OLD BRIDGE — Seven candidates are vying for the three, three year term seats available on the Board of Education in the upcoming election.
Incumbents Kelly Ellis-Foster and Donna Andriani will face newcomers Theresa Burns, Jill DeCaro, Kyler Dineen, Lisa Lent-Miller and Matthew Sulikowski.
Board member Frank Weber is not seeking another term on the board.
Donna Andriani, 63, who is a 21-year resident of the township, is seeking her fourth term on the board. She is married with one adult son.
Andriani earned a bachelor of science degree in geoscience and a master’s degree in urban education from New Jersey City University, and master’s degree in environmental science from Montclair State University and an education doctorate degree in curriculum and instruction from Nova Southeastern University.
She is a retired science teacher with 39 years of service.
Andriani said she was an active coach for recreation basketball, soccer and baseball when her son was growing up in Old Bridge. For more than 13 years, she has been an active member of Boy Scout Troop 219.
“Currently my main focus is with school district events and functions,” she said.
Andriani said she believes that Old Bridge has a terrific school district and she would like it to remain strong and progressive.
“I believe all students can learn, but may learn in different ways,” she said. “I believe that all students should be afforded those learning opportunities. I believe in the achievement of all students and am steadfast in my commitment to provide programs and opportunities that reach and connect with students of all abilities and ages for academic success [which] includes elective, artistic, and career and trade courses.”
Andriani said she is always committed to a progressive curriculum to engage all students and would like to continue to work on the district’s facilities.
“For years, the BOE has researched classroom air conditioning and we finally have the technology and financial grant support to start some of those energy saving measures including solar power,” she said.
Andriani said students in the district deserve modern classrooms with current technological support.
“We have started an energy savings improvement plan that provides upgrades and improvements in many buildings,” she said. “I am looking forward to seeing those projects through their completion.”
Theresa Burns, who is an eight-year resident of the township, is seeking her first term on the board.
She earned a degree in health and physical education from Kean University. She is an activities aide for Care One in Holmdel assisting patients who have dementia and other special concerns.
Burns said although this is her first time seeking a seat on the board, she said helping out in the community is not new to her.
“I began by working with the Community Advisory Group, which creates open dialog between the public and Environmental Protection Agency on the cleanup of the Super Fund site [in the] Laurence Harbor [section of the township],” she said.
Burns said as a parent, she is an active participant in her children’s schools, PTAs and she serves as a Cub Scout master for Pack 531.
Currently, Burns is a liaison for the Special Education Parent Advisory group.
“This is a group that communicates systemic problems our students and staff face and takes feedback, both positive and negative, to our group leaders who then share it with our education administration,” she said.
Burns said she is running for a seat on the Board of Education because she said education is one of the most important tools to have.
“[I want] the community to have the best options and the best resources when it comes to what our children need,” she said. “In some parts of the world people are willing to risk their lives to obtain an education, and in our society, it is something we sometimes take for granted.”
Burns said if elected she wants to help Old Bridge obtain the standards she knows the district is capable of; to ensure student and faculty safety and create research based practices and policies where all students have equal access to education.
“As an example, an area I would like to improve on is our district’s ability to provide an environment that encompasses both physical and emotional aspects and the ability to create open communication that encourages us to surpass state and federal standards,” she said. “This can be accomplished by using a cost effective scrutiny to determine when doing so is possible and in the best interest of not only our students, but also our community.”
Burns said experiences that she has had in the classroom and as a parent have provided her the opportunities to understand that every child learns differently and has unique needs.
“Education is not one-size-fits-all and neither are the people we trust to guide us with it,” she said. “As a taxpayer, as an educator, and as a parent I have a well-rounded point of view that can help us reach our common goals for our children and best serve our community.”
Jill DeCaro, 52, who is a 19-year resident of the township, is seeking her first time on the board. She is married and has three adult children.
DeCaro earned her associate of applied science degree from Union County College in dental hygiene. She is a dental hygienist specializing in pediatric dentistry.
She previously was employed as a special education paraprofessional in the Old Bridge Township School District from 2011-2014.
In the community, DeCaro has served as a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) member for 19 years in various capacities, served on the Project Graduation committee, Shore Aide Executive committee, and New Jersey State Track Championship Executive committee.
“Over the past 19 years, I have held many positions on the PTA, in addition to holding a job as a paraprofessional,” she said. “These experiences, plus my desire to be involved, enable me to have a unique perspective on the many challenges and issues confronting our very large school district.”
DeCaro said now that her children are at the higher level of education and beyond, she said she has the time it takes to dedicate to being a member of the Old Bridge Board of Education and become an integral part of the process.
If elected, DeCaro said she will work collaboratively with board members and administration to support the district’s strategic plan, which includes continued innovative programs in academics, arts and athletics; infrastructure improvements; and parent and community involvement in a fiscally responsible manner.
“My passion lies in health and wellness so I would like to work toward bringing more nutrition education to the district and to work with our food service provider to ensure we are providing our students with healthy options,” she said. “The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow and with that comes the great responsibility to provide them with the tools and skills they need to succeed in the world.”
Kelly Ellis-Foster, 54, who is a 19-year resident of the township, is seeking her second term on the board.
She is married to John and they have two children. Alexander is a 2012 Old Bridge High School graduate and an American University graduate, who is currently a second lieutenant in the United States Army, currently deployed to Afghanistan. Caitlin, a 2016 OBHS graduate, is currently a freshman at Montclair University.
Ellis-Foster earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science and theatre from the State University of New York at Potsdam and a master’s in business administration (MBA) from Monmouth University.
In April, Ellis-Foster retired after 30 years with Honeywell International. During her time at the company, she worked primarily within the human resources function focusing on employee benefits, communication, organizational development and learning.
“I am Six-Sigma certified, have managed multi-million-dollar projects and developed skills that have helped me greatly on the Board of Education,” she said. “I now have an independent consulting company specializing in change management and leadership development.”
In the community, Ellis-Foster has volunteered in numerous school and community events/fundraisers. She has worked at the concession stand at the OBHS football games, she has chaperoned class trips, worked PTA events and supported many charitable organizations.
Ellis-Foster is the founder of the Old Bridge Glass Slipper, served as Girl Scout Leader of Troop 81816, served as Cub Scout Leader for Pack 129, serves as a trustee of the Alumni Path Foundation, serves as a member of the Old Bridge Relay for Life committee, serves on the executive committee of the Shore Aid Telethon and serves on the OBHS Marching Knights Parents Fundraising committee.
“Giving back to the community is something I feel very strongly about and I have demonstrated that over the past 19 years,” she said.
Ellis-Foster said the Old Bridge School District has made significant gains in the past few years. Examples include the expanded Challenge program, Shop Rite at OBHS, Response to Intervention program, improved classroom technology, updated security and an Energy Savings program.
“Focus is on every child at every level and every capability,” she said. “We are a District of Character and have our first Blue Ribbon School. I want to continue to serve on the BOE to ensure we stay on this path. We have just scratched the surface of our potential and need members with the same vision to succeed. We cannot go backwards.”
If reelected, Ellis-Foster said the one area it is imperative to work on is the implementation of the district’s first community based strategic plan.
“This five-year plan has four focus areas — Excellence in Education, Facility Improvement and Expansion, Fiscal Resilience and the Whole Child,” she said. “There are detailed and specific action plans that span the next five years to continue the growth of the district and greater student success. It balances our need to keep funding low and expanding programs and services. I support our current administration and this plan and will continue to make sure their vision is implemented for the betterment of our children.”
Lisa Lent-Miller, 40, who is a 16-year resident of the township, is seeking her first term on the board. She is married with one child, who is a graduate of OBHS and is currently attending college.
Lent-Miller earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting and business and earned her master’s degree in business management. She is a senior accountant and small business owner.
In the community, Lent-Miller serves as treasurer of the Old Bridge Animal volunteer’s group and attends every Council meeting.
Lent-Miller said she is running for a seat on the BOE to ensure that each and every student gets the highest quality education possible.
“Our schools must continue to be innovative and forward thinking,” she said. “We must continue to cultivate strong teachers and we must provide an evolving curriculum to fit the needs of all students.”
Lent-Miller said her goal is to ensure that all students are adequately prepared for the next stage of life.
“Students need to become more globally competitive when they graduate high school,” she said.
Lent-Miller said her business and accounting education and background provides her with the tools and knowledge to help create and support a balanced budget with increased transparency for all taxpayers.
“With some forward looking leadership and careful planning, we can ensure that our schools continue to innovate and provide academic excellence while remaining fiscally sound,” she said.
Matthew Sulikowski, 70, who is a 20-year resident of the township, is seeking his fourth term on the board. He is married with two children and three grandchildren who attend the Old Bridge Township School District.
Sulikowski earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts technology from Newark State Teachers College, now Kean University. He also holds a state welders license. He is a retired OBHS teacher with 36 years of service and experience in program development and budgeting.
The retired educator previously served on the BOE for nine years. During that time, he chaired a number of committees including Buildings and Grounds and Curriculum and Strategic Planning.
He has been an active member of the Old Bridge education community for more than 45 years, having attended numerous graduations, chaperoning numerous project graduations and high school dances.
In the community, Sulikowski is a member of the Madison Township Historical Society, American Numismatic Society and the Historic Philatelic Society. For several years, he also has been participating in the township’s campaign to fight hunger with the ShopRite of Old Bridge.
Sulikowski said he is running for another seat on the BOE because he believes the experience and training that he has received in his professional life as a school teacher aids him in making informed and sound decisions for the benefit of the children of Old Bridge as well as the community.
“Being a teacher for over three decades in Old Bridge, we used a lottery system to determine parking for the students,” he said. “For this reason, I support termination of the $100 parking fee.”
Sulikowski said he would also like to see the summer work study program reinstated at the high school level.
“This program worked in conjunction with the maintenance department on basic level buildings and grounds repairs,” he said.
Sulikowski said lastly, he would like to see half year program courses implemented into the curriculum.
“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,” he said.
Candidate Kyler Dineen did not return an election questionnaire before press time. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 7.