NJ Pen 2019 Election Coverage: Meet the Candidates for Haddon Heights Board of Education


We invited the 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 27, 2019

On November 5, voters in Haddon Heights will choose from among four balloted candidates to fill three seats on the borough board of education.

They are incumbents Lisa Long and Jane Shissler and challengers Stacey Augustine and Mary Stewart Vena.

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 community. Here’s how they responded. Answers were edited for clarity and length.


Haddon Heights BOE Candidate Stacey Augustine. Credit: Stacey Augustine.

Stacey Augustine (Challenger)

School social worker Stacey Augustine is a four-year Haddon Heights resident and a married mother of two school-aged children.

Augustine holds a master’s degree from Widener University and a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers.

She also participates in the Haddon Heights Good Neighbors organization.





What is your philosophy of education?

I feel that education should encompass academic rigor and include a social and emotional focus to ensure our students are well-rounded and prepared for life after high school, whether entering the workforce or enrolling in post secondary education. Individualizing students’ educational goals along with collaboration among students, school staff, and families is critical to academic success.

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

As a social worker, I am faced with being proactive and forward-thinking within the educational setting. My professional experiences have also led to insight on the importance of staff morale, collaboration, and effective implementation of new procedures. I would love to have the opportunity to use my professional skills in the capacity of a board member.

Further, as a mother of two young children who will be attending the district for the next twelve years, I would like to contribute to our district’s continued growth and success.

What are the biggest challenges school district faces?

By attending board meetings, I am aware of some of the challenges our district is facing. There is a perception of inequity among the elementary schools, as well as concerns involving inclusion and our high school climate. Student achievement and academic growth have been identified as areas that our district needs to improve.

Another area that I would like to see improvement in involves accessibility and transparency with the community. The use of technology would improve communication with the community. Implementing live-streaming for board meetings will increase community awareness along with a better understanding of long-term district goals.

What are the biggest strengths of district?

The school district has many strengths, including its dedicated staff members and families. I am always impressed with the amount of time and effort that staff put forth in knowing each of the students and creating a warm and nurturing learning environment.

It is also great to see the beginning stages of the strategic planning process. We live in an engaging community with various backgrounds and professions. Our community members can assist by providing insight on meeting ever-changing educational demands. Haddon Heights is filled with professional diversity, and we need to leverage that resource to benefit the district.

Name three key issues on which you would focus if elected:

Some areas that I would like to focus on if elected include the potential of implementing full day kindergarten, improving our library and technology systems, and evaluating our quad-district curriculum articulation.

In New Jersey, 480 school districts offer full-day kindergarten programs, while only 40 offer half-day. With a push in New Jersey legislature, I feel we as a district should prepare now to minimize any impact on programming and/or staffing if or when the state mandates full-day kindergarten.

In regards to our library and technology systems, the three elementary schools do not have functioning libraries. Both at the elementary and high school level, proper instruction on utilizing the library, along with where and how to locate valid and reputable sources online are key in developing research skills.

Another area on which I would focus my attention would involve improving and building upon our quad-district curriculum. I am pleased that the four districts that attend the high school (Haddon Heights, Barrington, Lawnside and Merchantville) have started to collaborate and create a shared curriculum for all eighth-grade students. While this is a great first step in narrowing the achievement gap, I would like to see the four districts collaborate and create curriculum at the younger grades as well to level the playing field for all our students.


Haddon Heights BOE Candidate Lisa Long. Credit: Lisa Long.

Lisa Long (Incumbent)

Lisa Long has served on the Haddon Heights school board for 15 of the 25 years in which she’s resided in town.

A mother of three adult children, Long is a former insurance underwriter who now teaches pre-K children at New Beginnings Learning Center.

In addition, she’s volunteered with the school district parent-teacher committee, and has held leadership positions within that organization.






What is your philosophy of education?

I believe it is critical for a school district to provide a safe and supportive environment for children to learn, and to instill in them the confidence to know that they can learn. It is important that we provide quality programs and talented teachers who look to develop the whole student, not solely focusing on academics.

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

I have enjoyed my many years of service on the board, and have been honored by the community’s continued faith in me. I believe my experience on the board, knowledge of the district, previous work experience, and current teaching role make me uniquely qualified to be a member of the board of education. I care greatly for the children of Haddon Heights, and will always be committed to doing my best to support them.

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Heights schools?

Funding continues to be one of the greatest challenges in Haddon Heights and in districts across the state. In Haddon Heights, state aid has remained flat or fallen slightly in the last several years.

State-regulated caps on property taxes, along with unfunded, state-mandated programs, often limit the ability of the district to add staff and programs the administrators and community would like to see.

Any area in our district could benefit from additional funding. This is not because our children aren’t achieving, but because adding staff and programs can always benefit both students that struggle in school and those who are high-achieving. Enrichment programs, tutoring, art, music, and STEM, to name a few, could all be improved with additional funding.

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Heights schools?

One of our greatest strengths as a district is our staff. I believe we have a group of talented and caring administrators, teachers, and support staff that provides quality instruction and creates a supportive environment in our schools.

Another strength is the families and students who attend our schools. Family involvement and support is one of the most important keys to the success any school district.

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

As a community and district, Haddon Heights is in the process of creating a strategic plan that will provide direction and help guide the district’s decision-making in future years. With input from all stakeholders, the current board is committed to making the strategic plan the basis for our district goals and identifying key issues for us to focus on moving forward.

As a current Board of Education member, I am required to follow our code of ethics. This is part of the School Ethics Act, which is a New Jersey state law. Due to this code, current board members are often limited in how we offer our opinion versus stating facts when discussing school district matters.

Each of us represents just one vote on a 12-member board, and we cannot speak for the board unless it is factual. We are required to ensure the district is well run, but do not run the schools. We set policy and goals, but it is up to the superintendent to administer them. Our point of contact on all district issues is the superintendent.

With all of this in mind, I hope you understand that I cannot provide campaign promises or answer questions with my opinion, but only state facts.


Haddon Heights BOE Candidate Jane Shissler. Credit: Jane Shissler.

Jane Shissler (Incumbent)

Special education teacher Jane Shissler is seeking a third consecutive term on the Haddon Heights Board of Education.

A Barrington native, Shissler graduated from Haddon Heights High School in 1975, and has resided in the borough for the past 26 years with her husband and two daughters.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in special education.





What is your philosophy of education?

I firmly believe in the importance of students achieving their highest potential in a district where parents, teachers, and administration work collaboratively to meet their goals.

Why would you like to serve on the Board of Education?

During my time on the board, I served one year as vice-president. I have served on just about every committee, and I chaired the policy, curriculum and property committees. I am proud of my contributions and the progress the board has made over the past six-and-a-half years. I would love to continue the momentum and serve the community of Haddon Heights for the next three years.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

School Security: The world in which we live today requires us to constantly assess the safety of our schools. While recent measures—the addition of a school resource officer and the installation of vestibules at Seventh and Atlantic Avenue Schools—are excellent, it is our duty to remain vigilant to ensure the safety of our students.

Communication and Transparency: One of the issues that our school board faced recently was the perception that the board was not being transparent. The board took this very seriously because we know that this perception could and would lead to mistrust.

During the past year the board has worked diligently to improve this perception. In the past most of our discussions and decision-making took place at the committee level. Although we still work primarily at the committee level, the board has made it a priority to take time out of every meeting to have an open discussion as a full board. The goal is to continue and expand this practice.

We also need to make sure we are communicating effectively with all stakeholders. As we begin the strategic planning process, we must make sure that students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community feel heard and valued.

What are its biggest strengths?

The biggest strength of our district is our passionate and dedicated teachers, coaches and administrators. They engage and motivate our students to be the best they can be. Because of the strong educational foundation my daughters received in our school district, they were well prepared, and excelled at the college level.

Name key three issues on which you would focus if elected?

As a current member of the Haddon Heights Board of Education I am required to follow the NJ Code of Ethics For School Board Members, which states, “ I will recognize that authority rests with the board of education and will make no personal promises nor take any private action that may compromise the board.” However, I can share the three issues that the board felt were important enough to include in the 2019- 2020 district goals.

Goal #1: Increase academic achievement and student growth.
Goal #2: Improve school culture and climate to foster a greater sense of student belonging.
Goal #3: The Haddon Heights School District will purposefully create an inclusive and equitable environment for all students.


Haddon Heights BOE Candidate Mary Stewart Vena. Credit: Mary Stewart Vena.

Mary Stewart Vena (Challenger)

Mary Stewart Vena is a mother of three school-aged children and an active community volunteer.

Vena serves as a trustee and officer of Haddon Heights Good Neighbors, sits on the Safe Routes to school committee, and is a Parent Teacher Group room parent and volunteer.

Vena is a University of Virginia graduate who spent a decade working in operations management and sales for GE Financial and Lincoln Financial.







What is your philosophy of education?

I believe that all students need a safe, positive, and stimulating educational environment where they can grow mentally, emotionally, and socially. All children deserve to be met where they are and guided to reach their highest potentials. An important component of this is having high expectations and rigorous curriculum for all students, not just the highest achievers.

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

One of my roles while working at GE Financial was to manage the premium accounting department, and I was given the opportunity to take part in the strategic planning process for my division.

I am very excited about the strategic planning process that the district is currently undergoing, but we must keep in mind that it is being undertaken by a consultant who will only be with us for a short time. My goal is to build on the plan and make this way of thinking part of the culture of our district.

But most importantly, I am running because I’m invested in our schools. They will be educating my children for the next 15 years!

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

In the six years since my husband and I moved to Haddon Heights, the school district data has shown a steady decline. NJ Magazine ranks our High School in the 28th percentile in the state, and the most recent State Performance Report shows us needing improvement in most areas. I know that these numbers don’t tell the whole story and that there are many wonderful things happening in our schools, but in a great community like this with such supportive families, I also know that we can do better.

I also feel passionately about improving communication in our district. Clear communication is a crucial element of success for any organization. We need to lay out a detailed and robust communication plan. This should include not only parents, teachers, staff, and students, but all Haddon Heights residents. The entire community supports our schools with their tax dollars, so it is important that we keep all stakeholders well informed.

What are its biggest strengths?

The biggest strength of our district is our teachers and staff. As a parent, I am happy to say that my kindergartener and third-grader love going to school each day! I feel that is because of the positive environment that the teachers and staff foster at their school.

Having attended board meetings regularly over the last two years I’ve gotten to see first-hand some of the amazing work that teachers are doing throughout the district. Whether it’s sponsoring a high school club that recognizes our town’s veterans for their service, or educating the whole child by teaching mindfulness lessons in our elementary schools, our teachers are doing amazing work.

Name three key issues on which you’d focus if elected.

I believe that it is essential that we use data to prioritize budget spending. Based on my attendance at meetings, I’ve been pleased to see the board heading in this direction; in particular, seeing the funding of math and writing staff positions at the high school.

As a board member I know that I would look at what spending is going to have the greatest impact on the district as a whole. Based on what has been discussed at recent board meetings, we have recognized that we have an achievement gap. I would want to look at what resources we could put towards addressing this to help all students succeed. I would also want to look at the data next year for both math and ELA at the high school to determine if we have gone far enough.

Finally, as I have been out talking with parents in the district, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about full-day kindergarten. So I would also like to assess the value of the investment made in kindergarten this year. Are we seeing a return on that investment? Have we invested enough?

These are not new or revolutionary ideas but I think that it is important to continue down the path where the data is leading us to prioritize and make strategic budget choices.

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