Campaigning for the final open seat of the November Board of Education elections has reached the write-in stage. We present the biographies of four hopefuls.
By Matt Skoufalos
As we reported in August, the Collingswood Board of Education will have an open position on its ballot at the polls this November. Incumbents Madalyn Deets and Fiona Henry will seek re-election, but board vice-president Joan Smith is retiring, leaving available three seats for which only two candidates have filed.
That leaves it up to voters to determine their selections for the job. Any third nominee must be hand-written at the polls, and at least four borough residents are throwing their hats in the ring. They have offered their resumes and some responses to a handful of prompts from NJ Pen, which we share with you here in the interests of public information.
If any other candidates wish to submit their information for consideration, we offer equal space to them as well. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Christopher Binder, 31
Biography: Binder is a lifelong Collingswood resident and 2001 graduate of Collingswood High School. He earned an associate’s degree at Camden County College while operating his family’s small business. Binder has spent the past three years as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
A passionate golfer, Binder volunteers with the Golf Association of Philadelphia and currently holds a +1.5 handicap index. He and his wife, Amber, an ABA therapist, are expecting their first child.
Have you ever held public office? No.
Philosophy of education: “I believe in setting high standards. I believe in a personalized learning experience for every student. And I believe in our teachers. Every child within our school system needs and deserves a secure, caring, and stimulating environment in which they can grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, and socially. If chosen to sit on our school board, I will charge myself with demanding this environment is in place.”
Why would you like to serve on the school board? “I am a product of [the Collingswood]school system, and believe that every child should have access to a quality education in a safe environment. I am now at a point in my life where I have the time and freedom to give back to the community that has given so much to me. Also, as an expecting father, I want to do everything I can now to ensure my child has access to the highest-quality education we can provide.”
What are the biggest challenges for Collingswood schools? “Although we have seen standardized test scores trend up in recent years, the district still finds itself below the proficiency level for the district factor group. They should be better. A very alarming piece of information I read recently is the gap between minority and non-minority students. Although the spread has narrowed a bit, this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.”
What are the biggest strengths of Collingswood schools? “Collingswood has had and continues to have a dedicated staff of faculty and teachers. Whether it was Mr. Maroldo at Tatem Elementary pushing me to improve my math skills, or my golf coach Jack McConnell teaching me what teamwork is all about, we have a great group of people who care and give direction to our student body. If we can continue to progress, I am certain that this will not only be a school system in which I am confident to send my child, but my grandchildren as well.”
Biography: Craig grew up “surrounded by educators”—her mother is a principal, and five of her neighbors were administrators, among them her own high school principal. This environment instilled “a deep belief in public education and a desire to make sure that the options afforded my family were also available to others.”
After graduating Penn State with bachelor’s degrees in International Politics and Religious Studies, Craig joined Teach For America, through which she taught third through fifth-grade elementary school students, and has spent the past five years as a director of teacher leadership development.
Craig also holds a master’s degree from Rutgers in Library and Information Sciences. She and her husband, Matt, welcomed a son to their family last year.
Have you ever held public office? “I have never held public office, but have been interested specifically in serving on a local school board for years. I have asked myself repeatedly if now is the time to step up to the plate, and each time the answer is yes. As my son grows (too fast), my sense of urgency and conviction around public education is what spurs me to run as a write-in.”
Philosophy of education: “In my work, I see many styles of educating and hear so many thoughts on how we should be teaching our kids. I’ve come to learn that as strategies shift, curriculum changes, and new ‘fixes’ arise, certain things need to remain in the equation. We must always focus on educating the whole child in ways that are developmentally appropriate and responsive to students’ needs and identities.
“This could mean many different things, and in my opinion, that’s ok. What can’t happen is a hyper-focus on the testing, just math and reading, or the newest education fad. Although these things aren’t inherently bad—an actually play a significant role in what I believe is the best version of public education—there must be a balance that still allows for curiosity, creativity, and joy to flourish.”
Why would you like to serve on the school board?“I deeply believe that if I want our schools to be the best versions of themselves, I cannot wait and expect others to make change. I myself must step up to offer solutions.”
What are the biggest challenges for Collingswood schools? “The district should be held accountable to students and parents to make sure that decisions are made in the best interest of our number one asset: our kids. Teachers should have advocates and supports to help them best navigate the dynamics of our current education landscape. I deeply believe that this will address some of the gaps in performance, and better prepare our students for a world that is dramatically different from the one just 10 years ago.
“New Jersey has one of the top public education systems in the country, and my goal is to ensure that Collingswood continues to strive to be among the top schools in the state. I have too often heard people leaving our great town because they feel the school system cannot meet the needs of their children. As a community, it is our responsibility to ensure all kids receive the best education possible.”
What are the biggest strengths of Collingswood schools? “The Collingswood community is one of the greatest strengths of its schools. It is rich in so many ways, with a diversity of culture, thought, and perspective that creates a more well-rounded experience for our students.
“This diversity, which sets it apart from neighboring towns, is one of the main reasons my husband and I chose to raise our family here. As an institution, our district should maximize this strength, highlight it, and use it to engage our children in deepening their understanding of themselves, their community, and their world.”
William Deitz, 42
Biography: Deitz, a Camden City schoolteacher and the oldest of three children, graduated Collingswood High School in June 1990 and Rutgers in 1994, with dual majors in English and Child Psychology. He returned to the borough in 2006 to raise his adopted daughter in the same school district his nieces and nephew still attend.
As a teacher, Deitz concentrates on literacy instruction. He serves on the Camden City school curriculum steering committee, and has chaired his department for 15 of his 20 years in education. Deitz also spent six years as an adjunct professor at Rowan University, is a nationally certified professional developer, and has spent the last three years as a Model Classroom Teacher under the Children’s Literacy Initiative of Philadelphia.
A single father, Deitz describes himself as an avid reader, movie buff, baker, and gardener who enjoys spending time with his extended family and child.
Have you ever held public office? “I have never held office before, but I am excited to represent the parents and students of our town.”
Why would you like to serve on the school board? “I think that in order to have a balance in the output of the board, there should be someone with a strong educational background and a thorough understanding of current best practices.
“I would also like to serve on the board to represent the families, parents, teachers, and students in this town and its schools. I have no political ties, and there seem to be enough of that on the board. I just want to roll my sleeves up and make things better than ever.”
What is your philosophy on education? “Every child has the right to a high-quality education in a safe and challenging school environment that encourages problem-solving and free thinking. Every child, no matter the route, deserves to have the chance to learn to read, and reach his or her highest potential.”
What are the biggest challenges for Collingswood schools? “A lot of the challenges facing our schools are minute things that can be fixed in order to raise the ranking of our high school. The biggest issue at the high-school level is student safety. We must create a safe environment for learning to occur.
“We need more honors and AP classes to get our students ready for college and/or life, and to expose every student to the possibility of his or her future in college. We also need to increase opportunities for extracurricular activities to give students applying to college a stronger application.
“I do think we need to strengthen our address checks for inbound students, and expand the offerings for the students we have who want to learn. Combined, these items will all raise the achievement bar and the ranking of our schools. This will in turn provide more open doors for the graduates of our high school, whatever path they choose to lead.”
What are the biggest strengths of Collingswood schools? “The biggest strengths of Collingswood schools are the parents and the teachers. I have seen them united to help the students of this town. Our teachers teach! They are strong in educational beliefs and best practices.
“This town’s other biggest asset is the families that live here and support the schools. Parental involvement in Collingswood has always been the backbone of our successes. I think it’s time that we had more say.”
Robert Lewandowski, 45
Biography: A father of three and longtime Collingswood volunteer, Lewandowski is a U.S. Navy veteran who works as the communications director for the Laborers’ International Union of North America and as an adjunct professor.
Lewandowski holds a master’s degree in Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree from Rowan University. He serves on the Collingswood Planning Board and is an organizer with the Collingswood Education Foundation and other municipal and school-related activities.
Lewandowski credits a belief in civics as influencing his attitude of volunteerism. “Virtually my entire career has been built on the notion that working together, and not in opposition, works best,” he said.
Have you ever held public office before? “I have never run for public office but have a long history of public service. I am a member of the Collingswood Planning Board, overseeing land-use issues in the borough. I have a great deal of additional public-sector leadership, including prior service on the Rowan University Board of Trustees and as president of the Rowan University Alumni Association. I am also a Lead-NJ fellow, a group that explores policy issues in New Jersey and seeks to create solutions.”
Why would you like to serve on the school board? “When good, community-minded parents ask if their children will be properly served at the middle-school and high-school levels, or at certain elementary schools, it tells me two things. First, we must find ways to improve academic achievement and expand educational opportunity for all students. Second, the district isn’t doing enough to share the positive things happening at our schools.
“I am running because I believe the path to better schools lies not through 11 school board members, but through collaboration among teachers, staff, elected officials, and most of all, our community.”
What is your philosophy on education? “On a personal level, I think we must help kids become lifelong learners. They should be creative and curious, with strong critical thinking skills, and willingness to try things regardless of whether they succeed or fail.
“Even more than that, kids need to feel secure and supported. It is tough to learn if you suffer from hunger, an abusive home life, or neglect. Our kids are always learning, even outside of school. For at-risk children, more than seven hours of quality schooling is needed.
“Policy-wise, there are three main points I want to convey to voters; things that speak to our aspirations for better schools with a healthy dose of realism. Positive change will require hard work. It needs more than an end goal, but also a means to get there.
- Let teachers teach. Teaching to the test deprives students. We must give teachers the chance to teach and students the opportunity to learn and be inspired.
- Involve the community. We must foster a stronger collaborative approach among the school board, teachers, staff, and community members.
- Maximize our resources. We cannot tax and spend our way to better schools. We must be resourceful and think creatively to achieve academic excellence.”
What are the biggest challenges for Collingswood schools? “An unlimited amount of wants and needs and limited resources to meet those wants and needs.”
What are the biggest strengths of Collingswood schools? “Great kids, caring faculty, committed parents, and a supportive community. That said, we can do even better.”
The featured image of this story is entitled “Vote.” Credit: Theresa Thompson. https://goo.gl/3XnaXJ