Board+of+Education+Election%3A+Meet+the+Candidates

Board of Education Election: Meet the Candidates

November 3, 2022

The Devils’ Advocate reached out to all six candidates running in the Hammonton Board of Education election and thank them for answering the questions we asked. We have featured them in alphabetical order.

Barbara Berenato

Barbara Berenato

Why do you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

I am honored to be a member of the Hammonton Board of Education. I want to assure the best education for students at all levels.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

I am a native of Hammonton and my husband and I have raised our family here. I feel I know the community by serving as a member of our town council for 5 years and I was the Mayor for 4 years.

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

I have been a teacher for 31 years. I feel that I can recognize the needs of students and the educational process. I have been a member of the school board for 18 years.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

The district is striving to meet the needs of all students by offering a vast array of curriculum and elective choices. We have instituted a school to work program along with college alternatives. The only improvement will be to ensure we continue to offer the best courses for the various types of education at all levels.

5. Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students of Hammonton High School may bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

I truly believe we should hear ideas and suggestions from our students. I am honored to have representation from Danielle Drialo. We are certainly open to her input. She is asset to the Board. Any suggestions or ideas are welcome because the students are experiencing the school atmosphere every day. We can change or alter any needs they feel are not being met.

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

An important skill is perseverance. Students need to perform despite challenges. Communication skills are crucial. Students need to be able to convey ideas. Strong critical thinking will help process information. Today having knowledge of technology will help students enhance an overall learning experience.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

From the time I can remember I have always wanted to be a teacher. No other profession ever crossed my mind. I had some really great role models, and they inspired my decision.

Rita Black

Rita+Black

A simple question: Why? Why do you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

What has motivated me to want to run for this position, I have three children ages 16, 14 and 9 in the Hammonton Public School System. I love coaching softball and field hockey. The age gap between my kids gives me a great perspective of how different the curriculum and culture is for children in all of our schools. In addition, the parents of children I coach were also a motivation. Parents share more with a person that is on their same level as and enduring the same challenges their kids face. I am by nature a problem solver and a talker, two traits that will be well served on our board.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

I am A 1995 Hammonton Graduate, a lifelong resident, and, as stated in the first question, a parent of three dynamic kids.

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

I hold a Bachelors in Marketing Communications and have held previous positions in patient relations for a healthcare system. I have dealt with sensitive situations and also currently sit on the Hammonton Little League Board as the Vice President of Softball. I have experience working in a group setting collaboratively for a positive outcome.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

There are many areas that I feel I need to familiarize myself with so it may be premature for me to answer this question. However, I believe there could be more time spent on the curriculum. I would Like to see more marking periods of economics, additional resources for the home economics and cooking programs and a change to the middle school lunch periods.

5. Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students of Hammonton High School may bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

Absolutely, you are the most mature of the Hammonton school population, and student involvement will only enrich the boards agenda and challenges with your valuable input.

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

A sense of accomplishment and a clear understating of the path they are choosing. If they are college bound or preparing for trade school, I would want them to know their options and how to pursue them.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

My children and my own educational journey. But the passion for school board and running has always been that I enjoy teaching childrenm not as an educator but fundamentals in sports. I have gained so much from working with kids.

8. What else would you like us to know? Are there any questions we should have asked but didn’t?

I think your questions were on point, and I am humbled to have been asked to answer your questions for the school paper.

Linda Byrnes

A simple question: Why? Why would you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

As a sitting member of the Board of Education and having taught in the Hammonton school district for 38 years, It is my desire to serve the community that gave me some of the best years of my teaching career. I wish to continue to be a part of many new and exciting projects as we continue to move our district forward and stay competitive with other schools in South Jersey. One such project is the addition of 8 classrooms to be built at the current ECEC slated to begin in summer of 2023. This expansion is very much needed and will facilitate with enhancing programs at both ECEC and WES.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

As a 1972 graduate of HHS, I have lived in Hammonton all my life. I graduated from Rowan University, formerly Glassboro State, in 1975 and was very fortunate to begin teaching in Hammonton right after graduating. Over my 38 years of teaching in Hammonton, I taught many students and by the end of my career, I was teaching the children of my former students! I always considered my students as “my kids” and tried to bring educational experiences to the classroom that would enhance the learning of all students at any level. As an educator, I recognized our diverse community is reflected by our students and I embraced and respected those differences.

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

As a former educator, meeting the needs of students on a daily basis has informed my perspective as a Board member and has enabled me to offer insights into educating the whole child. Whether it be in the classroom, on the stage, or on the athletic fields, I support offering our students a variety of opportunities to enhance their experience in the Hammonton school district.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

The Hammonton school district has made significant strides in bringing new course offerings, new athletic programs, and improving our student/teacher ratio. Of course, there is always room for improvement. For myself, I would like to see more offerings in the area of the Visual and Performing arts. Especially at the elementary level, I hope to see students have more class time in these areas.

5. Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students of Hammonton High School may bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

I whole heartedly welcome Student input. With the start of the new school year, it has been very exciting and enlightening to have a student representative joining our monthly school board meetings. As student council President, our student rep brings a student’s perspective to the table and reminds us all of our mission and why we are there. Student input has played an integral part in the recent decision to add certain athletic opportunities like volleyball and, hopefully, lacrosse.

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

Upon graduation, there are a variety of skill sets that students have been groomed to possess in order to be successful at work and a productive member of society. However, if students only learn one important lesson that schools have to offer let that lesson be accountability. This is a lesson that will always serve students well in life no matter what.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

My favorite teacher!

8. What else would you like us to know? Are there any questions we should have asked but didn’t?

I want students who read this to know that I value the role of public education. I truly believe that our society as a whole needs each and every person to cultivate their talents and strengths in order to contribute to the well being of our community and that a sound public education is the ticket to make that happen.

John Lyons

John+Lyons

1. Why do you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

I’m currently an elected member of the Board and seeking re-election. I’ve been on the Board for 19 years after first being appointed in 2003. In terms of my motivations and reasons for seeking re-election, it’s simple. I’ve been a part of so many good things here in our schools, I want to continue to improve education here and position our students to succeed.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

I’m pretty well plugged into things here in Hammonton. I grew up here and left for a short time during college. After I graduated HHS in 2000, I attended Stockton University and finished there in 2003. After that I made a choice to live in Hammonton and can’t see myself living anywhere else. My wife Adalgisa moved here in 8th grade, and once we got together and decided to start a family there was no discussion, Hammonton was the place for both of us. Fast forward 15 years later and we have two kids who attend Hammonton Schools, Selena who is in 6th grade and Michael who is in 1st grade. My wife is a 2nd grade teacher at WES as well. So as far as the educational community, and the overall Hammonton community, we’re as plugged in as it gets, and we are both thrilled for it. Aside from the work we do with the schools my family is plugged into other efforts here in Hammonton. I’ve been a member of the Hammonton Fire Department since 2002, and I’m a trustee at Saint Mary of Mount Carmel Parish. My wife is an active member of Alpha Delta Kappa and is active in supporting the Hispanic community here in town as well.

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

So right now, I’m the most Senior member of the Board. I’ve served on every single board committee at various points and worked on several teachers’ contracts, superintendent searches and construction projects. In addition to that, I’m pretty plugged into the experience teachers face in the classroom through relationships I’ve developed over the years, and I’m also aware of the challenges faced by special education parents. My son Michael is autistic, and I learn more every day about the ways school districts can support special education parents. Professionally, I’ve been with the United States Treasury Department for 18 years. The work I do there is very rewarding due to its national significance, and in my most recent assignment I get an opportunity to support law enforcement efforts at the federal level to keep our country safe. Combined with my experience in the community I’ve gained from the Fire Department and other community volunteer work I have a really well-rounded set of skills that set me apart as a Board Member.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

I think we’re doing really great across the district. We’ve expanded programs at all levels, cut taxes and increased services. I’m extremely proud of the fact that the board is responsive to the educational community. Things we’ve done in the past couple years including adding the Turf Field, Lacrosse, E-Sports, AP Spanish and many others mirror the requests we are receiving from the educational community. During the pandemic, I think we did a good job of weathering the unknowns. I’m proud of how closely the board worked during that time, and the good choices we made to keep school open as long as possible. Once we re-opened, we took positive steps and continued to support learning loss and the emotional toll the pandemic had on our students. As far as what we can improve, there are always places where you want to be better or expand. In terms of specifics, I think we need to continue to innovate. I look at schools like ACIT and some private offerings and wonder why a Hammonton student would leave us to attend there. I think some of it is culture, but in some cases it’s different offerings. In short, we need to continue to innovate to make sure we are providing what our students are looking for and need.

5. Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students at Hammonton High School can bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

So, we have a new student Board representative, and she’s a good place to start in terms of hearing from students directly. The Board members are pretty well connected to the experience that our students have each day, but we don’t know what we don’t know. For me, I can think of several times where students reached out directly with a concern, we heard it, and acted to solve it. E-Sports was a student driven idea, and so was Lacrosse. For my part, I want to know from our students what’s happening each day and what they need. I pride myself on being accessible that way.

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

Good question. I’ve been fortunate; I had great teachers during my time in Hammonton and a great education at Stockton once I graduated. In my service as a Board Member as well as my professional work the most important skill I think students need is the ability to communicate in person. Today, everything is text messages and emails. But there are many instances where you have to get up in front of people and communicate. That’s such a valuable skill. The ability to speak with poise, and confidence to communicate an idea is critical in so many different roles. You don’t have to be an elected official or a leader to be a good public speaker. But that’s a skill that can and will serve you throughout your life. In 1999, I took public speaking which was an elective at the time. We had to present on all kinds of topics, and it was awkward and sometimes difficult. But I learned a ton there, and still use some of what Mrs. Peretti taught us almost 25 years later.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

Look, I’ll be candid since The Devils’ Advocate holds a special place in my heart from the time, I wrote for the paper back when we had the printed version. Around 2002-2003 it was a bad time in Hammonton schools. Funding was short, and staff were being fired left and right to make ends meet. I looked at that as a college student and decided I couldn’t sit there and just let it happen. So, I jumped into my first election and got crushed. I lost like 3 to 1. A few months later, there was an opening on the Board after someone resigned. The then Board President Loretta Rehmann liked my ideas and got behind me. After I was appointed and ran and won in every election since. In terms of something in my life, or a moment that brought me here, that’s a pretty easy one. Election night, when I lost the first time, I was certainly upset. But it was at that point I decided that I would get back to work and continue to find ways to serve. I took the idea of losing and converted that into a challenge to win. I bet on myself and knew I could do it. I wasn’t content to let other people make choices for our kids, I knew that I needed to be in the room. And eventually I got myself there.

8. What do you plan to achieve as a board member? Why should voters vote for you?

So I’ve achieved a ton with the help of my fellow board members over the years. Once I win on election day, over the next 3 years the board needs to stay focused on its mission. That’s one of my goals, in the sense that the pandemic is over we need to redouble our efforts to providing a quality education. There’s so much noise around public education right now that comes from the left and the right. The board needs to tune that out and focus on our kids and what we need to do to keep things moving in the right direction. As for why someone should vote for me, it’s two reasons. I’m experienced, and I’m an innovator. Nobody should roll the dice with our students by electing Board members who lack the ability or experience to handle the challenges. With me, none of that’s a concern which is what sets me apart.

9. What are some issues and areas that you believe need improvement?

I sort of answered this in #4, but I’ll expand on that a bit. The Board needs to do a better job of listening and providing context. I think sometimes we forget that not everybody understands public education policy and without the background related to a decision it’s not fair to the public who may have questions. We need to offer more color or detail around why we do the things we do.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add or any other questions you’d recommend us to ask for in the following years?

I think that covers it; I appreciate the opportunity. I think the questions are spot on. As I said. I have a soft spot for The Devils’ Advocate. In 1999 while I was working on the paper, I wrote an article called “Athletes for sale” which focused on why our boy’s basketball team was unsuccessful. At the time several of our top players had transferred to other schools for better opportunities and I felt like people should know and understand why. At the time, The Hammonton Gazette wanted to re-print the article in the sports section but the administration would not approve that, so instead they printed excerpts. I remember reading my own words in The Hammonton Gazette and thinking about how amazing that was. That story reminds me of how powerful words can be, which is why I’m always pumped to see the content you all are putting out. Keep up the good work.

Shawn McCloud

Shawn+McCloud

A simple question: Why? Why would you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

We have a good school system in Hammonton, but I believe there are always opportunities to do things better, especially for our students and faculty. I am motivated to be a school board member that can effectively work with other board members to provide everyone in our town with greater accountability, better communication, and more transparency. To this end, I believe we should have a school board that is proactive, engages with, and listens to, all stakeholders throughout our community to encourage much greater participation in meetings and activities. Also, I do not have any family members employed within our school district, so I can serve on our school board and other committees without any limitations.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

My wife and I are extremely proud to call Hammonton home. Both of our daughters attend our schools (HHS and HMS) and we are all involved in many activities throughout our great community; as two examples, my wife teaches dance at a studio in downtown Hammonton and I volunteer my time in the summer months as the administrator of the Hammonton Stingrays Swim Team.

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

I am very familiar with school district operations. I am licensed by the NJ Department of Education as a School Business Administrator and hold a doctorate degree in business administration. For the past eight years I have been working in higher education and I currently work at Wilmington University where I lead and manage a graduate-level business program. Prior to working in higher education, I worked for more than 20 years with very large organizations overseeing budget, analysis, and strategic planning functions.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

We do have a good school system in Hammonton, and we do many things very well, but it does not mean that we cannot strive to do better. I do see opportunities to enhance our academic offerings and go far above, and beyond, state curriculum requirements. We have an obligation to do our best to provide opportunities and resources to thoroughly prepare all students for the future.

Our school board should be working with school administration, faculty, and students in engaging stakeholders throughout the community in long-term, strategic planning initiatives (i.e., continual open meetings, forums, and dialogue with a goal to gather as much intelligence as possible). Our school board and administration should be goal-oriented with a constant focus on delivering a quality and scope of education designed for the future, in terms of where students can be 10, 20, or more years from today, by aiming to meet the needs of a workplace and economy of the future. Here in Hammonton, we have a municipal airport which could lend itself to aeronautical and related education programming; we are in the Pinelands which could lend itself to ecological and sustainability education programs; we have plenty of farms which could lend itself to agricultural education programs; while we could be preparing students for myriad other vocational, technical, and related careers. We need to think outside-of-the box, leverage all available technologies, and move to become an innovative school district that goes way beyond expectations for our students, whether college-bound or not, as this would provide long-term benefits for our students/graduates, as well as our community and economy.

I believe this type of growth can happen by having a school board that is proactive, engages with, and listens to all stakeholders to encourage participation in meetings and activities: community input into decision-making is critical to improvement.

5. Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students of Hammonton High School may bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

I am open to all ideas and suggestions from the students of HHS, this ties back to two tenets of my campaign platform with respect to our school board: better communication and more transparency. Again, I believe we should have a school board that is proactive, engages with, and listens to, all stakeholders to encourage participation in meetings and activities. Moving beyond HHS students I am an advocate for having faculty representation at school board meetings, as input and insight from both students and faculty could be incredibly valuable to improving our schools.

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

We have an obligation to do our best to provide opportunities and resources to thoroughly prepare all students for the future. As a community, and as a mission for our school board, we need to ensure that when we look back at our graduates, we can honestly say that we did all that we could have possibly done for each student during their time at HHS to enable each to be successful, either academically or professionally. Let’s go beyond the basics and become an innovative school district that exceeds expectations for students, whether college-bound or not – our school district should be, and could be, the envy of all other school districts nearby to us in southern New Jersey.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

I am a steadfast believer in the ability of education to create opportunities and transform individuals and lives. Both of my parents were school teachers in Toms River, while my dad was an assistant principal of a high school there for the last half of his career, and my wife is a school teacher in Bridgeton. I learned quite a bit about school operations and being a teacher from simply listening and talking with my parents, as well as through the concerns and experiences shared with me by my wife. Now, having two children in our in our school system, and listening to each, gives me an even greater appreciation for our schools, education, and our teachers. As most parents’ desire, I want my children to have the best experiences possible, and as a community we have an obligation to do our best to provide all opportunities and resources available to thoroughly prepare all our students for the future.

8. What else would you like us to know? Are there any questions that you wish we asked and would like to answer?

This is my first time running for public office and, no matter the outcome of the election, this has been a wonderful experience. Over the past three months I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with so many people and get to know our community much better. I have a gained a much deeper appreciation and respect for anyone that wants to help their community by running for, or holding, any public office.

Mary Anne Templeton

Mary+Anne+Templeton

A simple question: Why? Why would you want to sit on the Board? What is motivating you to run for this position?

First and foremost, I am a mother of a student in Hammonton Public Schools. Being actively involved with my son and all the students within our district education is a priority for me. I am motivated to make a difference for all the children in the district by being a positive influence on the School Board.

2. How well do you feel like you know the town and the school community? In other words, have you lived here long? Did you attend school here, or do you have children in the community?

I have been a part of the Hammonton community since 1993 attending St. Joseph’s High School and graduating in 1997. I moved here permanently in 1999 . Hammonton has been my home for 23 years and I must say I love where I live. Yes, my son is a Junior in Hammonton High School .

3. What qualities and expertise do you have to offer in this role?

As an administrator for RE/MAX Community I bring a skill set focused in project management, time management, budgeting, and forecasting. These are key components to making any business, organization, or administration run effectively. As an administrator of a non-profit, I bring the experience of coordinating and executing tasks for a common good. Finally, and most importantly, as a mother I bring the values and discipline of parenting a Hammonton child.

4. What is the Hammonton school district doing right for its students? Are there areas that may be in need of improvement?

Hammonton is a tight knit community, and so are its schools. We work extremely well as a big extended family. We support each other in sports and extracurricular activities. I would like to see more resources and classes offered to the students, and make sure the Food Pantry is well stocked for the children in the district. As time passes, these facilities and programs will need to be upgraded.

5.Are you open to the ideas and suggestions that students of Hammonton High School may bring to Board of Education meetings? If so, do you believe student involvement will improve our education system and environment?

Absolutely! Teachers and students are invested in the excellence of our school system by doing what they do every day. Who better to offer firsthand feedback to how we as Board members are performing in our duties?

6. In your opinion, what are the most important skills a student should possess in order to be successful when they graduate high school?

Focus, dedication, and commitment to working hard and knowing they were given a solid foundation to start the next chapter in their lives.

7. Tell us about something in your life that fostered a passion for schools and education.

I was a graduate of St Joseph HS in 1997. I moved to Hammonton permanently and started my family here. To see how the community comes together as a family is unmeasurable. To be involved, make a difference, and be a part of a positive end result is so rewarding

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