NORTH BRUNSWICK – Elesia L. James, longtime board member Richard Liguori and incumbent Hayley Toth will campaign for the three, three-year seats available on the North Brunswick Board of Education.
Toth replaced Claribel Cortes, who joined the North Brunswick Township Council earlier this year after Councilman Robert Corbin passed away.
Howard Liu has decided not to run for re-election.
Elesia L. James has lived in North Brunswick for 19 years.
She is the assistant general counsel for a public school district.
She has a Teacher of English Certificate of Eligibility, a paralegal certificate, is licensed to practice law in the state and federal courts of New Jersey, and has her New York Bar application pending.
She has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, soup kitchens, the American Red Cross and other philanthropic organizations. She said she donates clothes annually, supports food banks/missions to eliminate food insecurity, and occasionally engages in community outreach activities through various churches.
James said she is attempting her first run for public office because she values education and finds public service to be fulfilling work.
“I believe that my work as a school board attorney will lend itself well to the roles and responsibilities of a school board member. I also believe that my inclination towards diplomacy will allow me to be an effective community representative and to serve as a bridge between community and the schools,” she said.
Her first area of focus would be Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).
“SEL is a critical component of a quality learning environment. SEL provides students the knowledge, skills and resources needed to engage in positive behaviors, manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, empathize with others, and demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and nationwide protests against systemic racism that has affected the lives of so many people. It is critical that we ensure that the well-being of our students takes priority so that they can develop positive character traits, relationships and behaviors to engage thoughtfully with these issues and the persons affected by them.
“If elected, I will make it a priority to ensure that SEL and character development is thoughtfully incorporated into the curriculum to support our students,” she said.
James will also focus on student achievement, if elected to the school board.
“Improving student achievement will always be a priority no matter the county, state or country; however, it is particularly important that our policies and practices reflect this goal and resources are appropriately allocated to maximize student success. I look forward to establishing goals for the schools based on needs, aspirations and resources to ensure that a quality education continues to be offered to our students and continues to improve over time,” she said.
Her commitment also lies in transition services for all students to postsecondary life, she said.
“If elected, I plan to prioritize postsecondary planning. It is particularly important that students have an opportunity to identify and appraise their individual level of functioning in relation to vocational preparation, employment selection and postsecondary education. This can be done by career readiness courses, access to guidance counselors, vocational assessments/evaluations to identify the student’s psychological makeup, values, work skills, abilities, and if they have a natural affinity to certain fields.
“I would also encourage financial literacy courses so that students understand the benefits of budgeting, applying for scholarships, and making other fiscally responsible decisions as they start off in their postsecondary lives,” she said.
Richard D. Liguori is a lifelong resident of North Brunswick. His wife, Monique, is an English teacher at South Brunswick High School; they both attended Judd Elementary School, Linwood Middle School and North Brunswick Township High School for their educations.
Their son, 19, is a sophomore at Rutgers University, after graduating from NBTHS in 2019; their son, 14, is a freshman at NBTHS; and their son, 11, is in sixth grade at Linwood School.
Liguori is a senior financial analyst for Dow Jones & Company.
He was a member of the North Brunswick Board of Education from 2007-15, and returned in 2018. He served as board president for five years and board vice president for one.
He achieved Certificated Board Member status through the New Jersey School Boards Association in 2012.
He has served on all board committees, and chaired the Business Operations and Curriculum committees.
Within the community, Liguori is an executive board member as the director of Rosters for the Recreation Division, and a former coach for the North Brunswick Soccer Club.
He is the former treasurer of the North Brunswick Foundation of Educational & Community Excellence.
He is a Finance Committee member, lector, choir member and cantor for Our Lady of Peace Church, North Brunswick. He is a charter member of Knights of Columbus Council 11378 at Our Lady of Peace, and served in the past as Grand Knight.
He is the treasurer for the North Brunswick Historical Society, and co-chair of the North Brunswick Anniversary Galas.
He is also a former Member of the North Brunswick Zoning Board of Adjustment
“I am running for the Board of Education this year because I feel I have a lot to offer as a homeowner, taxpayer and parent. My wife and I are proud products of the North Brunswick school system, and our three children are receiving a quality education here as well.
“However, I have always believed Board of Education members need to advocate for all students in town, and that is what I have always sought to do. Student achievement must always be the first priority. I will continue to collaborate with our superintendent and his administrative team to deliver a thorough and efficient education to all, while always striking a balance between the many needs of the district and the taxpayers’ abilities to fund such needs,” he said.
Liguori said his first key issue is closing the achievement gap.
“In an effort to eliminate the achievement gap, I will continue to work with our administrators to pursue new, technologically advanced curriculum accessible to all levels of learners and with a focus on both equity and excellence. The district’s shift to remote learning during COVID-19 has shown the importance of an aggressive, digital, 21st century curriculum, rich with rigor and embracing our township’s diverse population. I will keep close contact with administrators as they continue to study student data, and I will work to assess and, if necessary, reallocate resources to ensure that all of North Brunswick’s students are given every opportunity to reach their full potential,” he said.
He said he will also address fiscal responsibility, if re-elected.
“According to Trenton’s own funding formula, our school district continues to be severely underfunded. We have successfully fought for incremental funding increases over the past few years, and I will continue to push legislators in Trenton, side by side with board members and administrators, to understand that North Brunswick deserves the full funding to which it is entitled.
“As the current chair of the Business Operations committee, I am proud of the fact that the new middle school construction was completed on time and ahead of budget.
“In regard to both capital and operating expenses, I will continue to insist on bottoms-up budgeting, clean audits, favorable bond ratings, and additional shared services with the township,” he said.
Liguori said he would also encourage more public engagement.
“The Board of Education must continue to find new ways of forging connections with parents and stakeholders. New forms of communication, such as KiNVO messages from teachers and administrators, will serve to complement our current methods of outreach and our cable broadcasts of public meetings. We are about to embark on a new multi-year strategic plan for the district, and I want to work to ensure that all stakeholders can participate and play an active role in development and decision making,” he said.
Hayley Toth has lived in North Brunswick for 26 years. She attended North Brunswick public schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and is a 2012 graduate of North Brunswick Township High School. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2016.
Toth is currently serving an unexpired term on the school board after Cortes’ departure in May. Her term expires in December.
She is currently chair of the Community Relations Committee.
“Community involvement and support from the community is so important when it comes to the school system. It was instilled in me at a young age to be the fabric of a community,” she said.
She is also part of North Brunswick’s Return to School Committee, planning how to reopen schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said she wants to retain her seat on the school board because of her experience with great education in town.
“My family is fourth generation in North Brunswick Township. Many family members of mine have gone through the North Brunswick Township school system. My education from North Brunswick, an excellent one, is something I am most thankful for. It has set the precedence of who I am today.
“It feels natural for me to pursue this opportunity; I feel a sense of need to give back after everything the township has done for me and my family. The children of North Brunswick Township are my main priority. Each student in town deserves someone who will fight for them, while also focusing on the greater good of the community. I received a quality education from North Brunswick schools and I want the current and future students of North Brunswick to look back years from now and say the same,” she said.
Toth said she is focused on several issues related to “Education For Today, Tomorrow, and Always,” the motto of her campaign.
“We need to continuously provide a great quality education for all students, no matter if they face challenges or not. All students should receive the programs that they need; if we don’t have a program to fit their needs, we make one.
“As a current board member, my thirst for knowledge and bettering our programs for all is ever-flowing. We must continue to evolve our curriculum and programs no matter what our community or country faces. The ‘always’ part of my phrase is most important to me.
“Preparing students for the future outside of the North Brunswick school system is a huge focus of mine. The enriched quality programs North Brunswick provides certainly prepares students for their future endeavors. The Four Year Cohort Graduation Rate is as follows: 2017-80.9%, 2018-89.6%, 2019-91.5%, and 2020-93.0%. My focus will be to continue to increase the Four Year Cohort Graduation Rate,” she said.
She also said all students should be able to feel comfortable no matter what their race, religion or beliefs may be.
“North Brunswick is a very diverse community where all nationalities are accepted and have the freedom to showcase their cultures. Our diversity is a strength and no one culture or nationality should ever feel intimidated by who they are. Racial injustice will never be tolerated in any of our public schools. Staff and students should feel comfortable in their working and learning environments.
“From the very young pre-K through grade 12, I would like to establish a Race Relations Day where students can share the many aspects of their cultures to enhance their peers’ understanding of their identities. My focus is to bring more programs to the young at heart showcasing tolerance and diversity,” she said.
Toth also noted that many residents fall into the following categories: residents whose children have gone through the school system, elderly residents, young families whose children are not school-aged, and residents who don’t have children. It is imperative that these taxpayers become acquainted with the various roles of the North Brunswick Board of Education, she said.
“I feel as though sometimes these residents are not familiar and fully informed of what is happening in our schools. Our residents have a right as taxpayers to question, to seek and discuss educational happenings that our school system has.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, the township briefings are a great way to inform residents; we are fortunate to include our superintendent on these briefings everyday. We should continue to inform residents of the many wonderful accomplishments in our growing school system. Channel 15 and North Brunswick Township’s online platforms are a great way to broadcast information presented by our board members; this could happen quarterly after each marking period post COVID-19,” she said.
Election Day is Nov. 3. Registered voters will receive mail-in ballots, which can be mailed back via the U.S. Postal Service; dropped off at a secure dropbox; or brought to the county Board of Elections office, 11 Kennedy Blvd., East Brunswick.
A secure ballot dropbox has been installed at the township municipal building at 710 Hermann Road, outside the building’s main entrance. Middlesex County Board of Elections staff will empty the dropbox several times a week. The dropbox is secure and monitored by video surveillance. It is also handicap-accessible.
Polling locations will be extremely limited.
For more information regarding the 2020 General Election, visit www.middlesexcountynj.gov/Government/Departments/CS/Boardofelections/Pages/vote2020.aspx
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