NJ Pen Elections 2022: Meet the Haddonfield School Board Candidates


This year, five Haddonfield residents are running for four open seats on the borough Board of Education: three uncontested, and one contested. We invited each of them to tell voters about themselves in the lead-up to the election.

By Matt Skoufalos | October 26, 2022

On November 8, voters in Haddonfield will choose from among five balloted candidates for four seats on the borough school board.

Newcomers Mark Cartella and Mike Nuckols are vying to fill an unexpired term on the governing body, while incumbents Gregory Esemplare, Jaime Grookett, and Linda Hochgertel face no balloted opponents to their candidacies.

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.

Mark Cartella. Credit: Mark Cartella.

Mark Cartella (Challenger)

Mechanical engineer Mark Cartella is the vice-president of development and construction with Alterra Property Group, and a married father of four school-aged children.

Cartella is a Haddonfield Youth Wrestling coach and enjoys spending his free time at the shore.






What is your philosophy of education?

My philosophy of education is that it must be rigorous, equitable, and inclusive, while also being reflective and representative of the community.

Parents should be able to trust the public school system in implementing a clear and transparent curriculum that is unbiased and apolitical.

Content should be focused and deliberate in creating educational value for our children that will prepare them for an ever-more competitive world once they graduate.

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

Because I’m passionate about families, teachers, and Haddonfield.

If elected, I’d work to foster a community engagement process where parents, teachers, and administrators alike collaborate in interpreting new state mandates while building a curriculum rich in diversity of thought that the entire community can be proud of.

Parents and guardians should not be forced to take a “wait and see” approach with curriculum. It should be proactive and not reactive, with the community’s values already integrated.

As a son of two New Jersey educators, I’ve witnessed firsthand some of the challenges facing the teaching profession. The pandemic further exacerbated this.

Teachers aren’t being heard, and are under-supported and improperly resourced. It’s no surprise that the attrition rate has skyrocketed in the last two years. We must stop this hemorrhaging, and serve as a model district in properly caring for our teaching professionals.

Haddonfield is an exceptional town because of its public school system. If we’re not careful, we run the risk of potentially compromising the quality of education being administered in our schools. Performance metrics in math, science, and special education have plummeted across the country since the start of the pandemic and we will need to be disciplined and intentional to bring these back to where they should be.

Lastly, should the impending bond referendum be approved when it’s voted on in September 2023, the district will need expertise in land use, real estate development, and construction management. As head of development and construction at one of the region’s preeminent real estate development companies this opportunity falls right into the wheelhouse of my professional skill sets.

Should the bond advance, I hope to be able to employ my professional expertise, effectively stewarding the community’s resources in sustainably enhancing our indoor and outdoor facilities.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

We need a unifying voice that will provide more balance to our school board. Having attended almost every Board of Education meeting this past year, and hearing passionate arguments from all perspectives, it’s imperative that the board leads constructive dialogue inclusive of diverse thought so all voices from the community are not only heard, but also represented.

Our school buildings and athletic fields are aging and are over capacity. Should the impending bond referendum pass next year I will leverage my professional experience and expertise in planning, developing, and constructing first class indoor and outdoor facilities.

What are the biggest strengths of the district?

Our biggest strengths are our exceptional teachers, who go above and beyond the call of duty in ensuring every student’s specific needs are met, and our community at large, which is so passionate about education.

We may not all agree on approach, but one thing is certain: our whole community wants the absolute best education possible for our children, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to help ensure that happens.

What are three key issues on which you’d like to focus if elected?

My focus will be on:

  1. Unity on curriculum that’s representative and reflective of our community, rich in diverse thought and approach.
  2. Recruiting, maintaining, and training the brightest and best teaching professionals while making sure they’re properly supported and resourced.
  3. Sustainable facilities planning, development, and construction.


Mike Nuckols. Credit: Mike Nuckols.

Mike Nuckols, 51 (Challenger)

Mike Nuckols is a writer and creative director at McCann Health, New Jersey, a 17-year Haddonfield resident, and a married father of two.

Nuckols enjoys blogging, baseball, and travel: he’s been to 49 U.S. states, 37 national parks, and 27 Major League Baseball parks.





What is your philosophy of education?

I think education is the solution for every problem we have in the country and the world. It’s the ultimate investment. I also believe it’s the place where we have the greatest opportunity to plant the seeds for tolerance, inclusivity, and mutual respect. That’s why I’m such a believer in a widely diverse and inclusive curriculum.

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

My mother was president of the Board of Education in the town where I was raised. Growing up, once a week, someone would come to our door looking for help: bus drivers, teachers; usually parents. And my mom would go to bat for every single one of them.

I grew up seeing the incredible impact she had on the people in our community. She’s my role model and my personal hero. She is the reason I’m running for this position.

I’ve wanted to serve on the Haddonfield board for years, but I’ve always had a commute that was more than an hour long. I didn’t feel that allowed me to effectively take on this labor-intensive job. But thanks to the pandemic, I now work from home. So I’m ready and eager to dive in and serve.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

I think communication and community engagement are our biggest challenges.

Our school board is doing amazing work, but that message is getting diluted by social media, by rumors, and even by some blatant disinformation being fed to our community.

As a skilled communications professional, I’d like to help make sure the community is hearing from the board and the board is hearing from the community. Together we can tune out the noise, and move forward as one Haddonfield.

What are the biggest strengths of your school district?

The community. I’ve seen this community come together to accomplish amazing things. That’s when we’re at our best, and where we best serve our children.

What are three key issues on which you’d like to focus if elected?

1. Building on the Bancroft property.

This is a huge opportunity for our community. It’s our chance to set Haddonfield schools up to excel for the next decade. But to get it right, we need the entire community engaged.

If we don’t act, we’re eventually going to have classes taught in trailers and dozens of kids told they can’t participate in sports. And that’s the last thing we want.

I’d like everyone to feel invested in the direction we choose, and together, we move forward as one Haddonfield.

2. Promoting a diverse, inclusive curriculum.

I’m in favor of a diverse curriculum that presents a range of views and perspectives. Evidence demonstrates this as the best path toward academic excellence, and Haddonfield’s track record of being in the top one percent of schools provides further proof.

My kids have benefitted from an amazing Haddonfield education, and I’m fighting to keep the quality of our curriculum from being compromised for the next generation of kids.

3. The increase in HIB incidents.

HIB (Harassment/Intimidation/Bullying) has spiked dramatically since we’ve returned from remote learning. This needs to be the top priority of our administrators.

I will give my full attention to ensure that Haddonfield schools are a model of inclusivity. We need to come together, and build a school system that recognizes that all our students are worthy of acceptance, worthy of empathy, and worthy of an outstanding education.


Jamie Grookett. Credit: Jamie Grookett.

Jaime Grookett (Incumbent)

Rowan University education professor Jaime Grookett is a 14-year Haddonfield resident and a married mother of two school-aged children.

She is the sitting president of the Haddonfield Board of Education.

Grookett began her career as an English teacher at Audubon Junior-Senior High School, and now supervises secondary Language Arts student teachers.

In her free time, she enjoys writing, cooking, exercising, and reading.




What is your philosophy of education?

Education should empower students with the tools for academic achievement, analytical thinking, and empathetic responses to others.

Education should teach the whole child, and should offer meaningful, real-life learning experiences that not only prepare students to succeed in life upon graduation, but also equip them with skills necessary for individual happiness and collective happiness: a sense of civic engagement, a love of lifelong learning, and strong inter- and intrapersonal skills.

Education should challenge all students and set a firm academic foundation they can build upon each year.

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

As the current school board president, I know there is a lot of work to be done. We are fortunate to have passionate, committed staff, faculty, and families eager to work together to keep moving forward. I am appreciative to serve alongside such a dedicated community, and I hope to continue to serve for another term.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

As we prepare for a bond referendum next year, our challenge is to create a vision for school and facility improvements that meet the growing needs of our community in a fiscally responsible way.

What are the biggest strengths of your school district?

The community of teachers, staff, and families is its biggest strength. Because of the dedication of so many individuals who work together, we can achieve more.

What are three key issues on which you’d like to focus if elected?

I’d like to focus on:

  1. Creating a long-range facilities plan that meets the needs of our community
  2. Fostering a learning environment where all students, faculty, and staff feel a sense of belonging
  3. Continuing to create a challenging, student-centered curriculum that prepares students for success, and instills in them the ability to contribute to their communities, both local and global, upon graduation.

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