Four candidates will vie for three open seats on the Hillsborough Board of Education

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Four candidates, including two incumbents, will vie for three, three-year seats open in the general election Nov. 7.

Paul Marini, who is serving as board president, and Cynthia “Cindy” DeCavalcante Nurse, who is serving as board vice president, will face newcomers Cassandra Kragh and Pritpal S. Phanda.

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Cassandra Kragh

Name: Cassandra Kragh

Age: 37

How many years have you lived in Hillsborough? Almost 2.5 years

Married? Children? Grandchildren? Husband, 6-year-old daughter, and two small dogs

School and degree: Master’s in human resources from Rutgers.

Profession: Head of Human Resources

Community involvement: Girl Scout Troop Co-Leader.

Why are you running for an elected seat?

I am seeking election for this seat on the Hillsborough BOE because my personal experiences parenting my 6-year-old autistic daughter, advocating for her needs and services, and grappling with the IEP (individualized education program) process have shown me firsthand how communication breakdowns can cause roadblocks in this process. If elected, I would like to help improve relationships between Child Study Teams and parents so that the best interests of the children remain the ultimate goal. Secondly, having a special needs child motivates me to make sure all students in the district are receiving the best education, support, and empowerment that can be provided. Lastly, my professional experience in human resources over the past 13 years has provided me with knowledge and skills that are directly transferable to the role of Board member. This experience includes optimizing budget allocations, establishing best practices, evaluating compensation packages, enhancing operational efficiencies, and boosting employee retention rates. I believe these skills will be greatly beneficial for the district and winning this election will enable me to help bring Hillsborough schools to the top.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected?

Addressing the mental health crisis that is impacting children at younger and younger ages is the most important challenge facing all schools across the country – Hillsborough included. There are several ways this can be tackled, but first and foremost, it needs to start being addressed at an early age. We should investigate programs that can be incorporated into the classroom that follow through every grade level and help kids build empathy, perspective taking, understanding differences among peers and how they can truly support one another. Additionally, we need to have a truly robust ESL (English as a second language) program that includes all languages spoken within the district, not just Spanish. Any additional aspects that impact children’s self-esteem need to be evaluated for ways schools can help. Increasing these types of programs would help cut down on bullying, HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) Investigations, and the subsequent mental health issues that impact students and lead to greater suicide rates in youth.

Cynthia Nurse

Name: Cynthia (Cindy Nurse) DeCavalcante Nurse

Age: 49

How many years have you lived in Hillsborough?  My family moved to Hillsborough in September 2012.

Married? Children? Grandchildren? My family includes my husband, two high school daughters, and myself.

School and degree: Millersville University, bachelor’s degree in education; Rutgers University, masters of reading; I also hold a supervisor certificate and a reading specialist certificate and have been reading recovery trained.

Profession: I have been an educator in elementary schools for over 25 years. 

Community involvement: I have been an active community member, chairing one of Triangle Elementary School’s Talent Show events, acting as team parent on a variety of my children’s sports teams, acted as board secretary for a local softball organization, and currently balance my time and priorities as a parent, taxpayer, Hillsborough BOE member, and union member in a neighboring school district. 

Nurse is seeking her second term.

Why are you running for an elected seat?

Although I know I still have things to work on to continue to grow as a board member, I can say with certainty that I am proud to have honored my beliefs in honesty, integrity, and loyalty in staying true to myself and the promises I have made on my platform last election and look forward to continuing in a positive direction. I speak openly about my thoughts, concerns, and questions in relation to action items, district initiatives, and public comments. I bring conversation to the dais when I feel it is needed and encourage my BOE colleagues to do the same. If re-elected I will continue to follow on this path I have created as a public representative. 

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected?

Attracting and keeping excellent employees. For the past few years, we have experienced struggles with hiring new staff and retaining current staff. This is a problem for many districts nationwide. Our district must look within to find ways to increase job satisfaction.

Name: Pritpal (Pete) Phanda

Age: Over 63

How many years have you lived in Hillsborough? 15

Family: Married with two children.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in engineering, CUNY (City University of New York), master’s SUNY (Stony Brook)

Profession: Financial Services Operation and Sales

Community involvement: I have been involved in some 501(C)3 organizations.

Why are you running for an elected seat?

I am running because I believe that our children are our most precious asset and we have to provide them with an excellent educational platform to help them succeed in this extremely competitive world. I also believe that in this challenging fiscal environment we need to revisit the core programs and support structure in our system to optimize returns and thus optimize benefits to our children and the providers. I strongly believe in regular communication with our parents and residents of Hillsborough to seek their input in decision process. I also believe that excellent schools have a propensity to make our township more attractive to parents and also enhance property values.

What is one area you would like to concentrate on if elected?

If elected, I would like to be involved in education and technology areas.

Candidate Paul Marini did not return requests to fill out an election questionnaire before press time.

Polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Election Day.

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