Meet the Candidates: Haddon Township BOE 2016


We invited school board candidates from each of our coverage areas to submit short biographies of themselves to inform voters ahead of the November 8 elections.

By Matt Skoufalos

This Election Day (November 8) Haddon Township, 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.

Marie Dezii. Credit: Marie Dezii.

Marie Dezii. Credit: Marie Dezii.

Marie Dezii (challenger)

Marie Dezii is a kindergarten teacher at Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood.

She and her husband Darrin are longtime Haddon Township residents, and parents to four sons aged 12 to 26.

Dezii has been a teacher for 13 years, and spent time as a substitute teacher prior to going full-time with her career.

Philosophy of Education:

“We must meet the needs of all children no matter where they are as they enter school and progress through the grades. As a teacher, I see first-hand how diverse children can be. As teachers, administrators, board members and parents, we must make our focus meeting the needs of all children by assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and creating a learning plan to meet those needs. We want all children to succeed, and to become educated young adults as they leave us and move on to college or the workforce. When this occurs, we know we have succeeded in our job.”

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

“We are nearing the end of the construction projects, and now it is important for the board of education to place the focus back on the teaching and learning of the students. There have been many changes to the curriculum to meet the Core Curriculum standards, and I believe that it is time to evaluate these changes to see how they have impacted our student growth. I would also like to be on the board to work to keep taxes at a reasonable level while still maintaining property values for all of our citizens.”

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

“I believe that one of our biggest challenges is growing into our new spaces with the referendum. As the schools are being completed, we are entering into new spaces and learning environments. It is vital that we look to the educational needs of the children within those spaces. The teachers will now have opportunities to use our technology, curriculum, and environment to educate our children in the 21st century, and prepare them from preschool through graduation and beyond.

“Another challenge is to support the teachers in their teaching. We need to make sure they have professional development that supports the curriculum and enhances their teaching. We also need to be fair to the teachers as they begin to negotiate a new contract. I would like to challenge the board of education to settle the contract on a timely basis.”

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Township schools?

“There are many strengths in our school district, the first one being our teachers. Through my experience, I have never seen a group of teachers more dedicated to their students. They stay beyond their hours to serve students as tutors, volunteer coaches, sports fans, and mentors. I believe their dedication leads to the other strength that I see in our district, which is highly motivated and skilled students.

“Our students are school-, community-, and family-oriented. Most students from a young age participate in multiple activities, which is the benefit of living and attending school in our district. I also believe that all our citizens, both young and old, those with families, and retirees all support the growth and children of our school district. There are not many districts that have this type of support.”

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

“There are three different issues that I would like to address if I am elected to the Haddon Township Board of Education. The first would be for the district to look into more shared services that would allow us to save money within the schools and be able to pass those saving to our citizens.

“The second issue would be to add more electives to the high-school schedule. After the 2011 budget cuts, the high school lost many electives that benefited the students as they began to focus on future careers and college studies. I believe it is time to give our students back these opportunities.

“The last issue that I would like to place focus on is the needs of our young students in the elementary schools. The students of 2016 are much different than those of even 10 years ago. They are experts in technology, and we need to meet them at their level. We can no longer expect students to learn from books and paper. We need to expand our abilities to teach to the 21st century and beyond. This does not end with just putting iPads into their hands, but rather using them to communicate with students in virtual classrooms across the country, creating PowerPoints to present ideas, and to grow and learn in our highly advanced world of instant learning.”

Walter Eife. Credit: Walter Eife.

Walter Eife. Credit: Walter Eife.

Walter Eife (challenger)

Walter Eife, 46, is a lifelong Haddon Township resident and married father of three boys who are currently students at the Haddon Township Middle and High Schools.

Eife holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, field artillery.

Self-employed as a financial advisor with McLaughlin Asset Management, he has been president of the township recreational league basketball since 2011, and has coached basketball, baseball, soccer, and flag football.

Eife also served as the Haddon Township Commissioner of Revenue and Finance from 2001 to 2003.

What is your philosophy of education?

“The classroom is a dynamic environment that should promote active, hands-on learning for every student. Not only should the students be engaged and challenged academically, but also socially and emotionally. Each student has unique, individual abilities that should be cultivated in a positive way that promotes lifelong learning. Whether their strengths are academic, the arts and music, or athletics, we should push and challenge our students so they are prepared for life beyond Haddon Township.”

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

“I would like to bring my business and financial background, leadership skills, and entrepreneurial spirit to the board. I believe that our children are receiving a good education; however, I know we can do better. I will work to ensure fiscal responsibility, seek better ways of allocating our financial resources, and facilitate a better environment of inclusion to promote a greater sense of community.

“The challenges we face require a more forward-looking thought process than currently exists. For Haddon Township to continue making academic steps forward, we need change. Change is good, and it does not mean higher costs. We should not settle and simply accept our current academic position in South Jersey, but rather look to actively and aggressively close the gap that exists between Haddon Township and the best high schools in South Jersey.”

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

“The biggest challenge we face is the current system of funding public education through property taxes. Haddon Township is primarily residential, and there is a limit to what residents can afford. With the rising costs of education, it is a daunting task to provide the resources and facilities required for a quality education while keeping it affordable. However, big challenges also present great opportunities. We should look at the ‘blue ribbon’ schools in New Jersey to see how they are managing the same issues. There are certainly things we could do to deliver value to our students without increasing costs.”

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Township schools?

“The Haddon Township community! The residents have continually stepped up to pass budgets and referenda supporting the schools, programs, and students. While knocking on doors and talking to residents throughout town, I met a lot of families who are financially stressed by rising property taxes. A lot of them moved to Haddon Township for the schools. While they do not particularly like rising taxes, they understand that quality schools help maintain property values, and it is vitally important that we properly educate the current and future generations of Haddon Township students. I have a lot of experience coaching kids at different levels, and our parents do a great job raising respectful children who work hard and want to succeed.”

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

“Develop programs to help students with their study skills. Unfortunately, these skills are learned on an individual basis rather than in a classroom or through specific instruction. By focusing some time on teaching and helping students develop effective study skills as they transition through the school system, we can begin to improve outcomes.

“I will work with the community to create a Haddon Township Education Trust. The Trust would be a non-profit entity created to raise private funds for use in two areas:

1) providing 10-15 district wide ‘mini’ grants that would be awarded to teachers who submit applications for unique, curriculum-supported classroom instruction and student experiences;

2) investing in an aggressive outreach program to our 7,000 alumni. This would include a semi-annual newsletter sent to all known alumni that would promote and celebrate successes in the school district. Reconnecting with alumni creates an opportunity to ask for financial support, more specifically, in areas such as scholarship, the performing arts, or athletics.

“A number of parents have expressed concerns regarding formulation of GPAs, the weighting of certain honors/ AP classes, and our grading scale. It was also noted that Haddon Township students may be at a competitive disadvantage because of those current practices. I will work with the administration to ensure that the process around the calculation of GPAs, class weighting, and grading scale is investigated and clearly communicated to parents. If deficiencies are found and changes are warranted, then they should be clearly communicated and implemented in a timely manner.”

Haddon Township 2016 BOE Candidate Bonnie Richards. Credit: Bonnie Richards.

Haddon Township 2016 BOE Candidate Bonnie Richards. Credit: Bonnie Richards.

Bonnie Richards (incumbent)

Longtime Haddon Township resident Bonnie Richards lives in the borough where she and her husband have raised four children and into which they’ve welcomed five grandchildren.

She works for the township as its municipal clerk, and is the incumbent Haddon Township Board of Education Vice-President.

What is your philosophy of education?

“I feel that each child is unique and should have a secure, caring and stimulation place in which to grow and mature.

“It is the Board of Education’s job to make sure that the schools have what they need to provide this place.”

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

“Serving the community is an honor and privilege. I feel I have what it takes to be a good and effective board member. I serve on the board now and would like to continue to serve. I care deeply about the schools in Haddon Township and the students, teachers, administrators, and all staff members. I also know it costs a lot to run a school, and that we need to control the tax dollar. I am proud to be a Haddon Township resident and a Haddon Township Board of Education member.”

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

“Funding—trying to fund the schools with not only the tax dollars but finding other ways to fund the schools.”

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

“Excellent administrators and dedicated teachers and staff members.”

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

  1. Funding the schools.
  2. Academics and Extracurricular activities.
  3. Maintaining the school buildings.
Craig Roncace. Credit: Craig Roncace.

Craig Roncace. Credit: Craig Roncace.

Craig Roncace (incumbent)

Craig Roncace, 47, is an urban park manager at the University of Pennsylvania.

He and his wife, Deborah, are parents to three children: Tanner, who graduated Haddon Township High School in June, Olivia, a sophomore at Haddon Township High School, and Ethan, a seventh-grader at Rohrer Middle School.

Philosophy of Education:

“To provide opportunities for students to engage themselves in all aspects of the learning experience, including academics, performing arts, clubs, and athletics.”

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

“I am currently completing a one-year, unexpired term and wish to continue my position on the board, as I feel I am a true asset to the team.”

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

“Completing the current bond referendum capital project. Future New Jersey-mandated regulations that could negatively impact our current fiscal budget.”

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Township schools?

“Our faculty and staff are one of a kind; always engaged, always learning.”

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

“To ensure our current bond referendum capital project is completed, professional development for the faculty and staff, and continued growth and expansion of our technology.”

Other Balloted Candidates

Also appearing on the ballot are incumbents Mark Cavallo, the sitting president of the board, and Bonnie Richards, its vice-president.


**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. Tuesday, November 1. We will not update these profiles beyond that time.

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