PRINCETON: Four seeking three seats on school board

Incumbents Molly Chrein and Andrea Spalla and first-time candidates Meeta Khatri and Thomas Hagedorn round out the field for next week’s school board race in Princeton.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   Incumbents Molly Chrein and Andrea Spalla and first-time candidates Meeta Khatri and Thomas Hagedorn round out the field for next week’s school board race in Princeton.
   Three seats for three-year terms are up Nov.5, as Princeton has joined other districts around the state that have moved school elections from April to the general election in the fall.
   Whoever wins will help lead a school district in the midst of change at the top, as Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson is due to leave in December after nine years and her successor begins his tenure in January.
   Ms. Spalla and Ms. Chrein, both seeking their second terms, offered similar answers when asked about what their priorities would be in the next three years. Ensuring a smooth, seamless transition for incoming Superintendent of Schools Stephen Cochrane was high on their list.
   Ms. Spalla, a board member since May 2010, said she wants a chance to remain in the leadership team working to “guide and support (and) direct the new superintendent through the transition.” She called finding Mr. Cochrane the biggest task that the school board had undertaken in the past nine years.
   ”His ideals, his ideas are completely in synch with everything that we as a board believe in and that everything Judy Wilson has done,” Ms. Chrein said. “But we trust his judgment based on getting to know him.”
   Ms. Chrein, who joined the board at the same time as Ms. Spalla, said she wants to see the district continue to bridge the achievement gap. “I think that a great equalizer in society is good education,” she said.
   On other issues, Ms. Spalla expressed concern for the “ongoing fiscal health” of the school district. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about ongoing state aid (and) ongoing special education funding,” she said.
   Neither woman feels the district will need to build another school in the foreseeable future, even with the large AvalonBay development for the former Princeton Hospital.
   Ms. Khatri, who runs a learning center in Hamilton, is running for elected office for the first time. She supports merit pay for teachers and feels the district should be “highly selective” when hiring new ones. To her, the district should not be looking to hire people fresh out of college but rather teachers with a “track record.”
   In discussing Mr. Cochrane, Ms. Khatri said she feels he should be given “enough leeway” to make “bold changes” in the way the school district is run.
   She laments what she sees as an animosity within the community directed toward the Princeton Charter School, the place she sends one of her children.
    She said the charter school is “thriving,” and feels the superintendent and school board ought to set a positive attitude toward it.Like Ms. Khatri, Mr. Hagedorn is running for office for the first time. “Education is my life’s vocation,” said Mr. Hagedorn, a professor at the College of New Jersey.
   He calls himself a big believer in listening to input from parents and the community. He sees the achievement gap as one of the issues he’d want to tackle in his first term. The future of the old Valley Road School is another issue.
   ”I’d like to see what we could do to bring everyone together and come up with a solution that would be the benefit of everyone,” he said.
   Asked what makes a good school district, he said: “I think it should be a joyful place where our kids want to learn and are learning.”
   Candidate Dennis Scheil dropped out but not in time for the ballot to be changed.
   Ms. Chrein, 47, grew up in New Jersey and New York. She has lived in Princeton since 2006. She is a graduate of Barnard College and Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
   Ms. Spalla, 47, is a native of Minnesota who has lived in Princeton since 1998. She graduated from Carleton College and Boston University law school.
   Ms. Khatri, 45, has lived in Princeton for two years. She holds degrees from Mumbai University and the University of Minnesota.
   Mr. Hagedorn, 46, grew up in Cincinnati and has lived in Princeton since 1994. He graduated from Princeton and Harvard universities.