HOPEWELL: School board candidates face no opposition

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By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
Though only one incumbent member of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District’s Board of Education will be seeking re-election on Nov. 8, all three candidates will be running unopposed.
Michael Markulec will be the only incumbent in this race after Gordon Lewis, the lone Hopewell Borough member of the board, and Bruce Gunther, who served for Hopewell Township, both opted to not seek reelection.
On Nov. 8, Peter DiDonato and Susan Pollara join Mr. Markulec in a bid for three three-year terms on the board.
Mr. Markulec and Mr. DiDonato will be running to represent Hopewell Township, while Ms. Pollara will be running to represent Hopewell Borough.
Mr. Markulec could not be reached for comment.
As a father of two children, Nadia and Peter, Mr. DiDonato said he and his wife, Jenn, moved to Hopewell Township from San Diego, California, in July 2012. At the time, he said they wanted to raise their children in the area because “we determined Hopewell Valley to be the district” in which to do just that.
Though he has not served in an official capacity in Hopewell, Mr. DiDonato has been involved on the principal search committee for Bear Tavern Elementary. He is also an active Cub Scout Den leader with Pack 1776.
While in California, however, Mr. DiDonato served over a year with the Carlsbad Unified School District and San Diego County Community College District, offering technology advisory services during district upgrades and technology enhancements.
Mr. DiDonato said those experiences helped shape his decision to run.
“I feel it necessary for all parents to not only be involved with their children, but also the community where they reside,” he said. “Officially serving on the board will allow me greater insight and the ability to be an active participant in the decision-making process.”
One of the district’s strengths, he said, was its willingness to be “open and receptive to new and innovative ideas.”
“Like most other districts, Hopewell Valley schools will require continued technology cohesion, such as clearer communication plans across all schools, the learning systems and their platform integration, the broader connection and understanding of students in socialized situations and cyber security,” he said. “I plan to assist the school board by providing insight and potential solutions in keeping ahead of the technology growth curve.”
Over the next five years, Mr. DiDonato said he hopes the district can be come “sustainably certified, while reducing the overall carbon footprint.”
“(I hope the district will) achieve more growth in Magnet programs like STEM or STEAM and continue to grow the parental engagement trend,” he said. “I plan to work closely with the school board to assist in any way possible where I am needed most to apply my experience and work ethic to achieve greater results.”
As for Ms. Pollara, the decision to run stemmed from a want to “put my professional experiences and deep commitment to Hopewell Borough and the school district to work on the school board.”
A resident of Hopewell Borough since she and her husband, Nick, moved in April 2005, Ms. Pollara has two sons, Ben and Max, at Hopewell Elementary.
“We sought out Hopewell Borough based on its reputation for great schools and a strong sense of community,” she said.
Ms. Pollara currently serves on the borough’s Economic Development Committee, as well as the Parent Committee for the Before and After Care Program for the last three years. She has also been a member of the Principal’s Parent Advisory Committee at Hopewell Elementary for the last year.
“In order for our community, our children, and schools to continue to thrive, it takes all of us to do our part,” she said.
The district’s greatest resource, Ms. Pollara said, was the teachers and staff who “every day give so much to our students” and the numerous volunteers who help out. She also commended the district’s efforts to maintain open communication with the public.
Chief among her concerns is how the district plans on utilizing the $35 million referendum that was passed last month.
“The tax burden is an important issue to Hopewell Borough residents,” she said. “Rising property taxes are making it difficult for some families to stay in our community.”
If elected, Ms. Pollara said she would “work with the other board members to advocate for responsible financial oversight.”
“I know that this is an issue across the district and sensitivity to the needs of all constituents and fiscal prudence are essential,” she said. 