Candidates seek to earn three seats on Cranbury school board

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Write-in candidate Pam Walker (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM WALKER
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Write-in candidate Emma Bossard (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF EMMA BOSSARD
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School board candidate Dominique Jones (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF
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Write-in candidate Katherine Lara (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHERINE LARA
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Write-in candidate Pam Walker (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM WALKER
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Write-in candidate Emma Bossard (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF EMMA BOSSARD
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School board candidate Dominique Jones (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF
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Write-in candidate Katherine Lara (center) for the Cranbury Township Board of Education. PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHERINE LARA

Editor’s note: story has been updated to include responses from Bossard, Jones and Lara.

When Cranbury residents cast their votes for this upcoming general election on Nov. 2 they will decide who earns three seats open on the Cranbury Township Board of Education.

Board President Karen Callahan and board member Peter Katz are not seeking re-election to the school board.

Officially on the ballot, voters will see board member Dominique Jones, who is seeking re-election.

However, there are write-in campaigns currently being conducted. Write-in candidates seeking to secure the three open seats are Emma Bossard, Katherine Lara and Pam Walker.

Bossard was born and raised in the historic Cranbury Station Hamlet. She is the mother of a joyful first grader at the Cranbury School.

“With a Master’s Degree in Social Work, my professional experience began with a focus on at-risk youth as well as individuals with developmental disabilities,” she said. “For the past eight years, I have served as Director of Admissions at The Elms of Cranbury Nursing Facility, which has nurtured my relationship with many families in our community.”

During her post-graduate work at Monmouth University, Bossard had the privilege of volunteering in Santiago, Chile where she was part of a team that developed and executed camp activities for underserved children. Bossard is one of the founding organizers of the Matt Collura 5K fundraiser event held each year in support of a family friend who sustained a traumatic brain injury in snowboarding accident.

“My husband and I are witness to the exceptional education environment already in place in our town and I look forward to joining other community members who are committed to a future of great promise for the children of Cranbury,” she added.

Jones and her family have been a part of the Cranbury community since 2004. She was elected to the Cranbury school board in 2013 and started serving as a school board member in 2014.

“I have been privileged to live in Cranbury since 2004 and to raise my family in this unique small town. My three children have all gone through the Cranbury school system and it is an experience that I will cherish and that has made them who they are today,” she said.  “Our family believes in giving back to the community. I have been a class mom 16 times, baked cookies, served as the programs director of the PTO, coached several Odyssey of the Mind teams and about 10 science olympiad teams.”

Her husband has coached over 14 sports teams over the years, even stepping up as the Cranbury assistant wrestling coach the year we needed one to field a team.

“Professionally, I am an attorney, and this has been very useful in board service – for our policies, and when we need to approve contracts, like the Princeton Send-Receive agreement, and deal with the technicalities of a referendum,” Jones added. “I also serve on the Cranbury Recreation Commission and the board of the Princeton Wrestling Club.”

Lara has been a Cranbury resident for nine years and has two children currently in The Cranbury School.

“During my time in Cranbury I have been involved in the Parent-Teacher Organization, of which, I am currently a second year PTO Co-President. I also volunteer at Skeet’s Pantry putting together food donations for families in need,” she said. “My volunteer experience in both the PTO and local charitable organizations has allowed me a greater understanding of the needs and character of our children, as well as the community at large.”

I firmly believe that by working in tandem with Cranbury families, The Cranbury School, and the Cranbury community, much can be achieved that will be beneficial to all, Lara added.

Walker and her family have been a part of the community for four years. She has two children in the Cranbury School system.

“Currently, I have the pleasure of being involved in the community in a couple of important ways: I am a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee for Cranbury (EDAC), and I serve as secretary on the Cranbury PTO. I also volunteer as a parent volunteer/room parent,” she said.

Walker said she has extensive nonprofit board experience, including past president and board member of the Junior League of Greater Princeton and advisory board member for the Princeton Blairstown Center.

“Professionally, I am the GM of a software business unit within Underwriters Laboratories.  I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the importance of science and technology education,” she said.

“I believe that professional role, my volunteering in the school and community, and my role of mom to two Cranbury students position me well to represent the community and fight for resources to help our children today, and set them up for success in the future.”

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?

Bossard: I am running for election because I was raised with an understanding that volunteerism and civic duty are critical to the overall success of a community. Building on the hard work of those who came before, my goal is to ensure that Cranbury remains a high-performing educational experience for children of all abilities and backgrounds.

Jones: I am running for re-election because I feel that there are some important upcoming issues that need an experienced board member to properly see through. Since starting my service on the board, we’ve obtained blue ribbon status in 2016, ensured that our children can attend Princeton High School for another 10 years, and worked on the facilities plan that resulted in the referendum.

I am passionate about making middle school a better experience for our kids and have worked tirelessly for the change to the homework policy.  We were in the midst of working toward improving the way we do assessments or testing – until that got interrupted by COVID.

All of this is to make school more manageable for the kids, while keeping our academic standards top notch.

Aside from education, I am proud that we have been financially conservative while keeping our high blue ribbon standards: lowering taxes since 2015, obtaining year after year of clean audits, and being one of only a handful of schools in the State that have achieved a AAA bond rating – only given to schools whose finances are managed exceptionally well.

Lara: I am committed to contributing in a manner that would not only help better the children of Cranbury’s education and their potential involvement in school and community, through S.T.E.A.M programs, educational initiatives, and volunteer opportunities but the community as a whole, as well.

I believe that through collaboration with those that bring their many perspectives to the table we can achieve greater goals for the children, school, and community.

Walker: I have a passion for volunteering and for the community. I am excited about the opportunity to ensure that the children of Cranbury have the resources needed to excel.

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

Bossard: Until the pandemic is behind us, the challenge remains how to ensure the overall health and well-being of our children. It’s been great to have the children return to in-person instruction and I applaud the well-conceived protocols in place.

Jones: Today, a top challenge facing the school board is COVID-19. The kids need a return to normalcy but we need to balance that in a way that is safe for everyone.  I am proud that we were able to safely reopen in Spring of 2020 when many other schools were still closed.

This is a challenge that continues to evolve – but first and foremost in my decision making –  is what is best for the kids.  Another important challenge resulting both from COVID-19 and the societal pressures on children is rising mental health and stress levels.

I think it is possible to provide an exceptional education at all levels, while also reducing stress levels and helping children thrive. To that end, I’ve strongly worked for a change to our homework policies, but there is more to do.

Lara: In talking to those that live in town, there seems to be a disconnect in getting information from the Board to the community at large. While the school has many methods to reach parents and students, those that my not have school age children are not notified via these methods.

My hope is to bridge that gap by reaching out to various groups that exist within Cranbury to work together to obtain a more effective method of communication that would allow a flow of information for all.

Walker: I am hopeful to have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges the Board faces. No matter the challenge, it’s in how we respond to potential issues, listen to the voice of the community and are open minded to ensure a great future for our children.

Do you support the $18.46 million school referendum for facilities improvements and renovations? Why do you support the referendum? If you do not, why do you not support the referendum?

Bossard: Yes. Facility improvements will provide an enhanced learning environment conducive to the development of tomorrow’s workforce. Additionally, the addition of the Center for Arts Education will support the A in STEAM and serve as a magnet to further connect the school with the community.

I encourage everyone to examine the details of the proposed referendum available on www.cranburyschool.org.

Jones: As a current school board member, I am not allowed to “promote” the referendum but I can provide information and perspective. The current facilities are maintained very well, however, they are aging and in need of an upgrade to meet the standards of teaching today and to attract and retain the best teachers.

Whether it is done this year through the referendum or another time – it needs to be done.  Right now, if a referendum is approved, the State will pay about 30 cents on the dollar for approved projects to help us build. For our project it should amount to about $4 million, but this funding may not last.

The referendum is designed to improve education for the next 20 years  – teaching science, math, technology, engineering and coding as well as athletics and the performing arts.  It is also designed to improve school connectedness and safety and to continue to be the heart of the community.

The Cranbury School is the reason I moved to town, it is where my children grew up, and I would like to leave it a special place for the next generation.

Lara: I support the referendum, as I believe it is not only beneficial to the school but the town of Cranbury as a whole. The improvements proposed are updates that have not been made in over 20 years and are needed for the school to continue to provide a comparable educational learning environment that can be found in the surrounding school districts.

These updates will allow the school to continue the standards that have been established with precedent by our Blue Ribbon designation, without falling behind. Said designation has also historically attracted families to our town while also helping to sustain home values for all.

I fully support questions being asked so that everyone is aware of all the details and the reasoning for the choices being proposed, as it’s only through understanding that we can work together to achieve the best outlook for our children and town, together.

Walker: I am in support of passing the referendum. A recent survey of Cranbury residents revealed that 71% of people moved to town because of our schools. A competitive school maintains the attractiveness of town. The school has not had a large investment since the last bond referendum 20 years ago.

Investments are needed to expand learning opportunities that will help prepare the children for the future and ensure they have the same learning opportunity as neighboring towns. I am excited about the opportunity to make the investment in the future of our children and our community.