Five candidates are running for three open seats in the Lawrence Township Board of Education election on Nov. 5.
Incumbents Jonathan Dauber, Patricia “Pepper” Evans and Michelle King have teamed up to run for reelection to three-year terms under the slate name, “Keep Moving Forward.” Also running are Heather Camp (Integrity slate) and Adena Romeo-Ratliff (Fiscally Responsible Educator).
In addition, Cathy LeCompte, whose term on the board ends this year, is running unopposed for a one-year unexpired term. She is also a member of the “Keep Moving Forward” slate.
Camp and her husband, Harpreet Mangat, have been residents of Lawrence Township for almost seven years. The couple has two children. Their son Jaydyn is in second grade at Lawrenceville Elementary School, and their daughter, Samira, will attend Kindergarten at LES next year.
Camp earned a bachelor’s degree in social work with a minor in third world development from Calvin University, and a master’s degree in social enterprise administration from Columbia University’s School of Social Work.
She currently works with her husband at their family business, White Knight Strategic Wealth Advisors. From 2005 through 2018, she worked as the director of community engaged learning at The College of New Jersey, and associate director of the Bonner Center. Prior to that, she worked at the Pace Center at Princeton University, and performed non-profit work in New Jersey and New York City addressing homelessness, domestic violence and youth education.
Dauber, 47, has lived in Lawrence for seven years with his wife, Karen. The couple has two children who attend Lawrence Public Schools. Their older son is in 4th grade at Lawrence Intermediate and their younger son is in 2nd grade at Lawrenceville Elementary.
Dauber holds a doctorate in educational leadership, theory and policy from Rutgers University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology/psychology from the University of Connecticut, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Rider University and a master’s degree in educational administration from Rider.
He has been the principal at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North for the last five years, and previously was the principal at Lawrence High School (2011-2015) and Lawrence Intermediate School (2006-2011). He was vice principal at Lawrence High School from 2005-2006.
Dauber taught in Trenton and Ewing public schools from 1998-2005 and was an officer with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department from 1995-1998. He is also serves as chairman of the legal committee for the N.J. State Board of Examiners.
Evans, 62, has lived in Lawrence since the late 1980s. Her husband passed away in 2006.
She has her own business as an independent living consultant. She also works for the Silver Century Foundation, a Lawrence nonprofit with a focus on informed aging.
A graduate of Notre Dame High School, she has taken mandated school board member training—60-plus credit hours of board member professional development. She has also attained master board member status
Her daughter, Nelle, graduated from Lawrence High School in 2017 and her daughter, Mariefred, graduated in 2015. Mariefred is a 2019 college grad working in Washington, D.C., and Nelle is spending her junior year studying abroad.
King, 55, has lived in Lawrence for 21 years with her husband, Charlie. The couple has five daughters—Collette (25), Courtney, (23), Emily, (21), Jacqueline, (16) and Claire, (14). The girls all received religious-based education at private schools.
King earned a bachelor’s degree in special education at LaSalle University and a master’s degree in educational psychology at Temple University. She attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning a PhD in educational leadership and a focus on curriculum and instruction.
She has been an adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey in the school of education since 2002, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in the elementary and special education departments. She also supervises student teachers in school districts in central and southern New Jersey, including Lawrence Township schools.
LeCompte, 60, has lived in Lawrence Township for 21 years with her husband Kirk. She was appointed to a one-year term to fill the vacancy created when Kelly Edelstein stepped down from the board. She is now running for the remainder of Edelstein’s term.
LeCompte is a graduate of Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. LeCompte currently works for Trimble MAPS in Princeton as a marketing designer. She has previously worked in the design, brand identity and marketing fields for over 40 years, including Castle Haven Creative, a small marketing and design firm with her husband.
The couple has two boys who attended the Lawrence Township public schools from kindergarten through 12 grade. Nate, 22, is attending Northeastern University in Boston, majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in sustainable energy systems. Adam, 19, is attending The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, majoring in acting and photography.
Romeo-Ratliffe, 40, has been a resident of Lawrence Township for 27 years. She and her husband, Theo, have three children who all attended Lawrence Township public schools.
Their youngest is a second grader at LES and their older two are now schooled outside the district due to a lack of available programming for their specific disabilities.
A graduate of the Lawrence Township public schools, Romeo-Ratliffe holds a PhD in nursing from Seton Hall University. She has been a registered nurse caring for some 20 years, and is currently employed as a full-time nursing educator at Mercer County Community College, focusing on the psychiatric nursing curriculum.
The Gazette posed a series of four questions to all of the candidates. Their answers appear below. Although LeCompte is running unopposed, her answers have been included as a way of comparison with the others running for the board.
Briefly explain how your experience, expertise or perspective would be most useful on the board.
Camp: I am a mother with young children who attend/will attend LTPS. As such, have a long-term interest in the quality of all of our schools. As a board member I would be able to use my own experience as a parent to help augment board of education policy.
Moreover, my extensive background in higher education and years of community work would bring value to the board. I have led projects for schools with community members requiring communication and planning, as well as managed large grants and budgets.
I have also planned and participated in several research projects, sat on multiple boards and committees including the Trenton Prevention Policy Board and the Mercer County Minority Concerns Committee, YMCA 5k committee. More recently,
I joined the board of the LES PTO, and coached children through Lawrence Hamnett the last two years. Building upon these experiences, I can help to build bridges between the board and the community, while also providing input, research, and programming for our district.
Dauber: I have served for three years on the Lawrence Board of Education, working notably in the areas of curriculum and instruction (as the chair of CIAPD), personnel, special education and community relations and legislative affairs.
I bring to the table over two decades of experience as a public school educator in Mercer County. Currently, I am in my 14th year as a building principal, with leadership experience at the elementary, middle and high school levels. I have a significant understanding of current trends, challenges and opportunities in public education. My experience as an administrator in Lawrence schools has and would continue to lend itself significantly to the effectiveness of the Lawrence Board of Education.
Evans: In my six years of service to the board of education, I’ve chaired the committees on curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development and special education. I’ve served on community relations, negotiations, finance and as liaison to Every Child Valued and town council.
My commitment to the children of Lawrence speaks for itself: I’ve held leadership roles throughout the community, including: founding member and president of what is now HomeFront; coached for Lawrence Rec and Lawrence Hamnett; MOMS Club; PTO; nine years on Lawrence Township Education Foundation including two as president; and now hope to keep moving forward with a third term on the board of education.
King: I bring to the school board my varied practice as an educator, and my study of how schools are managed, how classrooms operate, and how teachers are developed. Additionally, I have three years’ experience as a member of the Lawrence Township School Board. I have sat on the curriculum and instruction committee and community relations.
As a member of the superintendent search committee, I was tasked with interviewing candidates for the superintendent position which resulted in the hiring of Dr. Ross Kasun. As a member of the special education ad hoc committee, I have used my knowledge of, and experience with, special education, to assist the district in evaluating our current programs and developing a three-year plan for enhancing our practices. My experience on the negotiations committee, having successfully reached fair and reasonable agreements with two of the bargaining units, will be a resource as the board enters negotiations with the teacher’s union.
LeCompte: As a former PTO president for eight years, a board member for LIMBO, and parent volunteer for LHS Drama for four years, I’ve been actively engaged with LTPS students, teachers, parents and administrators for over 15 years.
This experience helps me to understand what is important to students, parents, and teachers, and to enhance programming, resolve problems, and improve our children’s education all within budget.
Romeo-Ratliffe: As a nurse, I am trained to assess, use evidenced based research to drive smart decision making, and use data to develop plans which address the needs of a person or population, all while doing so in a cost-effective manner. As an educator, I am also aware of how hard our teachers work and the many challenges that they face with our increasingly complex student population.
How do you feel about the way that the school board and administration communicates with the community? What do you think they do well, and in what areas can there be improvement?
Camp: I think the board and administration have made valiant efforts to engage parents in varying ways of late. They send emails and social media updates about events, feedback surveys, while also supporting educational events, such as the “Most Likely to Succeed” last spring.
That being said, I think our district should explore additional avenues to engage parents. This could be done through a multitude of ways, such as providing video footage of meetings for parents who cannot physically attend the meetings, offering meetings at different times, and asking parents to sit on committees to provide input.
Parents should have a strong connection to the schools their children attend. LTPS successes should be communicated to the community. We need to tell our own story as we work to make our schools even greater.
Dauber: The district has taken steps over the years to improve communication with families. Aside from a variety of electronic communications that exist, the district has utilized auto-dialer messages for a variety of things as well as written correspondence to families in a variety of languages. Parents and older students can now have access to student grades over the course of a marking period as well.
Still, there are always opportunities for school districts to improve communication with families. As technology develops, we can make use of new vehicles and opportunities. It is important to ensure that all schools are consistent in how they communicate with families. Building leadership cannot be myopic in its thinking, allowing for one set of communicative experiences in one school and another set in a different school.
It is also important that district leadership routinely get feedback from the community about what does and what doesn’t work ensuring progress year after year.
Evans: Families get regular communications through many channels: the district and each school regularly send newsletters and updates via social media. The PTOs, Lawrence Gazette, and others report our news.
The district website contains a wealth of information about our policies, procedures, and happenings. I encourage everyone to attend board meetings, either to ask questions and comment on topics of interest or to speak with members of the board and administration face to face.
At the same time, I caution people not to base their opinions or concerns on items shared and re-shared on social media. When in doubt, come to the source: official district communications. I find administrators are approachable, the budget is accessible to the public and always discussed in all phases of its development.
King: Members of the Lawrence community have challenged the school board in the recent past to increase transparency and improve communication with the public. We have since increased the reporting by committees at the public board meeting, giving more detail to what was discussed in those committee meetings while protecting privacy and security issues. Concerns presented to the board by the public are assigned to one of the board subcommittees, addressed at that subsequent committee meeting, and then, the chair of the committee contacts the person with the concern to inform him/her of the discussion that occurred and the next steps to be taken.
I want to ensure that members of the public have knowledge about the positions and actions we take and the ability to raise their concerns, know their concerns are heard, and receive a timely response.
LeCompte: Since I come from a marketing, branding and communications background, I know how important it is to keep the lines of communication open. I feel the school board and the administration has done a good job relaying information to the school district, but there is always room for improvement, especially to the Lawrence community as a whole.
Through our goal-planning session this spring, the board has set communication as one of our main goals. We need to showcase all the amazing things our teachers and students are doing. The board needs a multi-prong and multi-lingual approach to conveying information to ensure everyone is hearing the news. I will help guide the district in making sure information is getting out to parents, students and the community in a timely and relevant fashion.
Romeo-Ratliffe: While I have seen the current board try to make an effort to improve communication, I do feel as though there is still work to be done. As a parent of elementary school aged children I know first hand how important communication is to parents.
Parents need to feel like they are part of the school community and research shows that parents who are more engaged with their children’s education have better educational outcomes. It’s important to note that currently only one of our nine sitting school board members has elementary school aged children and the rest either have older children or no children at all in our schools. I believe there is value in having actual parental input in the decision making process across all levels of our schools.
What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?
Camp: One of the things I love most about Lawrenceville is its diversity. While we embrace the benefits of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, we also need to address the challenges. We need to work to meet the needs of all students by meeting them where they are.
This means everything from great general education teachers, to strong ESL programming for english language learners, to thoughtfully designed special education and gifted programming.
In addition, I think LIS has been a point of weakness in our school system. Lawrenceville has four elementary schools that all feed into one intermediary school. This is a big jump for 4th grade children and has overwhelmed many families, which has been reflected in overall student performance.
Many great changes have occurred this past summer, such as the appointment of a new principal and vice principal, in addition to point persons designated for each class, to address issues at LIS. Hopefully these changes will address some of the issues, but our work is not done.
Dauber: We need to ensure that student and family needs are met. It is the essence of what effective schools look like. We need to be concerned about what’s equitable rather than what’s simply equal for students.
We also need to support teachers in understanding what equitable work actually involves in terms of practice. Everyone wants what is best for students but transitioning this into practice calls for training, support, analysis and evaluation.
We need to ensure students are being taught in a manner consistent with 21st century learning—understanding the fact that many careers we are preparing them for do not yet exist. Students also need to be able to apply their learning in a global context. Educational opportunities need to expand beyond the classroom and school itself.
As well, mental health and social growth continues to be critical. Our public schools need to find significant ways to connect with community agencies and support pieces to work with schools and families.
Evans: I feel the biggest challenges facing our schools today involve preparing our children for life after high school—whatever that means to each individual student and family. Statistics that boast the percentage of students attending four-year colleges after high school do not tell the whole story of our students’ potential for success.
We need to better meet each child where they are and help them grow to their potential, and I believe that is being addressed through an emphasis on equity, social-emotional learning and character education.
King: Lawrence Township School District just began a multi-year effort to improve how special education is managed and delivered within our district and how we provide out-of-district placements when needed.
Our five-year strategic plan will be renewed this year. Continued efforts to improve social and emotional well-being and to meet the academic and non-academic needs of all of our students remain in the forefront of planning.
Finally, we need to clearly communicate the nature of what this district offers to those not directly connected to our schools to ensure widespread community support for high-quality education, which will ultimately positively impact all current and future residents of Lawrence Township. I want our school district to keep moving forward.
LeCompte: The diversity of our district is both a strength and a challenge. We benefit from broader perspectives than most towns, and need a wider range of tools to meet the needs of all of our students. I will work tirelessly to ensure all of our children are provided the healthy learning opportunities they need for self-discovery, which will ultimately lead them to fulfilling life choices that strengthen our society.
Romeo-Ratliffe: The safety and security of our children when we send them to school should be of the utmost concern. As the wife of a law enforcement officer I am in support of the additional school resource officers who were added last year and in the additional building modifications that I see occurring throughout our district such as the installation of additional security doors.
Our schools, like schools all over our country, are challenged in today’s society to take on ever increasing roles. That being said, in addition to making sure that our schools physically safe, we need to also do more to tackle the underlying issue of mental health.
Schools today need to be prepared to address the whole child which includes social emotional learning and mental health. If our children are not mentally healthy then they are not in a position to fully access their education and take advantage of the many great programs we offer here in Lawrence.
Even if a child is mentally healthy but they are in a class with another child who is not, it also has the ability to affect the child’s learning environment. Increasing mental health resources and access to school psychologists and certified school counselors should all be part of a comprehensive plan.
Are there any areas in the school district budget that need to be looked at in order to reduce expenses? Are there any programs you would like to see added or improved?
Camp: At present we spend a lot of money sending children out of district for various educational needs. Just last night I was looking through the board meeting minutes and was shocked by how much it costs to bus one child out of district.
The overall budget spent on sending kids out of district should be analyzed to see if it might be more cost-effective to hire staff internally to avoid having to send children out of district. Further, several neighboring towns have begun to provide language immersion programs. Research repeatedly demonstrates the benefits of having children learn a foreign language at an early age. This is something I would like LTPS to consider down the road.
Dauber: I believe we need to continue to find creative ways to off-set financial costs across the board. We recognize the school budget exists with a 2% cap, however expenses will exceed this cap easily by 1%.
The question becomes how do we save money elsewhere? How can we generate revenue for the district? Solar panels were a creative way to do this years ago, and the district still participates in this practice, bringing money back to us.
Other areas could include health benefits; what can we do to curtail the rising cost of health benefits, dental and prescription to the district? How effectively are we shopping ourselves to other vendors? Regarding programming for students; can we consolidate certain instructional programs across the county with other school districts? Transportation; what can we do to curtail our transportation costs?hIs it more cost-effective in the long-run to purchase our own fleet and supply our own drivers so as not to have to bid out these services?
Evans: Our district remains fiscally sound despite the challenges of the 2% cap. The voters approved a referendum, which allowed us to move forward with capital improvements in air-conditioning, building maintenance, and school security.
The district has committed to common sense special education spending with the goal of providing the appropriate education in neighborhood schools whenever possible. I am proud to have supported the law enforcement presence in our schools. The officers are building relationships, keeping our buildings safe and allowing staff to focus on teaching.
King: Transportation costs are increasing far too rapidly for the district to absorb in future years while still meeting obligations to all public and non-public school students and advancing the integrity of the instructional. Lawrence Township is not alone in this area and has much to gain by joining with county-wide forces or state-wide forces to address the issue.
LeCompte: The Lawrence Township BOE has a strong history of keeping expenses down while providing both innovative and proven programs for our children. We should continue that tradition by maintaining and expanding the opportunities we have for pursuing grants and partnerships with outside organizations.
In recent years we have made great strides in strengthening STEM education. Now, in our increasingly interconnected global economy, we can help our students achieve true, measurable proficiency in a foreign language and culture that will equip them for global opportunities. I would also like to see the music, art and theater programs expanded throughout the district. As a graphic designer whose son’s passion for the arts stemmed from his positive four-year involvement in LHS Drama, I know how beneficial an arts education can be.
Romeo-Ratliffe: The costs of running our schools, like everything in America, keeps increasing. The cost of administrative salaries, special education, transportation, security, as well as many other areas all need to be reviewed to see how we can continue to control costs while adding additional high quality programs and services for our children.
As a parent running for the board, I believe that I have a duty to both the students and the taxpayer, and I take both of those roles very seriously. As a nurse, critical thinking is an important skill and if elected I would work hard to bring forward innovative new ideas to address these issues.