Meet the Candidates: Haddon Heights BOE 2017


We invited school board candidates from each of our coverage areas to submit short biographies of themselves to inform voters ahead of the November 7 elections.

By Matt Skoufalos | November 1, 2017

This Election Day (November 7) Haddon Heights, like many towns in the area, has a contested school board election, with six candidates running for three open positions.** NJ Pen invited everyone on the ballot to share a little about themselves with voters. Here’s how they responded.

Jamie Alexander. Credit: Jamie Alexander.

Jamie Alexander (Incumbent)

Jamie Alexander is a mother of four and master’s degreed reading educator with a background in fundraising and budgeting.

She is seeking her second term on the Haddon Heights Board of Education.

What is your philosophy of education?

“My philosophy of education has changed very much in my years in the education field.

“When I was in college, I wrote a full-page, flowery, response to this same question.

“Though many of my passions for education remain the same today, my philosophy for education is simpler these days.

“I believe all children can learn when given the proper tools. It seems simplistic, but it is the essence of education. As a board member, I feel responsible for making sure that our educators and administration have the appropriate and necessary tools to help every single child in our district learn.”

Why would you like to serve on the Haddon Heights school board?

“I would like to serve on the HHBOE because I have a passion not only for my own children, but for all of the students that are served in the district. In my own experience as a mother, I have had children who were naturally academically inclined, some who needed special education services at times, and others who were considered average learners. As an educator, I knew how to advocate for the needs of my kids. As a board member, I get to advocate for more students. As a board member, I get to advocate for all students, and that is my passion.”

What are the biggest challenges for the Haddon Heights school district?

“I believe that the biggest challenge for most school districts is funding. With caps on spending that are state-mandated, it is always a challenge to create a successful budget. In Haddon Heights, we are often faced with the possibility of losing state aid. This is a huge challenge.

“Something that I am passionate about is avoiding cuts to the quality of education in the district. However, we have a cap on the surplus that we as a district are allowed to keep. The board’s answer to this challenge has been to get creative about revenue. We try to create additional revenue streams rather than make cuts. Keeping students and their needs at the forefront of what we do is the best answer to this challenge.”

What are the biggest strengths of the Haddon Heights school district?

“The greatest strength of the Haddon Heights school district is the passion and quality of educators. They are responsible for every success that the district sees. They work tirelessly for our students. I have had children at the elementary, middle and high school. I have also worked with many of our teachers on a professional level as a board member. I can unequivocally say that across all of those arenas, the quality of educators is stellar.”

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

“The key issue that I would continue to focus on would be continuing to work to ensure that we are a highly competitive district. I want Haddon Heights to be a destination for potential residents based simply on that fact that the performance of our schools is undeniable. This is a long-term commitment that I am making as a continuing board member and as a parent.

“We have all of the right pieces. We have outstanding educators, administrators and students. We need to focus on areas of weakness and work to convert them to strengths. This means continuing to analyze and compare test scores with state and competing districts as well as continuing to make sure that our programs are rigorous for students at all levels.”

Amy Lynch. Credit: Amy Lynch.

Amy Lynch (Challenger)

Seven-year Haddon Heights resident Amy Lynch is a former teacher and child advocate who works for The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing educational inequality in the public school system.

What is your philosophy of education?

“I believe that every child deserves an excellent education that maximizes their individual potential.

“It requires the full commitment of parents, district leaders, staff, and the community to make that a reality.”

Why would you like to serve on the Haddon Heights school board?

“For the past several years, I’ve been feeling a positive momentum building around improving Haddon Heights schools. There seems to be a sense of commitment to the idea that we can make our schools even better, and I am excited about being part of that. In addition, I feel I have the skills and experience to be an asset to the school board.

“I would bring over 17 years of diverse work experience in public education to the Haddon Heights Board of Education. In my professional work at TNTP, a national nonprofit founded to help public school systems end educational inequality and achieve their goals for students, I have collaborated with teachers, administrators, funders, and union leaders across the country. I have focused on strategic goal-setting and data-driven decision making and worked on projects with some of the largest school districts in the country. I bring experience with recruiting and selecting high quality teachers and analysis of union contracts.

“Prior to TNTP, I worked as a teacher and a child advocate/researcher in Baltimore, MD. I have committed my professional life to a deep belief in public education and that every child deserves a high-quality education.

“In addition to my professional experience, I am a mom to two kids, both students in Haddon Heights, and with my husband TJ, have been a resident of Haddon Heights for over seven years. I am an active community member and have been involved in the schools as a School Leadership Committee member, room parent, and volunteer. So I am invested personally in the success of Haddon Heights schools.

“I will work to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of kids. I will proactively solicit feedback from the community and our staff to ensure the district is prioritizing its limited budget effectively. I am knowledgeable, creative, hard-working and, regardless of the challenge, I will put students first.”

What are the biggest challenges for the Haddon Heights school district?

“One of the biggest challenges facing Haddon Heights is transforming from a good school district to an excellent, high performing district for all its students. We have many strengths and have the potential to be a top-notch district, among ‘districts to watch’ in the state, yet we continue to fall around average when you look at performance measures.

“To make this transformation, we need to prioritize academic rigor and putting students’ needs first with every decision. We should focus especially on the high school. Performance measures at the high school have been lower than the elementary level, and many local families choose private options when it comes time for high school. Choices are good, but we want to make sure people feel proud and excited about choosing Haddon Heights public schools.

“Because Haddon Heights High School is a ‘receiving school,’ it intakes students from Merchantville, Barrington, and Lawnside. The structure and culture of receiving schools are unique and should be treated as such to foster success. We need to be strategic about how we can not only meet all the needs of our diverse students as a receiving school, but excel in this unique structure, embracing the diversity it presents. We can look to other similar schools for lessons, and we can aim to create a model through our innovation.

“We need to use data to identify where achievement gaps exist and work relentlessly to close them so that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential in Haddon Heights school district.
This will be particularly challenging within a landscape of uncertain state funding and state testing and curricular constraints that are both daunting and evolving. As a district, we must be adaptable, and ready with innovative solutions. Students are counting on us.”

What are the biggest strengths of the Haddon Heights school district?

“We as a district have strong school cultures, caring school leaders and teachers, engaged families, a range of programs and resources, technology, dynamic music and arts programs, among other things. The schools in our district are generally safe learning environments. We have many talented educators, and we need to make sure we are celebrating and learning from their successes.”

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

“Three key issues I would focus on if elected are academic rigor, community engagement, and teacher workforce.

“To transform our district from good to an excellent, high performing district, we need to be thinking about opportunities to increase academic rigor. We must use data to determine where gaps currently exist and where we are falling short of goals. We must be innovative with solutions, bearing in mind the needs of 21st century learners, and act with a sense of urgency towards results for our students, looking at benchmarks throughout the year and adjusting course as needed.

“Secondly, we could do a lot more within this district in terms of authentic community engagement from the school board and leaders. I would focus on engagement of teachers, parents, and community members and listening to their needs and concerns. I’d love to see proactive communication about positive things going on in the district but also transparent messaging about challenges and opportunities for feedback. I commend the school leaders for their periodic use of surveys, but I think we can do more to make it feel like we have an open and transparent flow of communication from the board and leaders throughout the community.

“Finally, our number-one budget expenditure, and also our number-one predictor of student success, is our teacher workforce. We are a small district without a lot of teaching vacancies, but we can make a difference in the teacher workforce through fostering a strong culture among our current teaching staff, and being strategic about the hiring we need to do each year.

“We need an in-depth understanding of our current teacher workforce to help us develop a strategic plan to retain our best teachers and recruit strong new teachers as vacancies arise. Haddon Heights can be a destination district for teachers and staff who want to work with other high-performing educators, grow professionally and feel empowered and engaged, ultimately affecting student success.”

Danielle McKelvey-Teti. Credit: Danielle McKelvey-Teti.

Danielle McKelvey-Teti (Challenger)

Danielle McKelvey-Teti is a school counselor in Haddonfield and mother of two school-aged children in the Haddon Heights public school district.

McKelvey-Teti has a master’s degree in social work from Tulane University and a background in nonprofit work.

What is your philosophy of education?

“My philosophy of education is that all children, regardless of their individual combination of skills, abilities and challenges can succeed and reach their fullest potential.

“It is so important that schools support every child to excel because education is the gateway to life’s opportunities. Effective schools and high achieving districts ensure the following for students:

• A safe and nurturing school climate where all students feel welcome
• Highly qualified and skilled educators and support staff who are also compassionate and creative problem-solvers
• Strong and effective school leadership guided by bold and purposeful goals
• Dynamic programs, services and staff to support the changing social/emotional needs of students
• Community engagement and effective communication among all stakeholders engaged in the success of students.”

Why would you like to serve on the Haddon Heights school board?

“As a parent of two children in the Haddon Heights school district, I am committed to an excellent education for my own children and all of the students in our district. My professional career has been dedicated to improving the life experiences of children and families as a Social Worker and School Counselor for a combined 20 years.

“Both social work and school counseling focus on mobilizing the strengths of individuals, families and communities for success. For the past 10 years in Haddonfield, I advocate for students based on my core value that the social and emotional health of students is as important to their success as strong and rigorous academics.

“In addition to my experience as a public-school employee, I have provided direct service, program design and management, consensus building and collaboration, grant writing and community partnership development for non-profit programs in Philadelphia, Washington DC and New Orleans. I would love to contribute my experience and commitment to the students of Haddon Heights and be part of the leadership that that revolutionizes our district from good to outstanding.”

What are the biggest challenges facing the Haddon Heights school district?

“There are many indicators of school success from test scores and school report cards to a culture and climate of equity and inclusion that motivates all students to achieve their highest potential. Current indicators and attitudes identify Haddon Heights as a good district, but with some concerning current data related to the performance of the high school. I believe that the Haddon Heights school district can be among the highest-achieving school districts showcasing the outcomes of best practices that other schools want to model.

“We are challenged to ensure that our high school becomes a true example of equity for all of our students from Barrington, Lawnside, Haddon Heights and Merchantville.

“Haddon Heights also faces the ongoing challenge of managing the budget without a negative impact on programs and services for students. In the field of education, we know that students are our greatest and most valuable resource.

“If we support strong schools, both for out students and the benefits for the larger community, we must support competitive salaries to attract and retain highly qualified and effective teachers and support staff. Salaries and benefits account for a large portion of any school budget. However, maintaining highly qualified staff does not mean that the only option to address budget shortfalls is to limit spending on other programs and activities.”

What are the biggest strengths of the Haddon Heights school district?

“My children have had many positive experiences in our Haddon Heights schools. They have memories of exceptional years in classrooms; these are the years taught by highly qualified teachers demonstrating the power of talented instruction combined with a true commitment to creating lifelong learners. They have formed healthy friendships and been able to grow in a safe and nurturing environment.

“Our schools are a close-knit community where the teachers and staff get to know our students as individuals. We are fortunate to have the small class sizes that afford teachers the opportunity to form quality relationships with all students.

“The students, families and community are also a strength of our district. Students feel proud to be Garnets. Our families are invested in the quality of our schools and contribute tireless time and energy to support our schools. As just one example, the Haddon Heights PTG is continuously raising funds and providing quality events and programs for students.”

What are the key issues you would focus on if elected?

“The issue of equity for all students will always be a key issue for me as a person, parent, public school employee and hopefully a board member. Every student in every classroom in Haddon Heights, Barrington, Lawnside and Merchantville can excel.

“Diversity of background, belief, socioeconomic status, gender, race, religion, and academic ability is a strength that we must leverage to prepare our children for the global world they will inherit. If we celebrate the diversity among our student body and our communities, we model the acceptance and appreciation necessary for success not just as students, but citizens beyond high school.

“A primary function of the Board of Education is to set purposeful, results driven goals that are student centered. I would love to partner with current school leadership to tackle current challenges and diligently explore creative solutions to improve our district. If our current data indicates a shift in performance when comparing the elementary schools and the high school, it must be a priority for the district and the Board of Education to examine and address the achievement gap in partnership with all of the stakeholders invested in our students.

“We need more communication between the district and the parents/community.

“In order to strengthen programs, increase options and provide students with necessary opportunities and supports, schools need to diversify their sources of revenue beyond property taxes and state aid. This requires collaboration, innovative partnerships and alternative sources of funding. Current spending must be scrutinized to ensure that we are utilizing the most cost effective options.

“According to the American School Board Journal, ‘Districts must continue to find ways to save money and keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.’ This requires collaboration and commitment to ensure every option is explored. There are many grants available for schools. Money generated through grants support schools without raising tax dollars that are also not at the mercy of last minute changes in state funding. A plan to ensure that we were continuously researching and applying for grants would strengthen our district.”

Carrie Rotina. Credit: Carrie Rotina.

Carrie Rotina (Challenger)

Carrie Rotina is a mother of three, eight-year Haddon Heights resident, and has been an educator and teacher trainer for nearly 20 years.

What is your philosophy of education?

“All of us are individuals with an ever-changing array of strengths and challenges.

“These might work well at some stages and under certain circumstances, but not as well in others.

“As a teacher, I consistently try to observe the strengths in my students, and guide them in recognizing and using those strengths to overcome their challenges. This creates a positive learning community, empowers students, and takes the focus off of what to learn and places it on how to learn.

“If students are given the chance to discover their strengths and talk about their own learning, they, and their teachers, will never see themselves as struggling at certain points, but rather, needing a different approach or alternative strategies. This is what true facilitation and learning looks like to me.”

Why would you like to serve on the Haddon Heights school board?

“I have had close working relationships with the professionals involved in my children’s learning. I see a very devoted staff and highly-involved parents and community members. I have also had to work diligently with the district and other parents to help encourage the implementation of programs that have already been in effect successfully in surrounding districts.

“These include a piloted social skills program, an emerging math intervention program and counseling sessions to assist students with special needs and their peers. I am ready to take my involvement to the next level and contribute even more to the continued progress of our schools.”

What are the biggest strengths of the Haddon Heights school district?

“Our district’s biggest strength is the involvement and care shown by our community, families and staff. We can continue to encourage communication by opening up the discussion on important topics. We have to focus on the positive things already in place, and build on them to meet the needs of every one of our learners. We have the ability to study current issues, brainstorm solutions and then evaluate possible outcomes, before pushing important changes through.”

What are the biggest challenges for the Haddon Heights school district?

“Like many districts, one of our biggest challenges is meeting every student’s needs on a highly regulated budget. With some creative thinking and active research and discussion, we can overcome this challenge. First, we must continue making the best of the resources already in our schools. We must also be aggressive about grant acquisition, actively seeking grant funding that matches our needs.

“Additionally, there are free programs available, and we must encourage our students, parents, teachers, etc., to utilize them. Finally, a close working relationship with our municipality will help us stretch our dollars, have advocacy at the county and state levels and make decisions with the full community in mind.”

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

“As a board member, I’d like to focus on fostering an open line of communication among all stakeholders, making educational decisions that are student-centered and research-based and thinking creatively as we assess and allocate funds to maximize the learning experiences for all of our Pre-K through 12th-grade learners.”

Other Balloted Candidates

Also appearing on the ballot are incumbent board member Steve Beckas and challenger Barbara Newell.


**Editor’s Note: Candidates who did not respond to our request for information may opt to e-mail answers to our prompts along with a photograph as late as 9 a.m. Monday, November 6. We will not update these profiles beyond that time.

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