PRINCETON: School board candidates offer views to parents

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
With the election less than a week away, the four candidates for Princeton School Board went before voters Wednesday night, offering ways to close the racial achievement gap and giving their priorities for the district.
Elizabeth Kalber Baglio, Robert Dodge, Dafna Kendal and incumbent Patrick Sullivan took their message to parents during a roughly 90-minute forum that the Special Education PTO organized. The format was a little different than at other candidate nights. Rather than appear at a long table seated together, each candidate rotated between four small groups to spend 20 minutes with each answering questions.
Mr. Sullivan said the district has crafted a strategic plan that has “aspirational but yet achievable goals for what we want this district to look like over the longer term.” He said the plan calls for among other things getting to know every child.
“Everybody has strengths,” he said. “So one of the things we have to do is find those strengths and make sure that people are developing the strengths … .”In terms of technology, he cited how officials this year began providing Internet access to families of district students that did not have it.
Ms. Kendal suggested providing students with mentoring, extended school day programs and what she termed “positive peer relationships.” She did not specify what costs would be involved in providing students with extra services.
Asked about closing the achievement gap, Mr. Dodge said the term has been defined in different ways, from income-based to race-based.
“Until we make that definition and can set tangible goals, we are kind of lost saying 50 different things,” he said.
Ms. Kalber Baglio said that for high school students not planning to attend college, a “school-to-work program would be ideal.” In that way, they could identify areas of interest, develop skills and prepare themselves to enter the workforce after graduation. The district already has that program and also opportunities for students.
She also touted the benefits of the dual language program at Community Park Elementary School, where children learn half the day in English and half in Spanish. One of her children is a first-grader in the program.
“For the Latino students at CP who speak Spanish at home, this is a major step forward in closing the achievement gap,” she said.
Ms. Kendal said that as a mom with a child in special education, her vision is for teachers and administrators to have the same high expectations for special-ed students “as they have for the children in general education.”
She said 17 percent of students in Princeton are in special education, and offered that she wanted to be their advocate.
The school board race for three seats comes as Superintendent Steven C. Cochrane is seeking to put his imprint on the district as he completes his second full year on the job. A newly revised district mission statement, for instance, speaks of wanting students to have lives of “joy and purpose” and eliminates earlier language that says students are expected to meet state core curriculum content standards at all grade levels.
“Certainly, there are standards that our children need to achieve that we want them to achieve,” Ms. Kalber Baglio said. “We want our students to leave this school district with the knowledge that we hope that they have.”
The district is looking to address student wellness at a time where many high school students say they are overworked. Yet Mr. Dodge said he would not support any policy that limits how many AP courses those students could take.
“I would be happy to do away with the AP in general, but not in a kind of artificial, ‘You can only take one class,’ ” he said. 