FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Seven candidates are seeking three available three-year terms on the Freehold Township K-8 School District Board of Education in the Nov. 6 election.
The terms of board members Mary Cozzolino, Jason Levy and Kay Poklemba-Holtz will end in December.
The candidates seeking the terms are Cozzolino, Levy, Poklemba-Holtz, Sherlock Dow, Brian Lipnicky, Richard Pelaia and Kerry Vendittoli.
Cozzolino has lived in Freehold Township since 2011 and joined the school board in 2017.
“I am proud of the work I have done thus far to emphasize the role of the board as advocates and active participants in creating a vision for our schools,” Cozzolino said. “There is more work to be done. I am seeking re-election because I have a deep commitment to education and to Freehold Township. This is the town in which my husband and I chose to raise our family and educate our kids.
“I believe in the quality education the township has historically offered its youngest residents, earning it a reputation as an excellent school district,” she said. “I want to be a part of growing this reputation. I have concerns about personalized learning and the impacts of technology on the education of the district’s children, as well as the district’s finances.
“First and foremost, I am a parent. I am actively involved in my kids’ education. I know firsthand the extraordinary work the district staff does every day to produce thoughtful, engaged and educated young people. I also see new programs and initiatives in action which affords me an interesting perspective in setting policy,” Cozzolino said.
If re-elected, Cozzolino said three areas of focus for her will be teachers, not computers, leading the education of students, financial stewardship of public tax dollars to maximize student learning, and providing every student with the tools necessary to succeed.
Dow is an executive leader of information technology, working in industries such as unified communications, hotels, finance/banking and education. He has assisted with the New Jersey Special Olympics, worked as a chaperone and mentor for the Freehold Marlins, and is with the nonprofit organization Reaching Beyond Autism. He has resided in Freehold Township for more than 10 years and his children attended the district.
“I am seeking a seat to ensure the board upholds its responsibility to the parents and students of our community to govern efficiently and effectively. As a member of the board, I will be an advocate for all children, regardless of background or ability. I am passionate about expanding educational opportunities for all, including access to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) programming.
“Together with my fellow board members, we will define and employ evidence-based policies to improve student achievement,” he said. “We will adopt a fiscally responsible budget that protects teachers’ jobs and salaries. And I will ensure that parents and community members remain engaged and informed of the work we are doing on behalf of every student.”
Intending to build on the district’s mission of partnering with the community to prepare students to be responsible citizens and lifelong learners, Dow said his professional background taught him that vision, strategy and accountability are essential for success and he learned to appreciate the value of new perspectives.
“Time and again, research has shown the makeup of local school boards can have a measurable effect on student achievement,” he said. “Research has also shown that having more diverse backgrounds among individual board members makes for a stronger and more effective school board. My candidacy is an opportunity for our community to place a new voice on the board, a diverse perspective presently lacking on the board and one that represents a growing segment of our community.”
If elected, Dow said three areas of focus for him will be a growing student body, budgetary pressure and improving educational outcomes.
Levy, who is serving as board president for 2018, is the senior director of audiology for an ear, nose and throat practice. A resident of Freehold Township since 1999, he joined the school board in 2010.
“I am happy with what the board has been able to do over the last eight years, but there is still much more to accomplish,” Levy said. “We need to continue to find ways to provide a quality education for our students while ensuring we are fiscally responsible for our taxpayers. We need to provide a balanced education for all of our students. We need to find the best balance of curriculum resources such as manipulatives and technology, as well as social resources and plans. We need to properly educate the whole child.
“Having had the opportunity to serve as board president for the last 18 months has provided me with additional insight that I know will help the district in the years to come,” he said.
“In business, we must be able to balance a budget and that is very important on the board. With rising costs and less state funding we need to make smart choices that will help our children succeed every day. We need to find creative ways to generate income for the district. We cannot count on the state funding us properly and cannot expect that we can always ask the taxpayers for more.”
If re-elected, Levy said three areas of focus for him will be developing and implementing a plan for school facilities, providing the best safety and security for the schools, and continuing to look for alternatives to provide insurance benefits while reducing the costs to the district and staff.
Lipnicky has worked in the bio-pharmaceutical industry for 12 years in sales and account management. He is a recreation soccer coach. A native of Monmouth County, he has lived in Freehold Township since 2015.
“To me, public education is extremely important and is the foundation of society,” Lipnicky said. “I honestly believe an engaging education is the gateway to social mobility and a successful fulfilling life. I’m running for the board because I believe my background and personal interest in the school district will lend itself well to the decision making necessary for moving our district forward in a competitive education environment.
“Working on different products in different therapeutic areas, I’m frequently attending new training on complex products in different disease states,” he said. “Additionally, I’ve been in various roles as field sales trainer. As a coach, I really enjoy working with the kids and teaching them the skills they need to be successful in the games. I also truly enjoy making the game fun and teaching the kids good sportsmanship.”
If elected, Lipnicky said areas of focus for him will be physical and environmental school safety; technology in respect to novelty and the sake of having technology vs. applications and technology acclimation; keeping teachers satisfied and paid appropriately and competitively vs. fiscal responsibility; and keeping taxes in check in respect to teacher relations and morale.
Pelaia is an associate director of talent acquisition and has also worked as an adjunct professor at Rider University. He has lived in Freehold Township for 11 years and has served on Little League organizations.
“I want a seat because I believe education is the differentiator between us and other nations,” Pelaia said. “Education is everything. We don’t need little change, we need monumental change. Schools should be protected palaces. Competition for teachers fierce. Teachers should be making six figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for governments and absolutely free for our citizens. We need to ensure our child can read, write and compete. We need to save music and the arts.
“I have a business background and an MBA from Rider University,” he said. “I’ve been in the classroom as an adjunct professor. We can’t accept that we have always done it this way, high costs as acceptable. A new pencil needs to go through budget.”
If elected, Pelaia said three areas of focus for him will be protecting arts in the district, competitive teacher compensation, and evaluation of the cost per student and the return on investment taxpayers are getting.
Poklemba-Holtz is a physical therapist and currently a supervisor for outpatient rehabilitation for Hackensack Meridian Health. A lifelong resident of Freehold Township, she joined the board in 2003.
“I am seeking re-election to continue working with the board and administrators to bring a balance to our delivery of education,” Poklemba-Holtz said. “Our children are our community’s future. We must educate the whole child in a strong foundation in reading, writing, reading comprehension, mathematics and science. Equally important, we need to promote and foster pillars of character that are taught at home and played out in our classrooms each day: empathy, kindness, integrity, responsibility and caring such that our children can develop emotional intelligence to become good citizens.”
Working in the healthcare field, Poklemba-Holtz said she sees parallels between delivering an educational model and a healthcare model. In healthcare, she said, she can treat several patients with the same diagnosis, but each patient may present with very different symptoms due to the way their bodies react and she must differentiate how to treat each of these patients, think through their problems, and assess their progress to help them recover.
“In our educational model, our teachers differentiate their instruction, assess their delivery of the lesson, and dissect how a student grasps the lessons in order for each of their students to become proficient in the lesson,” she said. “As a result, I think I have an understanding of our educational model which assists me as I serve on the board. In addition, dealing with serious medical conditions on a daily basis and having to prioritize issues with patients, I believe I present the board with a level minded reasoning through issues presented to the board.”
If re-elected, Poklemba-Holtz said three areas of focus for her will be educating students as a whole to prepare them for a world that is always changing, school safety so students can learn in safe environment, and maintaining a fiscally responsible budget to oversee the delivery of education and maintain the district’s facilities.
Vendittoli is a senior teleservices account manager for a marketing company. She holds a degree in business administration and management information systems from Montclair State University. She has been a resident of Freehold Township for 14 years and has two children currently attending the district.
“I am seeking a seat on the board because I am a passionate advocate for all our students and their families,” Vendittoli said. “Children and their education come first. For too long the students of Freehold Township were put second and we cannot afford to ever let that happen again.
“Over the last eight years, I have served in many organizations within the Freehold Township school community,” she said. “I served on the Early Childhood Learning Center PTO executive board from 2011-13 and again from 2017 to the present time, currently serving my second year as president of the PTO.
“I have been co-president of PACE, which is comprised of our district-wide special needs PTO and Special Education Parents Advisory Group, since 2012. I am a founding member and current co-chair of Our Place 2 Play, whose mission is to build adaptive and inclusive playgrounds in the school district.”
If elected, Vendittoli said three areas of focus for her will be trust, transparency and accountability.