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Five candidates seek three seats on Old Bridge school board

Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Five candidates are vying for the three, three-year seats that are available on the Board of Education (BOE) in the upcoming election.

Three incumbents — Balwinder Singh, Jill Cali and Annette Tunyla Hopman — will face former board member Matthew Sulikowski and newcomer Walter Reed.

Jill Cali, who is seeking her first elected term on the board, has lived in the township for more than 20 years. She was appointed in August to fill the seat vacated by former board member Nancy Mongon.

She is a graduate of Saddle Brook High School and earned a degree from the Taylor Business Institute in Paramus. She is currently employed as a legal assistant.

Cali has two adult daughters. She said for more than 20 years, she has been an active volunteer in all the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) at the schools her daughters attended.

In addition to other positions on the executive boards and subcommittees of the PTAs, she served as president of the James McDivitt Elementary School PTA, treasurer of the Carl Sandburg Middle School PTA and president of the Old Bridge High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).

“I have been a member of the Old Bridge PTA Presidents’ Council for 18 years,” she said, adding that most of those years she coordinated the PTA’s monthly food drives for the benefit of the Old Bridge Food Bank, and for the last three years she served as coordinator and liaison on the council.

Cali said she served on the committee that organized and produced the telethon, which the township held to aid neighbors in Old Bridge, Sayreville and South Amboy after superstorm Sandy in 2012.

For seven years, Cali has been a volunteer on the Project Graduation Committee of Old Bridge High School, and for four years she has been a member of the Old Bridge Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse.

“Through the years, many people suggested I run for the [BOE], but the timing was never right,” she said. “With my youngest now a college senior, I feel I can now devote the time necessary to be a productive board member. I love this town. It has been an honor to serve this district for the past 20 years as an advocate for the students, staff, administration and the community, and I hope to be given the opportunity to continue to do so as an elected member of our BOE.”

Cali said since being appointed in August, she has attended every regular and every committee meeting and plans to continue to do so.

“I believe board positions carry the responsibility of being all in,” she said. “One thing I will be working on and hope to continue if elected is public relations. I am currently chairing that board committee.”

Cali said since she has been on the Presidents’ Council for 18 years, she feels she is strongly connected to the PTAs.

“I want to foster better communication between the board and the community and involve the community in the board’s plans for the future of our children,” she said.

Annette Tunyla Hopman, who is seeking a sixth term on the board, is a 51-year resident of the township.

She has three adult children and two grandchildren.

She is a graduate of the Old Bridge School District and has a degree in criminal justice. She is currently employed as an executive secretary to the administration of the Roosevelt Care Center at Old Bridge.

Hopman has served on the board for 15 years. She has chaired the Curriculum Committee and Shared Service Committee and is liaison to the Chamber of Commerce for the school district.

“I am running for the BOE in order to continue to play an active role in the oversight and provision of a district-wide, equitable and quality education, affording our children the ability to reach their full potential as caring, productive citizens with rewarding jobs, a sense of community and a high level of personal satisfaction,” she said.

Hopman said she would continue to promote the addition of a daycare program along with a preschool program that she has proposed.

She would also like to promote the reestablishment of the Adult High School along with more vocational programs within the district.

Walter Reed, who is seeking his first term on the board, is a lifelong resident of the township.

He has two adult children and five grandchildren; he noted that one of his grandchildren attends school in Old Bridge.

Reed, a retired Old Bridge teacher for 41 years, is a 1964 graduate of Madison Township High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from Bemidji State University in Minnesota.

“Up until I retired [in 2009], I ran the Cable TV channel for the school district,” he said. “I also ran the local channel for the township for five years under Mayors [Arthur] Haney and [Barbara] Cannon. In this capacity, I worked with students of all ages and adults from all over the township.”

Reed said he was also on the Cable TV Committee in Old Bridge and worked on a committee with Cannon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to put together a 14-hour telethon 17 days after the tragedy.

“[We] had groups from around our community performing, and we raised $66,000 for the families from Old Bridge that lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks,” he said.

Reed said he is running for the BOE because he believes he can make a difference.

“I feel that the biggest part of being a good BOE member is being able to listen to what our citizens have to say,” he said. “I am a good listener, and I have the ability to state my opinion and work with others to come to a consensus knowing Old Bridge has a good, strong educational system. I will work to make sure a good system continues and that it improves with each year.”

Reed said one of his pet projects, if elected, would be to work with food services to improve school lunches.

“Organic produce and meats without antibiotics or growth hormones would be a good start,” he said.

Reed said he commends the district on being designated a National District of Character.

“My pride in Old Bridge has grown over the years, and I hope I can play a part in continuing to make Old Bridge a great place to live, work and go to school,” he said.

Balwinder Singh, who is seeking his second term on the board, is a 17-year resident of the township.

He has a daughter who is a junior at Old Bridge High School.

Singh earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, history and philosophy. He is a facilities manager, business owner and was a college professor in India.

“Old Bridge is a melting pot of multiple cultures, and I am proud of the Old Bridge community,” he said. “Whatever time I can get from my family and full-time job, I am pleased and honored to give something back to my community.”

Singh said as a former teacher, he has a strong reverence for education.

“Children are the future of our nation and educating them for the future global job market is our prime responsibility,” he said. “I am a firm believer that each child is born with knowledge, and a good teacher brings the best out of a child with proper education. So developing and promoting a good learning environment is a collective responsibility of parents, schools and community.”

Singh said if as a citizen he can contribute a little in this sacred cause, he thinks he will feel blessed.

“I was honored and privileged to serve our community through the board for the last three years, and it will be a pleasure to continue serving Old Bridge again,” he said.

Singh said, if re-elected, he would continue to work on quality education with fiscal responsibility.

“The board represents public trust with accountability and a vision for a better future of our children,” he said.

Matthew Sulikowski, who is seeking his fourth term on the board, is an 18-year resident of the township.

He has two adult children and three grandchildren, including one who is currently a freshman at Old Bridge High School.

Sulikowski earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in industrial arts from Newark State Teachers College. He is retired after working 45 years as an educator. He was an Old Bridge High School teacher of industrial arts.

Up until January, Sulikowski said he was fully committed to his seat on the BOE, which consumed much of his time and effort. He lost his bid for another board term in last year’s election.

“I am currently a member of the Madison Township Historical Society and as of this year, a member of the Old Bridge Air Force Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program,” he said.

Sulikowski said he is running for another term on the board because it is his belief that the experiences he has encountered and the extensive training he has received in his professional life as a schoolteacher helps him make informed, sound decisions for the benefit of the children as well as the community in Old Bridge.

“Children are the unspoken strength of our great country,” he said. “We need to provide a strong foundation and inspiration for all our children to become productive and successful members of our society. As grandparents and parents we need to get involved in the educational philosophy.”

Sulikowski said when he first served on the BOE, there was a lot of nepotism and the district seemed disjointed.

“It appears to me that we may be heading in that direction again,” he said.

Sulikowski said he would like to see the current $100 parking fee at the schools eliminated since the taxpayers already pay to keep the township schools and grounds maintained.

“Being a teacher for over three decades in Old Bridge, in the past we used a lottery to determine parking for the students,” he said. “For this reason I support termination of the $100 parking fee.”

Furthermore, he said he would like to see a special-needs and summer work study program brought back to Old Bridge students.

“Last, but not least, I would like to see half-year program courses implemented into our curriculum,” he said. “Students would be exposed to a larger variety of programs, which would allow them to have a much broader approach from different instructional teaching methods.”

Sulikowski said it would keep students focused in their particular interests.

“This approach would also permit seniors to take college and trade experience courses if enough credits have been accumulated,” he said.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 8.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.

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