EDISON – The November ballot will see 10 candidates, including three incumbents and one former board member. They are running for the three, three-year seats available on the Edison Board of Education.
Incumbents Xiaohun “Shannon” Peng, Shivi Prasad-Madhukar and Kevin Hajduk will face former Board of Education member Joseph Romano and newcomers Nisha Banginwar, Christo Makropoulos, Manasi Mathur, Yash Pandya, Minesh Patel and Vishal Patel.
Peng and Prasad-Madhukar are seeking their third terms.
Hajduk is seeking his first elected term. He was appointed to fill the vacancy in April left by Carol Bodofsky, who resigned from the board.
Banginwar and Pandya are running on the “Student Teachers First” ticket.
Peng, Romano and Vishal Patel are running on the “Edison Students First” ticket.
Makropoulos is running on the “Protect the Children” ticket.
The Criterion Sentinel sent out an election questionnaire for candidates to fill out. Below are the candidates who responded in alphabetical order.
Banginwar, 47, has lived in Edison for 24 years. She is married with two daughters.
Education: University of Bombay, India.
Profession: She is the founder and owner of Natraj Dance Studio and co-founder of Inclusive Creations, a New Jersey-based non-profit organization, engaged in providing vocational training to young adults on the autism spectrum and other cognitive disabilities.
In the community: Involved in many social and cultural organizations. An active volunteer of Isha Foundation that has made differences in many lives through yoga workshops. I have conducted yoga workshops in Woodrow Wilson Middle School where many students participated.
Being a co-founder of Inclusive Creations, I volunteer my time in conducting free online classes to foster social interaction, skill building and hold fun recreational events for the young adults with special needs. I am also involved in providing vocational training to special needs students on making, packaging, and selling candles, which gives them independence and confidence.
Why are you running for a seat BOE? I am running for school board because I want to keep this town a great place to live, raise a family where every kid gets an opportunity to thrive in a public school system. I have the experience and necessary skills to make a difference for parents, teachers and students and be an effective board member. I will work hard and make sure all voices are heard.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? Student mental health challenges have occurred for decades, but the recent pandemic brought the subject to the forefront. We need a support system for school kids to ensure students achieve their program requirements. There are tools and diverse solutions to help students and establishments overcome mental health challenges. Will work hard to make sure that these are available to all kids in Edison School District.
Hajduk, 45, has lived in Edison for 17 years. He is married with four children ages 13, 11, 9, and 6.
Education: Educational doctorate in educational leadership from Seton Hall University, educational specialist from Seton Hall University, a Master of Arts in educational technology from New Jersey City University, and a Bachelor of Science in special education/elementary education from East Stroudsburg University.
Profession: Elementary school principal.
In the community: I am currently a sitting Board of Education (BOE) member in the community. As a BOE member, I am the chair of the Policy Committee, which helps to monitor the district’s framework of school law and district procedures. I am also a member of the Curriculum Committee, which helps to create high-quality learning for all students by improving the district’s course offerings, assessment procedures, and focus on data-driven decisions within the classroom. When I am not attending meetings with the stakeholders of the school district, I volunteer my time coaching my children’s sports – baseball, soccer, flag football, and track.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? The reason I am running for the BOE is twofold. First, I feel that my educational background, mixed with my experience working as an educator for over two decades has given me the opportunity to understand how to effectively govern the educational system in Edison and ensure academic excellence for every student in the school district. Second, I am looking to improve the dialogue between the board and the community. At times, the discussions in public and private appear to be confrontational and not related to a positive direction. This is not a good example for the 17,000 students that we serve.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? I want to improve the dialogue between the school community and the BOE to strengthen the policies, which encompass the vision, beliefs, and mission of the school district. This dialogue must include a focus on all learners despite the location of their home or their ability level within Edison.
Mathur, 45, has lived in Edison for 17 plus years. She is married with one child.
Education: Bachelor of Arts degree.
Profession: Branding and marketing strategist for an organic product company.
In the community: I served on the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) board for elementary and middle schools and served as president. I currently volunteer for the High School PTSO (Parent Teacher Student Organization). I am also serving on the Edison’s Human Relations Committee.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? Our township has a solid educational public school system with diversity being its strength. With the experience of so many years as a dedicated PTO mom, I believe I can be valuable in bringing parents, teachers, students and the board to collaborate and function as one team. A school system can work more efficiently with the inclusion of all stakeholders. I envision schools as a safe haven that provides a healthy environment and focuses not just on education but on the overall well-being of all students.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? As a parent, I am feeling the effects of the overcapacity in our schools and finally this year a plan has been put in place to address this issue, so I would like to roll up my sleeves and get involved to help. Our schools need improvements so that the students, teachers, and staff can have a comfortable environment. As a PTO volunteer, I have seen these issues firsthand where there is not enough space to work or enjoy breaks. Capacity issues can also be seen in opportunities like extra-curricular activities, I would like to ensure that we work out some solution for the same. I want to ensure that our infrastructure plan keeps moving in the right direction and brings needed relief to our school community.
Pandya, 27, has lived in Edison for 23 years.
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Rutgers Business School.
Profession: Corporate professional, entrepreneur, community leader.
In the community: Proud alumnus of Lindeneau Elementary School, Herbert Hoover Middle School and Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies High School.
Philanthropy work all via nonprofit Pandya Foundation: Hosting/participating in multiple community food drives; distribution of COVID-19 healthcare essential items to all community members; hosting a community COVID-19 testing site; serving community senior citizens with food drive/COVID-19 relief support; built a community youth team to engage in community and social service; hosting several cultural and community events to create inclusiveness and unification; and supported local cancer charities where money went to families who lost a loved one and became financially stricken.
Participant of: Edison Midtown Little League; Edison Boys Baseball; Edison Jets; Edison Police Academy; Edison Township Youth Basketball; and High School Varsity Soccer Player.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I am running for the Edison BOE because I have lived here all my life and believe it’s time to give back to the community that has given me so much. As a proud graduate of the town’s public school system, I believe that I can contribute when it comes to the betterment of the school district, students and teachers. We have a real task to do in terms of making sure there’s a clear pathway for young people to help them achieve their dreams and make sure that our school system is at the forefront of it.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? The one and only area I would like to concentrate on is our students and educators. By incorporating independent thinking and partnering with the right stakeholders, I will ensure that resources and support is available to ensure and sustain the highest level of academic excellence.
Minesh Patel, 58, has lived in Edison for 19 years. He is married with three children.
Education: Graduate of Forest Hills High School in Queens, N.Y. and received an engineering and business management degree from Queens College.
Profession: Business and director of operations at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan USA.
In the community: Have been involved in the Indian community since I was 13. I held every position on the Gujarati Samaj Board (GSNY) – vice president of public relations from 2009-12, vice president from 2013-15, and president of GSNY from 2015-19. Serve as director of operations at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, an educational institution, since July 2020 to current. Locally involved with a senior’s association.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I have felt that some of the issues are permanent in BOE these days. For example: 1. Transportation, it has not been corrected for two years, and they had plenty of opportunities. 2. We spend over $300-plus millions and some of the programs are neglected for years. 3. Cutting main curriculum without thinking of outcome for students in future. Also not listening to teachers cry for need of this class. 4. Changing the working system of alternate day study to six months study without pilot program study; 5. All contracts are given without bids, as example, we overpaid so much for insurance.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? I would like to concentrate on finance, curriculum and transportation.
Vishal Patel, 42, has lived in Edison for 12 plus years. He is married with two children – one in middle school and one in high school.
Education: Master’s degree in computer science from New Jersey Institute of Technology.
In the community: Math club coach at Menlo Park Elementary School, coached various sports to kids, volunteered at nonprofit organization focusing on helping low-income families, BAPS volunteer.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? Committed to ensuring that there is transparency in the health curriculum and that parents are fully informed as to what is taught in the classroom. Dedicated to the health and wellness of our students and staff members.
As a tech entrepreneur and local business owner, I can tell you first-hand how important it is to have a vision and a strategic plan. Unfortunately, that’s missing in our schools right now. We need to create a strategic and long-term plan, with input from parents, taxpayers, educators, and students. Once that’s done, my team and I will ensure that the school administration meets specific and targeted goals. We will implement quarterly reviews of the administration that are open to the public.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? Holding school administration accountable.
Peng, 49, has lived in Edison for 15 years. She is married with two children, ages 13 and 16.
Education: University of Chicago – master’s degree in chemistry and computer science.
Profession: Software engineer.
In the community: Volunteer for many sports and cultural clubs, run for Autism Speaks, winter wishes, food drives.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I don’t see the alternative. I can sit back and complain (about) everything, or I can stand up and work on them one by one.
The Edison School District is at a point where politicians are about to take full control, school board members took donations from special interest groups to vote in their favor, took phone calls from conflicting officials and voted the way they were told to.
Politicians and special interest groups certainly do not want me on the board, because I voted out their overcharging vendor friends, and will not hire their non-qualified folks to supervise or teach in our school. They know they can’t buy my vote.
But students, teachers, [and] taxpayers need a clean, independent, outspoken board member, to cut the waste and corruptions, to voice their concerns, to continue to fight for them.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? Overcrowding. While on the board, I helped save taxpayers over $10 million in the budget, at the same time brought back full-day kindergarten, added 40-plus classrooms/gyms, new science curriculum in middle and elementary schools, new sports fields and dance studios and computer labs in the high schools.
Our team has a dream. Kids should have enough classrooms to take any course, beautiful sports fields to play on, state-of-art auditoriums to perform at, and bright shining cafeterias to dine in. Our teachers should have all the tools and training they need, come to school every day with something to look forward to, and go home feeling accomplished and rewarded.
We have to continue implementing our dream. It really hurts when another course/lab is canceled, or another extra-curriculum program is cut due to lack of a classroom or resource. Our students, teachers, taxpayers deserve better.
Prasad-Madhukar has lived in Edison for 18 years. She is married with three children.
Education: Master’s in public administration with specialization in public policy from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service
Profession: Policy analyst.
In the community: Served on the elementary, middle and high school PTO’s for many years including being president for middle school PTO. Participated in many school-related fund-raising initiatives.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? This is the first year I lead the board as vice president. This year we also restored full-day kindergarten and received full state aid. Leadership matters. We approved a zero percent tax rate and an overcrowding plan at no additional cost to taxpayers. We did it by cutting waste, not hoarding taxpayer money, and working very hard. If we could do this in six months, think of what can be achieved in three years. My leadership has set the ball rolling on many long-standing issues; my goal is to see all plans to fruition and ensure they are well executed and in a timely manner.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? Implement school expansion at no additional cost to taxpayers using my policy and public budgeting knowledge. One of my first advocacy efforts was setting the ball rolling on state-aid because I understood that Edison was being short-changed. This year we started receiving full state aid. Bringing full-day kindergarten, besides benefitting students, also brings extra state dollars. Similarly, having a public-private partnership on preschool education – part of our agenda – will also bring in state dollars. These are a few commonsense solutions that will allow us to keep taxes low and expand programs and opportunities for our students simultaneously.
Romano, 70, has lived in Edison for more than 45 years. He previously served on the board for six years, four of which he served as vice president.
Education: Graduate of Howell High School.
Profession: Tractor-trailer driver for 41 years.
Why are you running for a seat for BOE? Control costs and to follow the budget, keeping it clean. See that the curriculum is followed with fidelity.
What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? Work with the board and school community to ensure that students are first. Work with the town to ease the overcrowding of our schools and hire teachers and staff from within our school system.
Makropoulos did not respond before press time. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 8.