Five candidates are on the ballot for three three-year terms to represent Hopewell Township on the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education in the Nov. 3 general election.
The candidates are Andrea Driver, Anita Williams Galiano, Jacqueline Genovesi, Ross Gordon and incumbent Adam Sawicki. Driver, Galiano and Gordon are running as a slate together for the upcoming election.
No other candidates filed a nominating petition to seek a Board of Education seat.
Driver resides in Hopewell Township with her husband, two daughters and her mother-in-law. She has lived in the Hopewell Valley for most of her life and Driver’s family has resided in the Valley for more than five generations. Driver attended Hopewell Elementary School, Timberlane Middle School, and graduated from Hopewell Valley Central High School in 1993.
She attended Rider University and majored in elementary education and sociology and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1997. Driver became certified in Elementary Education N-8 and later returned to Rider and earned a master’s degree in Educational Administration in 2012. She currently holds certificates as an Educational Administrator and Supervisor. This September, Driver started her 24th year of teaching, with experiences in grades from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Galiano is a 20-year resident of Brandon Farms and mother of two Hopewell Valley Central High School alumni. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a focus in Organization Design from the University of Iowa.
Galiano has a number of professional certifications including a Six-Sigma Black Belt, Leadership Coaching, and Team Development & Leadership. She has built a 30-year career working for a Fortune 100 company, as well as working as an entrepreneur. Galiano’s experience between consumer healthcare operations and business management has been spent working within, as well as leading, teams.
She has coached and consulted, honing listening for problems and collaborating for viable solutions within a budget. Galiano has co-led Six-Sigma projects assessing and redesigning product & service delivery systems.
Genovesi has been married for 22 years. They have three children: a 2018 graduate of HVCHS who is currently an Eastman Leadership Scholar and junior at Eckerd College, a senior at HVCHS and a freshman at HVCHS.
She is vice president for the Center for STEAM Equity at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Genovesi graduated from Drexel University with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Technology; from University of Pennsylvania with a M.L.A. in Environmental Studies, and Rider University with a B.S. in Biology. Genovesi helped develop and fund a Women in Natural Sciences program over the past 20 years.
In 2018, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring for the amazing accomplishments of the WINS Program.
Gordon lives in Titusville with his wife and two sons, a 4-year-old and a 4-month old. His family moved to Hopewell Township 5 years ago. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Nathan Weiss Graduate College at Kean University. Gordon teaches seventh grade social studies in Willingboro, and has previous experience as a pre-kindergarten teacher.
He wants to promote forward-thinking, all-inclusive education for all types of learners, from all backgrounds by joining the board.
Sawicki is seeking re-election and has represented Hopewell Township over the past nine years. During his time on the board, Sawicki has served as chairperson of the Finance & Facilities, Education, Personnel and Policy committees, and is in his second year of service as vice president.
He was raised in Union Township and earned bachelor and master of science degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, as well as an MBA from Villanova University.
Sawicki has been employed as a structural engineer by the Boeing Company in Ridley, Pennsylvania, for 30 years, was designated a Boeing Technical Fellow in 2006, and has served as a delegate of the FAA for aircraft certification since 2009.
He has also held several leadership positions within ASTM International and was named an ASTM Fellow in 2019 for his work in standardizing test methods for advanced composite materials.
Sawicki and his wife have been residents of Hopewell Township since 1997. His two younger children are juniors at HVCHS, his older son is a sophomore at Rutgers University and his older daughter is a senior at Cornell University.
In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the Board of Education, all five were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.
Why are you running for a seat on the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education?
Driver: I made the decision to run for school board when I realized our community, state and country were in a state of yearning for change. I struggled to determine the role I could play in order to help make and influence positive change. I care deeply about my community and felt compelled to get involved. I strongly believe the route to change is through education. Coming from generations of lifelong community members, as well as being a professional educator, running for school board was a logical choice.
Galiano: My commitment to running for the Hopewell Valley School Board is to expand on the vision for the community that collectively advocates for all our children. I am thrilled to represent an active part of our community of stakeholders, including local taxpayers at all stages of life, whether or not they have children attending our schools. I am committed to budgetary accountability and creating an inclusive environment where diverse learners feel physically and emotionally safe.
Genovesi: I am running for the school board because I love Hopewell and I believe in giving back to my community. I realized when someone suggested that I run for the school board because of my extensive experience working with the teachers, administrators, students, parents and community of the school district of Philadelphia, that it was past time that I utilized my knowledge and skills in my own hometown.
Some of the important initiatives that my own children have benefited from are the increase in AP and Honors classes; the STEM Magnet programs; the improvement in special education programs; implementing the 1:1 learning environment and of course the homework policy. Hopewell has given so much to my children and our family. And I would be honored to serve on the school board.
Gordon: My children are currently 4 months old and 4 years old, and I want them to enter a school that is all-inclusive. I want to make sure our district gives all students as well as my own the opportunity for a rich education that meets them where they are and gives them a chance to follow their passions. I want to keep furthering the progress our schools have made and help bring new ideas that can make children feel safe, heard and prepare them for the real world.
Sawicki: I decided to run again in late June when the board began reviewing reopening plans for 2020-21. While I have great respect for my fellow board members, it struck me that next year all the returning Hopewell Township representatives will be serving their first term. If re-elected, I believe that my board experience and institutional knowledge will help the district navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, I would like to facilitate several district curricular and infrastructure initiatives that were slowed due to the pandemic. Among these are improvements to the district’s grading and homework policies, enhanced safety, security and communications protocols, our equity work, and expansion of our sustainability and greening activities. I would welcome the opportunity to continue supporting the development of responsible budgets which address our curricular needs as well as our upcoming capital projects. As an experienced leader, I can provide beneficial insights and help the board avoid costly mistakes.
What are the two most pressing challenges currently facing the school district? How would you address those issues as a Board of Education member?
Driver: The two biggest issues facing the school board this coming year are the social emotional health, and the safety of the students and staff. Prior to the pandemic shutting down school, we were already in a crisis regarding health and safety. Suicides were at an all-time high amongst young people. Because our school district is the entity which connects our smaller communities, we have an obligation to be the driving force to effect change.
The school board and the administration should create programs, curriculum, supports and resources so the staff feel supported and the students are safe. I know they have already begun this work; however, we need to continue to make this a priority.
Galiano: The most pressing challenge that our school district faces is recovering from COVID-19 closures and establishing a new normal. This indeed includes resetting an environment of safety and well-being for our staff and students, while addressing staffing gaps that have been created by moving back to full time in person teaching. Environmental concerns will include ensuring guidance and counseling staff have planned structures and ample resources in place to address post crisis mental health concerns on top of the typical issues tied to our school children. Following an assessment and attention here, we must expand on the work being done on Equity in Education, diversity and inclusion.
As we strive to be a more welcoming and richer school environment. As all in most middle class suburban settings, we must look to an ever-changing community. As my slate-mates and I have had a chance to speak with local families we have heard experiences of where we fall short in welcoming new students and families into the school system. Likewise, current students have an ever-increasing experience of feeling isolated when they come from diverse backgrounds or do not fit into the mold of athlete or college-bound student.
Genovesi: My knowledge, skills and experience will help our school board tackle any issues that come. In looking ahead, the impacts that COVID-19 are having on our schools will by necessity take precedence the coming year. It will be important to assess the impact on student learning and have the ability to effectively balance curricular needs against COVID-19 mitigations such as staffing, cleaning, transportation, technology, etc.
Our work around equity and social-emotional learning will also be a major issue in the coming year. Our students, parents, staff, administrators and community are dealing with unprecedented challenges that are affecting our emotional and social well-being. Ensuring we have the supports in place will make Hopewell a stronger healthier community. Additionally, there are current and future initiatives that we need to ensure are not neglected including: aging infrastructure; environmental greening activities; and ensuring our grading and second chance learning practices are equitable.
Gordon: The two most pressing issues right now are COVID and inclusivity. As far as COVID goes, it is not an easy scenario and there is no easy solution. I do feel the highest importance in making sure families and teachers are heard, concerns met, and it is clear to everyone what the district will do to deal with this issue, as well as any other issues that may come up. A major key to this will be communication, listening, and making sure all families know how they can voice their concerns.
The second issue, inclusivity, is a broader issue that will take many different stops. One will be training for all staff in bias, racial sensitivity, and making sure these trainings are meaningful. Second, I feel updating out curriculum to include all voices and make sure children are exposed to all different people’s rich histories. Finally, by introducing community members to the children, and letting them meet people that have dealt with what they are dealing with, or talk to people with different experiences, will allow children to see how we all have similarities and differences, and thus help form a community where we share thoughts.
Sawicki: Clearly, physical and mental health are primary considerations during this school year. Our district has done a commendable job of reopening safely. Beyond its impact upon instruction, the pandemic has accentuated preexisting social-emotional challenges. I am advocating for studying our post-March experiences with later start times, outdoor education, and different counseling techniques to best incorporate their benefits as we progress back towards normal full time in-person instruction.
The pandemic has also heightened attention upon the financial challenges many people face. The board’s responsibility is to meet the needs of students and staff while being cognizant of spending and its effects upon property taxation.
During our pandemic response, Hopewell Valley used considerable resources to initiate a local food pantry, deliver meals and help families overcome the digital divide exacerbated by remote schoolwork. Even with those additional expenses, along with extra cleaning and safety costs, HVRSD still spent significantly less than was budgeted (due to closure offsets). We can meet our obligations while being fiscally responsible.
During this time of declining district enrollment and record per-pupil costs, we must be vigilant in stabilizing expenditures relative to this year’s budget plan, while remaining flexible in adapting to the course of the pandemic.
What in your experience or background has you prepared to take on the issues within the district?
Driver: I bring a lot of experience that would be beneficial to the Board of Education. I am a community member, and have been my entire life. I am a parent of a school age child, who attends Hopewell Valley Central High School. I am a teacher with 23 years of teaching experience. And I am an alumnus of Hopewell Valley Regional School District, as are my husband, daughter, parents and many of my extended family members. As such, I am a stakeholder and have a vested interest in the success of our school district and its students and graduates.
Likewise, being a teacher gives me a unique understanding of the reality that any policies, procedures or initiatives put into place by the district and the board will ultimately be implemented by the teachers and staff regardless of its intention of the betterment of the students.
Galiano: In addition to professional experience mentioned above, I bring my skills to community work as a workshop facilitator for the national organization, Braver Angels, as well as regionally and locally with a combined team of local New Jersey anti-racism and diversity groups (Hopewell Valley Together and the Hunterdon County Anti-Racism Coalition).
When my relatively young family, with two working parents, moved to the Hopewell Valley, it was a challenge to get connected to the community. With that in mind I became a member of the Stony Brook Elementary School’s first PTO Board and followed that by opening the community arts studio, Laugh, Craft, and Be Well. This work affirmed that our families and our children bind us together as a community.
Genovesi: I have developed important skills as the leader of a diverse department that are directly transferable to being an effective board member. These skills include:
Financial planning and expertise – I’ve developed short- and long-term strategic plans as well as multi-million-dollar budgets with metrics.
Speaking not for myself or a small outspoken group but for the entire community – I understand that when I speak it is for the entire community not just one person or group. It is important to not only listen to but seek out input from diverse stakeholders and encourage open dialogue.
Understanding the national landscape in education while being able to contextualize the local needs of our community – I have an extensive knowledge of national education trends. I understand what our students need to be successful whether they are pursuing a college, career or military track after high school.
Excel at finding creative, unique solutions that focus on local needs – It is important to keep long-range goals in mind when proposing solutions. I pride myself in being able to help groups design solutions that fit the distinctive needs of each situation that are supported by data and evidence and move the group towards its stated long-term goals.
Gordon: I have been a paraprofessional, a substitute teacher, a teacher assistant, as well as now a teacher. I have seen many of the issues from inside a classroom and feel I can understand where teachers could use support, as well as see through when teachers are not being their best, I know through mutual knowledge of a classroom and shared experiences we can come to solutions to best help the students.
Sawicki: My experience and background influence the values I bring to the board. As an engineer, I have been trained to address issues using an objective, data-driven approach. As part of a Latinx family, I am sensitive to diversity issues. If re-elected, I will be the only Hopewell Township board member not serving a first term, so I bring important institutional knowledge and experience.
Having served on all five board committees (chairing four) provides me a breadth of experience in all key board and district focus areas. This year, as vice president and Finance Committee chair, I have worked to match the district’s budgetary needs with what our taxpayers can afford while improving our budget development and communication processes. I have also focused involvement on policy matters, student/staff conduct, equity initiatives and social-emotional learning
Throughout my many years chairing our Educational Program Committee, the district improved community wellness and student achievement. Examples of the initiatives that I have championed include increased access to advanced courses and co-curricular activities, our homework policy, our STEM curriculum, the Performing Arts magnet academy, 1:1 learning, full-day Kindergarten and our referendum projects. My results and experience can reassure voters that I am well-qualified and prepared.
With the board approving the HVRSD Equity audit this year, what are the two top changes you would want to implement from Tier 1 and Tier 2 of the recommendations? And why?
Driver: It would be difficult to choose just two changes to implement from the list of recommendations suggested based on the HVRSD Equity audit. Each of the recommendations are valid and worthwhile, as well as beneficial. However, I would choose to support the diversifying of the curriculum and creating seminar groups of small groups of diverse students.
Diversifying the curriculum means expanding the curriculum to be inclusive of underrepresented groups. By including cultures and backgrounds of those represented in the classroom, it would enable students to have a better understanding of others and those around them.
I would then support the implementation of small seminar groups of diverse students. The implementation of these groups would allow students to have an opportunity to have conversations that would allow for expressing and considering different points of view. It could provide a safe space for discussions of current events and social issues.
Galiano: Given that several of the challenges presented by the audit reside in the student’s experience of their educational environment, priority should be given Tier 1: “Professional development about culturally responsive teaching and courageous conversations” and Tier 2: “Professional development that focuses on the facilitation of complicated conversations about common social problems and current events.” “We always must work on curriculum and student programming, but if these two areas of focus are not addressed, none of the modifications by age group, curriculum, or programming will have the much needed, deep impact.”
Genovesi: The Tier 1 recommendation of “Professional development about culturally responsive teaching and courageous conversations” is the top priority. The district has started some professional development. But we need to ensure that all teachers, staff and administrators have been trained. I have a deep understanding of the importance of professional training. In my role as vice president at the Academy of Natural Sciences, I am leading the IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Leadership) work for the institution. I lead critical conversations around race, equity and our community.
One of the main reasons I feel confident and comfortable doing this is because of the professional training I’ve received over the past several years. This foundational first step cannot be overstated. We cannot expect our schools to lead these conversations without proper training. In fact, I’ve found many people want to engage in equity conversations but are fearful because they lack the training to do so in a thoughtful way. The next priority is having a high-quality “diversified curriculum” to support our well trained highly qualified teachers. Lastly ensuring that the community is engaged and has the same learning opportunities will help promote equity throughout the township.
Gordon: Given that several of the challenges presented by the audit reside in the student’s experience of their educational environment, priority should be given Tier 1: “Professional development about culturally responsive teaching and courageous conversations” and Tier 2: “Professional development that focuses on the facilitation of complicated conversations about common social problems and current events.”
All students deserve to feel respected, heard, and as if they are part of the conversation. All staff members must be aware of their own biases as well as ways to help children when difficult situations come up. There is so much making adults anxious in the world today, and children are seeing this and getting anxious and feeling uncertainty themselves. Staff must be prepared to help these children and help them talk through issues as they come up.
Sawicki: Dr. Rich has been outstanding in reviewing district practices and helping us develop strategies for improving equity. I appreciated the opportunity to review and approve her important report.
I feel that updating our curriculum should continue to be given high priority. For example, we need to continue to improve our Social Studies curriculum by covering African, Asian, Latin and Native American studies as central, rather than peripheral, topics. An enhanced focus on the history of these cultures and their influence on the development of the United States is warranted in order to better prepare our students to face and solve challenges in our increasingly diverse society. This will also augment the work we have done with local historians Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills.
Another priority is providing our staff professional development which facilitates difficult conversations about social problems and current events. Increased awareness helps reduce implicit bias, and students will benefit from learning to effectively communicate about challenging topics. Some of my most important lessons in high school took place in social studies and literature classes where we were allowed to respectfully challenge our classmates’ opinions and listen to beliefs that were counter to our own.