Meet the Candidates: Haddon Heights 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 25, 2018

On November 6, Haddon Heights voters will choose from among six balloted candidates for three seats on the borough Board of Education (BOE). Incumbent president Kimberly Stuart and board members Tina Gentile and Trish Sheilds are seeking re-election. They’ll face challengers David Roeber, David Clapper, and Melissa Shannon.

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 (edited for clarity and length).

David Clapper. Credit: David Clapper.

David Clapper, 43

Asset investment manager David Clapper is an eight-year Haddon Heights resident and the married father of two school-aged children.

Clapper is an active member at his family church, enjoys the outdoors, and coaches his kids’ sports teams.

What’s your philosophy of education?

“My parents were both educators, and they helped shape my philosophy of education.

“I believe that every student, regardless of their personal ability, should have the opportunity to achieve their individual academic goals, and I believe that it is the job of the school district to provide them with the opportunity and encouragement to do this.

“I also believe that parents, in addition to teachers, play a vital role in helping students to achieve these goals.”

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

“My wife Megan and I moved to Haddon Heights in 2010 not only because we loved the small-town feel, but also because we knew that our children would receive a strong education in our public schools. I believe it is time for me to use my energy and skills to advance the Haddon Heights school district.

“I’m committed to using my skills and experience to help our district ensure that all of the students in our schools have the opportunity to achieve their academic goals. My background as a financial professional has positioned me well to serve the board in the area of fiscal responsibility.

“I believe that I have the ability to see issues from multiple vantage points, and this skill has helped me navigate tough situations on other boards on which I have served. This will be helpful to me while working through the multiple challenges that face our school board.

“Throughout my work career, I have often been tasked with communicating investment decisions to investors and other stakeholders. Effective communication is a necessary component of a school board because explaining decisions and issues to parents and the community with transparency is highly important.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“Our Board of Education recently announced that it was considering a switch to grade-level schools. There is significant disagreement among town residents and parents regarding whether this is something that should be considered.

“The most recent NJ Monthly School Ranking (Haddon Heights was 219 out of 305 schools), the most recent NJ School Performance Summary Report, and the summarized PARCC results for our district show some troubling results for portions of our entire district and also particularly as it relates to our high school.

“Our district superintendent and the Board of Education have provided some thoughts on why these results may not present a true picture of the performance of our district; however, since these results are some of the few true measuring sticks by which we can compare the performance of our district to other districts, I believe we need to evaluate what these results mean, and consider how we can improve.

“As with a lot of other schools in our nation, school security and student safety is a big concern for Haddon Heights. We are in the process of hiring a School Resource Officer to help address this concern, but there are many other considerations, including inequities among our elementary schools on things like the appropriate security measures surrounding entrance to our schools.

“Haddon Heights is a high-school receiving district for Lawnside, Barrington, and Merchantville, and this has continually presented certain challenges when it comes to our school budget. Fluctuations in the amount of students that come to Haddon Heights can create deficits and surpluses that make budgeting difficult. In the past, it has led the administration and the school board to ask voters to approve increases over the 2-percent soft cap.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“I firmly believe that our district has many exceptional teachers. I know this from my personal experiences and from the numerous testimonials I’ve heard from other parents and community members.

“I also believe we as parents in our district care deeply about our children’s education. I see this in my conversations with fellow parents, in the attendance of school events, and I believe you can also see this in the extremely high attendance levels at our schools (the most recent NJ School Performance Summary Report categorized our junior-senior high school as “excelling” in the area of Chronic Absenteeism because only 1.9% of the students miss more than 10 percent of school days).

“In addition, the music and art programs in our district are exceptional, which I believe assists in helping to create well-rounded students.”

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

“I’ve been a financial professional for 20 years, and feel that one key area in which I can help our board is in understanding our budget, and helping our administrators to create a new multi-year strategic plan that informs the annual goals, priorities, and budget for the district, and considers both best practices and economic realities.

“As I’ve previously noted, our district has unique financial challenges, and I think that I can add value in this area based on my skillset.

“I would like to understand why the most recent NJ School Performance Summary Report and recent PARCC scores seem to indicate that some of our students are struggling, and assist our administration in setting clear, measurable, data-driven goals for the district to address this concern.

“I would like to help our school board improve our transparency and effective public communication.”

Tina Gentile. Credit: Tina Gentile.

Tina Gentile, 37

Tina Gentile is a masters-degreed special education teacher of 15 years in the Mount Laurel school district.

A 10-year Haddon Heights resident and married mother of two, Gentile and her family own Local Links Market Café on Station Avenue.

She is a longtime community volunteer, elementary school room parent, and spends her free time enjoying borough events.

What is your philosophy of education?

“Every child counts. Our children are our best investment.

“They are individuals who are moved and motivated by the opportunities they are given to encounter the world around them. It is the responsibility of our schools and families to work together to meet each child where they are, and offer them the tools they can use to grow, maximizing their potential.”

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

“Many issues school districts are facing require innovative solutions. These solutions should keep student achievement, and fiscal responsibility at their core. I keep abreast of education research, and have led differentiation workshops to guide teachers in understanding and meeting student needs.

“My professional knowledge of student programming for achievement, Response to Intervention (RTI) services, teacher accountability, and professional development are pivotal in making decisions as a board member for Haddon Heights’ students.”

What are the biggest challenges the district faces?

“There are many challenges that schools are facing. Some of them include making the most of budget dollars, upgrading and maintaining buildings and infrastructure, as well as using clear communication to articulate goals to the public.

“Communication is currently a challenge for Haddon Heights. District officials and families should have a consistent, streamlined approach to addressing and solving problems. Stakeholders should be well informed of proposals that impact student schedules, and school administrators should be adequately prepared to solve concerns students are experiencing.

“Clear, open communication can bring families and schools together, with a common goal of implementing initiatives that are best for students.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“The dedicated staff of Haddon Heights is a notable strength. Small class sizes make it possible for teachers to personalize learning for students, and address the needs of the whole individual.

“In addition, our parental involvement is an asset. Parent-teacher collaboration is the foundation in which we raise our expectation of students, schools and academic performance.”

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

“Property: Haddon Heights has charming old school buildings. The maintenance, and upkeep of infrastructure can be costly. By investigating government programs that work to offset costs, and by eliciting information from an energy audit, our schools would be able to make responsible upgrades.

“Safety: Students must feel safe in their environment in order for learning to take place. I believe we have safe neighborhoods, and safe schools. However, diligence is key. This year, our schools introduced the addition of a School Resource Officer—a large step forward. There are additional measures that can continually be evaluated to heighten security. I will continue to advocate for safety upgrades at each building.

“Academic Achievement: I will work with school officials to streamline curriculum and programming in order to meet student needs. When students of all ages have opportunities for leading their learning, they become empowered and excited about their encounters.

“Families and administrators should have a clear, united vision about the path of progress. Haddon Heights needs to make strides in programming in order for student achievement to rise to the next level. With strong leadership and an eye to the future, every child will benefit.”

David Roeber.Credit: David Roeber.

David Roeber

Private-practice attorney David Roeber is a nine-year Haddon Heights resident and married father of four school-aged children.

His wife Meredith is a former teacher and a fourth-generation graduate of Haddon Heights High School.

Roeber also serves as the lead attorney for the UrbanPromise Legal Clinic in Camden.

What is your philosophy of education?

“All students should receive the best education the community can afford.

“That education should be carefully tailored for each student in accordance with their needs.”

Why would you like to serve on the board of education?

“The school board has an integral role to play in overseeing the district’s pursuit of academic excellence and equity, diversity and inclusion, high-quality instruction, and open communication.

“An effective school board has a variety of skill sets. I believe that my board governance and legal experience will give me a fresh perspective on the work of the school board and on the goals and policies for the school district.”

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

“The school district should adopt a new, multi-year strategic plan that informs the annual goals, priorities, and budget, and considers both best practices and economic realities. Any strategic planning should be collaboratively produced with significant input from students and families, administrators, educators, and consultants or experts.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“The school district has excellent teachers and a community that is actively engaged in the dialogue regarding the quality of the district.”

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

“First, in connection with strategic planning, the school board should be setting clear, measurable, data-driven goals and priorities for the district, and should hold administrators responsible for achieving those goals.

“Focus on any key issues (student achievement gaps, academic equity, limited financial resources, diversity and inclusion, teacher compensation and retention, changing technology, facilities maintenance, etc.) should flow from well-defined goals and priorities that have been established with meaningful community involvement and buy-in.

“Second, the school board must prioritize transparency and effective public communication. This includes understandable information about (among other things) student progress and budget performance. Any significant proposal affecting the school district must be evaluated within the context of the district’s clear goals and priorities, and, again, with meaningful community involvement. The community’s confidence and trust in the school board is crucial.

“Third, I believe that the school board should perform a rigorous self-assessment in order to evaluate its own effectiveness in assuring that the school district is well-run, and that it is appropriately representing the concerns of the community and the school district. The board has an essential leadership role to play, and high expectations for the district must start with the board itself.”

Melissa Shannon. Credit: Melissa Shannon.

Melissa Shannon

Melissa Shannon is a master’s-degreed learning disability teacher consultant and mother of two elementary-school aged children.

A room parent and former member of the Haddon Heights Parent-Teacher Group, Shannon began her career as an inclusion and resource room teacher.

She now works as a child study team specialist.

What is your philosophy of education?

“Students deserve a safe and engaging learning environment so they can thrive and actualize their potential academically, socially, and emotionally.”

Why would you like to serve on the board of education?

“I want to serve on school board because I believe that effective schools are integral to an energetic community.

“The strength of our town relies on the strength of our schools. I love living in Haddon Heights, and I believe in community service. I want to use my knowledge and background in education to bring our schools from good to excellent.”

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

“School security: It is our duty and priority to address school security with the utmost importance and urgency. Currently, there is not a consistent application of deterrents and safeguards in place across the district. School security should be the same for all students. We can do better.

“Test scores & high school ranking: In the September issue of New Jersey Monthly, Haddon Heights High School was ranked #219 of #337 in the state. This is a poor ranking that could affect our property values.

“Moreover, the most recent NJ Performance summary reports for Haddon Heights junior-senior high school finds that our students ‘need improvement’ in Math; our student growth ranking is stated as ‘needing improvement’ for English, math, and the four-year graduation rate. Our district needs a fresh look, an independent review that is fair and open-minded. Accordingly, I do not believe the leadership has done enough.

“Transparency and communication: At the October board meeting, there was unrest and discord among the community. The superintendent delivered a presentation about a hot-button topic: grade-level schools. Our community appears divided around this issue.

“I believe many parents felt blindsided that the district administration was looking to change the elementary school model from neighborhood schools to grade-level schools. This lack of communication caused anxiety among the community. We need a clear, strategic plan that outlines our school district’s short- and long-term goals and initiatives, and which stakeholders can review.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“Haddon Heights schools have excellent teachers who truly care about each and every student. I applaud the teaching and learning that takes place in our schools every day. At board meetings, students are acknowledged for different achievements.

“Last, the district recently adopted the ‘No Place for Hate’ curriculum, which teaches students strategies to deal with difficult situations. Everyone has the right to feel safe and respected at school.”

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

“Security. School security is non-negotiable. All our students deserve the same security measures.

“Academic excellence. We need a clear strategic vision. We need result and action-oriented goals to address the achievement gap within our district, so our district can progress from good to excellent.

“Communication and transparency. We need clear communication and transparency between the leadership and our community. If we can’t discuss our challenges, then we certainly won’t fix them. People should understand the decisions that the board makes and how it will affect them.”

Trish Sheilds. Credit: Trish Sheilds.

Trish Sheilds

Trish Sheilds and her husband have raised four children in their 28 years in Haddon Heights, all of whom graduated from the public school district.

She’s looking forward to seeing her nieces, nephews, and future grandchildren do the same.

What is your philosophy of education?

“We must have an open mind in decisions for the district while keeping the best interest of the children and the entire district first. Always Children First!”

Why would you like to serve on the board of education?

“As an incumbent candidate finishing my second term, I feel my viewpoint has been valuable in making decisions. As education is always evolving, it is imperative to keep in mind the history of past practices and why decisions were made.”

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

“Our biggest challenge is school security. It’s a sad situation, but we need to do everything we can to make our children and parents feel safe when they are in our buildings and surroundings.

“We cannot totally prevent a situation from happening, but we can certainly add measures to slow down an intruder while giving time for our police and emergency responders to arrive. With the ‘Securing Our Children’s Future2 Bond Act’ question on the ballot, this is a good first step to help districts by providing grants for school safety projects. Please remember to answer the questions on your ballot.

“Secondly, school funding has been a challenge for our district. With our state aid being cut year after year, and operational expenses always rising, we have to be very creative in finding and funding programs to keep up with other districts.

“All districts throughout the state should be given the same opportunities and programs, not deciding how much funding you receive by your district factor group or enrollment. Things must change for all districts.”

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

“Haddon Heights’ biggest strength is our ability to do everything we can for our children with the resources we have. We have excellent administration, teachers and staff who truly care about the education of our children. They are able to think outside the box.

“We have implemented programs (Maps and Classworks) that will help our teachers teach to the needs of each individual student so we do not have to rely on standardized test data.”

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

“As an incumbent BOE member, we are bound by a code of ethics that does not allow us to make ‘campaign promises’ or have platforms. We are bound by facts. But I can speak of what is currently happening in our district.

“First, with all the conversations regarding grade-level schools, our district has become divided. It’s our duty to ensure the trust in the community that our administrators, teachers and staff are doing everything to educate our children while keeping the district as a whole in mind while making decisions.

“Again, school safety has to remain a top priority as our children must feel safe and we keep them safe.

“And thirdly, work with our new programs, Maps and Classworks, to ensure we are seeing students as individual learners and we put best practice in place to help each child. Again, Children First!”

Kimberly Stuart. Credit: Kimberly Stuart.

Kimberley Stuart, 48

Current Haddon Heights BOE President Kimberly Stuart is a litigation attorney and mother of three school-aged children.

Her volunteer work with the school includes everything from chaperoning trips to making theater costumes.

Stuart is an inaugural member of the Haddon Heights Diversity Committee, serves on the Haddon Heights Municipal Alliance, and provides pro bono legal services to the homeless through the Atlantic City Rescue Mission.

What is your philosophy of education?

“In law school, we are not taught all the answers, we are taught how to find the answers.

“We are taught how to think critically, how to ask compelling questions, how to investigate, and how to advocate.

“In today’s world, education is not what we learn on a stack of flashcards. We recognize that each learner receives, processes, and retains information differently. We also recognize that there are an infinite number of external factors that may influence a learner’s ability to thrive.

“It is our job as board members to do whatever we can to foster the love of learning in each of our students; to encourage every student to find his or her own passion, and to pursue that passion with everything he or she has.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that the educational experience we provide is safe, taking into account the many safety concerns that exist in today’s world, including potential physical threats and the infinite minefield that is social media. Equally important is our duty to provide the healthiest learning environment we can, being mindful of the social pressures and interactions among our students that may impede learning.

“When students wake up in the morning, they should feel eager to come to school, knowing that they will be intellectually challenged and that their school community is a safe place composed of individuals who support them every step of the way.”

Why would you like to serve on the board of education?

“I seek to continue to serve on the Haddon Heights Board of Education to continue to build on the work that we have done in recent years. Every member of our Haddon Heights community should be proud to send his or her student to our schools K-12.

“We owe each community member our best efforts in ensuring that we provide the best possible educational experience to every student in a safe learning environment, appreciating that every member of our community contributes to our district, whether their students attend our schools or not.

“I am running on a ticket of responsible leadership. In my time as a board member, I have always acted with the best interests of our entire district at heart. I seek to continue to do so.”

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

“Maximizing limited resources: As we plan for enhancements to maximize student learning, budgetary constraints, state mandates, and aging physical plant require us to be resourceful in spending every dollar.

“There is a public perception that the school district has vast resources to spend. While millions of dollar flow through our district, only a small portion is discretionary in terms of how we spend it. We may have multiple projects to which we would like to dedicate one small lump of money. It’s so important for our board to make good, objective decisions concerning the entire district.

“Public perception: Many Haddon Heights residents choose not to send their students to Haddon Heights Junior-Senior High School. There is a widely held misconception that students are better served at local private secondary schools. Our challenge is to do everything we can to ensure that families feel confident in sending their students to our district through high-school graduation.

“In the interim, that disconnect creates an imbalance between those members of the community who would like our board to exhaust all of its resources at the elementary level, and those who want to fund the entire district. We have an obligation to every member of our school district, and to our sending districts who pay us tuition, to serve the entire school district.

“Articulation of curriculum: Our district has struggled with helping students from sending districts assimilate academically when they arrive freshman year. By articulating curriculum from kindergarten through eighth grade, each student will be equally prepared for freshman year. Each student will have a fair opportunity to compete academically at a high level.

“For decades, our district has sought to articulate curriculum, and that process has finally begun. By articulating curriculum, our district will save money, and will ultimately see tremendous academic gains across the four communities we serve.

“Security. Our district faces challenges in physical security, social media security, and school anxiety, all of which come with a significant price tag. Our district constantly strives to make the best possible decisions and improvements where we can, balancing academic, social, and safety needs, and providing the greatest enhancements we can with the resources we have.”

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

“To continue to enhance the experience at the junior-senior high school. We are enhancing STEM. We are exploring academies (subject-area concentration courses of study). We are expanding our elective offerings and extra-curricular activities. I seek to continue to enhance our experience at the junior-senior high school academically and socially.

“In recent years, we have begun to work collaboratively with students, teachers, parents and administrators to take a close look at the student experience, and to see where we can make improvements. These sometimes-small tweaks in the way we do things can make a big difference in the way our students feel about school, their drive to challenge themselves, and their level of comfort in asking for help.

“Overall, we have improved the way students interact with one another and with their teachers. We are enhancing the resources we dedicate to college admissions process. I seek to continue to build upon that much needed progress.

“To enhance technology. In today’s world, technology touches every aspect of our lives. From school security to communication between students, teachers, families and staff, communication through technological advances allows us to create a seamless learning experience. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

“I would like to see the implementation of technological enhancements that allow us to provide collaborative learning between our schools and with other districts. I would like to see us create an electronic repository, containing links to our ‘textbooks’ and assignments so that all students have access to their learning tools through their Chromebooks.

“The implementation of Powerschool, Maps, and Classworks have begun to transform the way we deliver and tailor the delivery of curriculum. There are many ways to determine what supports or enhancements students need to maximize their learning experience. I would like to focus there.

“To enhance district interaction and experience. If we want our students to love learning, to be engaged and to be happy, we must teach them in an environment in which they feel safe. Our schools are small communities within our wonderful community. We cannot overlook the values of kindness, consideration, respect among students, teachers, parents and staff.

“In recent years, we have begun to embrace students’ diversity, whatever their differences may be. It is critically important that all of us be educated in how we can be more aware and more supportive of one another in our learning community. Our district grows by supporting each member of our district and by collaborating to achieve the best possible outcomes.

“As a board member, I seek to foster the appreciation of all of the things that make the Haddon Heights school district unique with the understanding that while our financial resources may be limited, our community is rich with minds that can figure it out, whatever it is.”

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