FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP – Eight candidates are seeking three three-year terms on the Freehold Township K-8 School District Board of Education in the 2021 election.
The election is being held with vote by mail ballots; with early in-person voting at 10 polling locations throughout Monmouth County on nine days later this month; and with in-person voting at polling locations in Freehold Township on Nov. 2.
The current terms of Mary Cozzolino, Kerry Venditolli and Kay Poklemba-Holtz will end in December. Poklemba-Holtz is not seeking re-election.
The candidates seeking the three-year terms are Cozzolino, Venditolli, Renata Brand, Frank Brooks, Neil Garguilo, James Gresavage, Renee Pepia and Jennifer Ruhl.
Pepia did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Brand, a resident of Freehold Township for six years, is a retired certified public accountant who worked for more that 30 years in the public and private sectors performing audits and preparing tax returns for various entities.
“I am seeking a seat on the board because I have eight grandchildren and I want them to grow up in an America that is based on freedom. I have spoken to parents in the area and the common denominator is that the current board is not reflective of the established values held by the parents.
“The parents are busy working, raising (their children) and sacrificing their lives for their family, but they do not have the time to run for politics. The current political environment is going in a wrong direction. Values held by honest working families are being ignored. The government’s over-reach is corrupted and is trying to destroy families. This is unacceptable,” Brand said.
If elected, Brand said areas of focus for her will be developing a curriculum in American history and values; having open communication with parents about family values in the curriculum; and improving and broadening STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills.
Brooks, a resident of Freehold Township for nine years, is employed by Public Service Electric and Gas. He previously taught science and mathematics in New York City on the high school and college levels. He has been a troop leader for the Boy Scouts and a youth softball and baseball coach.
“I am seeking a seat on the board because the failures of the current board and superintendent have become glaringly obvious and a change needs to take place. I am an experienced educator and have been involved with curriculum writing committees.
“This current board has shown (itself) to be completely unwilling to stand up to the random and non-scientific dictates from Gov. Phil Murphy. Not only are schools now the only places our children are forced to wear a mask, but the masks are forced on them for up to eight hours a day if they are in before-school and/or after-school care.
“There is no ‘science’ whatsoever indicating children need to go through this and all studies indicate it is dangerous physically, as well as damaging psychologically. Sadly, the ‘science’ being followed is nothing more political pressure from one of Murphy’s most powerful allies, the teachers’ union.
“I have seen the new LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) curriculum and as a board member, I will do everything in my power to protect our children from this filth.
“The last thing a child going through puberty needs is a trusted teacher sowing the seed of doubt into their minds about sexual orientation and even whether or not they are actually boys or girls
“The current board either lacks the courage to fight for our children or they support wholly the governor’s dictates. They have proven they have no business making decisions affecting the health and well-being of our children,” Brooks said.
Cozzolino has been a member of the board since 2017. She has lived in Freehold Township for more than 10 years.
“I am seeking re-election to the board because I have a deep commitment to education, to children and to the township. This is the town my husband and I chose to raise our family and educate our kids.
“I believe in the quality education the township has historically offered its youngest residents, earning it a reputation as an excellent school district. I want to continue to be a part of growing this reputation. I have concerns about personalized learning and the impacts of technology on the education of the district’s children, as well as the district’s finances.
“First and foremost, I am a mom. I am actively involved in my children’s education. I know firsthand the extraordinary work the district staff does every day to produce active, engaged and educated young people. I also have seen the new programs and initiatives in action, which affords me an interesting perspective in setting policy,” Cozzolino said.
If re-elected, Cozzolino said areas of focus for her will be protecting students’ rights to in-person education; continuing to develop and grow core foundational skills in reading and math; ensuring students develop social skills and teachers play an important role in student education; and fiscal responsibility.
Garguilo serves on the Freehold Township Historic Preservation Commission and worked in business and education before retiring.
“Now that I am retired, I want to be involved and give back to our great community. I can also provide an unbiased view of issues since I do not have children in the school system. I would like to use my skills learned to help all to arrive at decisions that are best for the parents and students,” he said.
In his professional career, Garguilo began working for FedEx, where he was promoted to manager, and was the corporate training manager at DCH Auto Group. He later taught special education at middle schools in New York City and was an adjunct professor at the now-defunct Dowling College.
“That experience will help me as a board member since I learned critical skills in my
professions such as attentively listening, understanding, negotiating and compromise, and
completing projects. This experience will enable me to help others in the Freehold Township academic community,” he said.
If elected, Garguilo said areas of focus for him will be helping to keep and foster a safe environment; keeping the academic environment free from political pressure; and traditional education.
Gresavage, a resident of Freehold Township since 2010, works in human relations.
“I am running for this position to make a difference. I would like to bring a moderate viewpoint to the conversation. Unfortunately, we are living in a very divided time and I think the most important thing we can do to succeed is listen with an open mind and make decisions objectively.
“I am running because I think there needs to be a change in the way the board and the public interact and I would work to make all of the community of Freehold Township feel more included in the conversations about our schools.
“I hold a professional certification in human resources and am familiar with not only employment law, but also conflict resolution, active listening, and professional learning and development. I have designed and executed corporate training programs and professional development curriculums,” Gresavage said.
If elected, Gresavage said areas of focus for him will be increasing community engagement and opening the lines of communication, making fiscally responsible decisions, and continuing a tradition of educational excellence.
“The board serves only to represent the voice of the residents and parents of Freehold Township and their voices should be heard. Too often we see temporary injections of state funding as something to rely on, when in reality, the district receives a substantial amount of variable funding, which is likely to be reduced in the future.
“We need to be smart about spending and look at all avenues for cost savings. Our schools are fantastic. I hope to ensure we make smart financial decisions, while being mindful we live in a district already burdened with paying taxes to two (school) districts,” he said.
Ruhl, a resident of Freehold Township for 10 years, is a civil trial attorney who practices at a local law firm.
“As a parent of two children in the school district, one in general education and another with special needs, I am seeking a seat on the board because I am passionate about making sure all children in our town have access to the highest quality education possible to prepare them to be successful leaders, workers and citizens in our community.
“I understand the tremendous impact that decisions made by the board will have on our community and am dedicated to bringing a thoughtful, deliberate and collaborative approach to the position to ensure that the best decisions are made for our children.
“Recognizing the unprecedented challenges continuing to face the district in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I want to play an active role in tackling these issues confronting our schools and creating and implementing realistic and sustainable solutions.
“I am a strong listener and communicator and will bring these skills to my board service to listen to the concerns of all members of our community with understanding, not judgment.
“I believe everyone should have a seat at the table and will work in partnership with the community to discuss new laws and changes, as well as the best methods for implementation, in order to move the district forward in a positive direction for the benefit of all of our children,” Ruhl said.
If elected, Ruhl said areas of focus for her will be maintaining in-person instruction; improving literacy while effectively using coronavirus relief funds; and fiscal responsibility while reviewing the budget.
Venditolli has been a member of the board since 2018. A Freehold Township resident for more than 16 years, she is a senior teleservices account manager for a marketing company and was previously the global manager of telecommunications for a multi-national outsourcing company.
She is a founding member and the co-chair of Our Place 2 Play, which builds inclusive and adaptive playgrounds in the township.
“I first decided to run for a seat on the board because I am a passionate advocate for all our students and their families. Children and their education must come first.
“When I ran three years ago, I never would have imagined that during my term we would enter a pandemic, see the state shut down schools, deal with student learning loss and experience all we have in the last 18 months.
“But I am very confident our students and our district can get back to where we need to be because I believe in our schools. I believe in our teachers and administrators and staff. And mostly because I believe in our students. One thing we have learned over the course of this pandemic is just how resilient our children are.
“As parents, as educators and as a district, one of the greatest things we can do is provide them with the necessary support to help them emerge from this challenging period stronger than ever.
“I am a huge advocate for public education and the benefits it brings to our kids and our community. Fostering the relationship between the community and the school district is a big part of why I like being on the board.
“There will always be room for improvement and different approaches to try, but I truly feel Freehold Township’s schools are headed in the right direction to help all of our students achieve their goals and succeed.
“Being a mom of three children, one of whom has special needs, has greatly influenced my involvement in our children’s education. Since my oldest walked into the Early Childhood Learning Center for the first time 11 years ago, I have been a hands-on parent involved in every facet of my children’s education.
“Being a volunteer in the buildings over the last 10 years has given me tremendous insight into our students, staff, buildings and families. Seeing and hearing firsthand what goes on in our buildings has given me a unique perspective and also huge appreciation for all of the intricate parts of what makes this district run successfully,” Venditolli said.
If re-elected, Venditolli said areas of focus for her will be parent involvement and engagement; addressing a teacher shortage; and prioritizing students’ education.