Beth BehrendBeth Behrend is the former president of the Riverside Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, a current member of the PTO Council, and parent of three children in the Princeton Public Schools district.
Having served as a corporate lawyer for nearly two decades, her experience with legal and financial issues differentiates her from other candidates.
Behrend hopes to renovate and build new sustainable facilities to accommodate increasing enrollment in the over-capacity district.
“[The] issue is a fiscal one. How do we plan for the next 30 years so we’re ready for [the] children that come through? If we’re sustainable and smart, we can save ourselves money in the future,” said Behrend.
Looking at the district as a whole, Behrend feels a need to reassess unity and equity.
“[We] have to unify our community so we’re all on the same page with where we’re going. Everyone needs equal access to education and support,” Behrend said.
Behrend plans to look into the administration and its accountability in terms of student health and wellness.
“We can look at the Stanford survey to see what improvements [need to be made] and hold people responsible for that,” said Behrend.
In the long term, Behrend aims to balance health and wellness with overall excellence in the district.
“My goals are about long term planning, transparency, communication with parents and with students. It’s everyone’s issue, not just the schools. I’d like to make make every dollar count for our kids,” said Behrend.
Jessica DeutschJess Deutsch has served on nonprofit boards including the 101 Fund, HiTOPs, and Friends of Princeton Public Library. Her professional background includes advisory work at Princeton University and work on issues related to educational risk and prevention.
“I will have objectivity as a Board member because it’s not about my own kids. I feel committed to using my expertise [to] benefit all schools,” said Deutsch.
Deutsch is worried about high rates of cheating at PHS.
“I want to hold schools accountable for [student] engagement. [Cheating is] related to [lack of] understanding amongst students [about] academic integrity,” Deutsch said.
In combating opportunity gaps, Deutsch hopes to encourage earlier literacy, non-Advanced-Placement courses, and more diverse faculty.
Deutsch also advocates for transparency in resolving rising enrollment.
“[We] have challenges related to the growth of our population and cost of living. The Board has to hold itself accountable to keep costs under control,” said Deutsch.
To best serve the district, Deutsch intends to listen to student and parent viewpoints. She hopes to see a district where students flourish in and out of the classroom. “I want our students to have a sense that they come from this district with the community believing in them. [Being] a BOE member is about contributing expertise to be part of the Board’s collective voice, and I’m ready to do that.”
James FieldsJames Fields has been part of the Princeton Public Schools district for five years and has a daughter in fourth grade. Fields believes his position as the Director of Undergraduate Ministry of Christian Union at Princeton University helps him understand the position of students in Princeton.
Having served as a pastor, Fields has had experience in multicultural settings, allowing him to reflect the diversity Princeton holds.
“I’m building the bridge to account for the racial tension and disparity in the school systems. I want to eradicate the barriers that keep us from uniting,” said Fields.
Fields plans to implement an initiative using private benefactors in New Jersey similar to the Kalamazoo Compromise from Michigan, which allows for a higher graduation rate in high schools by paying college tuition of students who have been in the school system from kindergarten through 12th grade.
His platform is devoted to student health and mental well being. To ensure that each child’s voice is heard, he advocates for the effectiveness of community forums.
Ultimately, Fields hopes to mirror voter priorities with the BOE’s work to bring change for students.
“I see in my vision, my daughter having people be sensitive to her needs as a black [person] and … as a woman, as well as one that will care well for her mental health and wellbeing. I want to be part of a vision in which success is defined as being your best instead of the best,” Fields said.
Jenny LudmerAs the parent of three children in the Princeton Public Schools district, Jenny Ludmer has spent significant time organizing the Littlebrook Science Expo, serving on the Littlebrook and John Witherspoon Middle Schools’ Parent Teacher Organizations, and leading sustainability efforts in Littlebrook.
The presidential election last November sparked Ludmer’s interest in local government, where she felt she could make a difference.
“I started more aggressively attending board meetings and learning about school government. I realized that not only are there a number of issues that I care about, but that these issues are going to impact all children at the schools,” said Ludmer.
With a background in scientific analysis, Ludmer feels that her organizational skills, available time, and perseverance set her apart.
“I’ve devoted a lot of time to [the schools] in the past several years. When I get behind an issue, I don’t give up,” Ludmer said.
While she feels that stress at PHS is a major issue, Ludmer also plans to improve sustainability, hiring practices, and racial equity in the district.
“I want to see us do a better job of teaching racial literacy. I want to make sure that we are analyzing [the district’s] hiring practices so the schools are representative of our diverse community,” Ludmer said.
With her oldest son attending PHS in the near future, Ludmer is committed to pushing for necessary changes in the district, particularly in the high school.
Julie RamirezJulie Ramirez has been a project manager for 20 years and works at the Office of Finance and Treasury at Princeton University. Ramirez has volunteered for 13 years with Special Olympics of New Jersey and is a founding member of the New York Friends of Citizens United in Research in Epilepsy.
If elected, Ramirez will help ensure that the school community is supportive and welcoming for all children.
Similarly, Ramirez acknowledges that the Stanford Challenge Success survey has given a window into the climate of PHS. Despite recognizing flaws in the district, Ramirez stated that she isn’t running on a specific platform. She believes that there is no one issue that needs to be addressed by the Board and looks to observe the district holistically.
“There are a few challenges [like] rising enrollment, student wellness, and racial tensions but there are other issues that the board tackles. The key isn’t to focus on the issues but to focus on the process whereby decisions are made,” Ramirez said.
To allow each child to have their voice heard, Ramirez believes the board needs to encourage interaction with community members.
Without a particular platform or agenda, Ramirez believes that she is running to represent the students, parents, and taxpayers of Princeton in a way that is fiscally responsible to preserve the current condition and excellence of PPS.
Michele Tuck-PonderMichele Tuck-Ponder, former mayor of Princeton Township, has served as an assistant director of the New Jersey Division on Women and Civil Rights.
Ponder is running for school board because of her commitment to serving the community, considering how her two kids have thrived in the district.
“Even though my kids have been successful in the district, if I’m not paying attention to what’s happening, I’m not doing my job,” said Ponder.
Under a platform based on educational equality and implementing restorative justice, Ponder wants to address the achievement gap head on.
“The school board needs to be serious about racism, structural inequality, and how that starts in elementary school,” Ponder said.
Furthermore, Ponder is interested in examining how the district can ensure adequate facilities to support education. She plans on rebalancing the school budget and looking at the expansion of Princeton Charter School and its impact on taxpayers.
Ponder recognizes the rising minority status, with 16 percent of students in the district being black and/or Hispanic, and the disproportionate disciplining, about 50 percent, to these minority groups. Ponder wants to ensure the voice of every student is heard.
“We can talk about stress, but instead of just starting school a little later, we need to beg the question of the people who are responsible for [this change to] tell us how this works.”