Three seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 5 election for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education—two in West Windsor and one in Plainsboro.
In West Windsor, incumbent Carol Herts is being challenged by incumbent Louisa Ho and her running mate Graelynn McKeown for two three-year terms on the board. Ho and McKeown are running together under the slate name, “For Our Community.”
In Plainsboro, the contest if for one open three-year seat. Current board member Yu “Taylor” Zhong is being challenged by Robin Zovich.
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The two candidates were posed a series of four questions by The News. Their bios and answers appear below.
Yu “Taylor” Zhong, 49, has lived in Plainsboro with wife, Jennifer, since 2007. The couple has two children who both attended WW-P schools.
Zhong holds bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics. He has worked as a financial advisor/planner since 2014. Before that he worked for 20 years in investment banking, including 10 years of risk management for fixed income/bond trading on trading floor at investment banks. He also mentored more than 50 summer interns in investment banking and trading desk at various investment banks.
Robin Zovich, 46, and her husband, Tommy, moved to West Windsor in 2006 and then bought a home in Plainsboro the following year.
Zovich graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1991. She attended Boston College, graduating in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in English.
She is currently a homemaker and has been since 2002. Prior to that, she worked in New York City for seven years managing print and online advertising/marketing campaigns for a variety of clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to academia.
The couple has two children who have attended WW-P schools. Son Tommy Jr. is a junior at High School North and daughter Malia is an eighth grader at Community Middle School.
How will your experience, expertise or perspective be most useful on the board?
Zhong: I got elected to WW-P school board in 2013 and reelected in 2016. My experience is most useful. I communicate to parents extensively. My kids were football captains of the WW-P football varsity team. They also attended math A&E program from 4th to 8th grades. I understand the concerns from parents of sports students and academic students.
Zovich: One of the main responsibilities of a school board member is to be a strong conduit between the community and school system. My hands-on involvement through volunteering and leadership/board positions within the district and various organizations has expanded my interactions throughout West Windsor-Plainsboro and validates me as a qualified liaison.
Over the past 11 years, I have spent numerous hours working with and for the children of our district. I’ve served in executive board positions for both Wicoff and Millstone River schools (co-vice president, treasurer), been a room/team parent, field trip chaperone, organizer and volunteer at multiple events such as field days, book fairs, carnivals and dances.
Tommy Jr. and Malia participate in scouting. I volunteered with Cub Scout Pack 759 in Plainsboro and currently am the corresponding secretary for Boy Scout Troop 40 in West Windsor. I was a Girl Scout troop leader for four years and have been the service unit girl scout cookie manager for West Windsor-Plainsboro the last three years.
Tommy Jr. and Malia participate in local youth sports organizations. I’ve volunteered at the Cranbury-Plainsboro Little League, coached and served as league coordinator for the West Windsor Little League. For the past two years I’ve been the treasurer for Lightning Lacrosse and have co-coordinated the West Windsor-Plainsboro Lacrosse Day that partners with Attitudes In Reverse.
I’ve attended numerous orchestra and band concerts, musicals and plays, high school and middle school games across multiple sports and have readily supported many club/team fundraisers.
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?
Zhong: The BOE and administration communication with community good. However, a majority of Chinese parents don’t use Twitter. They use WeChat instead. I sometimes copy messages from Twitter to send out via WeChat. I also explain things via WeChat.
Zovich: I feel the school board and administration have done a great job in communicating information at the macro-level. Agendas and presentations are listed for review, public meetings are open to the community to attend and speak at while being recorded and televised, Twitter and e-mails are utilized for prompt communication. On a micro-level, there is room for improvement. One instance that personally impacted our family was the delayed reporting about an extended teacher absence and teacher substitution.
Do you think that pressure to perform academically is an issue for students in the school district? If so, what would you suggest the district can do to help alleviate stress and anxiety? If not, how would you respond to those who believe there is a problem?
Zhong: This has been a debating issue at our school district for several years. Both sides have a reason.
I have been mentoring quite a few college students on their career/internship recently. Those students attend top colleges as well as state colleges. While I mentor several students, I get feedback from dozens of students from various colleges. They are both successful and to-be successful students. I really learned a lot from these students.
I witnessed students with different situations. One student performed well academically and went to a top college, but doesn’t want to start an internship or look for a job.
The student told the parent, “When I was at high school, you told me to take lots of AP courses and get straight A’s and get to a top school. I achieved that. You now want me to look for a good job. When can I take a break?”
If the parent hadn’t pushed too hard, the student might have been more successful at college. This is not a rare situation. I wish I could share more stories with parents. I will not name names or college names when I share stories. These stories may not even come from WW-P or New Jersey.
On the other hand, many students who went to state colleges or the so-called second tier colleges performed very well and became managers of the graduates from the top schools.
Parents need to understand that technical skills and academic strength are not the only aspect that determines the success of a student. Personality, passion, kindness and many other things are equally important, if not more so.
I’m not debating with any side. I just want to share the stories with parents. Parents can draw their own conclusions. I also want to hear back from parents.
Zovich: Many students in our school district have expressed concern over the pressure to perform academically. The administration has made several changes over the years implementing new academic guidelines and increasing staff focused on mental health and student well-being.
In addition, team-building activities and programs should be built into the curriculum to help with peer and student-teacher connections. Additionally, it would be advantageous for guidance counselors to build relationships with all of their assigned students via multiple meetings throughout the year; meetings not just focused on course scheduling but examining student work/life balance and welfare.
What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?
Zhong: Communication is the key. I’ll spend more time to talk with parents. As always, I’ll listen to parents and residents.
Zovich: One challenge facing the school district is the continued support of the Whole Child initiative. Stress and anxiety due to social and academic pressures are on the rise. The district needs to be proactive in providing education/tools to parents, students and staff, helping them to identify youth who are at risk and continue to promote genuine attitudes of kindness, empathy and understanding.
A second challenge is the continued and projected residential growth of West Windsor-Plainsboro and the effect on our students, schools and properties. The district has addressed the short and near-term growth but additional planning and strategy is vital for the future.
A final challenge is the declining number of student participation in team sports. Team sports not only offer valuable benefits to student-athletes but also create a vibrant sense of school spirit for the whole community. We need to address the lack of awareness and promotion of athletic awards. Focus should be placed on the hiring and support of coaches/athletic administration and the forming of collaborative relationships with our recreation and school programs to boost participation.