School board election features contested race to represent Hopewell Township

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Hopewell Township candidate Jacqueline Genovesi (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE GENOVESI
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Hopewell Township incumbent candidate Deborah Linthorst (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBORAH LINTHORST
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Hopewell Township candidate Kim Stolow (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM STOLOW
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Pennington candidate Alex Reznik (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX REZNIK
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Hopewell Township candidate Jacqueline Genovesi (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE GENOVESI
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Hopewell Township incumbent candidate Deborah Linthorst (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBORAH LINTHORST
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Hopewell Township candidate Kim Stolow (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF KIM STOLOW
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Pennington candidate Alex Reznik (center) for the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX REZNIK

Four candidates are on the ballot for three seats on the Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education in the upcoming Nov. 2 general election.

Three candidates are seeking to secure two open seats to represent Hopewell Township: Jacqueline Genovesi, current Board President Deborah Linthorst, and Kimberly Stolow.

Board member Debra O’Reilly is not running for re-election.

The third seat open on the school board is the sole seat to represent Pennington. Alexander Reznik is running in an uncontested contest for the seat. Board member Jenny Long currently serves on the school board representing Pennington and is not seeking re-election.

 

Genovesi is a mother of three Hopewell Valley students: 2018 and 2021 graduates and a current sophomore. She is the vice president for the Center for STEAM Equity at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Genovesi graduated from Rider University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology.

She received her master’s degree in Environmental Education from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Technology from Drexel University.

“I think my daughter described me best in her letter to the editor: “My mother is a scholar and curious by nature. She constantly teaches me new things about equity and justice. When it comes to policy implementation and budgets, I implore you to choose someone who is eager to create foundations based in fact and transparency. To choose someone like my mother who seeks to create healthy minds and bodies through policies that make students feel safe to be themselves within the learning environment. Policies that reignite students’ passions for learning, inclusion and community.”

Linthorst, a resident of Hopewell Township for 21 years, is currently a stay-at-home parent and community volunteer. She and her husband, Tom, an attorney, have raised their four children in the Valley: Ryan, Hopewell Valley Central High School (CHS) Class of 2019; Matthew, CHS Class of 2021; Téa, a sophomore at CHS; and Michaela, an eighth grader at Timberlane Middle School.

Linthorst, who is seeking re-election, has worked as a lobbyist and legislative analyst in Washington, D.C. and as a financial analyst and executive assistant for 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles and in New York.

Currently in the final year of her first term on the Board of Education, Linthorst has served as board president for the past two years.

While raising her family, she has served as: PTO president for Bear Tavern Elementary and Timberlane Middle School, and as a member of many district committees; as head of the lay leadership at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church; as a founder/steering committee member for the Hopewell Valley Mobile Food Pantry; and was a Hopewell Valley Soccer Association team manager.

Linthorst attended The George Washington University, where she earned her Masters in Public Administration. She received her Bachelors of Arts in English with a Minor in Political Science from Rutgers University.

Stolow is a single mom living in Brandon Farms with a preschooler at Stony Brook Elementary School. Dr. Stolow is a therapist/social worker and has a private practice in Pennington, where she works with children, adults and seniors.

She is also a part-time lecturer/adjunct professor at Rutgers School of Social Work.

Stolow received an excellence in teaching awards from the Master of Social Work program.  In addition, she regularly presents on issues that include trauma, resilience in children, and child abuse. Stolow co-authored a training module on the subject of child abuse for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, that all current caseworkers and supervisors must complete.

She is also a published author on the topics of childhood trauma, and redefining resilience.

As a therapist she volunteered both at a camp for children who have lost a parent or siblings and at an organization that helped get young adults involved in community service.

She served as board vice president for the state chapter of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.

Reznik is 47 years old and currently a pre-sales technologist focusing on the telecom industry. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science from The Cooper Union; Master of Science from MIT; and Ph.D. from Princeton; all in Electrical Engineering.

Reznik has been living in the Hopewell Valley for 18 years. He has three children, all of whom have been in the district since kindergarten. The oldest graduated CHS in 2019 and is currently a junior at NC State University. His middle child is a freshman at CHS. Both of them attended Bear Tavern. Reznik’s youngest is in fifth grade at Toll Gate and has been in Toll Gate since kindergarten.

In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for school board, the four were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.

Why are you running for a seat on the school board?

Genovesi: After receiving thousands of votes, but not getting elected last year, I’m putting my hat back in the ring because I am passionate about our schools. I love Hopewell, I love our schools, and I believe we should always strive to do better for our children. I want to continue the great work our school board has started especially work on social-emotional well-being, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and updating our curriculum.

Additionally, I feel we need experienced financial people on the board who understand complex educational institutions. I will be a valuable member of the school board because of my extensive and diverse experience. I have worked in education and with educators for 30-plus years creating curriculum and professional development in STEM and early childhood education.

I have worked for non-profit institutions my entire career, with multi-million-dollar budgets and have helped develop three different strategic plans for large educational institutions. I understand and appreciate having to make strategic decisions with limited budgets.

I have served on Hopewell school committees for our science fairs, parent councils and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I am a member of the Hopewell Valley Together group. I lead DEI initiatives at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Linthorst: As board president, I have served at a critical time in our district’s history. I have led collaboratively, playing an integral role in district efforts to ensure a safe return to in-person learning for students and staff. Concurrently, I led the board through a successful superintendent search and appointment, a process in which over 1,200 community stakeholders provided feedback.

In my time on the board, I have presided over successful negotiations for all district bargaining units, have promoted efforts to enhance district communications to increase transparency, and have fostered an increased focus upon internal board communications and organizational practices to promote effectiveness.

I am seeking a second board term to provide continuity as I work with my fellow board members and district staff to safely and effectively see the district through this pandemic.  I look forward to more fully concentrating our efforts on visionary endeavors such as equity and social and emotional learning efforts.

I would also like to ensure that our taxpayer-owned district facilities are maintained in a responsible manner. I vow to continue utilizing my skills and expertise to advance student achievement, and to ensure that the district curriculum and programming promote lifelong learning and prepare our students for the global economy.

Stolow: I am running to ensure that the voices of all community members are represented. When the board deliberates new policy, a diverse representation of our community is paramount to ensure that thoughtful, robust decisions are made. Regardless of this election’s outcome, next fall the majority of board members will have no children in our schools.

There are no current township representatives with elementary students and no other board candidate will have elementary students in-district next fall. If elected, I’ll be the sole member who can speak as a single parent with a child in our schools to provide important insights regarding the challenges associated with young children, accessibility and affordability.

In the last three years, board spending increases and per-pupil expenditures eclipsed every other Mercer County district. Seniors I work with are concerned about affordability. Many are especially vulnerable. Although the Hopewell Valley Food Pantry was initiated to aid economically-disadvantaged students, most using its services are senior citizens.

Finally, as a therapist, I see how the pandemic, as well as other challenges, make it difficult to ensure physical, educational and emotional wellness. I would like to help ensure that mental health is prioritized in board decisions regarding education.

Reznik: It’s an opportunity to give back to the community that has been our home for most of my and my wife’s adult lives and all of our children’s lives.

What do you see as the top challenge facing the Hopewell Valley Regional school board? How would you want to address that challenge as a board member?

Genovesi: My knowledge, experience and empathy will help tackle any challenges that arise. The impact of COVID on our community continues to be the top challenge facing Hopewell Valley. From the mental health challenges to the impact on student learning to the burden on parents, teachers and administrators, we are all dealing with the impacts of COVID every day. Together as a community we can address all of these challenges.

As a member of the board, I would first be sure we have the right data to make informed decisions. What did the NJ Start Strong testing indicate were the academic needs of our students? What other data to we have about their academic needs? Just as important, how have/will we gather data on social-emotional needs of our students?

Once we have the data, we can support administrators and staff in implementing the needed supports. Additionally, community relationships have been strained. This strain is negatively impacting trust and open communication. As a board member, building trust, transparency and open communication is important.

Linthorst: Answer included in the response to the following question below.

Stolow: The top challenge facing the school board is improving communication both within the board and to the broader community. When the board passed the most recent budget, several board members publicly expressed frustration that they felt forced to make decisions with incomplete information.

Last fall, 4 out of 9 board members voted for a remote-only school opening. Fortunately, the other five voted for a hybrid opening, which is far better for our students’ mental health. My friends who are teachers in our schools reported being happier and more productive when personally interacting with their students and they felt supported and valued by the administration.

Last month, there was a bomb scare at the schools. Many in the community expressed frustration with the lack of communication coming from the school board. As a therapist and educator, I feel that my strength is effective communication. I know when and how to listen, and when and how to speak in ways that move the conversation forward in a productive way.

As a social worker, I help my clients learn to find and use their voice in effective ways.  However, I am also well-trained to be an advocate for those who cannot.

Reznik: I think the COVID-19 epidemic is the most challenging issue facing us right now. Keeping us open for face-to-face instruction is crucial, especially so at the elementary level, which is where it is also most challenging.

I expect this to be an ongoing effort as we continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of CDC advisories, federal and state guidelines, and the public health realities of our community.

Additionally, I look forward to participating in the upcoming curriculum reviews. The curricula we use – from STEM to social sciences – are the fundamentals of preparing our children to be highly competitive contributors to society and its effective citizens.

Do you feel the school board has successfully addressed the topic of mental health and well-being for students and staff in the district? If elected, what would you want to add or change to district efforts on the topic in areas such as services, programs and curriculum?

Genovesi: Having three very different children in the school district, I have experienced working through issues pertaining to learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health. I am a driven member of our community and have helped to educate district administration and staff while advocating for my children. I will continue to fight for what is right and do what I think is best for every member of the Hopewell community, especially our amazing students.

Topics like mental health and the well being of students and staff can never be “successfully addressed,” they are ongoing matters that need ongoing support. I think the board needs to be able to examine the following questions:

  1. What policies and practices do we currently have in place?
  2. What data are we collecting to measure the success of those policies and practices?
  3. Looking at the data are the policies and practices working? Which are not working as well as we would like?
  4. What more needs to be done?

The board also needs to support administrators and staff with professional development and supports. These issues are too complex for teachers to have to take on by themselves. They should know how to support students and where to go for help.

Linthorst: Student and staff wellness. As psychologists have noted, good mental health is a prerequisite to learning. The pandemic has disrupted this to varying degrees for each of our students and staff. Students need to feel safe and supported socially, emotionally and physically in order to be willing participants in their learning.

I think the district has done admirable work, but there is a great deal more to be done. Working in collaboration with the board, I have great confidence in our administrators and highly qualified staff to successfully address these matters.

This begins at the most basic level an examination of our district mission statement which, at my suggestion, will be reviewed this year.

With regard to the district curriculum, our students need to see themselves – their heritage, cultures, and orientations – reflected in our program of studies. If reelected, I vow to continue my ardent support for this principle, as well as for increased opportunities for professional development and curricular reviews to promote culturally responsive teaching.

Also based on my suggestion, the board will establish a new board standing committee dedicated to district social-emotional and mental health initiatives so that we may increase our focus upon this significant matters.

As board president, I have played an integral role in formulating district goals for this year.  Specific steps will be taken such as increasing student contact with counselors, expanding staff awareness of wellness services available to them, as well as continued efforts to address the culture and climate in schools.

I am a firm believer in encouraging student-led initiatives so that they may feel a sense of ownership for these efforts. Programs such as Sources of Strength at the high school – a youth suicide prevention project designed to preventing bullying and substance abuse by promoting connections between peers and caring adults – will be essential to these efforts.

The district will also pilot a program at the high school this year for student-led restorative justice measures. Increased co-curricular offerings should also be encouraged, especially those which support student voice such as the new democracy club.

I am also a huge proponent of community efforts to support our youth. I am an active member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, the district-housed, local planning and coordinating body for substance abuse prevention activities and healthy youth. The alliance brings together community groups, municipal governments, schools, businesses and faith communities to support our youth. It truly takes a village.

Stolow: School district professionals did an outstanding job of addressing mental health needs during the pandemic. Teachers ensured that students felt valued by making socially-distanced house visits. Staff provided effective mental health services for students and a variety of training and mental health services for the parents.

The board should try and learn from this experience and avoid reinstating outdated policies. When required, our municipalities and school board offered online access and participation in meetings; community attendance and civic participation skyrocketed. While our municipalities continue including the public, the school board announced last month that people must attend in-person in order to participate in public comment.

School district programs should tailor outreach and services that consider current findings. Socioeconomics played a large role in determining district success. In addition, Black and Hispanic students did less well on performance tests, economically-disadvantaged students graduated high school or attended post-secondary school at significantly lower rates than overall districtwide percentages.

As a therapist, I offer a valuable lens to view the challenges and decisions that come before the board. For example, when the board considered resuming in-person classes, I could have shared a clinical perspective regarding the emotional impact of remote learning on children.

Reznik: I think our district strikes a really good balance between academic rigor and limiting the amount of stress put on our students. In fact, when speaking to others – friends, colleagues, etc. – I always highlight that as a plus – especially when comparing to districts that are “ranked higher.”

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to continually look and review what we are doing and adjust. I am very excited to be a constructive part of that process while on the board.