Meet BOE Candidate Greg Stankiewicz

Name: Gregory Stankiewicz

Age: 53

Occupation: Self-employed; previous: COO, nonprofit NJ community development financial institution

Clubs/Organizations you belong to: Member, Save Our Schools NJ (my wife is one of the co-founders)

Do you have children in the Princeton Public School District? Our daughter just began 9th grade at Princeton High School, after having a wonderful middle school experience at John Witherspoon Middle School.

Why are you running for the Board of Education?

My family and I are grateful to the tremendous teachers and staff here in Princeton, and to the leadership of the Superintendent and his team.  I believe that I have the skills and background to help the Board of Education maintain the excellence of our schools and our role as a state and national leader in public education.

If elected, what would be your top priority?

This is a period of economic and political threat to public education, so I would prioritize efforts at maintaining the quality of our Princeton schools. To do so, I believe that we as a community need to: agree on the best way of increasing our capacity, in response to the growth in our neighborhoods and downtown; protect the District’s current emphasis on inclusion and equity; strengthen the District’s efforts at nurturing all the varied talents of our students, rather than just focusing narrowly on core skills; and insist on the need for transparency in and local control over our public schools.

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?

As a candidate, I have been able to discuss our public schools with a range of Princeton stakeholders – the residents, students, teachers and administrators that together make our schools so strong.  These conversations have only amplified the admiration I have for the hard work; the cooperation; and innovative practices that help make our public schools a model for the state and the nation.

I believe that I offer the residents of Princeton a set of skills and experiences that will be helpful in serving as one of your representatives on the Board of Education.  These include a background in community development and facility financing, to help identify the best plan to pay for an increase in school facilities in light of increased enrollment.  I have experience in planning how to use state and federal education funds, along with identifying other partners, such as foundations, which may be willing to provide funding for new approaches. I am committed to maintaining and strengthening this district’s focus on equity, to make sure that all our students feel welcome and are provided the services they need.  Most fundamentally, I offer my bedrock support for the concept of public schools and a commitment to transparency in their governance.

Over a decade ago, my family and I moved to Princeton to give our daughter the opportunity to attend excellent public schools, and to allow us the incredible gift of becoming members of this amazing community. I am running now in gratitude to all those who worked so hard to shape our schools. With your support, I would like to contribute my energy and skills to helping our schools continue to be a model for the rest of the state and nationally.

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?

We need to respond to growth in our community by deciding how best to increase the capacity of our schools.  This decision requires the participation of all stakeholders in our community, along with a full examination of current capacity and future need.

Any responses should flow from this broad discussion.  Short-term, the district has a range of responses, including adding temporary structures, if necessary, in order to educate larger numbers of students while keeping class sizes below the maximum allowed.  However, any short term responses should be seen as temporary, necessary only to allow the district enough time to put in place rational plans that will address the new, longer-term needs that our community faces.

I believe that wise decisions made by the Board, district, and voters in the past now allow the district an opportunity to increase its capacity in a much more advantageous manner, by taking advantage of a low-interest-rate environment and by sequencing new financing after earlier school bonds are retired.  If the voters of Princeton agree, such an approach would reduce the financial impact on the community, while maintaining the excellence of public education for all of our students.

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?

I support measuring the progress of all our students – after all, that is what our teachers do so admirably every day.  However, I am troubled by how much time and resources we are devoting to assessing such progress via standardized tests: a 2015 report by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development found that U.S. students currently take an average of 113 mandated standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade, the equivalent of one standardized test every month.

Do we need this many standardized tests?  The cost of all these tests include increased spending for materials; a larger share of our teachers’ time and effort, diverted from teaching their actual subject matter; and, most importantly, the stress we are placing on our students, in what has truly become a “Race to Nowhere.”

I believe that we as a nation can do better.  As a member of the School Board, I would enthusiastically support Superintendent Cochrane’s call to develop innovative new means of assessing our students, in ways that may have more real-world relevance.  As just one example, a consortium of New York State public schools has been granted waivers from state standardized tests, so that they instead can assess each of their students individually via end-of-year portfolio reviews of all their work.  Each student must prepare, present, and defend his or her portfolio in front of teachers and outside evaluators.  While labor intensive, this form of assessment allows students the opportunity to summarize everything they have learned over the course of a full academic year, while strengthening their presentation skills.

More specifically, I support the District’s, Board’s and teachers’ union’s efforts to highlight problems with the new state-mandated PARCC assessment. New Jersey finds itself out-of-step with the rest of the nation: of the 24 states that made up the PARCC consortium, only 6 still use the test; furthermore, our state is one of only two to mandate that students (beginning with the Class of 2021) must pass PARCC in order to graduate from high school.  If elected to the Board, I would work with other school districts to urge the State to replace PARCC in its current form, given that: this test has not yet been fully validated; has not proven to be useful as an individual assessment tool (results are not returned until the following school year); and has generated so much resistance from students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Finally, I want to praise the District’s wellness initiatives (one of the Superintendent’s 5 new strategic goals).  These initiatives, such as the new policy of a number of homework-free weekends and “Option II” (providing our school athletes with additional free periods during the school day), help reduce some of the stress on our students.  If elected, I pledge to work with the District on exploring other initiatives, such as later start times for our middle and high school students and re-structuring the school schedule, in order to allow students even more of an opportunity to find a better balance between school and the rest of their busy lives.

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?

Students are one of the critical stakeholders in our public schools.  I pledge to listen carefully to any concerns brought to the School Board by the student liaisons.  Moreover, if I were to be elected, I would maintain an open-door policy for any student or family with concerns or ideas.  The quality and democracy of our schools is dependent on making sure that all stakeholders are represented – I intend to be as transparent as possible in fulfilling my obligation to represent the students, families, teachers, administrators, and residents of this great community.

WEEK 4

Make your final pitch. Why Should You Be Elected to the Princeton Board of Education?

I am asking for your vote on Nov. 8.  I do so in the belief that I offer a combination of management experience, academic skills, and passionate support for public education that will enable me to serve as a strong representative for you on the Princeton Board of Education.

I have master’s and doctorate degrees in public policy, and have worked in the largest school district in our country, as well as for a national educational foundation focused on at-risk and minority youth. I have served the State of New Jersey, focusing on fiscal and budgetary issues, and, as COO, have helped manage a nonprofit institution with $400 million in assets, financing affordable housing and community facilities in low-income neighborhoods throughout our state.  I want to use my background and experience on behalf of the community that my family and I have called home for these past 12 years.

I feel privileged to be able to send our child to the Princeton Public Schools.  I am proud of the fact that our schools are so inclusive, with a team of teachers and administrators who work hard each and every day to continue to close opportunity gaps.  These professionals strive to make sure that each of our children are given the attention and services necessary to help them best fulfill their potential and achieve their dreams.

We as a community face important decisions.  I believe we must work to protect our children from being judged merely by how high they may have scored on standardized tests, and instead build on the current Superintendent and Board’s efforts to nurture all the qualities that make each of our children unique.

We also need to identify how best to expand the capacity of our school system, so that we can continue to serve the larger number of students who are now entering our school doors.  We can welcome them as we have welcomed previous generations of students, by rationally planning how best to use existing space and identifying the most effective and fair ways to finance any additional capacity that we may need to add.  At the same time, we must ensure that any long-term financing is structured so as to minimize the impact on current residents, and that any financial impact is fairly shared among current and future generations.  I believe that my background can help the Board and Superintendent identify the best way to proceed, and then help gain your assent– as residents and taxpayers– so that we as a community can move forward.

Most fundamentally, I passionately believe in the concept of public schools: I pledge to protect the schools that we have here in Princeton, but also help highlight the strength of our schools as a model for other districts in New Jersey and nationally.  To do so, I promise to uphold the democratic tradition of local control and to be transparent in my decisions, as I strive to best serve as your representative on the Princeton Board of Education. If you agree, please honor me with one of your three votes when you go to the polls on Nov. 8.

 

 

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