Ten candidates vie for three seats on the Edison Board of Education

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Xiaohan "Shannon" Peng

EDISON – There are 10 candidates who are vying for the three, three-year seats available on the Edison Board of Education in the November election.

Incumbent Xiaohan “Shannon” Peng is seeking re-election to her second term while former board member Shivi Prasad-Madhukar is seeking a second term.

Carol Bodofsky, Samuel Marshall, Christo Makropoulos, Neville Arestani, Kenneth Nelson, Sparshil Patel, Anthony DeAmorin and Tahira Masood are seeking their first terms.

Board members Richard Brescher and Theresa Ward are not seeking re-election.

Carol Bodofsky, 69, is a 38-year resident of Edison. She is married with two adult daughters.

She is a retired teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Douglas College and a master’s degree from Glassboro State College, which is now Rowan University.

In the community, Bodofsky had been involved in the Girl Scouts in Edison and active in the Parent Teacher associations. She said she has attended Edison school board meetings for more than 25 years, asking questions, making suggestions and sharing information with others in the community.

“I am running because I can accomplish more with my skills as an advocate, problem solver and educator as a BOE member than I can as just an active citizen,” she said. “During the years I have regularly attended BOE meetings. I have often been able to persuade the members of the board to make better decisions for the students, schools and community. I work hard, do my research, then try to make reasonable and logical suggestions on a topic. I believe I would be able to accomplish more for our town, schools and children as an actual board member.”

If elected, Bodofsky said she would like to concentrate on the proposed school construction project.

“Our children need room to learn in order to maintain the high standards that previous students have set – nothing less than excellence,”‘ she said. “Hopefully the bond referendum will have passed by the time I am elected and the really hard work starts then. We will need to simultaneously meet the learning needs of our current students at each level, supervise and support the actual construction in a timely manner, and transition smoothly from old to new [facilities].”

Anthony De Amorin, 37, has been a township resident for 35 years. He is a 1999 graduate of Edison High School.

In the community, De Amorin serves as a selected committeeman and said he tries to attend all council, BOE, zoning, planning and library board meetings. He live streams the meetings he attends through his Facebook LIVE transparency agenda in real time.

“It allows residents who cannot attend to still be engaged,” he said. “The thousands who watch prove there is a demand for better government. I have also organized town cleanups and was a petitioner on our water petition to keep our water [and] sewer in local control. I helped collect nearly 5,000 signatures this past spring to bring it to a vote so the people of Edison could decide its fate through a referendum, which ultimately was massively successful last month.”

De Amorin said his reasoning to run for a school board seat is simple.

“The same problems the board faces the last few years have yet to be resolved, including [there is] still no permanent superintendent,” he said. “And now a $190 million referendum the taxpayer is being asked to pay this December with no understanding of the breakdown and no leadership overseeing it, it’s simply unacceptable and irresponsible.”

De Amorin said if elected he plans on building better relationships with the other branches of township government and the community while being much more transparent.

“As we stand, there is hardly any communication with other township officials,” he said. “To overcome overcrowding, working together with the township and community is key. And we will finally overcome it if I am elected.”

Christo Makropoulos, 31, is a lifelong resident. He is an Edison High School graduate and had been employed as a safety and production manager for a tool manufacturing facility.

In the community, he said he attends Town Hall and BOE meetings to learn about the issues facing the Edison community. He said he is an advocate for children, animals, human rights and women.

Makropoulos said if elected he will work on creating drug prevention programs; advocate for the more than 17,000 students, parents and teachers; advocate for special education programing; work on bringing back full day kindergarten; work on solving school overcrowding; work on improving bus services and maintaining school buildings; and continue to support theater, sports, band and arts programming.

He said he will “put the children first” holding the BOE accountable to the taxpayers and voters they serve by ending “the corruption” and “cut wasteful spending while balancing the budget.”

Tahira Masood is a parent of three children in the Edison School District. She is an administrative director for a local sleep disorder center and serves as the director of operations at APPNA-NJ, a free clinic that offers services to indigent patients.
She said as a parent and member of a healthcare team she understands the importance of integrating healthcare principles into school district policies and procedures.
“I am running for BOE because I want to focus on student wellness issues including stress reduction, opioid abuse and vaping,” she said. “And also [I] look forward to expanding healthy lunch menu choices with the goal of providing nutritious menu options with better quality and quantity.”
 
Masood said the biggest challenge facing the school district is overcrowding.
 
“To prevent overcrowding, school expansion and new school construction must keep pace with increases in student enrollment,” she said. “We should expand school buildings and create more expansion plans including trailer facilities.”
 
Masood said another big challenge students are facing in the schools is anxiety. 
 
“Anxiety becomes an issue when it begins holding the student back from opportunities, such as participating in extracurricular activities or social engagements,” she said. “Teacher training in mental health is a major key to student success.”
 
At the health clinic she runs, she said she has been seeing a lot of teens in clinic who are dealing with anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation. 
 
“This gives me inside view of what our children are lacking and experiencing in our schools,” she said. “Along with that, I have always valued patients’ concerns and feedback in the healthcare field, thus I will always value learning our children’s and parents’ concerns regarding our schools.”

 

Sparshil I. Patel, 35, has lived in the township for 19 years. He has a four-month-old daughter.

He is employed in the healthcare business. He earned his bachelor’s degree from New York Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in public health from St. George’s University, a medical degree from Xaviar University School of Medicine, and is certified as an assisted living administrator by Long Tree and Associates.

In the community, Patel said he has organized free flu camps and wellness exams in Edison; organized South Asian Community Health camps; helps with the annual Santa’s Little Helper Toy Drive with Unity SME; helps sponsor trips to Atlantic City; helps the Edison/Piscataway Senior citizens; and helps the Santram Kanyashala, a girls school in Santram Mandir Nadiad, India.

Patel said the election is not about winning, it’s about fixing the problems for the children of Edison.

“We need outsider thinkers like myself who will bring new ideas and implement them,” he said. “Many of these issues have been addressed year after year with no execution or resolution. We need to move Edison to back where it should be and elevate back to its prestigious rankings. It’s about doing the right thing, it’s community service, all internal motives need to be set aside.”

Patel said he is confident he will be a great asset to the board and work together to get things done.

“We must rebuild proper structure and foundation for school board and teachers alike so our next generation of children can prosper,” he said. “I want my daughter to enter a school system where she can flourish. I want all our children to have space to sit on the bus, have enough time for lunch, and reduce all the side effects of overcrowding.

If elected, Patel said one focus he would like to concentrate on is overcrowding

“We need to ask realistic questions and figure out long term solutions,” he said. “We need to find grants and have conversations with administration in Trenton. We need to build infrastructure and facilities in our growing district. This will not be a quick fix, and a blank check will not solve our problems. I want to create a master plan and resolve this issue over the next five years.”

Shivi Prasad-Madhukar, 49, has lived in the township for 15 years. She is married with three children, ages 24, 18 and 14.

She is employed as a policy analyst director of a New Jersey focused policy research group. She earned a degree from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and a master’s degree in public administration with specialization in public policy.

In the community, Prasad-Madhukar has served in volunteer positions as president of a middle school parent teacher organization; member of the BOE’s school safety committee; fundraising volunteer; and newsletter writer for an elementary school program.

She currently is working to raise funds for a high school choir program. Over the past year, she has organized and conducted meetings exploring issues related to drugs and vaping in the schools; organized meetings with parents of special needs children to understand their perspective; and actively participated in various community forums to address issues/questions residents may have about education.

Prasad-Madhukar said she brings varied experiences and qualifications from “budget and policy knowledge to perspectives of students and residents.”

“There are many critical issues affecting our students and I feel not enough attention is being paid to those areas,” she said. “This includes rampant use of drugs and vaping in our schools, increasing influence of special interest groups, [and] deficiencies in our curriculum and special needs program. I want to focus on curbing wasteful expenditure, increasing state funding, stabilizing property taxes, and addressing mental health issues.”

If elected, Prasad-Madhukar said she will work on reducing overcrowding, creating space [in the schools] and reducing parking and traffic congestion.

“There are many students going to schools in Edison who do not live [in the township],” she said. “We must urgently address this because we are spending more than $10,000 [in] taxpayers’ money for every student that does not live here.”

She said she will also work on seeking state construction grants, alumni-giving and shared-services; cutting wasteful spending; setting up a school fund where developers and businesses must contribute; and holding persuasive discussions with township and zoning officials to stop over-building in the township.

Samuel Marshall, who is a 2016 graduate of John P. Stevens High School, is seeking his first term. He is currently working toward a master’s degree in education at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. His goal is to become a middle school English teacher.
Currently, he is a certified personal trainer at the Edison YMCA.
“Having worked at the Edison Y for over three years, I have been fortunate in that I have had many opportunities to give back to my community,” he said. “Every morning I  see and interact with the building’s many members, who very quickly became my friends. More recently, I volunteered for the YMCA’s annual Janice Garbolino Charity 5K, the proceeds from which go toward supporting the YMCA’s programs for cancer survivors.”
Marshall said he is running for the board because he believes his “more recent experiences as a student within the Edison school system would be useful for providing insight into how issues that this district’s students are currently facing should be addressed.
“Combined with the perspectives of all of the talented former and current teachers and administrators who currently sit on the board, I am confident that my input as a future teacher will be invaluable as a Board of Education member,” he said.
If elected, Marshall said he would like to focus on encouraging civic engagement among the student body.
“If our current students are truly to become the leaders of tomorrow, then they need to be given more opportunities to practice self advocacy skills when it comes to initiatives and issues that they are passionate about,” he said. “In addition, I also feel that it is of the utmost importance that a school’s curriculum be reflective of the population the school serves.”
Marshall said in order for town affairs to remain relevant to a widely diverse student body as time goes on, students need to see themselves in their elected officials as well as in what they are studying in the classroom.
“I am strongly in favor of introducing initiatives to diversify the literature curricula in our schools so that it more consistently and deliberately includes works by writers of color,” he said.
Xiaohan “Shannon” Peng, 46, has lived in Edison for 12 years. She is seeking her second term on the Edison Board of Education. She is married with two children.
Peng is a software engineer. She earned her master’s degrees in chemistry and computer science from the University of Chicago.
In the community, she has volunteered for Autism Speaks, Hunger Run and various parent groups.
Peng said she is seeking another term because “the taxpayers and our children need an educated, independent and passionate school board member.”
During her first term, she was instrumental in helping save $8.2 million in non-classroom spending; working on a referendum to solve overcrowding; bringing in an independent third party for performance audit; and helping move forward additions to Woodbridge’s Wilson Middle School and FDR School and a new baseball field at Edison High School.
In addition, she helped with implementing dance studios at Edison High School and John P. Stevens High School and a new digital art course; implementing online registration and enhanced Parent Portal; working on a reformed placement policy to ensure fair access to honor courses; and working with educators to stabilize the curriculum.
If re-elected, Peng said she will continue cutting waste and fraud and putting money back into the classrooms; holding all vendors accountable; addressing overcrowding issues and a stabilized budget; implementing full day Kindergarten and reducing academic gaps between the north end and south end schools.
In addition, Peng said she will continue to strengthen the curriculum in the foreign language and science areas; enhance sports programs such as introducing volleyball in the middle schools and field hockey in the middle and high schools; lower bus subscription cost; expand the lunch menu and improve the quality of the food; tackle vaping, drug and mental health problems among the students; and introduce an online parent request system to track and address parents’ concerns and complaints.

Neville Arestani and Kenneth Nelson did not respond by press time.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 5.