NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The three candidates running under the Students First banner said they would make transparency and accessibility their priorities if they are elected to the Board of Education.
Linda Stork, Jenifer Garcia Pelaez and Matthew Rivera touched on everything from the COVID-19 pandemic to the recent sale of Lincoln Annex School to how to help teachers do an even better job educating the district’s 10,000 or so students when they unfurled their platform during a virtual news conference on Friday,
Even the way the monthly board meetings are carried on Zoom (since the pandemic began about 13 months ago) and how they have historically been held in-person (at New Brunswick High School) were called into question.
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“First of all, I would want to see more transparency in the way that the board conducts its business,” Stork said. “So, immediately I would want to try to get all the meetings broadcast in Spanish and English. And, I would like to see maybe a more central location to have the meetings not always, always out at the high school for people to attend.”
Stork, Garcia Pelaez and Rivera are challenging incumbents Diana Solis, Jennifer Sevilla and Edward Spencer when New Brunswick residents go to the polls tomorrow. Solis is in her second year as Board of Education president.
Garcia Pelaez, 23, a 2015 graduate of New Brunswick High School, is a community organizer at a local worker center. She graduated from Middlesex County College with a degree in Liberal Arts and graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Labor Studies and Employment Relations.
Rivera, a New Brunswick resident since 2014, has served as a staff sergeant in the 108th Air National Guard Civil Engineering Squadron and graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Information Technology and Informatics.
Stork is a retired bilingual educator who served for more than 30 years in the New Brunswick school district. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board with two other running mates last year, when the main topic of discussion was the pending sale of Lincoln Annex.
The sale of the school to the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) was completed early this year, as first reported by TAPinto New Brunswick, and the building is in the process of being razed. The state’s first free-standing cancer hospital will be built on the site as part of RWJBarnabas’ $750 million project. While a replacement school is constructed on Jersey Avenue, the students will attend the Pathways Campus on Van Dyke Avenue.
Stork was critical of the Board of Education’s handling of the sale during Friday’s news conference and questioned why the board voted to go ahead with the sale after emerging from an executive session during a 2020 meeting.
“The fact that the community was trying to express their displeasure and being shut down. Ignored – we as people that were trying to bring up the issue as soon as we knew about it were told we were being divisive, and rumor mongering,” Stork said.
Stork, Garcia Pelaez and Rivera acknowledged that the school district moved quickly to distribute Chromebooks to thousands of students at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when virtual instruction began. However, as the district’s schools begin limited in-person instruction with an eye toward returning to pre-pandemic instruction in the fall, the Students First candidates are concerned about the toll the pandemic has taken on the students’ health and education.
“The first thing I would do if elected is speak to the community, see how they’re feeling right now because right now we’re at a vulnerable moment where many of the students in New Brunswick are going to school virtually,” Garcia Pelaez said. “We want to know what are the opinions of the students, and also the parents about returning to school, but also how we can help them. And as I’ve learned, that community knows best, so it’s best to speak to them first.”