School Board Holds Interviews for Vacancies

The Livingston Board of Education held a special workshop meeting on Wednesday, August 6, to  interview the six individuals who have volunteered to fill the two Board positions vacated when Leslie Winograd and Dr. David Jasin moved out of town. It will appoint two  people to serve the balance of the year, to January 6, 2015, at its meeting next Wednesday, August 13.

Each candidate − Lisa Cook Bayer, Rosaura Bagolie, Corinne Kyle, Patty Arnold, Ron Spring and Ronnie Konner − responded to questions from Board president Barry Funt, vice president Pamela Chirls, and member Arthur Altman. They each explained what they see as the role of the Board, why they want to be a member, what they bring to the position, and their views of the district's strengths and weaknesses, and then responded to individual questions and comments. They were also invited to ask questions of the Board.

Breaking up the interviews was a question credited to interim superintendent James O'Neill: "If Livingston public school students could be one of the following which would you prefer – the healthiest, the  most intelligent, the best citizens, or the hardest working?"
The  dialogue gave the Board and audience a way to see how people approach the temporary position as well as  how they present and express themselves.

Board president Barry Funt said that the role of the Board is to establish goals and policies, approve budgets, hire the superintendent, and approve actions. "It is not our job to administer schools but rather to oversee administration," he said. 

The first candidate to be interviewed was Lisa Cook Bayer, who talked about being a parent in the district, involved in volunteer groups such as Vision 20/20 and the PTA and helping to pass the budget. She "brings a different perspective," she said, and is interested in the long term. "Our job is not to run the schools, but to help them run better," she noted. She is an attorney and president of  LMR Elder Care. Her daughter graduated from Livingston High School and her son will be a junior this year.
Bayer's response to O'Neill's question was, "best citizens – building them comes with the territory."

Dr. Rosaura Bagolie, an elementary school principal, talked about her experience in teaching, special education and administration. A strength of the district, she feels, is that Livingston has great programs, and she suggested doing more with technology and special education. Students in her school in Riverdale, she said, have more access to computers and iPads, which are used, for example, for assessment, tutoring, and sharing.  As a principal, she said, she has to implement state standards and know what is happening in schools. Bagolie's three children in the district are in second grade and kindergarten. Her choice, regarding O'Neill's question was, "best citizens – be kind and treat people well."

Corinne Kyle has lived in Livingston for two years and has a granddaughter at Livingston High School. She served three terms on the Princeton Board of Education and two terms on the West Orange Board of Education. She emphasized her experience in crafting and assessing budgets and how Boards collaborate.  "We are seeing 'sea changes' in public education," she said, citing the effect of the Common Core Standards and PARCC testing on teachers, how administrators evaluate teachers, and the impact on the budget. She also mentioned the New Jersey Council on Local Mandates, which can be appealed in regard  unfunded  mandates. "I would be helpful to you and the community. I have experience with how Boards work well…while not much will be solved in five months, I am another voice in the discussion," said Kyle.  She is also a member of Vision 20/20. Her answer to O'Neill's question was, "best citizens, as everything else flows from that."

Patty Arnold, a mother of three children, works with the LYCS (Livingston Youth and Community Services) township program. Livingston is "one of the best school districts," she said, but  can be more attentive to kids with emotional difficulties who need a little extra support. She suggested unifying the LYCS and school programs. Asked about LMAC's focus on  prevention of  alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, she noted that "It would be great to reach other parents who don't come to the meetings." As to O'Neill's question, Arnold's choice was, "healthiest – everything else will fall in line."

The fifth to be interviewed, former Board of Education member Ron Spring, said he wants to come back to the Board. "I made a career change to education," he said. "It is my passion." As an assistant principal at South Plainfield High School, he works with PARCC, evaluations, budgets, and curricula. He has attended most Board meetings for the last four years, wanting to be aware. "This is a short interim time," he said, with a "significant learning curve… I can fill the gap 'til January, make it seamless." Livingston is blessed with "unbelievable staff," he said, and strong community support. In special education, "we are challenged with creating programs where parents want kids to go." He sees the Board's job as working with central administration to establish district priorities. Asked about "Achieve NJ" (educator evaluations), he said that it takes time away from addressing the needs of kids. His choice to answer O'Neill's question was "Best citizens – kids should be civic-minded, develop empathy, and work well with others."

Ronnie Konner recently retired from teaching world languages in Livingston and is a former Board member and president. "My first year, we did not rehire the superintendent," she remembered. "In my second year, as president, we hired Dr. Robert Kish. So I have some experience with a positive outcome." Konner wants to return to the Board because "I have a vision that every child comes to school excited about learning, that they are challenged, have a variety of experiences in academics, arts, athletics. . ." Konner highlighted her early expertise using technology for education. Research she conducted some years ago, she said, showed that there was "no question that technology had a huge impact on student learning." A problem, she noted, is committing resources within state caps, an "added stress" given increased enrollment and other demands such as technology and training. She suggested that local school boards pool resources. A founding member of the LEF (Livingston Education Foundation), Konner has four grandchildren in the Livingston public schools. Her choice for O'Neill's query was "Best citizens – for our  diversity, we can prepare them, they can achieve the other areas."

Konner asked the Board about its priorities between August and December and its timeline for a superintendent search. "The answers will have to wait" until after a retreat with the new board and superintendent O'Neill, responded Funt. He thanked all the candidates for volunteering and coming to the interview. Their willingness to come forth, he noted, "speaks well of our community. We can only choose two, but I feel blessed that we can not make a wrong decision."

As Board watcher Donna Brower said at the end of the meeting, "It is great to see so many qualified people with heart, so refreshing. It was great to have the chance to see and get a feel for the candidates."

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