WEST WINDSOR: School board interviews four candidates to fill seat

By Charley Falkenburg, Staff Writer
   WEST WINDSOR — In front of a noticeably bigger crowd than usual, the Board of Education, on April 30, publicly interviewed the four West Windsor candidates vying for the seat of Robert Johnson, whose resignation went into effect May 1.
   More than 10 residents watched as the school officials got to know a little bit about Cornell Edmonds, Louisa Ho, Rakesh Kak and Yingchao Zhang and how each could be an asset to the board.
   In no particular order, board members posed various questions to the candidates ranging from their motivations to serve to their community service experience and what they thought should be improved in the district.
   The candidates had some similarities: all have children that had been through or are currently in the district’s school system and all had years of volunteer experience on various boards, groups and teams — both school and non-school related. For some of the candidates, such as Ms. Ho, their volunteering experience spurred them to seek the vacant school board seat.
   Ms. Ho was particularly influenced from her years volunteering for the Girl Scouts and seeing how it helps shapes the youngsters.
   ”I’m in love with youth development and helping children and giving them those experiences that help them become whole and amazing people,” she added.
   They all agreed that it would be good to see more of an emphasis on science and technology development, however Mr. Kak added security enhancements to the list and Ms. Ho said she would like to see more in-person development and skill building opportunities. For Mr. Edmond, it was important to make all educational opportunities available to everyone.
   He explained his mother came from North Carolina with a third grade education and raised him and his nine siblings by herself.
   ”She provided a sense of values with education at the center and that education would have a transforming power,” he added. “I’d like to see the district take some of this to heart.”
   Even though his family now is able to afford most things and opportunities, he said he has seen through experience with his children’s classmates that a lot of families still don’t have that luxury.
   Each candidate also cited experience working with multiple personalities and different opinions on prior boards that they thought made them well equipped to build consensus among the school officials. Mr. Edmond, a lawyer-turned-ordained minister, has learned to collaborate with 600 congregation boards in New York City. His tactic was to take time to get to know his colleagues to better understand their opinions and differences.
   ”It’s important to have that human relationship and know what’s driving those opinions,” he added.
   Ms. Ho used to work for the bus division for NJTransit and knows all about dealing all kinds of people.
   ”I know what it’s like to achieve consistency in operations that are fundamentally different,” said Ms. Ho. “I also know what it’s like when board members meddle in things they shouldn’t — they should focus on policy, not operations.”
   Mr. Kak cited experience with working on the board for his homeowner’s association and Mr. Zhang said he has much experience in learning how to translate various messages. He recalled when he came to America in 1989.
   ”I had to learn the language, culture and technology and I look forward to learning from this experience and how to bring our opinions together and solve the issue together,” he added.
   After the school board thanked the candidates for their interest, they went into closed session to deliberate on which person they should select to replace Mr. Johnson. The board will officially announce and appoint its ninth member at the next board meeting on May 19, but board chairman Hemant Marathe said the decision wouldn’t be easy.
   ”All four candidates were excellent — any one of them would serve well on the board,” said Mr. Marathe. “They all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences that would complement the board.”
   The selected candidate will carry out the remainder of Mr. Johnson’s term and must run again in the November election if he or she wants to keep the seat.Whoever is selected will have to complete a state-mandated criminal background check within 60 days of his or her appointment, according to state law.