Incumbents, newcomer to fill seats on Hillsborough school board

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The Somerset County Clerk’s Office certified election results on Nov. 22.

Voters in Hillsborough Township went to the polls on Nov. 7 and elected members of the board of education.

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Four candidates, including two incumbents, vied for three, three-year seats open in the general election.

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

Nurse received the most votes with 7,472 votes followed by Kragh with 6,383 votes and Marini garnered 6,287 votes. Phanda received 3,486 votes. There were 180 write-in votes.

Ahead of the general election, we asked candidates why they were running for an elected seat and what they would like to concentrate on as an elected official.

Cynthia Nurse

Cynthia “Cindy” DeCavalcante Nurse will begin her second term when the board reorganizes in January.

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.

Cassandra Kragh

Cassandra Kragh will begin her first term when the board reorganizes in January.

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.

Marini did not respond to an election questionnaire before the election. He will begin his second term when the board organizes in January.

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