NJ Pen 2020 Election Coverage: Meet the Merchantville Board of Education Candidates


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 14, 2020

On November 3, voters in Merchantville will choose from among seven balloted candidates for four seats on the borough school board.

Incumbents Lynn Geddes and Craig Nussbaum face challengers Melanie Gaskins, Kristina Kroot, and Antisha Meisner for three open seats on the board, while Kelli Mouzon will challenge Amanda Aaron for the unexpired term to which Aaron was appointed this year.

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. Answers were edited for clarity and length.

Melanie Gaskins. Credit: Melanie Gaskins.

Melanie Gaskins (Challenger)

Melanie Gaskins is a fifth-grade teacher at the Hartford School in Mount Laurel who holds a master’s degree in elementary education and a bachelor’s of fine arts in dance.

In 2019, Gaskins was named Teacher of the Year at the Larchmont School in Mount Laurel.

She serves on the Mount Laurel Education Association Minority Leadership and Recruitment Committee.

In her prior career, Gaskins performed with nationally and internationally touring Broadway.

She describes herself as “the mother of two wonderfully wild children, spouse of the one who researches constantly, and daughter of the master of leaf raking.”

What is your philosophy of education?

My philosophy of education is based in the understanding that we should provide firm, high standards and goals for all students, but allow flexible means for achievement. One way to do this is to support students’ social and emotional growth by purposefully teaching and modeling grit and determination. This will also encourage autonomy and students’ ownership of their learning.

Furthermore, the most successful people demonstrate a growth mindset supported by the 16 Habits of Mind. This should be integrated seamlessly as we introduce and teach strategies in the content areas.

Additionally, it is vital to notice, explore, and celebrate the vast differences and diversity that students, educators, and administrators bring to bear at Merchantville School.

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

It is the responsibility of all citizens to contribute positively to their communities through acts of service. To serve on the school board is a beautiful example of an act of service.

As an elementary school educator, I have a strong desire to enrich the lives of our children by providing stimulating opportunities for them to engage with their world.

As a board member, I would be committed to supporting Merchantville’s educators in the meaningful and impactful endeavor of teaching, guiding, facilitating, supporting, enriching and encouraging our community’s youth.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

Currently, I believe one of the challenges that our district faces is the decrease in our state aid as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It will be vital that we are very strategic and purposeful in allocating the funds that are available to best maximize the educational experience of our students.

Improving our facility to make it ADA-compliant and improving our integration of technology in a meaningful way are both goals that should be tackled.

Lastly, we must make education in Merchantville equitable by providing educators with professional development and the resources necessary to meet the needs of our diverse population.

What are its biggest strengths?

Our biggest strengths reside in our small community. Families, educators and students all persist and work together for the betterment of Merchantville. The hard work of administrators and educators supported by the commitment of families is evident this year, as all rally together to create a year that is very different from what we are used to, but which is still engaging, productive, and worthwhile.

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

I will focus on creating a curriculum that strives to provide equitable education. This will help the development of a school-wide curriculum and relevant professional staff development that supports an equitable education for our diverse population and the improvement of our facility to be ADA-compliant.

Kristina Kroot. Credit: Kristina Kroot.

Kristina Kroot (Challenger)

Photographer Kristina Kroot is a former marketing communications executive who holds an MBA from IE Business School.

A married mother of two, Kroot is also currently pursuing her Ph.D. in child developmental psychology at the City University of New York.

In her free time, she enjoys hiking and visiting the beach with her family.

What is your philosophy of education?

All children are unique, and they must have a stimulating educational environment where they can grow cognitively, emotionally, intellectually, and socially.

We should be teaching the whole child; when we do, it creates an educational environment where students feel safe and confident in themselves to share their ideas and take risks to meet their full potential. This will help instill a love of learning in our students.

It’s the teachers’ role to be their guide and to provide their students a community that celebrates equity and diversity and promotes problem-solving and free-thinking.

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

As a community member and a parent, it is important to serve our community, and being a board member is a way I can contribute.

I want our school to be successful for all of our children who are a part of this community, and my goal is for our families to feel confident and trust our school and Board of Education to do what is right by providing quality education and opportunities for our children.

It is also necessary for our board to be transparent and accountable, and for its students, teachers and families to be priority.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

I think a major challenge Merchantville school district faces is the lack of communication and transparency. I do think the school district needs to improve its communication to the community through social media and school website.

The school also must actually follow its own policies and procedures. For example, the school is dedicated to serving the needs of all its students but is currently not ADA-compliant. The school should be accommodating, safe, and accessible for all its students, teachers, and parents with disabilities.

The school should also be providing equitable education for all students, but if you look at the data (most current is from 2018-2019), it doesn’t seem to be the case.

The ELA proficiency rate for white students is high (62 percent), and continues to increase, while the proficiency rate for Black students is low (26 percent), and has decreased from years previous. ELA proficiency for Hispanic students is 44 percent, and has also been on a decline over the past three years.

For Math, proficiency for Black students has increased from 18 to 28 percent; for Hispanic students, it decreased from 39 to 28 percent. Both groups have low proficiency numbers compared to their white counterparts (59 percent).

The board needs to work with the school to determine why the large disparities exist between Black and Hispanic students as compared to white students.

What are its biggest strengths?

The biggest strength of Merchantville school district is its small community. The families that live here, the teachers, and other staff at the school are committed, and work hard to provide a great education for our students.

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

  • I will work with the board to focus on creating a curriculum that strives to provide equitable education for all Merchantville students.
  • I will also work with the board to ensure that our school staff receives relevant professional development that supports an equitable education for our diverse population.
  • The last issue I would focus on is making sure the school becomes ADA-compliant so it is safe and accessible for all.


Antisha Meisner. Credit: Antisha Meisner.

Antisha L. Meisner, 44 (Challenger)

Antisha Meisner is CEO and chief editor at Loot Drop Publishing and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Meisner, a retired gunnery sergeant and telecommunications systems chief, also taught English for eight years at Rancocas Valley Regional High School.

A married mother of three, she is the current vice-president of ongoing programs for the Merchantville School PTA, and enjoys writing, reading, crafting, and fitness.

What is your philosophy of education?

Students should be respected and shown respect by acknowledging their different learning and lifestyles through effective and relevant teaching methods from efficient teachers.

Regardless of race, students should be acknowledged to bolster their confidence and enhance their desire to learn and be successful. Education is a right, not a privilege.

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

As a parent of three students of Merchantville School, a community member, and a person of color in an interracial marriage with three biracial children, I want to be a voice for similar families and students of Merchantville School and the Merchantville community.

I want to be a voice and an advocate for families similar to mine, as well as for other families who feel their voices are not heard.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

One of the biggest challenges the district faces is the lack of acknowledgment and inclusion of different cultures and races within its student body.

The lack of acknowledgment and inclusion has caused students (and families) to express frustration towards their treatment in school—in particular, differences in consequences when they do not act accordingly, which is another issue itself.

Because different cultures are not recognized, what one culture perceives as misbehavior, another culture may not, thus causing students to feel and believe that they are “bad.”

Another challenge within the district is the lack of administration. One chief administrator is also the superintendent, principal, vice-principal, etc. There should be checks and balances; one person should not have complete control and say-so of the school.

What are its biggest strengths?

The teachers and staff genuinely care about the students. The staff, in particular, the aides, care for the students as if they were their own children. Communication with teachers is quick and informative.

Another strength: Merchantville School is a public school with private-school class sizes. The student-to-teacher ratio in one class does not exceed 30, enabling students to receive more one-on-one time with the teacher.

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

  • Establish and maintain a curriculum for all grade levels that is accessible to all parents.
  • Ensure the school becomes ADA-compliant, which includes establishing a special education program.
  • Provide relevant professional development for teachers and staff.


Kelli Mouzon. Credit: Kelli Mouzon.

Kelli Mouzon, 31 (Challenger)

Kelli Mouzon, who owns and operates The Juice Bar in Merchantville, also holds a degree in early childhood education from Temple University.

The three-year Merchanville resident is a married mother who says her “passion for education stems from an early love of reading, writing, and a natural curiosity of the world.”

What is your philosophy of education?

My philosophy of education is centered on equity of opportunity.

I believe that all students should have access to a high-quality education with the necessary resources to allow them to succeed.

Course content should be culturally relevant, engaging, developmentally appropriate, and in alignment with state standards.

Teachers should serve as facilitators in the learning process while providing a safe classroom community that celebrates diversity and promotes free thinking and problem solving. I also believe in teaching the whole child.

When students’ needs are met socially and emotionally, I believe that they’ll have intrinsic motivation and perform better academically. Each student is unique and brings something different to the classroom. Education should build on students’ interests and their individual methods of learning to provide differentiated instruction.

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

I want to serve on the Merchantville school board as a way to serve my community and ensure that the desires of our students and their families are met. Assuming that my daughter will one day be a student in Merchantville, I’d like to gain a better understanding of the district and do all that I can to help make improvements.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

The biggest challenge of the Merchantville school district is that Merchantville school isn’t ADA-compliant, which is necessary to ensure that all students’ needs are met while providing and encouraging an inclusive environment.

Lack of diversity amongst teachers and staff is also a challenge that needs to be addressed by actively seeking highly qualified minority educators. Regardless of the population of minorities in the district, it’s important for all students to learn and engage with teachers from a wide range of backgrounds.

What are its biggest strengths?

The biggest strengths of the Merchantville school district are its small classroom sizes and the close relationship among school, home, and the community. Having a small number of students in the classroom allows teachers more time to provide differentiated instruction and meet the individual needs of all students.

As a member of the community, I feel a sense that Merchantville is a safe space that not only engages its students but also its families and the whole community as well.

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

  • I will focus on creating a curriculum that strives to provide equitable education. This will help to ensure that all students are receiving high-quality education while simultaneously increasing test scores and grades.
  • I will focus on ways to promote diversity and integrating social justice.
  • I will work to ensure that Merchantville School is ADA-compliant and accessible to all students.


Craig Nussbaum. Credit: Craig Nussbaum.

Craig Nussbaum, 44 (Incumbent)

Craig Nussbaum is a father, a social worker, and a practicing behavioral therapist.

Nussbaum, a married father, has a master’s degree in social work and an MBA, both from Rutgers University.

His interests include football and spending time with his family.

What is your philosophy of education?

Provide students with what they need to succeed.

We should never be the reason why a student can’t achieve their goals.

I believe in equity so that everyone gets what they need.

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

For the past three-and-a-half years, I have really enjoyed seeing how our district works from the board perspective. I would like to continue to be an advocate for our kids, especially those with special needs. I always want to make sure that I can do whatever I need to do to help keep our school as amazing as it is.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

I think that a small district always faces challenges related to finances. How do we maintain a building that is very old? How do we ensure our teachers feel supported by the district in this pandemic environment so that we don’t lose good people?

What are its biggest strengths?

I think our biggest strengths are our faculty and administration. Mr. Strong is a very good leader, and the teachers are excellent. My daughter is in seventh grade. We have always felt that her teachers really cared about her and took good care of her. Teachers went beyond just making sure kids understood material.

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

  • Equity in education
  • Multicultural curricula and a more diverse faculty
  • More professional development for staff around mental health and social-emotional learning needs


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