Four seats on the Guttenberg Board of Education will be filled by two incumbents and two newcomers, including Anna L. Klein School’s former chief administrator and a mother currently pursuing a college degree.
Incumbent board members Rebecca Vazquez and Rocio Botero Day are both running for new three-year terms. Newcomer Jennifer Flores is running for a three-year term. Robert Tholen is seeking the two years remaining in the unexpired term of John Haberman, who was appointed to the Town Council in 2008. All are running unopposed in the April 21 election.
The school budget will also be voted on, which is $14.1 million this year. The budget has increased 1.3 percent from last years, with taxes rising $158,000.
Voter turnout for school board elections in Guttenberg is often low, around six percent of the town’s registered voters.
Tholen attended North Bergen High School, received his undergraduate degree at New Jersey City University and his masters in counseling at NJCU and Montclair State University, and earned his masters in administration and supervision at NJCU. He taught at the Klein School for 18 years, became a guidance counselor for four years, and then became the school’s principal for over 10 years.
After that time, the board eliminated the superintendent position and made the principal the chief school administrator, essentially making Tholen wear two “hats.” He said the job became daunting, and when his mother became ill, he decided to retire. Since last year, the district has restored the superintendent position.
Tholen said that he recently returned to teaching at St. Francis in Union City.
He has two children and four grandchildren.
Tholen said that one big issue at Klein School is working with town hall on the proposed community center.
“Space is the biggest problem,” said Tholen.
He said while the trailers in the school yard alleviated some classroom overcrowding, they essentially took away the only playground in Guttenberg.
Jennifer Flores was raised in North Bergen and attended North Bergen High School before marrying and moving to Guttenberg.
She said as a stay-at-home mother, the Klein School and her children’s future there has become very important to her. With three children attending the school, she also has insight into what goes on inside of the building.
Flores attends New Jersey City University, pursuing a dual degree in English and teaching.
“Everybody has their own ideals, but you have to get together and try to put [together] what you think is best for the school as a whole, instead of everyone with their own ideas,” said Flores. She said that her main concern was with the students.
Language is key
Day, a widow and mother of three, immigrated to the United States from Colombia. After meeting her husband in California, she attended UCLA and Penn State University for her bachelor’s degree in sociology and education. She received a master’s degree in clinical social work at Rutgers University, and then worked on a master’s in spirituality and religious studies at Fordham University. She moved to the Galaxy Apartments in 1999.
She said learning English and getting an education is essential to succeeding in this country. She believes there is a need for programs that help bilingual students and parents not only become fluent in English, but retain their native language.
She said that a dual language program, where students would learn both languages, would benefit the students. However, she explained that finding funds was one of Guttenberg’s main issues.
“It’s skewed because the Galaxy is the wealthy part of town, while most of the population that goes to the school are barely making it into the middle class or less,” said Day.
Day teaches education workshops helping couples deal with anger and anxiety.
Vazquez is a director of business affairs at HBO and a Guttenberg resident of 25 years. She said that her experience in the business world, as well as her belief in the importance of public school education, is why she wants to be on the board for another term.
“We really have to make the best use for whatever resources we have at hand.” – Rebecca Vazquez
“Right now because of the economic down turn and the squeezed budgets on the state and federal level, we really have to make the best use for whatever resources we have at hand,” said Vazquez.
Vazquez said she wants to make sure that Guttenberg can cope with increasing state requirements.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.