How to improve Hoboken’s schools?
School board candidates debate policy, spending in forum
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Nov 02, 2013 | 3398 views | 1 1 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DEBATING SCHOOL POLICY – The eight candidates for the three open seats on the Hoboken Board of Education engaged in debate over the future of the city’s schools this week.
DEBATING SCHOOL POLICY – The eight candidates for the three open seats on the Hoboken Board of Education engaged in debate over the future of the city’s schools this week.
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The eight candidates competing for three open seats on Hoboken’s Board of Education clashed in a forum Tuesday night over how to best improve the city’s public schools and whether policies introduced by the Kids First group, which currently holds a majority on the board, have proven effective. Kids First is allied with Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

That slate and the other two slates – Better Schools Now and One Hoboken Moving Forward – failed to agree on much, though most candidates said that they supported Superintendant Mark Toback’s efforts to improve test scores and attendance and graduation rates.

The Hoboken School District is comprised of five public schools and two charter schools. While more families are raising their kids in Hoboken and using the public elementary schools than in recent history, test scores still lag at the high school level. Kids at Hoboken High academically are outperforming only 10 percent of schools in the state in SAT scores.
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Three slates, eight candidates, thousands of students. Who gets your vote?
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In 2011-2012, the statewide average SAT score was 1521 (on a 2400 scale), but Hoboken High School’s average score was 1159. Additionally, the Department of Education’s last 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.

Still, the district boasts one of the highest cost-per-student spending amounts in the state.

Mixed performances

Many of the challengers to Kids First, especially Brian Murray and his Better Schools Now running mates, cited these statistics to say that Kids First’s policies are not working.

But the Kids First incumbents who are up for re-election, Board President Leon Gold and board member Irene Sobolov, stood by their achievements and accused Murray and others of “lying” several times.

The third Kids First candidate, Jennifer Evans, discussed how she thought she was an exception to the stereotype that families are leaving Hoboken due to failing schools, because she has enrolled her children in the public schools and plans on keeping them there long term.

Brian Murray’s slate, which is allied with mayoral candidate Ruben Ramos, also includes Vanessa Falco and perennial candidate Patricia Waiters. Waiters is also an independent candidate for the Hoboken City Council in Tuesday’s race.

The third slate, One Hoboken Moving Forward, includes candidates James Gilbarty and Natalie Rivera, and is supported by mayoral candidate Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti. They said that they were mainly concerned with the district’s cutting of several programs and the manner in which board meetings are sometimes handled, but neither could provide specifics when pressed by moderator Bob Bowdon.

What are their goals?

The main goal of the Kids First slate is to build on recent improvements in the areas of test scores, attendance, and graduation rates. Since gaining control of the school board, Kids First has purchased new textbooks in math, science and language arts, new Smartboards, iPads and laptops, expanded Gifted & Talented programs, expanded the Hoboken High School’s AP program.

Still, Murray and the other Better Schools Now candidates argued that the results of Kids First’s leadership are not substantive enough to merit reelection.

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 vow to improve the system by which parents are given assistance and solutions, especially regarding the placement of children into the Early Childhood Program. This year, some parents had to wait the entire summer to see if their kids would get in.

Lastly, they said they advocate greater transparency in the budgeting process.

The candidates in the One Hoboken Moving Forward slate say they are running on a platform of increased parent participation and budget transparency.

For more details about the candidates and their positions, read an article that ran in a recent edition of The Hoboken Reporter at http://bit.ly/17BC7Un.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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November 04, 2013
The debate -- http://vimeo.com/78367121