NJ Pen Elections 2023: Meet the Haddonfield School Board Candidates


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

By Matt Skoufalos | October 25, 2023

On November 7, voters in Haddonfield will choose from among four balloted candidates for three seats on the borough school board: incumbent Michael Nuckols and challengers Stephen Derkoski, Jessica Drass, and Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq.

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 district. Answers were edited for clarity and length.


Stephen Derkoski. Credit: Stephen Derkoski.

Stephen Derkoski, 74 (Challenger)

Stephen Derkoski, a married father of three, is retired from a lifelong career in education in various assignments across South Jersey.

His wife of 47 years, Deborah, worked as an elementary school teacher and reading specialist.

His son is a special needs teacher at the Gloucester County Special Services School District, the older of his two daughters is a high school business teacher in Boston, and the younger is a software engineer for J.P. Morgan.

What is your philosophy of education?

Having spent my entire career in education, I believe that kids come first.

It is the responsibility of the Board of Education to provide a thorough, efficient, and appropriate program for all students at all academic levels.

What personal and professional experiences would you bring to the table as a school board member?

I have been Superintendent of Schools in Greenwich Township, Monroe Township, Sea Isle City, and Woodbury Heights.

In Monroe Township, I also was an assistant superintendent, elementary school principal, K-8 assistant principal, middle school teacher and elementary school teacher. In Mantua, I was the child study team director and supervisor of special education.

I have worked as the Camden County College Executive Director of School Services, as a Clinical Practice Supervisor for Rowan University, as Assistant Executive Director of the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC), and as a Central Office Administrator tasked with managing and properly implementing the Title 1 program in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Education.

I’ve also been a high-school basketball coach.

Why are you running for office?

I believe I can be an asset and a resource for the already excellent Haddonfield Board of Education.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

The passing of a Bond Referendum, and continuing to provide an excellent education to all students.

What are three key issues on which you will focus if elected?

  1. Passing the bond referendum.
  2. Ensuring a safe and secure learning environment.
  3. Monitoring the progress of providing a progressive and appropriate curriculum.


Jessica Drass. Credit: Jessica Drass.

Jessica Drass, 43 (Challenger)

A lifelong South Jersey resident, Jessica Drass is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts and a Trauma Specialist with Temple University’s Philadelphia Healthy & Safe Schools (PHASeS) Program.

Jessica and her husband, Charles, moved to Haddonfield in 2017 so their son, C.J., could attend the borough public school district.

Today, C.J. is a middle-schooler and member of the Haddonfield Soccer Club.

Drass has immersed herself in activities within the school district by volunteering as a room parent as well as with activities like Art Goes to School, Art Reflections, and the Tatem Talent Show.

What is your philosophy of education?

I believe education is a process that is constantly evolving.

It is something that happens every day, yet all too often is taken for granted.

I value an approach to critical pedagogy that interrogates worldviews and embraces discomfort for the sake of transformation.

As an educator, I work to provide opportunities for learning through aesthetic means. My teaching style highlights the role of embodiment through performance as a way to practice discomfort, deconstruct binary modes of thinking and expose the tensions of in-between spaces to allow for the transformation of thought and acquisition of new knowledge.

Education does not exist in a vacuum. My teaching style recognizes culture as a form of knowledge that is in a state of continual negotiation between a being and its environment. As a teacher, I acknowledge there are different styles of learning, plus many outside circumstances that can influence a student’s education.

It is important to take these outside factors into account, diversify the methods of instruction to accommodate various learning styles, and take an interdisciplinary perspective to education to create learning communities within the classroom and beyond. What a student learns in one class can be applied not only to other classes, but also to situations that occur outside the classroom.

What personal and professional experiences would you bring to the table as a school board member?

I am a trauma-informed psychotherapist, professor, author, researcher and former high-school teacher committed to collaborative community building. I know firsthand the importance of mental health and its impact on learning.

When someone feels or is excluded because of who they are or how they learn it can increase distress and get in the way of learning. Social and Emotional Learning in schools is key to increasing the health and success of our students.

I’m running on a platform emphasizing the need to support the mental health and overall well-being not just for students, but also for teachers, staff, administrators and the school community. Mental health matters for schools to thrive.

Why are you running for office?

I love school and have always been involved in education throughout my life. I have been a high-school teacher and have a degree in School Psychology. I am a professor who trains future educators at the University of the Arts, and a Trauma Specialist stationed at a K-8 public school in North Philly through Temple University’s Philadelphia Healthy and Safe Schools program (PHASeS).

I am also a grassroots organizer, both on the national and local level. I have studied how local school boards have been attacked in recent years, and decided it was time for me to get involved. It would be an honor to serve this wonderful community and advocate for all voices in town as a member of the Haddonfield Board of Education.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

Finding room in town for expansion, modernizing old buildings, disinformation, and student stress/staff burnout.

What are three key issues on which you will focus if elected?

The three key issues that are most important to me are:

  1. Full-day kindergarten.
  2. Advocating for the arts.
  3. SEL across the curriculum/initiatives to improve mental health and well-being.


Michael Nuckols. Credit: Michael Nuckols.

Michael Nuckols, 52 (Incumbent)

Michael Nuckols is the Senior Vice President and Creative Director at McCann Health New Jersey, a baseball fanatic, and an avid hiker.

Nuckols and his wife, Shani, raised their children Jack and Alex in Haddonfield, where the couple believes they’ve gotten an amazing education, and want to give back to the community.

What is your philosophy of education?

Trust the teachers to be the experts, and create an environment where every kid feels accepted, supported, and welcomed.

Do those two things, and watch the kids thrive.

What personal and professional experiences would you bring to the table as a school board member?

I’ve served on the Board of Education for the past year, so that experience is invaluable. I’m also a communications professional, which sometimes helps more effectively engage the community.

Why are you running for office?

My mother was the President of the Board of Education in the town where I was raised. I grew up seeing the incredible impact she had on the people in our community. She’s my role model and my personal hero.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

Of the 500-plus school districts in New Jersey, we are one of only six that don’t offer full-day Kindergarten. That will soon present a competitive disadvantage. If we act, it has the potential to take our already exceptional academic performance that much higher; however, to make that happen, we need more classroom space.

What are three key issues on which you will focus if elected?

  1. Maximize classroom and field space while minimizing tax burden.
  2. Prioritize and incentivize academic excellence.
  3. Continue developing a culture that celebrate diversity.


Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq . Credit: Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq.

Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq, 41

A married mother of four, Nousheen Yousuf-Sadiq and her family moved to Haddonfield seven years ago, on the strength of the reputation of its public school district, specifically for special education.

Yousuf-Sadiq is mother to a special-needs child.

Since his diagnosis at the age of two, she has been persistent about navigating his challenges, and working with the community to be more understanding and inclusive of people who are differently-abled.

What is your philosophy of education?

I feel that the goal for our children’s education should not simply be reserved for academic excellence, but to make our students excel in all areas of life by knowing how to care for each other, cope with their struggles, and foster a work ethic to help them achieve their highest potential.

My philosophy of education is that students learn best through immersive educational experiences that allow them to develop these skills. With parents, teachers, and staff collaborating together, we can strengthen our schools to raise great students, responsible citizens, and compassionate community members.

What personal and professional experiences would you bring to the table as a school board member?

I have been involved with my children’s school and the Haddonfield community for the past several years. I am the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair for the Tatem Elementary PTA, a trustee for the Haddonfield Foundation, co-leader for my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, and parent co-lead for our district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG).

I feel that I have built relationships with many individuals in the community through my volunteer efforts, and we are all working towards improving the schools for our children.

Additionally, with my educational background in the study of Abrahamic faiths and previous experience in interfaith dialogue, I learned how to relate to those who may not have the same beliefs or practices as me, because we unite with each other on the values that we share.

Why are you running for office?

I have really enjoyed my involvement with the schools and Haddonfield community. With my position on Tatem PTA’s executive board, I had the pleasure of working closely with administration to implement school programs throughout the year.

Additionally, working with SEPAG has allowed me to extend initiatives to the other elementary schools and engage with their staff and students. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback as well as constructive criticism, and would really like to continue this work at the district level to bring in my perspective as a PTA member, parent, and Haddonfield resident.

What are the biggest challenges your school district faces?

In one word: space! I think creating more space, either with new construction or repurposing old ones, is imperative to making our students’ learning experience more fruitful. I know as a special needs parent, that our special service providers in the district feel that they are limited by what they can do for their students because they don’t have the proper space.

I have seen our teachers use their creativity with using available space in hallways and using carts for supplies, but it will be in the best interest of both teachers and students if we can encourage a more efficient use of space in the buildings in the district.

Moreover, Haddonfield has yet to implement full-day kindergarten for our students. If elected, I believe I would be the only sitting board member who has a young child at home, so any decisions made regarding early childhood education would directly impact my family. I hope to bring in my perspective as a parent of a future kindergartener when envisioning the restructuring of our schools.

What are three key issues on which you will focus if elected?

The three issues I would work on are facilities and infrastructure, teacher and staff wellness, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The buildings in our district could use updates to be more structurally sound and make their spaces available more effective for learning. There has always been attention put on this topic by our Board of Education, but it is an interest of mine to continue working on it.

I would also like to make sure that all of our teachers and staff, administration to custodians, feel that their needs are being met. This is imperative for them to be present for both their own families and their students, and to prevent burnout. Appreciation efforts are wonderful, but if there is a call for change to make their job easier, I hope the board can work it out.

Lastly, I would continue to build on my work in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives by utilizing engaging educational experiences. I believe that our district needs to be proactive, not reactive, for teaching our students about each other. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is a way to reduce HIB incidents by fostering understanding and respect among our community members.

My job on the PTA covers anything from making sure students with mobility devices can easily access school activities, to celebrating the diverse cultures and rich history that makes up the fabric of our community, to providing sensory break areas and awareness events for our neurodiverse children. This has been a rewarding experience for me, and I genuinely enjoy educating both myself and my community about one another, and hope I am given the opportunity to continue doing so.

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