NJ Pen 2019 Election Coverage: Meet the Candidates for Haddon Township School Board


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

By Matt Skoufalos | November 1, 2019

On November 5, voters in Haddon Township will choose from among three balloted candidates for three seats on local school board: challengers Renee Billingsley and Christopher Cook, and incumbent Marie Dezii.

We invited everyone to reply 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.


Renee Billingsley. Credit: Renee Billingsley.

Renee Billingsley (Challenger)

Renee Billingsley is a sixth-grade science teacher in the Mount Laurel school district.

In Billingsley’s 21-year career, she’s taught at the middle- and high-school levels and across subjects including biology, chemistry, life science, and math.

Billingsley holds a master’s degree in educational leadership.







What is your philosophy of education?

I believe all students should be presented with an education that allows them to be successful in our fast-paced world. Education should focus on a student’s academic, social, and emotional well-being.

Schools have the ability to teach our children the skills they need to think critically, communicate, collaborate, and use creativity to persevere both in and out of the classroom.

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

I believe my educational experience and background will allow me to be a voice for our school district. I have 21 years of teaching experience, which has afforded me the opportunity to teach students with a variety of educational, social, and emotional needs.

I also hold a master’s degree in educational leadership. I would like to use my experience and expertise in the field of education to help make the best decisions for our schools.

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

I think Haddon Township, along with many other school districts, is faced with the challenge of teaching our students how to be successful in a rapidly evolving society while maintaining the ability for students to grow emotionally.

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Township schools?

I believe the Haddon Township school district is a great example of a thriving community. Our smaller class sizes allow for more teacher-student interaction. Our schools do a great job of building a sense of community through the arts, clubs and activities, sports, etc. that are offered to our students.


Christopher Cook. Credit: Christopher Cook.

Christopher Cook (Challenger)

Software developer and IT administrator Christopher Cook is a self-employed technology professional with experience in marketing and advertising settings.

He is an active volunteer with the Edison School PTA and the Haddon Township Education Foundation.

His interests include cooking, baking, and knitting.



What is your philosophy of education?

Children are naturally inquisitive. They are constantly trying to learn things about the larger world around them. As such, the most important thing we can do as a school system is to ensure we never break our students of that drive. Once our Haddon Township students leave the district as young adults, their passion for learning will be key to their success as young adults.

Today’s students, once they enter the workforce, will need to constantly learn new skills and technologies in order to be successful. The most successful adults will be the ones that can adapt quickly to the changing landscape. It’s never been more important for our families and our schools to produce lifelong learners.

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

I have always had an interest in service to my country and my community. Once my daughter Chloe was old enough to attend Edison for kindergarten, I joined the PTA and volunteered to attend the monthly Board of Education meetings.

Watching the board operate each month added to my own interest in making sure the students in Haddon Township all get the best opportunity to learn made me consider serving on the board.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with the other board members, the district administration, and the public to make Haddon Township schools the best they can be.

We face important challenges in the near term. The new board will have to find a new superintendent, consider the results of the recent redistricting consultants, and still find ways to maintain and hopefully improve students’ education at a time when the district’s expenses continue to outpace revenue.

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

The first is financial. Funding for public education moves with changes in the community, but also with changes in Trenton and Washington, D.C. In recent years, we have seen dramatic changes in the amount of financial support we receive from the New Jersey state government. Perhaps that will change in the coming years, but right now, it appears it will not.

Maintaining a robust balance sheet for the district is critical, and is key to being able to increase the number and quality of faculty rather than continuing to see them decrease.

I would also like to touch on ways the district can support working parents. The schools in Haddon Township are the responsibility of the entire community, but for many adults in town, it is between difficult and impossible for them to regularly participate. We need to find practical ways to get more resident involvement; to get more parents in the PTA; to get more parents attending board meetings.

What are the biggest strengths of Haddon Township schools?

Clearly the teachers, administrators, and staff of the Haddon Township school district. So many young families move to Haddon Township to get access to the amazing schools and educators we provide.

In many cases, Haddon Township students grow into adults, move away, and when they start a family, they move back to Haddon Township to gain the same level of support and achievement they knew as students.

The community also plays an important part in creating the tapestry that makes Haddon Township what it is today. In spite of a decade or more of financial instability, our community consistently supports the district with their time and their wallets.

It is incumbent on the board and the administration to be good stewards of that trust, and always look to make the best use possible of the resources the community provides, and to do what we can to keep Haddon Township a great place to grow up and learn.

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

  • District financials
  • Hiring a new superintendent
  • Connecting all Haddon Township residents to the school district


Marie Dezii. Credit: Marie Dezii.

Marie Dezii (Incumbent)

Lifelong Haddon Township resident Marie Dezii is a Collingswood elementary school teacher and married mother of four.

Dezii is a 16-year teacher whose career in education also has included roles as a classroom aide and as a substitute teacher.

Dezii is president of the Haddon Township Visual and Performing Arts Guild, and volunteers with the local PTA and Boy Scout chapters.





What is your 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 onto college or the workforce. When this occurs, we know we have succeeded in our jobs.

Why would you like to serve on the school board?

I would like to serve on the Board of Education for a variety of reasons. There have been so many curriculum changes to meet Core Curriculum Standards, and I believe that it is time to evaluate these changes to see how they have impacted student growth.

State tests have changed during recent years, and I would love to see how our students met the challenges of these changes. I also would like to be on the board to keep taxes at a reasonable level while maintaining property values for all our citizens.

What are the biggest challenges for Haddon Township schools?

I believe that one of our biggest challenges is the cuts that have impacted our budget for the past two years. Although we have been able to maintain a high level of teaching and learning within our new budget, we cannot continue on the same path without finding creative solutions. We must be diligent and find resources to benefit our students, schools, and teachers.

Another challenge is the 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. We will also need to work through the process of finding a highly qualified superintendent, as ours will be retiring July 1.

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. From a young age, most students 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 investigate more shared services, which would allow us to save money within the schools, and be able to pass those saving to our citizens.

The second issue would be the search for a highly qualified superintendent. I would love to see a superintendent that would look outside the box for ways to benefit our schools with funding and programs that will meet the needs of our schools for years to come.

The last issue that I would like to address is to focus on the needs of our young students in the elementary schools. The students of 2019 are much different than those of even 10 years ago. They are technology natives, 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 their abilities to teach to the 21st century and beyond.

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