In addition to the mayoralty and three seats on the Hoboken City Council, three slots on the city’s nine-member elected Board of Education will be up for grabs this November. Two slates of three candidates each, Kids First and Better Schools Now, as well one slate of two candidates, are in the contest.
Currently, members of Kids First hold a majority on the board. Two their sitting members, Leon Gold and Irene Sobolov, are up for reelection, while the third candidate is newcomer Jennifer Evans. Gold is currently the board president.
The Better Schools Now candidates – Brian Murray, Patricia Waiters, and Vanessa Falco – are challenging Kids First. And two more candidates, James Gilbarty and Natalie Rivera, are running together on a slate called One Hoboken Moving Forward.
Kids First touted their accomplishments, citing the purchase of new textbooks, a revamping of the science, math, and literacy programs, and the hiring of Dr. Mark Toback, the superintendent who Sobolov said “initiated his plan to increase student achievement, increase parent involvement, and modernize the district.”
But the Better Schools Now candidates say the group has failed to create a bond between the schools and the community, is obstructing transparency in how it decides to spend taxpayer money, and has been unable to improve Hoboken High School, one of the statistically weakest schools in the state.
And the two-member One Hoboken Moving Forward slate is concerned, like Better Schools Now, with returning control of the budget to Hoboken voters and improving the high school. The candidates on this slate did not return a request for comment by press time.
Competing slates, of three members each, and two independent candidates are fighting for three school board seats.
Who are the candidates?
The Better Schools Now candidates are all parents of elementary school children. Murray, who moved to Hoboken in the 1990s, owns a local realty business. He has an engineering degree from Columbia University and a graduate degree from the University of Michigan. He is a co-founder of the Hoboken Dads group.
Patricia Waiters, who is also an independent candidate for City Council this year, is a Hoboken native, and is known in the Hoboken political scene for attending and speaking at council meetings, school board meetings, and other municipal board meetings. According to Waiters, her priority is returning honesty to the school board.
Falco, also a Hoboken native, returned to the mile-square city after college to find what she called a troubling situation -- more and more high school graduates had no plan for college. She started a non-profit organization in town to assist them, and works part-time at the Jubilee Center as a Teen Coordinator. The mother of an 8- and a 9-year-old, Falco serves on the School Leadership Committee at Wallace Elementary School.
Leon Gold, running on the Kids First ticket, is a professor of ergonomics at Columbia University’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. He could not comment extensively for this story due to a business trip, but said that he believed his greatest accomplishments on the board thus far included lengthening the school day and funding “long overdue capital improvement projects.” Gold received a Ph.D. from Stevens Institute of Technology and has lived in Hoboken for over 30 years.
Sobolov, the slate’s other incumbent, is an urban planning professional with a master’s degree from Hunter College in New York City. She is a founding member of the Hoboken Family Alliance, a prominent participant in the Hoboken Moms online community, and holds volunteer positions in the Wallace Elementary and Hoboken High School communities.
Evans, the slate’s newcomer, has lived in Hoboken for 14 years, “the longest time [she’s] lived anywhere.” Her children attend Wallace and Brandt Elementary. She is a member of Brandt’s Parent Teacher Organization and the Hoboken Early Childhood Advisory Council.
Kids First’s positions
All three Kids First candidates referenced their slate’s name when asked about their philosophies on improving the school district.
Gold said that the slate’s main goal is to build on recent improvements in the areas of test scores, attendance, and graduation rates.
“Spending wisely by investing in our children and focusing tax dollars into the classroom has proven to be a very successful plan,” he said.
Evans, the newcomer, left commenting on the slate’s accomplishments to Gold and Sobolov, but said that if elected, she will spearhead the formation of a district-wide task force of parents, students, teachers, administration, board members, and community members whose objective is to reach out to the community to increase knowledge of the public schools.
“As I talk to people in Hoboken during this campaign season, I am surprised by how many are unaware of all the improvements that are occurring in the district,” she said. “I know so many happy parents and students in the district and their voices need to be heard.”
Sobolov didn’t give any specific plans for the future, but did say that she hopes to build on the successes of her time on the board thus far.
“Careful spending has allowed for new textbooks in math, science and language arts, new Smartboards, iPads and laptops, expanded Gifted & Talented programs, a growing AP program, expanded vocational program, a dedicated Special Education and Autism Center and a fully funded capital improvement plan,” she said. “The plan is simple and the results are real – focus on the kids and they will succeed.”
Although politicians tend to officially not take part in school board matters, the Kids First slate is aligned with Mayor Dawn Zimmer. At her campaign kickoff in August, Zimmer asked supporters to vote for Kids First, and appeared briefly at their own kickoff two weeks ago.
Better Schools Now’s positions
According to its candidates, the Better Schools Now platform is fourfold. First, the slate has promised to rebuild Hoboken High School into a top tier high school. Second, it hopes to demand more from students and allow them the chance to compete not only with other kids in Hudson County but throughout New Jersey. Third, they vowed to improve the system by which parents are given assistance and solutions, especially regarding the placement of children into the Early Childhood Program. Lastly, they said they advocate greater transparency in the budgeting process.
“We want to give the budget back to the voters,” said the slate in a joint statement. “This year it only took five people to raise the school taxes 4 percent. We need checks and balances to make sure taxpayers are getting value and setting funding for the school system.”
The slate also lamented what they called a “revolving door” of school administrators under Kids First.
“The constantly changing superintendents, business administrators, and principals under Kids First must stop,” they said. “We need people who want to make Hoboken a permanent job and not a stepping stone.”
But Sobolov shot back on Friday: “To say that the staff of the Hoboken Public Schools are not hard working, dedicated and committed or are using their employment as a stepping stone is untrue and insulting,” she said.
The school district has incurred several issues lately, mostly to do with the high school. According to the New Jersey Department of Education, the high school “lags in comparison” to most of its peers, academically outperforming only 10 percent of schools in the state.
In 2011-2012, the statewide average SAT score was 1521 (on a 2400 scale). Hoboken High School’s average score was 1159.
The Department of Education’s report card said that the school had met none of its goals regarding academic achievement and college and career placement, and half of its goals regarding graduation rates.
Other issues have mainly related to the city’s youngest students. Parents experienced a stressful summer when over 70 children were placed on the waitlist for the Early Childhood Program. The remaining kids on the wait list finally got into the program two weeks ago.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org