Get To Know Berkeley Heights Board Of Education Candidate John Sincaglia
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 • 7:17pm
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - In preparation for the Berkeley Heights Board of Education election on Nov. 5, questions were submitted to each candidate to give residents insight into why they are running and how they feel they can contribute to the Berkeley Heights school district.
There are four candidates running for three open seats on the Board of Education. The candidates are incumbents Helen Kirsch, John Sincaglia and Denis Smalley and first time candidate Carl D'Emilio.
GET TO KNOW INCUMBENT BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE JOHN SINCAGLIA
1. What is your background and connection to our schools? What experience do you have in our schools and in education?
I have been a resident of Berkeley Heights since 1988. My first involvement with the schools was as a parent whose child received his entire K-12 education in the district. During those years my wife and I were PTO members and volunteers. For the past nine years, I have been privileged to serve on the Board of Education, including holding the offices of president and vice-president. I am currently chairman of the finance committee, and have been chairman of the negotiations committee. I serve as the board liaison representative to the PTO.
My professional career has been in public education. I was initially a classroom teacher for 12 years, and then moved on to become a school business administrator in three different communities for more than 20 years. In one of those districts I also served as acting superintendent of schools. A school business administrator is the chief financial officer of a school district, and my responsibilities encompassed budgeting, payroll and purchasing, food service, transportation, facility management, and administrative technology.
Following my retirement, I continued to work in various capacities in several school districts: interim business administrator, consultant, and more than two years working for the NJ Department of Education as the Morris County School Business Administrator where I was responsible for overseeing the financial affairs of some 40 school districts.
2. What academic areas are the district's strengths and weaknesses? What should be the top 2 priorities for the Board of Ed in 2014 and beyond?
Berkeley Heights pupils perform quite well as measured against state and national averages. More importantly we outperform most NJ districts that are considered to be in our same socio-economic category. The recently released results of the NJ ASK and HSPA tests bear this out. In Mathematics, almost every grade tested showed more than 90% of our pupils achieving proficiency level, with more than 50% being judged as advanced proficient. Results in Science were even better, with 70 to 80% of pupils tested scoring at the advanced proficient level. Language Arts scores, while exceeding comparable districts in all but one grade tested, were not as high, however, in most cases more than 80% of our pupils were found to be proficient.
High school SAT scores over the past few years have generally been 100 to 150 points above state and national averages. While these results are good, it is felt that there is room for improvement and that has been an area that the current Board of Education continues to address.
As to priorities for 2014 and beyond, the district needs to continue its efforts in looking for ways to improve pupil performance, even though current results are commendable. While we are good, we have room to improve and it is incumbent upon us to challenge our pupils to go further and be sure that we are making every effort to reach all of our students.
A never-ending priority is to run an efficient school system and live within our means. Despite a loss of more than 2 million dollars in state aid just 3 years ago, we have been able to maintain and even expand program opportunities while keeping taxes under control. The present amount of school taxes is the same as it was two years ago. In 2012-13, the Board actually reduced taxes by more than $650,000.
3.How meaningful is the district's ranking and standardized test results and should we make any changes accordingly?
As I noted in the previous question, we have every reason to be proud of our results on standardized tests. This is always room for improvement and we cannot be content to rest on our laurels and feel that the results are “good enough.” However, these tests, and the new ones that will come from the state, are not the only measure of success for our pupils. Teaching character, ethical behavior, and strategies to prosper in their lives ahead must be part of what goes in your children’s education.
I have concerns about some of the “Concepts” courses in math and science at the high school, and question whether it is appropriate to not hold all students to the same basic requirements. Not every pupil is going to be a candidate for honors or AP classes, but we should strive to see that all of them achieve what is accepted to be as basic.
4. What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the Board of Ed in the next few years?
There is a never ending need for us to attract and retain the best teachers and administrators. A teacher’s influence on pupils’ success is a gigantic factor and cannot and should not be underestimated. Recruiting, training and retraining our professional staff will always be an on-going priority.
Needless to say, as Finance chairman, and someone who has spent most of his professional life dealing with school finance, and as a taxpayer, it is incumbent on us to see that we live within our means and remember that our financial decisions impact not just 2800 school children, but every homeowner in Berkeley Heights. Having said that, it is our job to be sure the public understands what we are doing and why we are doing it. Education costs money and we are responsible to see that that money is well spent.
5. What do you think of the role of technology in our schools? (iPads, on-line classes, and use of technology as tools for teaching.)
Technology will only continue to expand in the schools just as it does in our everyday lives. The current budget dedicated significant resources to improve our basic network infrastructure as well as the I-Pad initiative that puts an I-Pad into the hands of every high school student and every member of the professional staff. There are thousands of apps that our students can utilize, and schools throughout the state and nation, out of necessity, are using new technology to teach their pupils. Most of today’s children are introduced to technology long before they enter the public schools. It is a fact of our lives, and no child will be able to succeed without computer literacy. The limitless amount of resources, most of which are free or inexpensive, is something to be embraced. That does not mean that we should forget teaching the basics, but these new tools that are available to us can and will be part of that.