With Jersey City School Board elections less than 40 days away, we begin our election coverage by listening to the concerns of teacher’s union representative Kristen Zadroga-Hart.
What’s your full name and role within the Jersey City Public Schools?
My name is Kristen Zadroga-Hart and I am a teacher in the Jersey City Public Schools. I am also a parent of children who have gone through and are currently attending our public schools. I am also a member of the Executive Committee and Co-Chair of the Municipal Elections Committee for the Jersey City Education Association (JCEA).
What’s the JCEA?
The JCEA is the teacher’s union whose purpose is to advance and protect the rights, benefits, and interests of members, as well as promote a quality system of public education for all students. The JCEA is the largest local union that falls under the New Jersey Education Alliance (NJEA) umbrella. We represent over 4,000 teachers, teacher aides, teacher assistants, paraprofessionals, secretaries, non-certified supervisors, school nurses and other support staff, as well as the interests of the 28,000+ students and their families.
How important is this school board election to the JCEA and to the families in the district?
Every year we think “This school board election is the most important one ever.” This year is no different.
We (JCEA) believe teachers should be treated as professionals. We have fought hard to make sure the corporate reform movement has made as little impact in the Jersey City classrooms as possible. This current trend, (and it’s happening both nationally and locally) is to allow businessmen such as Bill Gates, David Tepper, Alan Fournier, et al. with no background in education or educational policy dictating the day to day operations in our classrooms. More specifically, it includes decisions on curriculum and instruction, standardized testing, textbook and benchmark decisions.
When you see candidates receiving large campaign contributions and virtually unlimited resources from such people, it really makes you work harder to ensure the core values of public education are being upheld.
This year, the district regains control of itself after decades of control by the state. What does that mean, or what could change?
The return to local control is a double-edged sword. Obviously, it is a feather in the district’s cap to be able to hold up that accomplishment – one that should have been granted years ago in my opinion. Along with full local control, it will also come changes in school funding and allocation. We need board members who will make sure money is being spent directly on student-centered needs and making it’s way into the classrooms as opposed to paying high priced consultants thousands of dollars a day. The current governor obviously has education in general (and education is urban areas in particular) in his crosshairs. A strong, competent and cohesive board will make that transition as seamless as possible.
The return to full local control and the changes that may occur accordingly is obviously one important issue this election season. I think parents are also concerned with the trend we are seeing regarding testing, or over testing, our students. With so much time, money and resources being exhausted on preparing for one indicator on a pie chart, (that may or may not be a true representation of a student’s ability to learn) we are forgetting about educating the whole child.
Also, with great expansion in Jersey City, we need to take a serious look at how this will impact class size and available space over the next 10 years. That conversation needs to start now and include all stakeholders, especially the mayor and city council members. We need school board members who will be able to have a seat at that table and work in tandem with municipal entities.
What questions should parents consider when researching candidates for school board?
There are many questions that can be used to weigh the pros and cons of the various candidates. With ten candidates on the ballot this year, it is important for people to do their research to decide which candidates best align with their idea of a good school board member. Some things to consider:
- Do they have a history of advocacy? Have they been involved in various aspects of the community and able to bring about any positive change?
- Does their personality allow them to work collaboratively with others? School board members are a part of a team. Putting individual differences aside for the betterment of the district is paramount. Does the candidate’s platform demonstrate their ability to be an effective board member?
- Are they capable of carrying the responsibility of over a half billion dollar budget? Board members are charged with the task of overseeing the business side of the school district and this is a serious undertaking.
Do you have a personal endorsement?
Giving up countless hours of my time to volunteer for school board candidates is not something I take lightly. I believe wholeheartedly that Sudhan Thomas, Angel Valentin and Gina Verdibello are the most qualified candidates for the 2016 Jersey City school board election. They have the experience, the passion and the temperament to work together with the six remaining board members to bring about transformational change for our students.