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Parental Involvement Key Issue in Election

Candidates Suggest Ways to Get Parents Involved, While Others Reflect on What They've Done in Past
Candidates sit at open forum in Lord Sirling Community School, and respond to questions from audience. Jad Kaado

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Thursday April 11, Unity Square held a bilingual forum for the six Board of Education candidates at Lord Stirling Community School.

The floor opened for discussion with several questions from the audience.

The first two questions were grouped together, and they were both on the topic of parental involvement:

First question: “Would you be willing to volunteer in activities outside of board meetings to get the parents involved?”

Second question: “How can we get parents more involved with students’ success other than PTA meetings?

Sean Monahan, a two term Democratic committeeman who founded this website NewBrunswickToday.com, was the first to respond.

"I would absolutely be happy to volunteer outside of board meetings.

Monahan said he "was very impressed to hear the jazz band that was recently established. Cultural activities like that are a great way to get parents as well as other teachers involved in the school.

“One thing I think we need to do is to reach out to the parents... We need to support the PTA’s, encourage greater participation in them, and get parents and teachers working together”

Second to answer was Pat Sadowski, a Robert Wood Johnson nurse, and incumbent to the Board. She asserted “I would volunteer to get parents more interested, and I have.”

"Last spring, at Livingston School, they had an annual dinner dance at the end of the year. The Jazz band performed. They also had a DJ. Parents were out there dancing. I was there with my daughter. We were out there dancing.”

Sadowski thinks dancing is a way to get parents more involved in their child’s academics.

“On Family Fun Night, I started doing Zumba to get the parents more involved. We have Family Fun nights at all our schools.

She then added, “We also have programs for the kids around the holidays, around Hispanic Culture Month and also African American History Month.”

Martin Arocho, father of five children in the New Brunswick school system and former member of the New Brunsiwck BOE, spoke about his past involvement in the community, saying he “always had a great influence on bringing parents in” to events outside of board meetings.

"I’ve been involved with the PTO’s [Parent Teacher Organization Meetings], and running the PTO, and the Knights of Columbus, and…running the little league."

Arocho said he will "go door to door, like we did in the past."

"It will take whatever we have to do to get parents involved.”

Benito Ortiz said he was the president of the Bilingual Parents Council for three years, and president of the New Brunswick High School for five years.

He says that, if a parent wants something done in the schools, "all they have to do is ask, and we reach out to them."

"I had a parent approach me at a board meeting... and we got [their] issue resolved the next day. Parents, all they need to do is seek us out."

Stephanie Rivera, an education student at Rutgers and cofounder of Students United for Public Education, believes it is “very important we acknowledge that not everyone is going to be available for the once a month board meetings.

“We need to make more available times so that all parents, all community members, are able to voice their opinion.”

Rivera states, “All community concerns are critical when we make decisions regarding our schools and our children.”

“As a Rutgers student… I would like to look more into this. One way [we can get parents more involved] is we can hold town hall meetings on the Rutgers campus for parents to come and express any concerns they may have.”

Dr. John Krenos, professor at Rutgers University and incumbent to the BOE, suggested that “each board member could attend (and get to know family members by doing that], one PTO meeting a month. Maybe be assigned to that school for a whole year.

“That way the board members could develop some understanding of issues more directly with parents. That is the major suggestion that I have.”

Watch NewBrunswickToday.com’s exclusive full-length recording of the forum.

On Unity Square’s Blogspot, each of the candidates responded in paragraphs to six questions. The full written interviews can be read if you click the candidates' names, but listed below are excerpts regarding parent involvement in New Brunswick schools.

Sean Monohan writes that a lot of parents “are working long hours to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, especially in tough economic times… I will explore the possibility of making school liaisons available to meet with parents after regular school.

“I want to strengthen New Brunswick's bilingual education… so that children who do not speak English at home will have the same opportunities as others.”

Pat Sadowski comments on what she thinks has been successful in the past: “We have an excellent bilingual parents council. I would encourage parents to join and also get involved in the children’s school PTA.”

“We have family and student liaisons, and school counselors in all our buildings who are available to speak with students and parents… Our staff members are always available when requested.”

But Martin Arocho believes thatparent involvement “has been an ongoing issue in New Brunswick.  I do think that working more closely with the school PTO’s can help. 

“Parents want to be involved in their children’s education but many times there are other barriers that interfere.  Such barriers include work schedules and language barriers.

Benito Ortiz writes that he “will continue to encourage parent-based organizations, parent activities, and engagement in their students’ academic experience.  In addition, I believe we, as a community, need to provide innovative, multi-faceted approaches that appeal to the parents…”

Stephanie Rivera, similar to what she suggested at the forum, would like to “hold public events for immigrant families where current immigrant college students and\or alumnus talk about their experience, and provide answers to questions immigrant families may have.”

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.  Please visit NewBrunswickToday.com for up-to-date election results this evening.