Meet the Candidates: Collingswood School Board 2018


We invited candidates for the borough board of education to tell voters a little about themselves ahead of Election Day. Here’s how they responded. 

By Matt Skoufalos | October 23, 2018

On November 6, Collingswood voters will choose from among five balloted candidates for three seats on the borough Board of Education (BOE). Regan Kaiden is the only incumbent among them; the challengers include Christine Sheridan Celia, William Johnson, Danie Moss-Velasco, and Mary Saverino.

We invited each candidate to respond to the same set of prompts, telling voters about themselves, their priorities, and their views of the current state of the district. Here’s how they responded.

Christine Celia. Credit: Denise Guerin Images.

Christine Sheridan Celia, 49

Christine Celia is a 15-year Collingswood resident and practicing attorney of 25 years who also serves on the borough zoning board.

Celia volunteers with Girl Scouts, Collingswood Odyssey of the Mind, and St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish.

She and her husband, Frank, are parents of three school-aged daughters.

What is your philosophy of education?

“A meaningful and quality education does not and should not look the same for each child, and children on different paths must be provided the tools and opportunities to help them succeed.”

Why would you like to serve on the Collingswood school board?

“I am excited about our school district and the opportunities it offers to our children, and if elected, will work collaboratively with our teachers, administrators, the BOE, and the input of the entire Collingswood community to continue to move the district forward.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“Among the biggest challenges facing our district is the perennial problem of limited financial resources and making sure that those resources are responsibly directed to have the greatest impact, not only immediately, but looking forward into the future.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“Collingswood schools provide a wide array of academic, artistic and athletic programs for our students, and our caring and dedicated teachers and diverse, involved community are some of the biggest strengths we have as a district.”

What are three key issues on which you would focus if elected?

“Communication: If elected, I will work to foster greater communication between the administration, board, and the entire Collingswood community. Open and transparent communication allows all stakeholders to work together, and to use available resources to think creatively to not only solve problems and tackle issues, but to grow new programs and offer more opportunities for our students.

“Greater student support systems. I would reevaluate how the district addresses the needs of students with emotional and behavioral issues, and provide support and direction to their parents and caregivers who may not know where to turn to begin addressing these needs.

“Infrastructure and long-term planning. We must stay ahead of potential problems and continually re-evaluate long term goals for maintaining and updating the district’s assets.”

William Johnson. Credit: William Johnson.

William ‘Bill’ Johnson

A career scientist for more than 20 years, William Johnson holds a degree in chemistry and business.

Johnson has lived in Collingswood for 14 years, and volunteers with the borough recreational soccer club, swim team, and girls travel soccer.

A father of five, he enjoys paper folding and ironman triathlon competitions.

What is your philosophy of education?

“With five very unique children, I realized a long time ago that there is not a cookie-cutter approach to ‘growing’ your children’s talents and strengths. Some need to be coached; others need to be challenged. They choose different routes to become happy adults.

“Our goal for our children should embrace a variety of educational experiences– including vocational, technical, and social/emotional. We should teach them life skills, such as resilience and perseverance, coupled with character to prepare them with the skills they need to become responsible citizens.”

Why would you like to serve on the Collingswood school board?

“I’m running to provide effective leadership on the BOE in order to best position our children to receive a well-rounded education of arts, academics, and athletics that prepares them for the global workplace.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“One of the biggest challenges is the variances within our student learning outcomes. Within a month I heard two pieces of information: tests scores dropping at one of our local schools and national recognition at another elementary school. Although there’s cause to celebrate, simultaneously, I find it disheartening that a segment of our population is slipping. We shouldn’t be satisfied.

“Like many districts, we are resource-challenged. We need to think of innovative ways to cover gaps. Why not use green and sustainable practices as a tool to not only save money but also to teach our children this important technology?

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“We have an enthusiastic supportive parental base, a key indicator for a successful student. I see it on the soccer field: our parents love and support our kids. Also, we have a dedicated staff of very smart, resourceful, and committed teachers.

“Our diverse population provides us with a forum to teach an appreciation of inclusion. Those three factors make an effective powerful combination to producing life-long learners.”

What are three key issues on which you would focus if elected?

“First, I believe we should create key performance indicators to allow us to determine if we are on the right track now and in the future. Second, we should also perform true benchmarking with other schools using these key indicators.

“Lastly, we need to have a vehicle to effectively engage with our community partners, including the borough, the senior population, and the traditional and non-traditional students.”

Regan Kaiden. Credit: Stephen Langdon Photography.

Regan Kaiden, 39

Incumbent board member Regan Kaiden is a former educator and mother of three, school-aged children.

Kaiden began her career as a literacy teacher with Teach for America, and has taught middle- and high-school history.

She was first elected to the Collingswood Board of Education in 2015.

What is your philosophy of education?

“What I wish for all students is an education that truly prepares them to be healthy and productive members of their chosen communities, in their careers, and in life.

“To me, that means they’ll get an education that’s not just academically focused, but socially and emotionally focused as well.

“I want our students to be actively engaged and challenged at school, with hands-on, collaborative learning experiences that will serve them well in the real world. And I want the adults they encounter in and out of the classroom to be great role models for what it means to be a life-long learner.”

Why would you like to serve on the Collingswood school board?

“In my three years as a board member, I saw the need for and helped develop the community engagement committee, I initiated our current equity conversations, and have learned that consensus and compromise are critical to achieve any board goals. But my work is not done, and that is why I am running for re-election.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“One of our district’s biggest challenges will always be our limited resources coupled with our unlimited needs and wants. The key to this is having a board and administration that can manage our finances responsibly, while also engaging in creative strategies to fill in some of those gaps.

“[These can include] shared-services agreements with neighboring districts, to taking advantage of new initiatives offered through the state, such as universal pre-K expansion, to harnessing the power of parent and community volunteers to enhance extracurricular opportunities.

“The other constant challenge for our district is working to achieve equity in all of our schools. Answering the question of how we ensure every student is getting what they need to be successful is not a simple one, but I am proud to be the driving force behind the equity discussions that the Board undertook this year. This led to the development of an equity committee composed of parents, teachers, board members, administrators, and community members to tackle these difficult issues.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“Hands-down, our district’s two greatest strengths are the caring, hard-working community of teachers, staff and administrators who treat each other and their students more like a family than simply work colleagues or students, and our energetic parent community with their broad array of strengths and talents to offer. Harnessing their enthusiasm and building on the wonderful culture of volunteerism in this town will only make our schools stronger.”

What are three key issues on which you would focus if elected?

“Equity: My goal is to ensure the district’s new equity committee is productive and effective at creating and achieving concrete long-term and short-term plans that will bring the district closer to achieving equity for our students.

“Community engagement: The board must continue its work regaining the community’s trust and support through enhanced, efficient communication, more open discussion amongst board members at public meetings, and launching Community Conversations, where board members engage with and, most importantly, listen to the community about issues that are important to them.

“Pre-K Expansion Program: This is such an exciting initiative that could be game-changing for so many families in town. What an excellent example of bringing equity to our schools! However, it is important that we get this right and keep up the momentum to grow the program so that it is open to as many students as possible.”

Danie Moss-Velasco. Credit: Danie Moss-Velasco.

Danie Moss-Velasco, 40

Danie Moss-Velasco is a 20-year classroom teacher, a university professor of Spanish, and a medical and legal interpreter.

What is your philosophy of education?

“I think the BOE exists to support excellence in learning with coherent policy.

“What does that excellence look like?

“Our job as educators is to motivate and inspire students by providing them with connections between what they are learning and their own current reality, while knowing that their reality will eventually change.

“So, they also need the analytical, philosophical and emotional skills, as well as creative thinking and problem-solving strategies to be able to adapt to those new and ever-changing realities long after they are out of our classrooms and districts.

“That is why it is so vital that we promote, support, and develop school programming and curriculum that integrates multi-disciplinary content, provides cultural competency, and gives students the chance to explore, express and test their ideas in a variety of ways and contexts.”

Why would you like to serve on the Collingswood school board?

“I have been a classroom teacher for 20 years, I know that is where the magic happens, and I have seen it happen in Collingswood with my own children. But I also know that it is difficult to create that magic day after day when policy, budgets and red tape give teachers too many hoops to jump through.

“I am hoping that my perspective as a former K-12 classroom teacher, current university instructor, specialist in the use of instructional technology, and project designer can help to align policy with effective practice.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“I don’t see challenges as innately bad things or signals of something being wrong. I see them as areas for growth. The biggest challenge that our district faces, ironically comes from the source of our biggest strength: the diversity of interests among our constituents.

“Our community represents many different backgrounds, ways of living, ways of seeing the world, and visions for the future. Our challenge is to create a school community and curriculum that addresses this wide variety of interests, and to put that diversity to work for us. To do that, we need a more representative group of people making decisions and giving input.

“We need to move beyond a patchwork of open possibilities, and integrate those interests into the mainstream curricular and extra-curricular model. For example, with such an important Spanish-speaking population, we should have advanced courses for native and heritage speakers, giving them the opportunity to further develop their language and branch out into high-demand bilingual professions, increasing the engagement and success rate of our AP courses, and guaranteeing significant college credit in the future.

“Further examples include the literally hundreds of students that choose to participate in theater opportunities throughout the year in Collingswood through CMS & CHS theater, Collingswood Youth Theater and Collingswood Community theater. There is clearly an interest that supersedes the 1.5 months dedicated to each group’s production.

“Theater increases ability in reading, writing, knowledge of literature and public speaking, not to mention emotional intelligence and technical skills. These are objectives that we spend an immense amount of time and resources trying to motivate students’ further interest and achievement in. We have a pre-approved, student-centered approach at our fingertips!”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“Education is already a priority for our community. That makes the job of improving it infinitely easier. Due to the multiple ways of reaching out to the community that are already in place, the BOE has the advantage of being able to hear the concerns, feedback and suggestions that its constituents have to offer.

“The diversity of people and ideas represented in Collingswood is the main reason I am here, and I know that is the case for many of my neighbors. It is absolutely essential that children grow up exposed to and engaged with a variety of people, cultures, languages and worldviews.

“They need to develop a healthy, realistic and productive idea of why and how things work, as well as the motivations and needs of others, in order to know how they can and should contribute to their community. There is no greater advantage than to have the ability to do this every time you walk out your front door.”

What are three key issues on which you would focus if elected?

“I would like to focus on increasing the rigor of our language classes and offerings, and by extension, increasing the number of students testing for AP and CLEP college credit. We have the diversity; now let’s put it to work.

“I would like to see our budget re-assessed at a fundamental level. Not line items, but philosophy. Does the money we spend and how we spend it, really reflect our values, goals and priorities as a community?

“My time as a teacher, and inevitably that of my colleagues in the district, is much better spent devising projects and educational experiences than prepping for standardized tests designed by those not in the classroom, and not receiving students in the workforce after graduation; therefore, with little to no perspective on what real learning looks like.

“I would very much like to see less of a focus on standardized testing and more on allowing our teachers to work their magic!”

Mary Saverino. Credit: Denise Guerin Images.

Mary Saverino, 43

Mary Saverino is a 17-year Collingswood resident and schoolteacher of nearly 20 years.

Saverino began her teaching career in Pennsylvania, and has spent the last 15 years of it in the Cherry Hill school district.

She and her husband, Art, are raising two school-aged children. Saverino is an avid reader and baker, and volunteers as a coach with Collingswood Odyssey of the Mind.

What is your philosophy of education?

“Every child deserves an education that engages them and prepares them for future endeavors. This philosophy has been shaped by my time in the classroom as well as my experience with my own children.

“Children are unique, and attempting to see them as a number, or using a random metric to measure their success, fails to acknowledge their individual abilities. We absolutely need to have high standards, and it is our responsibility to ensure that every child is able to reach them and fulfill their full potential.”

Why would you like to serve on the Collingswood school board?

“I bring a unique skillset to the board. As an educator, I am acutely aware of the daily challenges facing students and teachers, as well as current educational issues. As a teacher who advocates daily for her students, I understand that being the loudest one in the room is not the way to be heard, and that teachers often serve as the bridge between parents and administration.

“I also have the perspective of a parent in the district, and have seen all of the good that the district has to offer, and have also been frustrated by some of its shortcomings. I am a consensus-builder who is able to recognize there is more than just one perspective on most issues. This, I believe, would be most beneficial for the Collingswood BOE and our town.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“The biggest challenges that the Collingswood school district faces are its ability to engage with the community, lack of funding by the state, and its difficulty in addressing the needs of all of its students. While the school district communicates often with parents, it is the quality of those messages that are of importance.

“Parents need to have access to meaningful information. Furthermore, our town deserves clear and open channels of communication, including with those members of our community that do not have children in our schools. Funding issues and education are nothing new, but something that need to be re-examined often to make sure that every avenue is explored to fully fund our schools and the many meaningful programs that occur both within and outside of the classroom.

“This lack of funding encourages the idea that only specific students should benefit from services. We need to reexamine the way that resources are allocated, and not assume because something has always been done one way that is the only way.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“The biggest strengths of the Collingswood school district are its teachers, its engaged community, and the unique opportunities that exist for its students. In order to have a quality school district, you have to have dedicated, thoughtful and effective educators, and Collingswood definitely has that.

“As a parent, I have many personal examples of amazing teachers who have positively impacted my children, and I know from speaking with others that every parent has the same experience.

“The array of clubs, sports and arts programs that are available to our students is amazing. There is a great foundation upon which to build. Since moving to Collingswood, I am continually reminded that members of the community are not only interested in the schools and town, but work to make sure that both are growing and thriving. This is what makes Collingswood such a special place to live.”

What are three key issues on which you would focus if elected?

“Communication: As an observer of issues regarding the school, as well as a parent, effective communication is something that needs to be addressed immediately. One area that I would focus on would be to streamline communication from teachers so that parents would be able to clearly understand assignments, due dates and grades.

“Another area where communication should be reworked is with regards to information regarding school events. While every parent is understanding of last-minute tweaks due to weather or unforeseen circumstances, providing parents with up-to-date calendars and enough advance time will only increase attendance at these events and foster the home-school connection.”

“Transparency: In order for all community members to feel heard and valued, it is imperative the board of education is completely transparent. Issues facing the school district are issues facing the town. Thus, all community members need to be heard and incorporated into part of the solution.”

“Support of teachers and staff: Recognizing that teachers and staff are tasked with caring for and educating our children, they deserve our complete support and encouragement.

“We should give them professional development opportunities, which will not only ensure that they are familiar with the most current ideas and technology, but will also translate into high quality education for our children.

“In addition, teachers and staff are acutely aware of what is working in our schools and what needs to be changed to better meet the needs of our children. We should ask for and value their input.”

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