There are five seats on the ballot for school board for four-year terms on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3. The Cheltenham Township Republican Organization is fielding a full slate based on their platform theme: it’s time to end one-party rule on the school board.
Kathleen Bowers is a 45-plus year township resident and Class of ’83 graduate of Cheltenham High School. She intends to work together with the community to put the Cheltenham district back on the map as one of the top districts in the county. Building maintenance has long been a priority of hers, having worked years ago as a volunteer to resolve problems at Cheltenham Elementary. She sees the issue as a key to ensuring a positive, healthy and safe educational experience for students and a constructive work environment for educators and staff.
Bowers believes that rigorous academic standards will serve students well in a competitive world. She believes discussions with parents and the community about improving the district could be held productively in less formal settings than are typically used. She supports mentoring programs and says her three children still remember an elementary program they participated in which supported their growth. On the question of fostering greater parent and community engagement in the schools, Bowers, a Glenside resident, cautions that interactions “have to be welcoming” and that it is important “to let people know it’s OK to ask for help.”
Gary Colby has been a Cheltenham resident for more than 15 years and has three children attending district schools. A patent attorney with a Ph.D. in biotechnology, he sees the role of board members as “super-trustees” with strong oversight on school spending and the taxes required to support it.
“What I bring to our school board are the dedication and attention-to-detail of a resident who loves where we live and is willing to perform the hard work and careful consideration required to operate our schools effectively and economically,” he said in Citizens’ Call prior to the May primary.
“In the financial reality that our township faces, the school board’s responsibility is to spend the budget we can afford on the things that matter most,” he says. Colby believes that spending efficiency needs to increase to pull up test scores in the student categories that lag behind. “I will never forget my role as custodian of the taxpayer’s money,” adds Colby.
At the recent school board candidate forum, he pledged “to work diligently and be fair, open-minded and objective on all issues.” He said school board members have to take the lead and talk to people to solicit their ideas and involvement. Colby wants to inject greater “flexibility and realism” across the district with the help of the strategic planning process. He wants to maintain the district’s strong extra-curricular music, arts and sports programs, but it should be done within the current budget. “It’s an invitation to busting the budget,” he said, while supporting looking for resources outside of local taxpayers.
Colby believes that technology tools such as distance learning are increasingly relevant to school environments and should be explored based on their potential to boost learning and contain costs.
John Fruncillo is a 43-year township resident with a degree in secondary education. A former high school teacher (he did some substitute teaching in Cheltenham about 10 years ago), he teaches Graduate Equivalency Diploma classes in North Philadelphia for students taking the GED exam. Fruncillo is also vice president of a start-up company producing “green” janitorial products.
He is running “to put the district back on track to being a leading school district in the county,” to control “skyrocketing” costs and enable township residents to stay in their homes. “It’s an unfair burden on homeowners and the elderly,” he said at the UPG candidate forum.
“We can achieve our goals with fiscal responsibility,” he contends. Fruncillo, from Elkins Park, emphasized at the forum the importance of meeting the curriculum standards in place and ensuring that test taking is taken seriously. He wants to encourage greater interaction between teachers, administrators and parents and eliminate obstacles to communication.
Fruncillo supports a broad range of academic and extracurricular activities, including athletics and the arts. He would consider expansion in that area on a case-by-case basis, but opposes paying for them through user fees.
“The only way to change is to vote for change,” he asserts.
Thirty years ago, Myron Goldman was vice president and chair of the finance committee of the board. Today not even his opponents would question the passion he still brings to school district issues. For years he pressed for a more straightforward budget where budget figures better reflect actual spending rather than generating surpluses flowing into fund reserves. Recently when the practice began to change, he acknowledged it and praised the administration.
These days, along with conservative budgeting and tight labor contracts, his focus is addressing the district’s Achievement Gap, between mostly students of color and whites and Asians, also a national issue. Until recently when the new superintendent, Dr. Wagner Marseille, spoke at some length about the dilemma as a clear priority for the district, Goldman, from Elkins Park, would bring up the concern regularly at board and committee meetings, no matter what was on the agenda. He calls it “a human relations problem” and sees the need for new focus on the teacher-student relationship.
“For some children school is a happy place,” he writes in a campaign flyer. “They like to read, they like to learn and they like teachers. For others, school is unfriendly territory. These children tend to dislike reading, are less enthusiastic about learning school subjects and tend to see teachers as uncaring adults who exert power over them . . . The challenge is how to get children to like being in a school environment,” even if the work is not initially satisfying.
He calls for use of professional development time to change school cultures emphasizing courtesy, where each student is accepted and where no student feels pressure to change “into a predetermined mold.” He advocates exploring the “flipped learning model,” involving “hands-on projects” during school and watching instructional videos at home. He wants to investigate pushing back start-time at the high school to better accommodate the sleep patterns of adolescents.
“I don’t think that we’re getting all that we can from our tax dollars. School culture doesn’t cost 20 cents. If students don’t choose to take advantage of what’s available, we won’t accomplish much,” said Goldman, a retired math teacher and 40-plus year resident, at the recent UPG candidate forum. There he also advocated for regular communications with parents of students struggling academically, changes in the IEP process, clamping down on the problem of non-resident students and periodic “town hall meetings.”
Ken Moskowitz, a class of ’69 CHS graduate, is a lawyer, real estate broker and businessman. He is running to “ensure that every child has an opportunity for a quality education as I had and to control salary and benefit costs in order to minimize the tax burden of our residents.”
He said at the UPG forum he would “concentrate efforts” in student and teacher preparation to raise PSSA scores. (He noted a number of times that evening that, unlike the other candidates, he had not received the questions in advance.)
On the issue of facilities, Moskowitz contends, “You can teach in any building. Buildings take money away from students and teachers. It must be understood in that context.”
He agreed with fellow Republican Myron Goldberg that school culture is a concern and that it is important to hold everyone to high standards and expectations so students “can do the work, rather than let them slide. Our job is to raise up students,” he said. On special education issues, he noted the need for improvement. “But we can’t overlook the kids in the middle. It’s not just a focus on the special needs students, but the totality.”
Moskowitz supports greater parent and community involvement in the schools, but noted that people have to take the initiative to participate. “It’s a two-way street.” He called for reaching out to retirees and residents without children in the schools so they have a better understanding of school budget issues.
Moskowitz emphasized the importance of extra-curricular activities – “it’s why some students come.” He noted that baseball star Reggie Jackson, a CHS alum, was nurtured by his football coach. However, he said, there can be “no social passes” for athletes or others who may not be comfortable in the classroom.
On school spending and taxes, Moskowitz said the pressure on Cheltenham taxpayers is known throughout the county. He believes it is time for Republicans to be back on the school board if the district and the community are to move forward.