Twelve candidates vie for three, three-year seats available for Old Bridge Board of Education

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OLD BRIDGE – The November ballot will see 12 candidates, including two incumbents and two former board members. They are running for the three, three-year seats available on the Old Bridge Board of Education.

Incumbents Salvatore Giordano, who is seeking his second term, and Elena Francisco, who is seeking her first elected term, will face former Board members Salvatore J. DiPrima and Richard J. Dunn, and candidates Cornelius Akubueze, Raya Arbiol, Lynn Berghahn, Jennifer D’Antuono, Robert M. Davis, Matthew DeFranco, Lance J. Hilfman and Marjorie L. Jodrey.

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Francisco was appointed to fill the vacancy of Jill DeCaro, who resigned from the board in March to serve on the Old Bridge Township Council.

DiPrima previously served on the board for nine years, twice he served as vice president, once as president and received certified board member status. Dunn previously served on the board for 10 years and is a two-time past president.

Arbiol is running on the Children First ticket, D’Antuono is running on the For The Kids ticket, DiPrima is running on the Kids First ticket, Dunn is running on the Education Empowers Children ticket and Jodrey is running on the Paraprofessional, Teacher, BCBA ticket.

The Suburban sent out an election questionnaire for candidates to fill out. Below are the candidates who responded in alphabetical order.

Akubueze, 63, has lived in Old Bridge for 30 years. He has four children, ages 28, 27, 21, and 16, and one granddaughter.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from New Jersey City University. Some graduate studies in information technology management, PcAge, computer network engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Profession: Information technology

In the community: Taxpayer, volunteering and advocacy of good governance, volunteering for election of good candidates for offices.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? Advocate for fostering a safe and healthy learning environment for current and future students in our school district; advocate for parents who are the taxpayer and teaching cadre to ensure that all interested parties work together to achieve what is best for our Old Bridge students’ future health and education goals; and employment opportunities and civic minded engagement. To assist in promoting healthy debate for the interest of our children as opposed to constant bickering and unhealthy atmosphere.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? To work with interested and fair-minded board members for the advancement of seniors to their respective higher education goals, including promotion of vocational technical education or alternative educational channels that guarantees well-paying jobs to students that may wish to enter the job market upon graduation. We are responsible to taxpayers and as such, will be promoting budgeting that is fair to taxpayers and yet focused to maintaining superior quality education in the district.

Arbiol, 38, has lived in Old Bridge for 17 years. She raised six of her younger siblings when her mom passed away in 2003. All of them were educated in the Old Bridge school district.

Education: Master’s degree in business administration – operations management – from University of Scranton and a master’s degree in information systems from Drexel University.

Profession: Financial services professional with over a decade of management experience in supply chain, healthcare, and project/program management.

In the community: I am highly involved in environmental advocacy as a climate reality leader and volunteer for Ocean Clean Action. I am a red badge volunteer for the USO (United Service Organizations), a disaster preparedness and relief efforts volunteer for the Red Cross, team leader at New York Cares, mentor for iMentor and eConnected, and community organizer in Old Bridge Township.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I have a genuine interest in improving the quality of education in my school district and enhancing the way it’s operated.  I am running on “Children First” – no matter what the issues are, children should be prioritized in all major decisions with a strong collaboration with parents.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? With my extensive background in leading and operating million-dollar operations, I would like to focus on improving the overall operation of the Old Bridge BOE, promote fiscal responsibility, and go back to the basics of enhancing academic excellence in the district.

D’Antuono, 42, grew up in Old Bridge. She has cumulatively lived in the township for 38 years. She is married with two daughters, ages 14 and 6.

Education: Old Bridge K-12, cosmetology license with Capri Institute of Cosmetology and some college at Rutgers University.

Profession: Salon owner for 16-plus years and licensed cosmetologist for over 20 years.

In the community: Memorial Elementary Parent Teacher Association (PTA) president, NJPTA Field Service Region 2, PTA member at Carl Sandburg Middle School, Sunday school teacher at First Presbyterian Church of Matawan, multi-committee member at church, Deacon at church.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I’ve often taught my children that you can’t complain about something if you aren’t prepared to be part of the solution. With an already crowded plate of volunteering activities, running for the BOE wasn’t on my immediate list of things to do. However, over the past few years, I’ve seen a shift on the members of the BOE, as well as the culture of the group shift. I have seen the members represent more of a political agenda than an agenda to work efficiently for the students in the Old Bridge Schools. When I didn’t hear of any names, I was familiar with stepping up to run for the BOE, I got worried and figured I’d throw my name in the hat. I am passionate about providing the best environment for all students in our schools, involving all families in their child’s education, and giving the community (businesses and residents) a chance to support the students in town.

It’s no secret that the district is facing some budget cuts in the near future. By owning a business day-to-day financial examination is nothing new. I’m not afraid to make decisions based on what we want versus what we need to still respect the residents that pay taxes to the schools but do not benefit from the schools. I believe the Old Bridge Schools have a very diverse set of subject concentrations that give amazing opportunities not only to the strong academic students, but a variety of sports for the athletic and a variety of vocational study areas for those that wish to pursue careers in those areas. This is not a common district offering. I am running for a seat on the BOE because I want to protect all that Old Bridge has to offer and support all the students within the district.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? If elected, I would like to concentrate on giving our staff and students the support they need to succeed. Those that the BOE are responsible for need proper tools and lessons to excel in today’s climate. There have been various incidents that I have seen where either learning opportunities have been missed, mental health has not been addressed, or the tools used are not as up to date as they should be.

Although there is always a process and policy in place to acquire some of these items, it seems like we have plenty of missed opportunities that could be addressed with a few conversations. I would be interested in speaking with the staff and students, with other BOE members, look at the resources we have access to and see what holes we can fill. I think although the big picture has to be taken care of, I think sometimes the small details can be missed, and those small details can mean a lot to the individuals involved.

DiPrima, 64, has lived in Old Bridge for 28 years. He is married and has two grown children and two young grandchildren.

Education: Associates degree from Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Profession: Financial services branch operations manager.

In the community: Involved in community since moved into town as a coach, manager, secretary, and safety officer in the Laurence Harbor Little League. Member, officer, two-time yearbook advisor and life member of the Leroy Gordon Cooper School PTA. A member and officer of the Carl Sandburg Middle School PTA, Old Bridge High School PTSA & the Middlesex County PTA. Ran and continue to assist in running the Lombardi Field Concession stand for the past 20 years. I assisted in organizing the Shore Aid Telethon as a relief effort for Super Storm Sandy, am a 3rd degree Knight of Columbus, founding member of the Cliffwood Beach Neighborhood Association and the Order Sons Daughters of Italy in America, Keyport Lodge.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? As a former board member, I was part of the “renaissance” of our school district. During my tenure, we brought this school district forward, from a good district to a great district. Some of the accomplishments I am proudest of are the implementation of full day Kindergarten, defeat of the Charter School application, attaining District of Character and Blue Ribbon status, and keeping most programs and personnel intact amidst massive budget cuts. The recent pandemic forced us to take a step backward. Through the hard work and cooperation of every stakeholder, we’re coming back, and I would love to be a part of the rebuilding once again, as I know I would be an asset having already been through it. Our school district is at a crossroads; this is where experience and leadership matters.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? I can’t really pinpoint one area, there are many areas that need attention, such as current curriculum issues, inclusion and diversity, the constant loss of state funding, return to normalcy after a global pandemic and the constant evolution of our special education programs.

Dunn, 52, has lived in the township for 24 years. He is married with two adult children. Both are graduates of the Old Bridge Public Schools.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history/political science with a concentration in secondary education from the College of Staten Island. Attended New York University School of Continuing Education for professional certification and advancement.

Profession: Employed as senior vice president of Real Estate and External Affairs with Paramount Assets, Newark.

In the community: Served 19 years as a firefighter for the South Old Bridge Fire Company and currently serving as chief of the Fire Department. Additionally, I served as secretary and vice president of the fire company and have assisted with teaching fire prevention education and instruction in Old Bridge schools with Fire Marshal Thomas Hart. Furthermore, I was an active member of the PTSA and the Special Education PTA and participated in many school community events and activities. Moreover, I served on the Old Bridge Township Planning Board as an alternate member in 2017.

Why are you running for a seat on the board? I am seeking election to the BOE not only for my fondness and admiration for our schools and students, but to ensure that the quality of education provided to our children is the finest and that every child has a fair and equitable opportunity for achievement and success. Additionally, there are so many challenges on the horizon that will adversely impact our schools such as the excessive sequestration of state aid, the need for new school buildings, introduction of universal pre-K and COVID-19 pandemic related issues which require an experienced board member who is principled and who will lead for what is in the best interest of our students and taxpayer.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? As we know, our facilities are aging and with new residential development coming to fruition, there will be a need for new schools and improvements along with school consolidation and redistricting to save precious dollars. The new residential construction is occurring in areas in Old Bridge that do not have elementary schools which will necessitate new facilities. With the implementation of universal pre-K looming, space in our buildings will become a premium, causing challenges to provide appropriate learning environments. A fundamental strategic plan for facilities and planning is essential since new facilities will be required along with consolidation of school as cost savings measures. Larger and strategically located elementary schools are required in Old Bridge.

Francisco, 41, has lived in the township for 33 years. She is married with two children, ages 11 and 8.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education/English from The College of New Jersey. A master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Rutgers University.

Profession: Former public-school teacher for 10 years and now a stay-at-home-mom.

In the community: Served as president of the PTA at Schirra for the past three years and served in another board role. I am still an active, involved member, but stepped down from president to become a BOE member.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I am running for the BOE because I would like to focus on putting children first, encourage parent involvement, increase transparency from district administration, and strive for excellence in education for all students.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? My main goal will be keeping the children at the forefront of every decision that is presented to me. To this end, it is essential that parents have a strong voice in what they believe is best for their children. I plan to work towards increasing transparency from district administration so that parents are highly involved and informed on district happenings. I will make myself easily accessible and look forward to connecting with community members.

Giordano, 22, has lived in the township for 15 years.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance and in last semester for master’s degree in accounting.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I am seeking reelection because I want to continue to represent the people of Old Bridge. In 2020 and 2021, I advocated on behalf of students and parents to get them back to normal school conditions when they were struggling and experiencing a reduced quality of education. Board members should stand up for their constituents when it matters the most and I will continue to do that. I also have the experience of being a recent former student of Old Bridge High School and I want to continue to help students move on to their next phase of life.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? I would most like to continue to concentrate on limiting the amount of capital projects being done in the school district. With the continued reduction in state aid, we have to make sure that we are spending tax money wisely and not being extravagant with our expenditures.

Hilfman, 64, has lived in the township for 33 years. He is married with two children, who are graduates of the Old Bridge Public Schools. He has a young granddaughter and another grandchild on the way.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Emerson College in Boston, double majoring in speech and mass communication. Master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Scranton.

Profession: Middle school special education teacher in Irvington.

In the community: I am a longtime member of the Old Bridge Education Foundation. I worked on the Old Bridge school redistricting plan many years ago. I was a commissioner on the Old Bridge Housing Authority (OBHA) for 17 years, serving as chairman of the OBHA for four years, and was chairman of the Old Bridge Cultural and Heritage Commission for four years. I am a current member of SEPTA.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? I am running for a seat on the BOE for a number of reasons. The most important of which is, having grown up in the area, sending my children to school here and being married to a retired Old Bridge educator, I have seen how good an Old Bridge Education can and should be. I feel with the cut in state aid, we need to maximize our efforts, perpetuating the high level of education, keeping our excellent teachers, all while maintaining a good student-teacher ratio.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? As a communicator, I will strive to increase community input and awareness, and to open communication between the community and the BOE. My goal is to represent all the stakeholders in Old Bridge.

Jodrey, 64, has lived in Old Bridge for 26 years. She is married and has a daughter, who is a graduate of the Old Bridge Public Schools.

Education: A New York City licensed general and special education teacher, board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA), and holds a New York Advanced Certification in autism and severe disabilities.

Profession: Recently retired (July 2022). A former paraprofessional, teacher, and administrator.

Why are you running for a seat for BOE? As a former paraprofessional, general/special education teacher, autism instructional coach, and an education administrator, I have 26 years of extensive experience working with students, families, and in schools. I’ve never forgotten where I come from and it is important to me that everyone has a voice and that those voices are equally considered, respected, and heard. I will work to ensure that all students of all abilities receive the education they need to reach their full potential.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected? As families, educators, and as a community, we invest in things that matter to us and nothing matters more than the academic and social-emotional well-being of our kids.

Candidates Lynne Berghahn, Robert M. Davis and Matthew DeFranco did not return an election questionnaire before press time. Polls open 6-8 p.m. Nov. 8.

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