When West Windsor-Plainsboro residents head to the polls next week, they will be casting their ballots for several races including the school board and general elections.
This year, residents will have a choice on Nov. 5 as to who will represent them on the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional Board of Education.
Incumbent Carol B. Herts will face off against incumbent Louisa Ho and her running mate Graelynn McKeown for two vacant seats on the board.
Herts has lived in the West Windsor-Plainsboro area since 1983, first in Plainsboro, and in West Windsor. She moved from Massachusetts after getting married to her husband, Ken, whom she met when they were both attending Brown University. The two have three children who went through the elementary and middle schools in the district, before graduating from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South.
Herts worked in magazine and newspaper publishing and was a classroom volunteer throughout the school district. Now, she volunteers as a court appointed special advocate for foster children, with the West Windsor Arts Council and with the West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Foundation. She has been a member of the board of education since she was first elected three years ago.
Ho has been on the school board for six years and has been chair of the Finance Committee for the past four years. She has served on several labor negotiations committees and twice served on the review committee to select a food service vendor.
Ho’s family has lived in West Windsor for 23 years. Both of her children attended West Windsor-Plainsboro Schools K-12 and are in graduate school now. She has a bachelor’s in civil engineering and a master’s in transportation from MIT. Ho worked for New Jersey Transit-Bus Operations for 14 years in service planning and operations management. In her last two positions, she was responsible for approximately 900 staff members, with operating budgets in excess of $50 million. She said this work gave her a hands-on understanding of some of the challenges of managing a large, unionized, multi-location, public sector organization.
After the birth of her second child, she said she decided to refocus her time on parenting. So, Ho left NJ Transit and worked part-time as a consultant for Transystems for several years before moving on to full-time parenting. When her daughter was in kindergarten, she wanted to join Girl Scouts. So, she became her troop leader, which led to her volunteer “career” with Girl Scouts. She has been a troop leader for 19 years and has been the co-manager for West Windsor-Plainsboro Girl Scouts for 14 years.
Ho also interviews students from other school districts for admission to MIT as an alumni volunteer. This gives her perspective on both the current state of college admissions and what other school districts are like for high achieving students, she said.
McKeown has been a West Windsor resident for seven years. She is a wife and a mother of two elementary-aged children who attend district schools. Serving on the PTA as a volunteer and the vice president of special events, it has given her many opportunities to get involved not only within the schools, but within the greater community as well. McKeown said she is a dedicated advocate for all children and brings a fresh perspective to the board.
In her professional career, she has been a senior learning and development training manager in the pharmaceutical industry, currently at Johnson & Johnson. She said her industry experience lends itself well to serving on the board since it is a policy making body, which oversees the budget and approves curricula. She said her leadership style is fair, collaborative and ensuring all voices in the room are heard.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the school board, all three candidates were given the same questions.
Why are you running for a seat on the school board? What drives you to public service?
Herts: My children received a wonderful education in West Windsor-Plainsboro (WW-P), and I want to maintain excellence in our schools for today’s students. Also, managing growth effectively for both students and taxpayers is a key issue. Voters passed the referendum last year, and construction projects are moving ahead. But the pace of new housing and population growth will be according to market demand. We have to not get ahead of ourselves with spending. WW-P should hire new staff as needed, when the housing is built, and children and taxpayers have moved in. I want to ensure a quality education, with a range of opportunities for students with varying interests, while still holding property tax increases to the minimum practical amounts.
Ho: As a two-term incumbent, I am running to continue on the school board. Why should I serve my community? Our society relies on volunteers to fill many roles. Not everyone has the time, interest or skills to serve. At this point in my life, I have the skills, the time and I truly care about the quality of the school experience. My experiences as a volunteer with Girl Scouts have shown me the power of outstanding youth development. I want to help the school district do the best job it can for our kids.
McKeown: My personal mission is to raise upstanding global citizens. I believe many families, as well as the school district, share this same goal. As an advocate, I will be a voice for all of our students. I love being part of this community. I am eager to put in the time and energy needed to make a positive impact as our town evolves and prepares for the future.
How would you say you differ from your opponent? Why should voters choose you?
Herts: I ask questions at public meetings to increase openness and understanding for parents and taxpayers. The community needs to hear the reasoning behind decisions in the public meetings, not just see the votes. I am always accessible to parents and taxpayers to listen, and to explain what is happening with our schools and board decisions. When there are new curriculums, I read them and compare them to the old ones before voting. Also, I read all new textbooks before voting on them. I diligently read all the material the district provides, including policy and program changes, then do research and talk to community members before voting on them. I study the budgets and spending details and push for money to be spent efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of our students, parents and taxpayers.
Students and parents have ideas about how to improve our schools and I believe the administration should listen to the community, be responsive, and constantly work to improve our children’s education.
Ho: I am running with Graelynn McKeown. We are a good team because our experiences complement each other, so that together, we will bring valuable insight to board issues. I have the most experience of any of the school board candidates, while Graelynn is a newcomer and brings a fresh perspective from her years of community involvement. We are both very active with families of school aged kids in our community. I lead two local Girl Scout troops. As co-manager of the WW-P Girl Scouts, I work with many West Windsor troop leaders and girls, particularly for Girl Scout gold and silver award projects. Graelynn is active in the PTAs for both of her kids.
I also value that Graelynn’s kids are still attending district schools (Hawk and Village). My kids are four to six years out of the district. It is beneficial to the school board to have some members with kids currently attending the schools because they provide a reality check on what is actually happening in the schools. They understand how the schools operate today, not 10 years ago.
Voters should choose me for several reasons: I have six years’ experience on the school board and am knowledgeable; I’ve demonstrated my commitment to serving our community and am currently connected with youth and parents in our community; I am analytical, open minded and frugal, so I ask productive and relevant questions, and carefully evaluate issues; I can work collaboratively and effectively with other school board members; and I can and have challenged the administration on proposed policies or actions and have been able to convince them to modify their approach.
McKeown: I am the only candidate with kids currently in the school system. I am actively involved in PTA-sponsored events, as well as Girl Scout activities, much like my running mate, Louisa Ho, who has been an active leader in Girl Scouts for the past 19 years. As such, I am naturally interacting with many families, listening to their perceptions of how the schools are running and sharing our children’s daily wins and struggles. The board needs a combination of experience and a current perspective. I plan to learn from the experience of my peers and contribute contemporary views to ensure the administration is forward thinking in preparing our next generation of resilient learners to thrive in the future.
What, in your opinion, makes Hightstown Borough a place where you want to serve?
Herts: All the wonderful students, parents and teachers I have met inspire me to work hard for WW-P. My votes are for our children, and I make them based on community input and what is best for students, parents, teachers and taxpayers. I represent you.
Ho: I want to serve West Windsor because it is my home. I’ve lived here for 23 years and have planted roots. Now is the time for me to give back to my community.
McKeown: I’ve grown quite attached to this community since moving here in 2012. Although I grew up in Edison and have lived in a few places from South Jersey to northern California, West Windsor is where my husband and I decided to plant our roots and is the first place I’ve truly felt part of the fabric of a community. It’s the place we call home. It is diverse, inclusive and has a wonderful school system. As a parent and resident, I want to ensure the district maintains its excellent reputation while we prepare for inevitable township growth as new families move in.