As we close in on Election Day, we took some time to interview the Jersey City School Board candidates. Stay tuned in the upcoming days for additional candidates answering the same questions, or scroll down for links to previously published interviews with other candidates.
What’s your full name and what relationship have you had with the Jersey City Public School system?
Mussab Ali. 19-year old recent graduate of the public school system. I started off going to Pre-K in PS 23, K-5 at PS 6, 6-8 at Academy 1 Middle School and then I went to high school at McNair Academic where I graduated in the top tenth of my class. I am running with Kimberly Goycochea as part of the Fix It Now team.
In what ways has the JCPS been successful? How can we enhance and expand upon those successes?
I think our campaign is a testament to some of the greatness that has developed from within the JCPS. In terms of test-prep I think the JCPS has been doing a better job each year. I think a big improvement was funding so that all students from 8th grade to 11th grade could take the PSAT and that the 12th graders could all take the SAT was a huge step in the right direction. I also think there have been some great success stories in terms of partnerships within the local community such as some schools connecting with groups like Team Walker. I think that we should continue to foster these relationships and look towards our larger Jersey City community to help students cultivate different skill sets and gain experiences.
What challenges does the JCPS face? What steps need to be taken to overcome them?
I think some of the largest challenges that JCPS face include the lack of student safety, inability to cater to the diversity of this city and overall lack of productivity. We want to address the safety issue by establishing a greater number of recreational schools, reestablishing mentor-ship programs and working with the city to build a trauma care center in JC. With regards to diversity, this problem becomes the most prevalent at open house where ESL parents use their children as translators. We know through experience and see that there is an inherent problem with that system that allows students to take advantage of it. For instance, if a child received poor marks on their report card, they can lie to their ESL parents in their native language in a manner that is in their advantage. To solve this problem, we want high school students who are in honor societies to serve as the translators for these parents and families to provide a third-party translator. With regards to productivity, we feel as though the hostile environment at board meetings is due to the political tension between opposing factions. Thus, we feel as though people should really look at this campaign as something that is issues based, not political.
Tell me about your ideas regarding allocation of funds and the 600 million dollar budget.
Our budget currently sits at $673 million, but what the most imminent threat to our money isn’t in-house bad bookkeeping, rather from a state level there is conversation to cut more than$100 million from JCPS. This is because of the high rates of development in our city that are not paying towards our schools. Any tax abated property does not pay property tax towards the school. We need to find a way to develop more public-private partnerships as well as finding alternative ways to find funding. I also think we need to look towards doing a lot more services in-house to cut costs and to trim the fat wherever we can. If a forensic audit is needed, then we should proceed with it.
Many parents are concerned about testing as a primary (and in some cases singular) tool for evaluation of students, teachers, and schools. Can you speak to that?
I think that it’s very important that testing not be the overwhelmingly weighted or singular tool for evaluation of students and ESPECIALLY teachers. There is a level of anxiety that students face when they see tests as the only diagnostic that matters toward their grades and it is extremely detrimental. I know for certain with conversations with several students that the PARCC test is something no one is a fan of. I don’t think it should be a graduation requirement.
This year, the school board regains control over the JCPS. What does that look like? What changes can we expect?
Well, we were supposed to get back local control but our QSAC scores in curriculum and instruction were not up to par. When we do get back local control on those two sections, this will allow us to be much more creative with some of the things we can teach our children.
And finally, safety. Parents talk to me about this all the time. Do our kids feel safe in school?
This question really depends on what part of the city you are in. There are certain places in this city where kids may feel uncomfortable in school due to gangs or in-school violence. In general, schools are typically safe places for children and we need to actually give them more time to stay within schools.
Read previously published interviews with other candidates: