EAST BRUNSWICK–Three incumbents and two newcomers will face off for the three open seats on the East Brunswick Board of Education.
Election Day is on Nov. 3.
Incumbents Susanna Chiu, Laurie Lachs and Todd Simmens, along with newcomers Ashish Verma and Mark Carangelo, will vie for the three open seats, each holding a three-year term on the school board.
Carangelo, 55, is the owner and founder of the American Institute of Alternative Medicine (AIAM) in East Brunswick.
“As a lifelong resident of East Brunswick Township, I am eager to serve the families of this township because I want to see our children succeed helping to improve the educational system,” Carangelo said.
A gross anatomy/massage therapy instructor for 28 years, Carangelo said he founded and owns a private vocational school of 23 years for which he created the curriculum, wrote the primary textbooks, and adapted to online teaching during the recent shutdown.
“I have also been chair of the Program Advisory Committee for AIAM, consultant to other massage therapy schools, and have taught parts of my curriculum around the country as a nationally recognized lecturer,” Carangelo said.
Carangelo is currently chair of the Program Advisory Committee for AIAM, but he has also served as vice president of the New Jersey Massage Therapy Board for six years and treasurer for the New Jersey Chapter of American Massage Therapy Association.
If elected to the board, Carangelo said, “It is my desire to incorporate real-life situations such as home economics, budgeting, accounting, homeownership in the form of internships within [the] town. I want to improve the 504/Individualized Education Program plans to better assist with our current online educational needs.”
Susanna Chiu, 56, has been a resident for 25 years and is currently employed by Public Service Electric and Gas Company, where she is the director of energy services.
“As a first-generation immigrant, I am grateful for the outstanding education I received from teachers through our public school system. I am grateful for the opportunities that education has provided to my two children,” Chiu said. “I have chosen to run again for the board because I believe I provide a unique perspective that complements the other board members, in working together for the benefit of our students, our staff and our community.”
A member of the school board since 2014, Chiu said school districts are currently facing a significant challenge during this pandemic and the township needs a board with diverse perspectives, as well as experience.
“My volunteer work has been focused on education and diversity. I’ve worked to provide literacy services to help adults learn to read, write and speak English; to provide Chinese language and cultural education to the community; and to promote respect and understanding in our community,” Chiu said. “I am not an expert in education, [but] we have an amazing team of teachers and administrators [at the district level] who are the experts. What I bring to the table are critical thinking and listening skills, along with compassion.”
Prior to becoming a board member, Chiu said she served on the board’s Community Programs and Technology committees. As a board member, she is currently serving as the chairperson of the Finance and Policy committees. She is also serving as a member of the Curriculum, Calendar, Transportation and East Brunswick Educational Association (EBEA) Negotiations committees, and is currently the board representative on the East Brunswick Human Relations Council.
“When COVID-19 disrupted our way of life in March, we all made changes in our daily lives to adapt. For some, the transition was easier, and for others, the transition created many challenges,” Chiu said. “Every family has different needs and the only way to fight this pandemic is to pull together as a community and work as a team. We must acknowledge the challenges that our staff and families are facing. We must have an open and respectful dialogue.”
Chiu said the district can maintain proper balance to provide an approach that looks out for the interests of the overall well-being of the community if everyone works together and remains flexible. The first priority is the health and safety of the staff, students and community, and it is critically important that everyone follows all protocols to maintain a safe environment, she said.
“I plan to continue to advocate for maintaining focus on the health and safety of our students, our staff and our community while providing solutions that they meet diverse needs,” Chiu said. “No one person has all the answers, but working together we will provide the best solutions that we possibly can.”
Laurie Lachs, 49, is a lifelong resident of East Brunswick and a proud member of the East Brunswick High School graduating class of 1988.
“I am running for re-election because I love this town and its school district. I truly value being a part of the process in ensuring the best education for our children,” Lachs said. “I pledge to continue working towards maintaining excellence in our academic, athletic and arts programs while making sure that all of our residents can still afford to live here. My commitment is not just to the school-age parents of this district, but to each and every resident.”
Lachs is currently the board’s vice president and the chairperson for the board’s Buildings and Grounds, and Human Resources committees. She is also a board representative member of its East Brunswick Education Association negotiations team. During her board tenure, she said she has served on almost every committee.
“We have a fiscal responsibility to the community and an educational responsibility to the district and I am proud of the work that I have done to balance the two,” Lachs said. “Working in partnership with the township on lease-purchase agreements and continually looking for other cost-savings measures helps to defray the taxpayers’ burden. Being on the [board] is not without its challenges and many times we are asked to make some very tough decisions.”
Lachs said she strives to maintain this balance and do what is best for this township. Integrity and moral character are the legacies she hopes to leave to her children, all 8,000 of them, she said.
“Community involvement is very important to me and I have dedicated myself to giving back to my hometown. I am a proud Parent Teacher Association (PTA) parent who spent many years organizing events for the staff and students of Memorial Elementary School,” Lachs said. “As a Hammarskjold Middle School PTA Board member for the past five years, I run the Hospitality Committee, designing thoughtful and creative ways to show appreciation for the outstanding staff that teaches and nurtures our children on a daily basis.”
Lachs said she also serves on the executive board of the Booster Committee for the East Brunswick High School sports, girls volleyball and basketball booster clubs.
“This past year has been the most challenging for our community and our schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted so many of our lives and has forever changed the way in which we live,” Lachs said. “Safety and security have always been a top priority. … The challenge is real. Everyone has a different opinion on how things should be done or what their children need. Staff has concerns about how to succeed at their jobs while keeping themselves and their families safe.”
“It will be impossible to develop a system that will make everyone happy … and yet, that is exactly what we must do. I support the district’s hybrid plan but feel that we will need to be diligent about constantly re-evaluating its merits and providing the necessary support to those implementing and learning from it. As a community, we will need patience, flexibility and compassion to successfully navigate these unprecedented times,” she said.
Todd Simmens, 50, has been a resident since early 2002. He is an attorney, certified public accountant, national partner with global accounting firm BDO USA, LLP, and an adjunct professor of taxation at Rutgers University.
“I believe I have made strong and positive contributions to our district during my time on the board, but we have more work to do. I am as invested in our community as I have ever been, and I want to continue to give back to the community,” he said. “I also believe that during these incredibly unique and challenging times, my experience, leadership and education will help the district move forward and thrive.”
Simmens has served on the board since 2005.
“My interest in serving on the board has always come from my hope to make positive contributions to the governance of our school district,” he said. “My background in accounting, law, and as a past trustee of my law school, I believe, has made me uniquely qualified to address the vast range of issues school boards face, whether they concern finance and budget, policy and governance, or selecting a superintendent.”
Simmens said during his time on the board he has served on most committees, including finance, facilities, policy, curriculum, and EBEA negotiations. He said he served as board president, vice president and board representative to the East Brunswick Human Relations Council and state and county legislative committees.
“Responding to the pandemic, directives from the state, and planning for in-person school life after the pandemic will be the board’s immediate priorities. The district, however, must continue to move forward even during these incredibly challenging times,” he said. “State aid continues to effectively decrease, impacting staffing, programming and facility needs. In many of our buildings, we are at or near capacity, therefore finding ways to maximize the use of our space will be critical.”
Simmens said the district’s curriculum must continue to be flexible enough to evolve and respond to state mandates while staying consistent across grade levels.
“We have been fortunate to ensure that every student has the technology to work both remotely and in the classroom. I would like to expand on this by ensuring that our curriculum continues to incorporate the use of and study of technology,” Simmens said. “This year, I also hope to, once again, have a role in ensuring that we reach a fair and equitable new contract with those that make our district what it is.”
Ashish Verma, 46, is a resident of the Appleridge community in East Brunswick since 2001.
“I am very grateful for the opportunities and growth I have received in this country and in this township. I consider it an honor to be able to contribute and give back to our community as a member of the Board of Education. With the increased level of technology use in education, I believe that the East Brunswick [board] will benefit by getting somebody on the board with formal technology training and industry experience,” he said.
While there are quality members on the board currently, Verma said he believes there is nobody with a formal background in technology.
“I can help fill that gap. The Board of Education election is non-political. The core values of education go far beyond the personal political preferences of its members,” Verma said. The Board of Education is the perfect place for me to help at the grassroots level in the East Brunswick community in the field of education, thereby strengthening the foundation for our future community and the nation.”
Verma is a member of the East Brunswick Township Traffic Advisory Board; and is president of the Indian Cultural Society of East Brunswick, as well as the treasurer and technology head. He is the founding member and treasurer of the East Brunswick Lions Club. He is also the treasurer and board member of the Appleridge Homeowners Association.
If elected to the board, Verma said he plans to tackle issues that include the health and physical safety of students, parents and teachers; financial responsibility and technology oversight; and acknowledging systemic racism and addressing it.
“The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented. It has affected every system, including education. … Not only is there a need to continuously recalibrate the school plans based on the dynamically changing COVID-19 situation, but also to focus on ways to improve the remote/hybrid education styles and technology plans that work better for the students and teachers of East Brunswick,” Verma said. “Physical safety is also very important in the school environment. That has to be kept in mind continuously while developing educational programs, especially in the backdrop of several incidents of violence that have been reported around the country.
“I have the background in the financial as well as information technology industries. I have also served as treasurer in various organizations,” Verma said. “Combining that experience with my genuine care for the betterment of the community places me in an advantageous position to provide appropriate oversight over the financial expenditure of the Board of Education aligned with its goals, with special focus and oversight of the technology decisions.
“The rich diversity of culture in East Brunswick from all over the world … matters … especially when talking about the education system in our schools. We need to acknowledge it and address it,” he said.
Contact Vashti Harris at email@example.com.