Running for election to the Ewing Township Board of Education in the Nov. 5 are Daniel Angebranndt, Scott Franks, Deborah Jones, Michael Miller, and Stephanie Staub. Winners receive three-year terms.
Angebranndt, 32, has lived in Ewing his entire life. He and his wife, Ellen, have a 16-month-old daughter.
A 2005 graduate of Ewing High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in management and an MBA with accounting concentration from Lenoir-Rhyne University.
He has worked for the past six years as a tax auditor with the state Division of Taxation. He previously co-owned a small online retail and recruiting business.
Franks, 48, is a native of Ewing Township who has worked for the Fleet Management Unit at the state Department of Corrections for 29 years. He previously served on the school board from 2013 to 2016.
A graduate of the Ewing High School class of 1990, Franks earned a certificate in welding from the Mercer County Assunpink Center Vocational/Technical School.
He was a member of the Ewing Public Education Foundation, where he served as the board secretary as well as a member of the Finance and Grants Committee.
Franks and his wife, Dawn, have two sons. Scott Jr. graduated from Ewing High School in 2016 and works as an automotive technician, and Michael is a junior at EHS enrolled in the MCTS Sypek Center for automotive collision technician.
Jones, 58, is a lifelong township resident. A graduate of Ewing High School, she attended The College of New Jersey (then Trenton State College) where she took courses in business law and paralegal studies. She is currently enrolled at Mercer County Community College working towards earning an associate’s degree.
Jones has worked for the past five years for the Ewing Township Police Department as a school crossing guard. She also works in the Ewing Senior and Community Center office part-time, and the Summer Camp program during the summer months.
She was previously employed as a legal secretary for more than 30 years at various law firms, and also most recently with a doctor’s office for 15 years until 2018 when the office was closed.
Her son graduated Ewing High School in 2014, and went on to attend Rider University to major in special education and political science. He was recently hired hired as a special education teacher at Fisher Middle School.
Miller, 45, was born and raised in town and graduated Ewing High School in 1992. He attended Towson State University from 1992-96, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Miller has been employed as the director of tennis at Hopewell Valley Tennis and Swim Club in Pennington, since 1999.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: Peyton, 15, Chloe, 12, and Brodie, 10. Peyton is a sophomore at EHS, Chloe is a 7th grader at Fisher and Brodie is a 5th grader at Lore.
Staub, 51, has lived in Ewing her entire life. A 1986 graduate of Ewing High School, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management/marketing.
Staub is the director of marketing for the Architectural Glass Institute and has been with the company for more than 7 years. Prior to AGI, she worked for the International Masonry Institute for 19 years, starting as a marketing coordinator and working her way up to marketing director.
Staub and her husband, Wayne, have two children. Their son, Wayne, graduated from Ewing High School in 2018 and is currently a sophomore at Texas A&M University. Their daughter, Natalie, is a junior at EHS.
The Observer sent a series of four questions to each of the candidates. Their answers are printed below.
Why are you running for election (or reelection) to the school board?
Angebranndt: I am running for election to the school board to be able to provide a direct input for the success of our students and to serve the community that has served me so well. I want to be able to assist our teachers as much as possible to be able to provide an education for our children that is enlightening, enriching and engaging.
Franks: I want to make a positive impact and better serve the children of our community and feel serving on the board of education is one of the best ways to accomplish this. I would like to ensure that there are strong programs at all levels of learning and that all of our children from special education and basic skills to the honors and gifted and talented are given equal attention and opportunities.
Jones: Simply put, because I do care. As shown by my long-time commitment to Ewing Little League as a board member and other capacities, my 10-year involvement with the Ewing schools parent committees and associations, and my continuous volunteer and fundraising support and involvement with our community, I care deeply about our children.
I care about ensuring that all of Ewing’s youth, regardless of their socioeconomic status and/or academic abilities, have access to a quality public education—an education that will guide them perhaps on to college, a trade and/or a profession to become both educated and successful.
As a parent who’s own son was educated through Ewing’s public schools and was able to achieve success, I care about ensuring that all parents have that same access to a quality and rigorous academic experience for their children whether the students be considered at-risk, have special needs, and/or regardless of their academic abilities.
I care about ensuring that the numerous teachers and professionals who serve our students have the resources and support necessary to continue guiding, preparing, and effectively teaching Ewing’s future leaders. I am excited about the possibility of joining our school board to continue and expand upon their work to provide all of Ewing’s youth with the best education they deserve and can receive.
Miller: I am running for the board to help improve Ewing schools socially and academically. We have fantastic kids and teachers, but we can strive to be better. We need to make sure our teachers have all the resources they need to be fully supported in providing a quality, student-centered approach to learning.
As a board member, I will be dedicated to ensuring that our schools will compete successfully with surrounding districts and the way to do that is to actively work together with the administration to ensure that our teachers, educational support professionals and students come first when it is time to make budgetary decisions.
Staub: I am running for re-election for my fourth three-year term. As a lifelong resident I am passionate about Ewing and its students excelling in school. I graduated from the Ewing Public Schools and my husband and I chose to raise our family here in Ewing.
Prior to joining the BOE I was deeply involved in the Antheil PTO which enabled me to interact with parents, teachers and staff regularly. Each has their own viewpoint on issues varying from academics, sports, facilities, special education, discipline, etc.
That experience and continued involvement enables me to widen my perspective so my decision-making process is inclusive of all stakeholders of the district. I believe that makes me a more effective board member.
I am a very active and engaged board member since 2010, and I have held multiple leadership positions including three terms as president and one as vice president. I continue to serve on numerous committees including negotiations, facilities and residency hearings.
Finally, my main objective is to see the referendum projects through to completion as these projects will affect decades of Ewing students to come.
What can the district do to help get parents more engaged with their children’s academic efforts?
Angebranndt: Being a parent is challenging and being involved in a child’s education is a choice that parents have to make individually. I personally believe parental involvement is vital and plays a huge part in a child’s educational success. I think the district can continue to encourage involvement by increasing social media communications that highlight different programs like special education, work studies, academic achievements, etc. through various networks and publications.
It should also work to promote and encourage more board meeting attendance. Another way it can encourage involvement is to collaborate with school parent associations to help highlight different activities that parents can be involved in.
Franks: Both teachers and parents are invested in the success of the child, and an open dialogue between teachers and parents can lead directly to better academic results. I believe the district has several afterschool programs and workshops to engage both parents and students in learning we need to make sure we are getting the word out and get parents involved in the schools and at home.
Jones: One way for the district to help parents get more engaged is to meet the parents where they are at. All parents care deeply about their children, but many may not feel comfortable initiating conversations with the school and district (at no fault of anyone).
I believe it would be beneficial to everyone if the schools had several open forums to provide the opportunity for parents to come and talk about issues that they see impacting their children, to ask questions and express their concerns.
Additionally, I feel that the district could host more events/ activities in actual classroom settings to include parents, offering opportunities to be engaged at all grade levels. Many parents perhaps do not realize all that is involved with teaching their children in a classroom and creating a holistic educational experience for them.
Miller: In order to encourage parental involvement in their children’s education it is imperative we improve communication and have a clear understanding of our township’s population. For example, providing childcare at all Back to School Nights and conferences, utilizing high school student volunteers, is one simple way to support parental involvement.
We must be able to work together with the community to plan meaningful outreach activities that parents/guardians will want to attend. Finally, we must be sure all of our schools are welcoming so that parents/guardians will be comfortable coming in to our schools.
Staub: Increasing parental involvement in their children’s education is a constant challenge for districts everywhere. I believe it starts with communication and is cultivated by a welcoming atmosphere. We have a variety of communication methods in the district which keep parents updated on district wide initiatives, school specific programs and classroom-based actives. But communication needs to be two-ways.
The referendum process was terrific in terms of cultivating these conversations—we sought feedback and input from many parent groups. We had more parents attending BOE meeting and asking questions/providing feedback. I’d like to see more conversations taking place at all levels – individual schools, grades, etc. We would love to hear from you! If you can’t make a meeting but have something you’d like us to know, send us an email. See me around town, say hello. Have an idea how to engage more parents? I would love to hear from you: email@example.com.
What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?
Angebranndt: I believe that one of the challenges that face the district includes maintaining the current curriculum and programs that are offered to students while trying to stay within the restrictions of the 2% tax cap law.
Another challenge that I feel deserves more attention is the accessibility to educational technology, (i.e. Chromebooks), for all of our students. Many, if not all, of our programs encourage the integration of technology, cloud computing, etc. If each student had access to their own Chromebook it would allow for seamless integration of technology into the curriculum which would help provide a more engaging and effective education. The challenge is being able to provide this within the current budgetary restrictions of the 2% cap law.
Franks: Our world is changing rapidly each day. Board members, administrators and teachers must meet these changes also, to give our students what they need to enter the world after high school. We will always need to keep up to date with the latest technology, books, equipment and facilities to make sure our students have what they need to be able to enter college, the workforce or whatever they choose to do.
Our schools can only operate on the local tax base, state and federal monies. As a board member I will strive to help our school system has what it needs to prepare our students to meet our changing world.
Jones: I believe that we need to focus on ensuring that all of Ewing’s youth have equal opportunity to build the skills and capabilities necessary for future success in a wide range of areas. Ewing’s public schools are very diverse in terms of race, socioeconomic status, academic capabilities, and athletic/extracurricular skill sets.
Recognizing this, I believe that the district needs to continue and improve upon its work to provide a rigorous education that provides all of Ewing’s youth for success in multiple areas regardless of the student’s interests or academic capabilities. Additionally, as a taxpayer myself, I recognize the need for the board to exercise its financial responsibility to keep taxes affordable for all of Ewing’s residents while effectively preparing Ewing’s future leaders.
Miller: One major obstacle is improving our public relations communication with the members of the community who do not have children in the schools. We must build positive relationships with business leaders, realtors, church leaders, and senior citizens. They should all have a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions about improving our schools so we can have a shared vision that is supported by all. Over the next five-year period we may be facing a large influx of students due to new building. We must begin to prepare and plan for that now so that we will be ready with staff and resources.
Staub: One challenge that is particularly important to me, and I believe deserves more attention is student retention. Many families send their children to our elementary and middle schools but make the choice to not attend Ewing High School.
We have some of the most talented teachers in the state and the education opportunities are available at EHS yet families are choosing to send their children elsewhere. I believe those choices are made for a variety of reasons, with some of those being out of our control. But others are certainly in our control. We need to identify the reasons why these high performing students are leaving and how we can get them to stay.
Are there any areas in the school district budget that need to be looked at in order to reduce expenses?
Angebranndt: For the recently implemented 2019-2020 Ewing Public School Budget, 77% of it is allocated to the salaries and benefits of our teachers, support staff and administration. These individuals are essential to the success of our schools and students.
A reduction in this portion of the budget would be difficult. I feel the budget has been well thought out to tackle the challenges of rising costs and the need to remain competitive. The referendum was a great way to allocate funds to improve the schools and grounds and increase the safety measures in all of our facilities. These improvements benefit not just the students but the community as a whole.
The programs that are currently offered at our schools I believe are well-rounded and offer our students a great way to help explore what interests them. I believe that the district should collaborate with our teachers to find ways to effectively and efficiently improve all of our offerings in ways that are fiscally responsible.
Franks: As a board member I will work to ensure that budgets are responsibly built for both the students and the public. We need to provide all our students with a good education while being responsible to the public.
I would like to see more exposure to hands on trades such as carpentry or automotive repair, etc. Like most schools, we seem to direct all children towards a college education with block scheduling and helping them to obtain certain course credits needed for the career they want to pursue, but what can we do for the children who are not going to college and want to work with their hands?
Jones: Not being a current board member or having a child in the Ewing schools, my knowledge at this point is not yet as detailed as perhaps those who are currently on the board. However, as a taxpayer, I do feel that funds have been appropriated fairly and accordingly especially in particular to programs for those with special needs, our athletic department and in providing classroom aides for our teachers. As a member of the board, I will strive to expand upon our academic and extracurricular offerings while ensuring our educators and professionals have the tools and resources necessary to continue providing our youths with a solid foundation for success.
Miller: We have been running a flat funded budget for almost 10 years. We have seen cuts in staffing and cuts in programming over the last 10 years. In order to be competitive and relevant in Mercer County we must at least maintain our current spending.
A program that should be added is a fall play at EHS. Many surrounding districts provide this valuable opportunity and our students deserve that experience. The loss of our trades education at the middle and high school level needs to be addressed.
As a board member, I will be dedicated to restoring some of these valuable programs. I am passionate about this issue because I, myself, learned woodworking when I attended Fisher Junior High School. It is time we revisit and consider providing such programming again for our students.
Finally, we should be providing one-one technology resources for our students. We also need to provide all classrooms with Promethean boards so our teachers can truly integrate technology into their teaching.
Staub: Since 2010, we live in the world of 2% budget increase from the previous year’s budget. Our expenses, unfortunately, increase more than that each year. Being realistic you have to look at how those expenses are proportioned to determine where reductions are the most impactful to the budget yet less impactful to the student population.
The largest portion of the budget is personnel which also happens to be our greatest asset. Therefore, I support initiatives that utilize our budgeted funds more efficiently.
I support programs that add value to the student experience whether it’s academics, sports, the arts, or other extracurricular activities. One area we must continue to evolve is technology—both by use in the classroom and as well a component of the curriculum. Technology will progress, if don’t keep up we will be left behind.