Meet BOE Candidate Bill Hare

Name:  William “Bill” Hare

Age:  53

Occupation:  Patent Attorney

Clubs/Organizations you belong to: PCDO, PHS Cross-Country Track and Field Booster Club

Do you have children in the Princeton Public School district?  I have a seventh-grade son at PCS, a ninth-grade daughter at PHS and an eleventh-grade son at PHS.

Why are you running for the Board of Education?  There are so many ways to answer this question.  From one angle, the most important people in my life are my three kids and wife, and I want to do my part to keep their schools performing at excellent levels in a time of change and new pressures in Princeton.  From another angle, I love living here in Princeton and intend to live here till the end, but that will require controlling property taxes.  And from yet another angle, I admire the many people in our town who volunteer.  These people are making Princeton a better place.  Imagine Princeton if more of us were active in volunteering.  It’s a bit of a cliché, but it is my turn to do more.

If elected, what would be your top priority?  I have two top priorities.  First, academic integrity.  Superintendent Cochrane is seeking to improve student wellness.  I view academic integrity as part of student wellness.  Students shouldn’t feel such pressure in high school to get good grades that they resort to unethical shortcuts.  By virtue of the town we live in and the public schools we have, our kids have great futures guaranteed.  We need to help them understand how bright their futures are and that instead of viewing each class as a task, they should enjoy the learning – be challenged, work hard, strive for an A, but enjoy your four, short years of high school.  But we will need support on this from the parents as well, i.e., “I’d rather you get a bad grade than cheat.”  Having once worked at a drug company in which an overseas division was accused of submitting fraudulent data to the US FDA, and watched the suffering of my guiltless friends in that company in the years since, our kids will benefit for life if they get integrity down early and clearly.

Second, fiscal balance.  Our kids are the most important part of our lives so we want to give them the best schools money can buy, but we need to afford our property taxes to stay here.  We need fiscal balance in how we pay for our schools.  Fiscal balance is critical today because of the rapid increase in enrollment in our schools.  There are 163 more students in our public schools than last year with about 106 of them coming from Avalon Bay, Copperfield and Merwick Stanworth.  Because Avalon Bay is only about 10% completed and Merwick-Stanworth is about two thirds completed, by my math, be ready for about 120-130 additional students from these developments this year.  We will need to be creative in how we handle the finances of this growth.

WEEK 2

What are some new ideas or approaches you will bring to the Board of Education and how will these benefit the Princeton Public Schools community?

If I am on the Board, I don’t want the experiences of my own kids to be too much of an influence on my actions. That said, I can’t help but notice the positive impact that participating in the x-country and track teams at the high school has had on my two oldest kids. And I’ve heard this from plenty of other parents as well about their own kids. The camaraderie these kids develop with their teammates is something to envy.  The older kids on the team are mentors to the younger kids, both in athletics and academics.

One of the keys to developing this camaraderie is the group running that starts in the summer. On their first day of class, the freshman runner already knows seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshman in the hallway because they have run with those kids during the summer. What a great way to take the anxiety off the first day of high school.  What a great way to feel part of something quickly.

But athletics is only one way to get this feeling. We should set up something analogous for the students more inclined to the arts, for example, inviting students to start working on a school play or musical in mid-August.  The objective is to have our kids start high school feeling included, feeling part of something.

With the student population on the rise and a significant demand for a plan to keep the town’s academic system in place, what are some examples of remedies, both short- and long-term, you would like to see set in place?

The dramatic rise in student population is one of my main concerns and a driving motivation to run for the school board.  One month into school and we already had about 160 students more than last year with at least 100 of them coming from Copperwood, Merwick-Stanworth and AvalonBay.  Neither Merwick-Stanworth nor AvalonBay are completed yet and Copperwood was supposed to be a 55+ community.  The webpages of both the Merwick-Stanworth and Copperwood developments promote themselves using the Princeton Regional Schools.

Where do we put these new students, where are the new teachers for the additional classes, and how do we pay for it all?  Will property taxes associated with these new developments cover the increased costs?  AvalonBay has the business model of aggressively pursuing real estate tax appeals, and we can assume that AvalonBay will do the same to us.  The school board must work with the town government to ensure that the interests of the Princeton Regional Schools are protected.  Ultimately, developers must learn that when they build housing projects in Princeton, they won’t get a free ride on school taxes.

Second, we need to work with the town government to ensure it understands the impacts these large housing developments have on our schools.  There are numerous housing developments percolating out there that may be built in our town and the school board must work with the town government to ensure that we do not create the current situation again.  This might be as simple as making clear how much capacity, if any, is left in each school, or how much each additional student will cost.

Third, we need to convince those deep pocketed institutions of Princeton that don’t pay school taxes to do so.  Assuming they have no legal obligation to contribute beyond what they do now, then we need to approach these institutions from a different angle.  I suggest approaching them as fund raising targets.

WEEK 3

What is your opinion on standardized testing? What will you do as a board member to facilitate healthy student and teacher practices to prepare and cope with rigorous testing under current state regulations?

While most people have strong feelings about standardized testing, my feelings instead are mixed. On one side, I don’t like using standardized tests to determine teacher pay. While teachers certainly have some impact on standardized test results, I believe the biggest influence is the parents of the test takers and the home life they create. Teachers should not be judged on factors outside their control.

At best, standardized test results can be useful for parents in tracking their own kid’s relative performance and how they are tracking compared to norms.  While class grades are one indicator that can be monitored and used to help parents and teachers intervene with a child on a daily or weekly basis, I personally have appreciated using standardized test results, such as the NJASK and ERBs, to track my own kids’ progress.  With the standardized test results parents and teachers together can determine if a particular child needs help in a particular subject.  In spite of this reliance for measuring trends over time, I personally don’t agree with relying on standardized tests to provide any absolute measure of intelligence.

On the other side, I view standardized tests with a pragmatic view. Many professions require practitioners to pass one or more standardized tests. As a patent attorney, I had to pass a state bar exam, a legal ethics exam (I know, an oxymoron!) and the US Patent Office bar exam, and this was after graduating from law school. To get into college, I had to take the SAT, to get into graduate school I had to take the GMAT and to get into law school I had to take the LSAT. At least six significant standardized tests were critical to where I am today. While I don’t judge the merits of any of these tests, or the accuracy of the abilities they purport to measure, they were the necessary gates I had to pass through to progress to the next step. The moral of this?  I wish I had been taught at a younger age how to take standardized tests. We all remember kids in school who were skilled at taking standardized tests but didn’t necessarily get the best grades in class. If our kids are required to take standardized tests (and they will even if we eliminate these test in the K-12 grades), let’s give them the boost of helping them learn test taking skills.

To facilitate healthy student and teacher practices for preparing and coping with standardized testing I would want to provide special sessions for tests such as PARCC and the SAT. Such reviews exist for numerous standardized tests and some may be applicable to the PARCC test. If feasible, I would want to do the same for the various AP exams.  If our kids feel prepared for and confident in taking these various tests, the pressure on them will be reduced.

What do you think is the best way to accommodate the needs of students and how will you help exercise solutions to the issues they find most important?

Once the board knows the issues the students find most important, the board should work with the school administration and student representatives to the board to address the issues.  For example, if an important issue identified in high school is stress from the university admissions process, we should invite admissions personnel from various universities to speak to the students to clarify the process and how their various universities make decisions.  Seeing how the sausage is made may not be pretty but hopefully it will be valuable.  Similarly, if an important issue in middle school is the transition to high school, we should set up a program for PHS students to speak at JW about their experiences and answer questions.  The key to my process is finding out the needs and working with the administration and students to address them.

WEEK 4

Make your final pitch. Why should you be elected to the Princeton Board of Education?

My motivation to join the Princeton Board of Education is driven by two big issues: academic integrity and fiscal balance. Over the years I have heard too many parents complain about two problems related to our schools. They complain about cheating in the high school and needing to move out of town once the last child has graduated from high school because of the property taxes.  I believe these are both part of larger problems.
On academic integrity, our kids are in an overly competitive environment to get into a small subset of good colleges. Failure to get into one of these few colleges equates to failure. Even parents can fall into this way of thinking, or, as I like to term it, “drink the Princeton Kool-Aid.”  While I’ve found myself too often raising that cup of Kool-Aid for a swig, I believe our kids can do better.  This level of competition and the fear of failure leads kids to take academic short cuts.  An April article in the Tower reports the result of a survey of 340 PHS students on their perception of cheating. Some notable numbers:  59.7 percent of students answered PHS students cheat “often” or “always,” 36.6 percent answered PHS students cheat “sometimes” and 3.7% PHS students “never” cheat.
I don’t bring up this article to judge the students but to ask why we have these numbers?  I haven’t met a PHS student that didn’t impress me in one way or another, so why do we have these numbers?  Some easy answers are that not all students know what may or may not be considered cheating, some teachers may not take enough efforts to stop cheating, and some parents may not support the teacher if it is their child that gets caught.  These can be addressed by making clear to students what is and isn’t permitted and asking that parents support teachers’ demand for academic integrity.
Perhaps more necessary is changing the culture. After much consideration, I believe Superintendent Steve Cochrane’s efforts to promote wellness of the students are necessary and should have a positive impact the culture at PHS.  If we move away from the AP arms race and focus instead on permitting our kids to learn, and enjoy learning, in a less stressful environment, they will still achieve the same, great futures, but they might actually get their happily with their integrity intact.
On the subject of fiscal balance, about half of our property taxes go to the schools.  I don’t propose to join the school board and drop property taxes – unfortunately that isn’t realistic.  Instead, I would like to control how property taxes grow by controlling enrollment growth.  Superintendent Cochrane reported in September that about 160 more students had enrolled in the schools than last year with over 100 students coming from AvalonBay, Merwick-Stanworth and Copperwood– and AvalonBay and Merwick-Stanworth are still being built.  A few weeks later that number had increased to 200 students more than last year. A reasonable assumption is that in this school year we will hit 300 students more than last year.
If on the board, I would ensure Princeton’s elected officials clearly recognize the fiscal impact of new developments on schools and property taxes. Assuming each new housing unit will have at least one child enrolling in the schools, and the average cost for each student will be the current $23,000, I would seek to convince our elected officials to approve developments thoughtfully and infrequently. I also would work with our elected officials on shared services as a means to reduce costs for both the town and schools.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida