey City United banner, he shared his admiration for all the candidates who worked hard at their campaigns proving that students are in their best interest – with one exception.
“There’s really one candidate who kind of talked about other candidates wanting to cannibalize the school district. I just reject that. I don’t think anyone up here has those intentions,” explained Schapiro.
Thomas, who is running with Gina Verdibello and Angela Valentin on the Education Matters slate, waited until closing remarks to respond to Schapiro.
“The Education matters team is fully endorsed by the elected representatives and community organizations of Jersey city, local mayor, assembly reps, local council, freeholders, over 35 unions representing middle class 60,000 workers, former JCBOED president Sue Mack all from local Jersey city,” he began.
“Our opponents are backed and funded by a billionaire hiding out in Florida so he don’t have to pay New Jersey taxes, the citizens of Jersey City can draw the contrast from our value system, our platform, our team and our endorsements and supports.”
Today, Shapiro responded by reiterating his stance that Thomas’ campaign has not been based on anything productive.
“All of the candidates for Jersey City Board of Education have run positive campaigns this year based on ideas to move our district forward, all except Mr. Thomas who continues to run the Education Matters campaign on insults and fear-mongering.”
There were other very important issues the concerned public asked the candidates.
The first question came from a Jersey City educator Colleen Kelleher and asked if the candidates supported PARCC exams and if they thought it should be used to “reward or punish teachers.”
Under the Fix It Now slate, both Kimberly Goycochea and Mussab Ali explained that they were against it because all students, learning environments and personalities of schools are different.
Considering the students of teachers, Ali explained that some teachers who have AP students would have an unfair advantage because these students would test inevitably better than others. PARCC exams would be an unfair evaluation.
Goycochea is also against it and explained that “all students test differently.”
Meanwhile, Jersey City BOE candidate Natalia Ioffe believes that standardized tests in some form should be used to evaluate how teachers and the board can redefine how the PARCC exam results can affect teacher evaluations and salaries.
Schapiro, who originally answered the question incorrectly “in terms of yes or no,” explained he is against PARCC being used to reward or punish teachers.
Abdalla stated that she is against PARRC because “students are not robots” and they are “bound to learn other things.”
Fernandez agreed with Ioffe and believes that there should be a evaluation of some sort, but a dialogue needs to happen to figure this out.
Another independent candidate Mark Rowan declared that “kids are overtested” and ultimately agreed with Schapiro.
Verdibello boldly admitted that she is “the only parent here that probably has been to multiple chances to talk in front of the New Jersey School Board Association on the fact of advocating against the PARCC.”
Thomas highlighted that PARCC does not work and pointed to the Education Matter’s team platform of the 3 C’s (Craftsmanship programs, College and Career) which will help students prepare for their future.
Valentin shares the sentiments of his running mate and shared the story of his two children who took the exam, one of which did not test very well.
Bruce Alston, another concerned resident, asked whether or not the candidates supported Lyles and “if you had to vote on her contract extension tomorrow, would you give her an extension?”
While most candidates admitted that they would like to work with her first to really evaluate her performance in order to answer that question, Rowan answered “she’s okay.”
“If I had to vote tomorrow for an extension the answer would be NO,” announced Rowan.
On a more positive note, all candidates were in full support of the Advocacy for Emotional and Behavior Disorders (EBD).
Terry Harvey, a teacher of students with EBD, asked if any of the candidate had a plan in place.
Ali and Goycochea shared their platform on building a trauma care center in the event that students have a flare up.
Ioffe mentioned that teachers need to be sensitive to these situations because it means a lot to a child with EBD.
Jersey City United slate already began their dialogue with Steven Campos, the director of Hudson Partnership Care Management Organization (CMO) on how the team can help.
Rowan was a Student Assistant Coordinator for 26 years and was more than willing to advocate for this
The Education Matters slate is in full support for mental health services for children.
Verdibello mentioned the need for meditation sessions or helping students stay calm prior to the start of their day.
The forum was moderated by SEOC Executive Director Elizabeth Smith and Nicole Scott Harris from the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance organizer.
Despite 10 candidates vying for a seat, there are only three, three-year terms available on the Jersey City Board of Education in the November 8 elections.