#schoolsafety | Take Five: Westfield School Board Candidate Robert Garrison

WESTFIELD, NJ — There are seats opening up on the Westfield Board of Education and Patch caught up with the candidates ahead of the general election this November.

Questionnaires were sent out out to all candidates registered with the County Clerk’s Office in the 2019 general election using the email addresses they went on file with. The responses will be posted on the site by those who submitted in the order in which they were received. They will also be included in an election preview wrap.

This Take Five features Robert Garrison. His responses to the questions are below and unedited.

1. Why are you running for office?

I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve on the school board for the past 3 1/2 years and thankful for the Board Members who saw fit to appoint me the seat left vacated by in January. Taxpayers deserve a strong public school system. During my time on the board, I have championed three main issues: encouraging sound fiscal stewardship, improving communications and community engagement, and making our schools a safer place for everyone. I believe that great things are happening in our schools, but that there is room to make them even better!

I look forward to the opportunity to continue to collaborate with stakeholders — from faculty, administrators, and fellow board members to parents, students, and residents — to create opportunities, fix problems, and promote academic excellence and achievement for ALL Westfield students.

2. What is the biggest challenge you see facing your community and how will you address it?

Safety & security. We live in a world that has drastically changed over the last few years. Our own District witnessed this firsthand in June. The incident of an armed trespasser was earth shattering and sobering for many. We are fortunate that the Westfield School District has always been vigilant in staying on top of safety and security issues. In the past three years we have more than doubled our efforts both in terms of policies and spending capital dollars on enhancing school safety and security. The District has installed safety windows, new high-tech cameras, state-of-the-art communications systems in each classroom, new security doors, and continued training of teachers and staff. It is that preparedness, along with the amazing and heroic efforts of the Westfield Police Department, that help avert a potential tragic situation.

3. What three words would you use to describe yourself to someone who never met you?

Honest. Dedicated. Experienced.

4. What experience in your background has prepared you to be an effective leader?

No training in the world can prepare you to serve as a school board member. I should know because I thought that my 20 years experience in public administration, public finance, and working with school districts would allow me to walk in knowing everything. I admit that I was wrong. I quickly realized that I needed to hit the books and I did. I regularly attend classes and seminars offered by the New Jersey School Boards Association. To that end, I recently became a Certified New Board Member which fewer that 10% of school members achieve.

I take my role on the school board very seriously and I will always put the well-being of students and taxpayers first.

5. Tell me something about you like hobbies or interests, that have nothing to do with the campaign.

When I ran for the school board last year, I opened up about my experiences growing up a foster child. I was extremely fortunate in having teachers and others take me under their wings and mentor me. Nearly twenty-five years ago I decided to pay in forward by joining the board of the NJ Community Development Corporation in Paterson. To quote their website: “NJCDC is a private, non-profit community development and social service agency focusing on education, youth development, housing, and community building initiatives.” I spend many hours volunteering my time and leadership on after school programs, building and cleaning playgrounds, and helping rebuild neighborhoods. I am most proud of assisting in the creation of a program for aging-out foster children.

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