Home Events + NewsEvents The Hoboken Board of Education 2018 Candidates: Q + A

The Hoboken Board of Education 2018 Candidates: Q + A

by Niki Bhargava
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Election Day is fast upon us {November 6th}, and if you’re looking to make a change but not sure how, we’ve got you covered. Starting with the Hoboken Board of Education, we chatted with some local candidates, asked them important questions, and sharing their responses with you. 

hoboken high school

The Board of Education is a policy-making group that is responsible for evaluating and implementing all policies that will affect the operation of the Hoboken school district. As you may recall, the Board of Education in Hoboken is comprised of nine volunteers, each of whom serve for three-year terms. What this means is that every November, three new Board members are voted in. You can learn more about the Hoboken Board of Education on their website, here. This year, we have a diverse group of candidates who each have specific goals in mind to serve the school district.  

The candidates this year are listed below (in no particular order)

Ailene McGuirk // Territory Manager, Actelion Pharmaceuticals // Running as an Independent.

Malani Cademartori // Attorney, Partner in Corporate Reorganizations at Sheppard Mullin Richer & Hampton, LLP // Running on the Hoboken Proud Slate

John Madigan // Clerk, Brennan Court House // Running on the Hoboken Proud Slate

Tom Kluepfel // Former partner and creative director in a NYC design studio, now retired and
consulting // Running on the Hoboken Proud Slate

Keep reading to see their individual answers to our ten most burning questions!

What is your own experience with public education?

McGuirk: The older of my two daughters, Grace, is in first grade at Thomas G. Connors Elementary School.  She attended Mile Square Early Education – Demarest for Pre-K, and my younger daughter Siobhan will be in public pre-k next fall.  I am a proud graduate of Manasquan High School in Manasquan NJ (Go Warriors!). I believe that public schools are the foundation of a just society and that public education can be a powerful solution to rising inequality.

Cademartori: Both my parents were professors at the Australian National University when I was young and we were still living in Australia. My father taught there until he passed away in 1997. Its probably as close to what we would consider a public or state-run university here, but the Australian version. When my mother brought my sister and I to the States, we were both put in catholic academies at first, but that didn’t last very long for me (not enough money to keep it going and, frankly, not a very welcoming place for me having been raised Buddhist) and I moved to the public school system in Philadelphia. I attended J.R. Masterman school on the north side of Philly through High School. It was a fantastic education in every way, but mostly for my exposure to a diverse group of people all coming together to learn and grow. Now, as a mother, both my daughters attend public school in Hoboken’s Salvatore Calabro Elementary School, where I am also serving as the school’s PTO president for a second year.

Madigan: I graduated from Hoboken High School, Class of 1984. My sons went to the Hoboken public schools up to the 8th grade.

Kluepfel: My wife (a special education teacher at charter school) and I graduated from the same public high school up in Groton, Conn., the same school where Lynn’s mother taught in the English department her entire career. We have four generations of public school educators in our families. And though I am not an educator myself (aside from the college-level design courses I’ve taught), I was a co-founder and first board president of Elysian Charter School back in the mid-to-late 1990s. More recently, I’ve served on the Hoboken Board of Education since January 2013, and as board president since January 2016.

If elected, what will be your top three priorities for the district?

McGuirk: My top three priorities are improving communications, supporting diversity, and creating a positive relationship between our schools and the community at large.  

Cademartori: (1) Support for our Superintendent. We, as a community, have been given a gift in the form of Dr. Johnson. She has a vision and truly cares. She has made real opportunities happen for our kids, made some amazing progress in programs and initiatives in our schools and deserves the wide berth and support for her vision and abilities. While we should always ask the hard questions and think about the policies critically, but we need to assist in what has been steady, methodical growth and improvement and make sure the negative voices who only serve to tear down are confronted with the truths of progress in the making.  (2) Getting the information out there . As a member of the community who has not yet been elected, but has become familiar with the administration and learned a lot about what is going on in our schools through my PTO service and assertive information gathering, I am struck by the amount of progress and change in our schools and, simultaneously saddened and frustrated by the continuing negative narrative we constantly hear about these schools. Great things are happening. 95% of our HS kids were accepted to higher education institutions, with mammoth amounts of financial aid and scholarships being awarded. We have a new middle school that has made strides in establishment and improvement in just a couple short years. This administration is amazing at recognizing what is not working and figuring out how to fix it. People don’t know this and those who thrive on the negative narrative to fit their own agendas bask in the lack of positive voices. What they don’t know is that, through this negative narrative, they hurt those kids. Every one of them. We need our community to be aware of what is going on, tout and celebrate the positives and come out in support of it. Be inspired by it in order to get involved instead of just believing the negative hype. We have more to do, and it will get done with true involvement, not further negativity and fear.  (3) Further cooperation and communication between schools . Last year, the PTOs began to work together to exchange ideas and to get together to fundraise and bring our families and schools together. It felt very right to me that we were exchanging ideas and programs at that level to make sure that our kids, in all the schools, were getting the same enhancements where possible, were enjoying the same level of events as between schools. I think this administration is intent on making sure that although we are geographically in different places, with somewhat different demographics, we need to create equity of programs and achievement district wide. This might mean more intensive programs in some places than others, or different types of enhancements, but ultimately, it is up to us, the community, to support that and work together on that. The Board is an important face of that as well. They are an active group of voluntary civil servants and we can be the engine behind that community work.

Madigan: (1). Every child gets an education. (2). Make sure the high school students have the programs they need to succeed. (3) Find a solution for space. Years ago the school system sold off school buildings, but today we have growing enrollment and will soon need more space.

Kluepfel: (1) Stability. Changes in education take time, and long-term, sustainable success requires stability at the teacher and administrative levels in the schools, and in the superintendent’s office. Stability at the board level — maintaining a united, supportive board — is paramount. (2) Facilities. A few decades ago, when the population of Hoboken was at its lowest point (about 30,000 in 1990, down from 70,000 in the early 1900s), the Board of Education at the time, faced with declining enrollment and funding, had no choice but to consolidate and sold some of its underutilized buildings. Today, we have the exact opposite problem: a growing city population (about 55,000), a return of families to the district, and an impending need for additional classroom space in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the area. (3) Student Achievement. Our schools, including our high school, provide outstanding programs and opportunities to kids and their families. And students who graduate from Hoboken High School (as our daughter did) are accepted into selective and highly regarded colleges and receive significant merit-based scholarships. However, the district must continue to work towards leveling the socioeconomic playing field to close the achievement gaps that still exist.

See More: The Best Hoboken Restaurants to Take Your Parents to Eat

What do you think should be the top priority for the long-term benefit of the school district?

McGuirk: Our enrollment is growing, which is a great problem to have, but our city can’t grow more space!  Since we are just over a mile square, and larger 3 and 4 bedroom homes seem to be cropping up in all neighborhoods, we may continue to see enrollment increase for several years. As development plans are finalized and projects are approved by the city, it is crucial that the district’s needs for future space are taken into account.  The district has worked with a demographer to anticipate future needs, but the District needs to have a place at the table so that we can prepare for the students of tomorrow. The Board of Education and our Superintendent, Dr. Johnson are going to have to work in collaboration with the Mayor’s office, council, and planning and zoning boards to make sure our needs are met.

Cademartori: Educating the community about the changes and improvements, about the amazing kids we teach and what they are doing with and in their lives, and making sure that we can inspire further involvement. Education about our Superintendent and her vision and commitment. Creating stability and strength around that.

Madigan: Educating children is our top priority.

Kluepfel: Student achievement. Always student achievement.

What new or improved resources do you think students in the school district would most benefit from? And teachers?

McGuirk:  I would love to see all of our students get additional time outside each day.  When outside time is not available I would like to see movement incorporated into as much of the curriculum as possible.  I realize that in our high technology age this resource may seem hokey, but recess and outdoor time is something that nearly every parent I speak with mentions.  As the demographics of our district change, and kindergarten placements for each school continue to mirror the demographic footprint of the district, I am happy to know that Hoboken teachers and administrators will be receiving additional training around equity and diversity:  this is crucial to supporting diversity and integration throughout the district. Additionally, teacher’s need for hard resources needs may vary from school to school. As a PTO we are currently surveying our teachers at Connors to see what resources they want from us. I would like to see teachers surveyed at a district level to determine needs by grade and by school.

Cademartori: If you look around at our schools, things are happening. Not just programs, but construction, additions, new opportunities and programs. More resources. Much of this is as a result of two things: (1) the vision of our current administration, and (2) support of community organizations, including in VERY large part, the Hoboken Public Education Foundation. We have more field trips, hands on experiences, community based learning. This is exciting for the kids, and I have to imagine it also invigorates our teachers. Giving them new tools, asking them what they need. I think improved communication, collaborative discussion, that’s what serves us best in learning what we need and what works.

Madigan: Make sure our older buildings accommodate current methods and programs of teaching. Modern science labs, technology, etc.

Kluepfel: The district has demonstrated incredible innovation despite aging facilities and budget restrictions. The Middle School’s new Living Classroom, which will open in a few weeks, is an excellent example of turning an old storage annex into a hands-on science lab where students will conduct research and experiments around environmental issues pertaining to the Hudson River. The three-year-old Hydroponics lab in the high school is another. Both are recent examples of how the district encourages teachers and students to think outside the textbook to create exciting, relevant, and rigorous programs for 21st-century learners.

Do you believe the school district has responsibility for improving the instructional effectiveness of its teachers? If so, how do you propose developing programs and structures to ensure growth?

McGuirk: Absolutely – but we need to use a variety of methods to measure that effectiveness, such as observation, test scores, and surveys.  To me, the observation piece is critical, especially as we see technology become more embedded in our classrooms. Observation can identify teachers who are excelling and help to pair them with teachers who need additional development.  I recently attended a keynote speech by former NY Jet Eric Boles. A lot of the discussion was on how we can challenge ourselves to be better. The NFL has the luxury of films from game day — and observation is the closest we can get to that for our teachers. Making sure our administrators are proficient coaches is also key.  

Cademartori: This question is really answered above in a lot of ways. I think the school district, with the support of the Board and involved organizations are taking responsibility for this already. Teachers are really beholden to state regulations and somewhat “hamstrung” by that. I don’t think a lot of people realize this. Despite that, we can support them, provide them what they need, listen to them and how they could better serve the kids each year. Our teachers work hard. We as a district are blessed with small classroom sizes which allow our teachers to know each and every student. Needs change, at least somewhat, from year to year. We have to listen, we have to flexible and creative. Working within the regulations imposed, but providing as much innovation as possible. As a lawyer who has to work within rules and regulations every day, this is the bulk of my job.

Madigan: Professional development is already a priority. Board members don’t develop these programs, but I will continue to support them. Teachers are the district’s best asset.

Kluepfel: Public school teachers are professionals in a highly regulated, constantly changing field that demands more and more of them. (I see this in the evening and weekend hours that my wife — a teacher herself — has to put in just to keep pace.) As we dial up the academic rigor, we also require more of our staff. So yes, it is absolutely the job of a district to allocate the time and resources necessary to help teachers grow, evolve and be effective educators for today’s students.

How would you describe the ideal relationship between the school district and the community?

McGuirk: The relationship between the school district and the community should be a mutually beneficial and supportive one.  That has not always been the case in Hoboken. The story of the Hoboken Public Schools is one that has changed drastically in the last ten years.  The District has a responsibility to share its successes with the community at large and the community should be cheering on the progress. Our community needs to find ways to invest social capital in our schools, whether it is through volunteering time or connecting students with work, mentoring, or internship opportunities. Every Hoboken taxpayer has a vested interest in the success of the district public schools and its students.

Cademartori: One that is open, honest and committed to growth and solving the problems together. There is always room for improvement and change. There will always be things that need to be addressed and approached in different ways. It is near impossible to make those changes and address those issues in a vacuum and without support. Constructive criticism is key. Exchanging ideas on how to fix an issue is imperative. Opportunistic negativity does nothing to aid progress. It tears down progress. It tears down kids.

Madigan: It’s a two-way street. We have to provide a quality program to the community. In return, the community needs to support the district in its work.

Kluepfel: The ideal relationship is trustful — one in which the community trusts the board and the superintendent to be working toward high student achievement, while the board and the superintendent trust the community to offer fair-minded criticism, reasonable patience, and constant support.

What do you believe is the single-most important issue or challenge facing the school system and what specifically do you plan to do to address it if you are elected?

McGuirk: The single most important issue facing our school system is outdated perceptions about the performance and culture of the Hoboken Public School District, specifically Hoboken High School.  The first step I am taking towards changing that narrative is running for this position and having open and honest conversations with residents about the current state of our public schools.  Connecting parents of younger students with parents of current High School students and encouraging those families to visit the High School Showcase of Excellence is another small step in changing that story.  If elected I want to see the district revamp communications for the modern era and take advantage of the opportunity provided by social media. I will be a tireless, outspoken advocate on behalf of all of our schools and students.  For too long many people, often as they were moving out of town to leafy suburbs have commented “Hoboken Schools will get better eventually. I am here to say that better is our current reality, the work that needs to be done now is how we move from better to best.

Cademartori: Lack of groundswell and information — buy-in and support of the progress of our schools. Progress and positivity begets progress and positivity. We have a long way to go on general, but I think we have an administration and board that are committed to get there, so we need the community to get more involved and informed. As part of that, we need to get the politics out of these elections – a big reason why I am running with this slate – its unexpected and jarring to a lot of people who have been embroiled in Hoboken politics. But if this bold move helps us move toward Board of Ed elections that are just about the kids and not about the personal stuff and Hoboken politics as usual, then I am proud to be part of that progress. Progress is often painful for those mired in the past, that’s often how you know its working.

Madigan: Stay focused on student achievement. Don’t let politics and personal attacks get in the way.

Kluepfel: I’m a football fan. Football fans know to scream loudest when the opposing team has the ball; you want to disrupt their game plan. But when your team has the ball, you quiet down, the better to let your team concentrate, communicate among themselves and execute their plan. Similarly, I will continue to do what I have tried to do over the past several years: eliminate disruptive politics from the school board, maintain a united board in support of the superintendent, and allow our administrators and educators to do their best work.

Stay Up-to-Date With Local News HERE

What is your view of public education’s purpose?

McGuirk: I believe that the purpose of public education is to take students from all different backgrounds and provide them with an excellent and equitable education in order to grow the citizens of tomorrow.  Public education can unlock many opportunities for students, and can provide a framework for understanding and navigating our changing global landscape.

Cademartori: Education means access. Education can change a life. Public education does that but does something else, maybe something even more important these days – it teaches our kids, at least hopefully – to understand and empathize with people from different backgrounds and situations. In a single class, the kids are all taught the same lessons, given the same books, use the same tools. They may use them differently, but there is an equity to what you are given no matter where you come from, your background, your beliefs, your situation. What I see in our schools and with my children is that they are given an opportunity to work together, to push each other and be a team. They are all different, their stories are and will be different, but they come together. Public school in a community like ours affords our kids that very special and very rare chance to be with people very unlike themselves, to learn real life lessons from each other, come together and hopefully help each other gain access to opportunities and choices in life. Its why I started the career panels at Calabro – open forums for the kids to ask questions of our speakers, find out really how to get to a place they want to be, see that the paths are different, give them a sense that they are being given the same basic tools. In public education, we have an opportunity to change lives if we do it well. It’s an awesome opportunity and a beautiful challenge. I am up for it, I have lived it. My father used it to get out of the Bronx and travel, my sister used it to become a professor at the University of Chicago and I used it to become a lawyer. I owe it to others to assist in providing the best we can and help them use it too.

Madigan: Prepare every student with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

Kluepfel: Wow, goosebumps. American democracy created public education. And public education — quality public education — is the one thing that has the potential to make every child an equal participant in our society. That’s an awesome responsibility, and one to which that I have devoted a lot of my adult life: working to support public education opportunities.

If elected, what excites you the most about serving?  

McGuirk: Serving on the Board of Education will be a great privilege.  I am excited to work as a Board Trustee because it is a service position that directly impacts the lives of the majority of children in our town.  With that comes tremendous responsibility, but that is something I am eager to take on for the sake of all our kids.

Cademartori: Being part of the change, seeing the victories and changes up close and getting access to a front seat. It sounds very self-interested, but its not about being able to pat myself on the back, its about being a part of something that truly matters. The way I feel about kids and their education, its something ingrained in me, something my parents instilled in me even when we had very little, it was always the focus. I am excited about the futures of each of our district kids. I am excited about having a front seat to greatness.

Madigan: Being part of the board team and supporting the district. Seeing the children and families who are so excited about school.

Kluepfel: We are so close to excellence, and I would like to see it through. I don’t want to be there to take credit — the credit will go to the educators and the students — but to applaud their work and bestow the honors.

What is your favorite thing about Hoboken?

McGuirk: I could never narrow it down to just one thing! But if I had to it’s the people – the friendships I grew when I moved her kept me here, I met my husband here, and we are raising our daughters here in large part because of the vibrancy of this community.  I love Hoboken.

Cademartori: Hoboken reminds me of the beautiful melting pot that I experienced as an 18 year old in NYC when I first moved here on my own, and which I feel NYC has lost. Its full of interesting people and people with hope and vision. Its full of great and nice people, with a little bit of nutty. I love that I can walk down the street and see people with their families and friends, and among those people see and greet someone I know. Growing up in Philly as a kid and then NYC as a young adult until about 6 years ago, I loved the community, down to earth-ness of Philly and the cosmopolitan, bustle and newness of NYC, Hoboken for me is this perfect in between. The best of both worlds. A place of wonderful quirkiness where there is immense change.

Madigan: It’s never dull. There’s always something happening.

Kluepfel: I like the significance of our slate — John, Malani and me. Three very different people from very different backgrounds. But the three of us together signify the entire community coming together for a common goal: to serve and support the Hoboken district public schools. And I like fresh mozzarella, perhaps too much.


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