METUCHEN — Four candidates are vying for the three, three-year seats open on the Metuchen Board of Education (BOE) in the November election.
Justin H. Manley is seeking his second term on the board, while Michele Cook, Chris Alan Derflinger and William F. Waldron, Jr. are seeking their first terms.
Board Vice President Merrill Lunt and Board Member Aileen McGuire are not seeking re-election on Nov. 6.
Michele C. Cook, 41, who has been a Metuchen resident for more than four years, is married to Jerred and they have two young children.
“My decision to run for the Metuchen BOE was based upon my experience as a Campbell/Moss PTO [Parent Teacher Organization] board member, after attending nearly every BOE meeting this past year, and as a parent of school-aged children in town,” she said. “With my experience as an attorney, as well as my recent entry into the field of education, I feel that I have the skill set to listen to various points of view, research and review both comment and fact, and work together as a board to determine what is best for all of the stakeholders.”
Cook said she and her runningmate, Chris Alan Derflinger, are running to advocate for all of the students in Metuchen.
“Some of the issues that our district faces include, but are not limited to class size and overcrowding in the schools; facilities and infrastructure needs; providing meaningful and challenging courses of study for all students at all levels of learning; and inclusion and acceptance of people of all types,” she said. “I believe that transparency and communication are of utmost importance, and, if elected, will work with the various stakeholders in Metuchen to continue to lift our schools to their full potential.”
Cook is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, and has been an attorney for nearly two decades. She recently obtained her conditional teaching certificate in social studies and will be working as a substitute teacher starting this fall.
In the community, Cook is currently the treasurer for the Campbell/Moss PTO, she is the former secretary of the Campbell/Moss PTO, is a member of NJ Fiberworks, and is an active volunteer in town soccer and other organizations.
Chris Alan Derflinger, 32, who grew up in Metuchen, is a 2003 graduate of Metuchen High School. He lived in Roselle Park for a few years before returning to Metuchen about three years ago. He is married with three young children.
“Student success and implementing best educational practices are at the top of my passions,” he said. “I have been a dedicated teacher for more than a decade. With the experience I have and the insights into educational policies and programs that I have inherited throughout my career, I felt that it was part of my parental and professional duty to run for the Board of Education. I have three young children that will be going through the Metuchen Public Schools. It is only natural for me to be a part of the educational conversation in the town.”
If elected, Derflinger said there are many areas that need to be focused on, but one issue that is reoccurring and relevant to our town is the growth in student population in Metuchen.
“As an educator, I can attest first hand to the detrimental effect of overcrowding in the classroom,” he said. “Smaller class size is always a plus and with that in mind, creating a comprehensive plan of action that addresses the growth in student population, while also soliciting feedback from internal and external school stakeholders, is essential for the future of our town’s public schools.”
Derflinger is a third grade teacher in Hillside. In the community, he said he and his family are very involved with the community.
“We take all opportunities to participate in school functions,” he said. “Additionally, our daughters are actively involved in the town’s sports programs. I am currently a trustee on the Metuchen Education Foundation, which funds grants submitted by district staff members for the benefit of Metuchen public school students.”
Justin H. Manley, 46, who has been a Metuchen resident for 33 years, has three children.
“I am seeking re-election because the work I set off to do three years ago is not complete,” he said. “We have made great advances in technology assets by improving the website, upgrading the network and phone systems along with key security upgrades.”
Manley said the district’s one-to-one initiative that provides each student from fifth to 12th grades with a Chromebook is halfway complete.
“We approved and have begun construction on new science labs at Metuchen High School, but we will need to acquire the staff next,” he said. “The next phase of growth must include addressing space issues at all four schools to give us the flexibility to provide the educational environment and offerings that our community expects. Our kids should not be eating lunch at 10:45 in the morning after sitting in 90 degree classrooms.”
If re-elected, Manley said he will focus his efforts on moving the community to consensus on the school environment everyone wants their children and teachers to be in, and then drive to acquire the funding to execute on the plan.
“Since my now-12th grader started kindergarten at Moss school, we have added 300 students to the Metuchen school system. … That is nearly two grades worth,” he said. “We cannot offer modern block scheduling at Metuchen High School because of constraints on providing lunch to all 700-plus students now attending. Edgar has similar challenges. At Campbell we are space constrained and have a single ‘Café-Gym-Atorium’ to have physical education, lunch and assemblies. We cannot offer full day kindergarten due to space constraints at Moss. All of these issues and more need to be addressed in the coming years. Ignoring it now makes the problems bigger down the road.”
Manley is a chief operations officer for Berkley Environmental. In the community, he served as a borough council member from 2008-11, is a founding member of Fucille Foundation and Fuce 5K; serves on the planning committee; is a chaperone for the Habitat for Humanity Youth Mission Trip; served as president of the board of directors for Community Nursery School; and has served as a volunteer, coach and commissioner for Metuchen Baseball Recreation, Tournament and Travel, and Metuchen Recreation Floor Hockey.
Will Waldron, 50, who has been a Metuchen resident for 20 years, is married with three daughters.
“I am running to help ensure that each of our students is afforded every opportunity to learn, excel and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment,” he said. “We have dedicated professional educators who are focused on the district goals of academic, social and emotional growth. I want to work with our administrators and educators to ensure that our mission is fulfilled. As a board of trustees member at Kiddie Keep Well Camp, a summer camp for at-risk children from Middlesex County, I see firsthand the consequence of children who advance in school without capturing the goals we have embraced in Metuchen.”
Waldron, who is an attorney, said every student learns differently.
“I want to ensure that all of our students are receiving the attention and support they need and that our educators proactively identify those who require additional daily support to achieve their personal best and in furtherance of the district goals. I trust that the support my children received will continue, but I will make sure all of the students in all of our schools are receiving the support required to be successful and attempt to measure their outcomes so we can identify continuous improvement in all of our students.”
In the community, Waldron has served as head coach/assistant coach with Metuchen Travel Soccer, served as a borough councilman from 2008-11 and serves on the board of directors of Kiddie Keep Well Camp in Edison.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 6.