Read What the Candidates Think about Our School District -- THEN GO OUT AND VOTE TODAY!

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The Candidates for the Metuchen Board of Education (2014) Reply to CQE (Citizens for Quality Education)'s Questions:

1. What experience and expertise do you bring to the table that make you

a good candidate for the Board of Education?


JACKIE GIBSON: I have been a member of the Metuchen Board of Education

for six years. I currently serve as Vice President of the Board, Chair of Policy

Committee, and as a member of the Finance and Negotiations committees. I

have taken more than the minimum required New Jersey School Boards

Association (NJSBA) training and earned the status of Certificated Board

Member (CBM). I am active in the NJSBA, where I serve on the Strategic

Planning Committee, Legislative Committee, Resolutions Subcommittee, and

Delegate Assembly. This involvement keeps me informed of statewide issues

and how they may impact Metuchen. I represent the Board as liaison to the

Metuchen High School PTO and the Metuchen Municipal Alliance. I have

participated in passing fiscally responsible budgets. I have supported pro-active

maintenance of district schools.


DAN BENDERLY: I have served on the Metuchen Board of Education for the last

six and a half years, serving as Vice President, Chair of the Curriculum and

Instruction Committee for the last two years, as well as Chair of Policy and a

member of the Negotiations and Technology Committees.

Over these last six and a half years, there have been many satisfying moments.

But there have been some real highlights for me:

• Selecting a new Superintendent - One of my original motivations to run for

the Metuchen Board of Education was to help manage the managerial

transition from our long-tenured Superintendent, Mrs. Sinatra. Filling her

shoes, along with most of the administrative staff in the district that have

also retired in the interim, has been a vital function of the Board of

Education, and central to maintaining the quality of the education we

provide as well as the community spirit and support that we enjoy.

• Maintaining our programming in the face of the severe 2009- 2010 budget

cuts, when we lost over $1.5 million in state aid virtually overnight. Most

districts in the state had to cut programs such as world languages, music,

art, sports, and extra and co-curricular activities. With the cooperation of

the district's teachers and staff, who were one of the few associations

across the state to accept a wage freeze, we were and still are able to

maintain our full slate of instruction and activities for the students in our


• Increasing focus on differentiated instruction. Over the last 6ó years, we

have seen a dramatic increase in the use of differentiated instruction in

our classrooms, all the way from Kindergarten through the high school.

Teaching every student in the manner and pace that best suits their

individual styles is key to the ultimate goal of having every child achieve

their full potential.

Professionally, I have over 20 years of management experience in developing

and executing on growth strategies and strategic relationships, in both large and

small companies, including the last two years focused on educational technology

while at the College Board.

Educationally, I studied Electrical Engineering at the Cooper Union for the

Advancement of Science and Art, and earned an MBA from Columbia Business


I have four children, aged 17, 16, 12 and 10. - 2 boys and 2 girls. I have lived in

Metuchen since 1998, and have been active in the community over the years,

including being a Little League manager/coach for both softball and baseball,

volunteering with the MMP Swim Team, and presenting at Campbell School

Spring Extravaganza for the last 11 years. In addition, as a family we have

participated in Metuchen Rec and Travel Soccer, Basketball, Flag Football and

Field Hockey program.


BEN SMALL: I previously served two, successful terms on the Metuchen Board

of Ed and served on a variety of committees and as the Board's liaison with the

PTO at Campbell/Moss and Edgar. My finance background provides me with the

skills to help guide the Board on budget and financial matters and my experience

with board governance eliminate any learning curve if I am re-elected.

2. What do you see as the most topical issues in Education today that

have important implications for the Metuchen Public Schools? How can

Board members effect positive changes in these areas?

JACKIE GIBSON: PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for

College and Careers) testing and CCSS (Core Curriculum State Standards) are

current challenges to all school districts in New Jersey. Board members have a

positive effect in preparation for the online PARCC testing by supporting the

administration in upgrading the district technology infrastructure and preparing

students and staff for the administration of the PARCC achievement test. Board

members support the administration in implementing the CCSS by approving

funds for curriculum writing and professional development.

Another challenge facing New Jersey districts is state mandates that cost the

districts time and money, but are often underfunded by the state. Board members

can contribute to the management of this financial challenge by supporting

fiscally responsible budgets. I am very active with the New Jersey School Boards

Association, which lobbies against unfunded and underfunded mandates.

DAN BENDERLY: Education is rapidly changing today, perhaps more rapidly

than any time in the last twenty years, driven by the changing needs of the

economy as well as the rapid advances of technology. Some key trends I see:

• Implementation of the Common Core and associated testing. The

Common Core State Standards represents a significant shift in the level of

rigor that we as a society expect from our students and teachers, and has

and will continue to require changes in the way that we approach the

education of our children. Coupled with this is are changes in the annual

testing regime, both in terms of the standards tested and the manner in

which the test is delivered - digital rather than paper and pencil. This

requires a significant investment in technological infrastructure, which our

district has been doing over the last few years to bring us up to the

required level.

• Technology-driven differentiation and individualization of instruction.

There has been an explosion in educational technology over the last few

years, much focused on differentiating and individualizing instruction

based on the particular needs of individual students. This includes both

formative assessments, providing teachers additional data on each

students strengths and weaknesses, and instructional aids that that

students work with directly. We can and should leverage the investments

that we have made in the technology infrastructure of the district to

capitalize on this trend, meeting each students where they are and

maximizing their individual potential.

• Focus on STEM. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

has become a national focus area, recognizing the need to increase our

country's long term capabilities in these areas. Here in Metuchen, we

should continue to increase our focus on improving our Math and Science


• The Value and Cost of College. There is wide acknowledgement that we

will need a more highly-skilled workforce for the jobs in the near future.

However, there is also growing questioning over the value of a college

education, relative to its cost, especially since college tuition has been

increasing at a rate significantly higher than overall inflation and income

growth. While this does not have direct impact on the district's day to day

operation, we do need to be aware of this trend as it relates to advising

and planning for the post-secondary education of our students and how to

finance them , and to maintain the college-going culture in our schools.

BEN SMALL: Continuing to develop well-rounded students amidst the increasing

trend today of increasing testing and standards which has many school districts

trapped in the game of 'teaching students to test.' Our goal as a Board and a

school district is to challenge our students academically, encourage their

involvement in extracurricular and volunteer activities and provide them with the

skills needed to succeed in life after their time in the Metuchen school system.

3. According to the latest available public data, concerning Advanced

Placement participation: Over the last few years, Metuchen High School

(53% participation) has made tremendous strides in catching up with and in

some cases even surpassing other schools in its District Factor Group, e.g.

Westfield High School (52%) and Summit High School (64%). But in terms

of test taking: MHS had only 23% of its students who took AP courses

actually take at least one test, while Westfield had 49% and Summit had

65%. Please comment on the information above.

JACKIE GIBSON: I think it would be great to see more Metuchen Advanced

Placement students taking the AP test and benefiting from good scores. Students

may earn college credits with high scores on the AP test. This can be

encouraged by fostering a culture of confidence at Metuchen High School. This

type of culture occurs when students are aware that they are well prepared for

challenges like AP tests and when they are aware of the benefits of taking the

test. There has already been an increase in AP class enrollment. I believe the

next step will be an increase in AP test participation. The Guidance Department

recently sent a survey to AP students asking their thoughts about AP test taking.

This may provide information on ways to increase test participation.

DAN BENDERLY: As I have been employed by the College Board, the publisher

and administrator of the AP program and tests, it would be inappropriate for me

to comment on this topic as a Board Member.

BEN SMALL: We must continue to challenge our students. Offering AP courses

is one of the tools we can employ to challenge them. As our strategy continues

to develop, it is my belief that more students will not only challenge themselves

by enrolling in AP classes but also in taking the AP exams. Unfortunately, at the

same time that Metuchen students are increasing the number of AP courses in

their schedules, many colleges and universities are either eliminating the ability

to waive those high school AP courses towards their graduations credits

(primarily due to a need to generate more tuition revenue) and/or increasing the

passing scores required to receive credit waivers. Lastly, I do have concerns

about students overloading themselves with overly taxing course loads, sports,

extracurricular activities, volunteer work, etc leaving no time to just be a kid. As

with anything in life, it is a delicate balance. I think with support from parents and

student's teachers and guidance counselors, each student can determine what

the appropriate balance needs to be for him/her.

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