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Hopewell Borough candidates for the school board speak on issues

Hopewell Borough residents head to the polls this coming week to decide on a candidate who will represent the borough on the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education.

For Hopewell Borough, there are two candidates vying for the seat – Jessica Grillo and Elizabeth Maziarz.

Grillo has been a resident of Hopewell Borough for two years. She is currently the human resources director at Decision Resources Group, a healthcare analytics company. Grillo graduated from the Peddie School and went on to earn a bachelors of arts in english from Moravian College. She is a mother of two, who has served as Moravian College Alumni board president and on the college’s board of trustees.

Maziarz has lived in Hopewell Borough with her husband and two children since 2013, and both of her children attend Hopewell Elementary School. Her family moved to Hopewell in 1979, and attended Bear Tavern, Timberlane, and HVCHS, where she was the student representative to the Board of Education for two years. She has a bachelors of arts in history from Brown University, and a masters in journalism from Columbia University. Her work experience extends over 20 years in politics, communication and education, including 15 years of teaching English at the community college and university level. She was a trustee of the Friends of the Seattle Public Library for four years, and is currently a Trustee of the Hopewell Public Library.

Why did you decide to run for Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education?

Grillo: I am running for Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education because I feel a deep sense of commitment to the community and believe I can have a positive impact on the district and dynamic of the board through my ability to collaborate, lead, engage and drive action and decision-making. I have board experience that I can apply and have also gotten involved with the borough as a Hopewell Harvest Fair volunteer. In addition, I believe the board would be well served by introducing a variety of skills and opinions. Currently, every board member is between 45 – 55 years of age, and while that is a very important demographic, it could be helpful if one of the nine board members represents the next generation – like the many families with young children not yet in school who have invested in the community. The district and the board have many people with education backgrounds and I believe that my business, human resources and communications background can add a needed dimension.

Maziarz: I’m running to represent Hopewell Borough on the board of education because I believe that public schools are a foundational part of both our communities and our society. Through the public schools, our children gain the knowledge and skills to move them forward through life, as well as the values that will guide their choices. As a parent, I understand the need for high standards, clear communication and a responsive administration. As an educator, I understand the need for a supportive working environment for faculty and staff. As a taxpayer, I understand the need for the district to be fiscally responsible while providing these things. I have a real commitment to this community, and will work diligently to represent the interests of all the people in Hopewell Borough.

What are the top two challenges facing the district and how would you address them?

Grillo: Transparency in board operations and communication stood out as an opportunity for improvement during the most recent budget cycle. I am skilled in presenting information in a digestible way for people, can engage the community for feedback and translate that feedback into action. In recent media reports, the superintendent shared that in the last year, they have collected much feedback from the community and student focus groups but that the board has not engaged or turned it into action. I have honed this skill over the course of my career in human resources and would like to bring this expertise to the board. We also have an opportunity to take a hard look at return on investment of our per pupil cost, which is the highest in Mercer County. I believe we can examine the cost and return together, as board and community, to determine if there is any opportunity for optimizing or addressing any areas.

Maziarz: One of the most important challenges our district faces is creating an environment free of harassment. Every person deserves respect no matter what they look like, how they worship, who they love or how much money they have. It is my hope that by exposing students to a broad range of ideas, cultures, and life experiences from an early age, we can reduce the number of problematic incidents and build a community of broad-minded citizens. Budget, of course, is an issue for any district. We need to make sure that we balance the needs of students, staff and taxpayers, while making sure that the process is transparent to the community.

Are you in support of the school district’s random drug testing policy?  If so, why? If not, how would you address drugs at the high school level?

Grillo: Drugs and alcohol are an issue in every district nation-wide; Hopewell is not an exception. I believe we, as parents and invested community members, are obligated to address substance abuse and dependency issues on as many fronts as possible. I am happy that the district seems to be taking a therapeutic approach. I am, however, also increasingly concerned with the widespread vaping among teens and the ease of purchase for our children.

Maziarz: Drugs and alcohol are an issue in every community. We all need to work together to provide a healthy environment in which we educate students about the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. We also need to make sure that we have transparent and consistent rules, and provide support for those who need it.

What in your experience or background makes you prepared to tackle the issues the district faces?

Grillo: I have deep experience making decisions that demand balancing the interests of multiple groups and supporting those decisions with data and fact-based reasoning as an HR Director. I am a pragmatic decision-maker and don’t shy away from conflict. In fact, I have been trained to drive healthy conflict in groups to assist in resolving outstanding issues. Now, I would never claim I am going to solve the school board’s problems, but I will bring my problem-solving skills to the board. Additionally, I have years of board experience as a college alumni board president and trustee and I will bring that experience of process and procedure as well.

Maziarz: I have spent most of my life in this community, and have a deep investment in how the schools are run. I also have extensive experience in undergraduate education, know firsthand the challenges today’s students are facing in college, and have concerns about how they can be better prepared for those challenges. Previous experience as a board member has taught me the value of working collegially to bring together disparate views. Life has taught me to be an independent thinker.  Additionally, I’m an excellent listener, analyze complex information quickly and try to consider all facets of a situation before I make a decision.

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