Three three-year terms on the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education this fall, and only one incumbent, Adam Sawicki, is running for re-election, meaning there will be a minimum of two new school board members come Jan. 1.
All five candidates responded to questionnaires sent by the Hopewell Express. Except for Sawicki, none has ever run for elected office. The three seats up for grabs are all Hopewell Township seats. Pennington and Hopewell Borough voters will not have any candidates on their ballots this year.
Not running for re-election are board members Alyce Murray and Sarah Tracy.
Brief biographies and their responses can be found below.
Andrea Driver, 45, teaches 5th grade in the Robbinsville public schools. She has a bachelors degree in sociology and elementary education and a master’s degree in educational administration from Rider University. Driver is married to Kevin Driver and has two daughters: Hailey, 19, a student in the veterinarian assistant program at Mercer County Community College, and Brooke, 16, a junior at CHS.
The lifelong Hopewell resident attended Hopewell Elementary, Timberlane Junior High School, and CHS. She lives near the Pennington Circle and says she has attended about 50% of the school board meetings held in the past year.
Anita Williams Galiano, 54, is operations executive and partner for OnPacePlus. She has a bachelors degree in communications from the University of Iowa. The Brandon Farms resident hails from Jacksonville, Illinois and has lived in Hopewell for 20 years. She says she has attended less than 50% of the school board meetings held in the past year.
Jacqueline (Jacquie) Genovesi, 51, is vice president of the Center for STEAM Equity at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Genovesi has a doctorate in educational leadership and technology from Drexel University, a master’s in environmental studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and a bachelors degree in biology from Rider University.
Genovesi, who is from Ewing, has lived in Titusville for 20 years. She and her husband, Rocco Genovesi, Jr., have three children: Katie, 20, a CHS graduate who is a junior at Eckerd College; Michael, 17, a senior at CHS; and Joseph, 14, a freshman at CHS.
Genovesi says she has attended less than 50% of in-person meetings but nearly 100% of online meetings of the school board in the past year.
Ross Gordon, 33, is a 7th grade social studies teacher in Willingboro. He has a bachelors degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in early childhood education and development from Kean University. He is married to Meghan Carroll and they have two sons, Myles, 4, and Lincoln, 4 months. The Staten Island native moved to Titusville six years ago. Gordon says he has attended around 50% of school board meetings held in the past year.
Incumbent Adam Sawicki, 54, is a technical fellow in mechanical-structural engineering at the Boeing Company. He has bachelors and master’s degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s in business administration from Villanova University.
The 23-year resident is married to Michele Ruiz, a dentist, and has four children: Grace, a senior at Cornell University, Erik, a sophomore at Rutgers University, Emilie Sawicki, an 11th grader at CHS and Christopher, also an 11th grader at CHS. The family lives on Caroline Drive.
Sawicki has been board vice president the past two years, and says he has attended 100% of school board meetings in the last year.
Community News: Tell us about the moment when you decided to run, or run again, for school board.
Driver: I made the decision to run for school board when I realized our community, state, and country were in a state of yearning for change. I struggled to determine the role I could play in order to help make and influence positive change.
I care deeply about my community and felt compelled to get involved. I strongly believe the route to change is through education. Coming from generations of lifelong community members, as well as a professional educator, running for school board appeared to be the most logical choice.
Williams Galiano: Mid-summer following conversations with local friends, months of Covid quarantining, and as many months of professional work related to healthcare technology and monitoring, I realized that there was life and professional experience I could bring to bear on the historic moment we collectively were living. I recognized, my professional experience, a mid-recession business closure, and mapping a new path forward would be of valued service.
In addition, there was the national conversation on race. It was clear that we could not disregard the related conversation forming in the Valley and helping our children understand, be heard, and feel safe again was a responsibility I felt called toward.
Genovesi: I decide to run after a friend suggested that I run because of my extensive experience working with the teachers, administrators, students, parents and the community of the School District of Philadelphia. My children have benefited from the initiatives like increased AP and Honors classes; the STEM programs; the improvement in special education; and the homework policy.
Hopewell has given so much to my children and our family and I would be honored to serve on the school board.
Gordon: I want to help our district follow an all-inclusive education, and in turn serve as a role model to other districts, improving the education of children across the state. Learners need to be met where they are, pushed to follow their passions, and given a chance to pursue their interests.
I don’t think the district is on the wrong path, but I would like to help lead students to see themselves in what they are learning. Students, teachers, and the greater community all need to feel they are part of the educational system. This will give our students the best chance possible to succeed in life.
Sawicki: I decided to run again in late June when the board began reviewing reopening plans for 2020-21. While I have great respect for my fellow board members, it struck me that next year all other Hopewell Township representatives will be serving their first term. My experience and institutional knowledge will help the district navigate the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, I would like to facilitate several district curricular and infrastructure initiatives that were slowed due to the pandemic. An experienced leader can provide beneficial insights and help the Board avoid repeating costly mistakes.
CN: For the incumbent, what accomplishments from your time on the school board are reasons that voters should elect you again?
Sawicki: I have chaired four of the five board committees and served on all five, so I have a breadth of experience in all key board and district focus areas. Examples of the initiatives that I have championed include increased access to advanced courses and co-curricular activities, our homework policy, our STEM curriculum, the Performing Arts magnet academy, 1:1 learning, full-day kindergarten and our referendum projects.
During my current term, I have had focused involvement on policy matters, student/staff conduct, equity initiatives and social-emotional learning. I’ve also worked to improve our budget development and communication processes. While I prioritize school community wellness and student achievement, I have also worked hard to match the District’s budgetary needs with what our taxpayers can afford.
CN: For non-incumbents, what experiences in your life or professional career make you qualified to serve on the school board?
Williams Galiano: Nearly 30 years of business experience between consumer healthcare operations and business management has been spent working within teams, as well as leading teams. I have coached, consulted, and in the process honed listening for problems and collaborating for viable solutions within a budget. I have co-led Six-Sigma projects assessing and redesigning product and service delivery systems, much like a school system.
In addition, I have travelled internationally and understand the profound gift we have as a school district and community, while knowing what it looks like to prepare our children for a global stage. I am uniquely qualified to listen for diverse needs and voices of stakeholders while being unflappably focused on the primary constituency, our community of children.
Genovesi: As a leader of a diverse department in a large complex institution, I have developed skills that are directly transferable to being an effective board member. These skills include financial planning and expertise (which is even more critical during this challenging financial time) and understanding the national landscape in education while being able to contextualize the needs of our community.
My formal training in diversity, equity, inclusion and collaboration is paramount to who I am and how I will view my role as a board member. I excel at finding creative, unique solutions that focus on local needs and speaking not for myself or a small outspoken group but for the entire community.
Gordon: I have been a teacher for the last 8 years and my experience, starting from a teacher’s assistant, being a sub, and finally, classroom teacher, has allowed me to learn the importance of what teachers can add to the running of their district. My experience in various positions in schools gives me an inside knowledge of where improvements can always be made in a school.
Driver: I bring a lot of experience that would be beneficial to the board of education. I am a community member, and have been my entire life. I am a parent of a school age child, who attends Hopewell Valley Central High School. I am a teacher with 23 years of teaching experience. And I am an alumnus of Hopewell Valley Regional School District, as are my husband, daughter, parents and many of my extended family members.
As such, I am a stakeholder and have a vested interest in the success of our school district and its students and graduates.
CN: Grade the current school board and administration on how it has handled education policy during the pandemic.
Williams Galiano: The school board and administration deserve high marks for the time put into preparing for a virus-free environment that was, at best, an erratic target. The creative solutions for outdoor classrooms, modified teaching schedules for health concerns, and sourcing and staging PPE were well thought out.
The most noticeable opportunity was in the realm of communication. Final deliberating and changes to planning during the final planning phase either missed conveying new data/new information that shifted the thinking, or better measurements for determining whether to “go” or “no go” were not present. The moment was fraught with complexity, and it left key stakeholders feeling unheard, and the work in preparation overshadowed.
Genovesi: The school board and administration have done the best they could during this challenging time. Virtual instruction was an issue in the spring. During this time, issues that were raised were addressed. But what about the parents and students who didn’t know how to raise issues? I strongly feel that the policies and procedures were not equitable during the beginning of the pandemic.
When you look at past self-evaluations of the board, they acknowledge the need to work on transparency. Working on transparency and communication with an eye on equity is something that could be handled better. Transparency enhances equity by ensuring all students and parents are aware of supports and what might be unwritten but is possible.
Gordon: The school board has done fairly well with the pandemic, but there was also room for improvement. This comes back to listening to both the community and the teachers and walking that fine line to make sure all parties’ needs are met. Making sure that there are options for those who are not comfortable, teachers, and students alike, and ensuring that nothing is moving too quickly. A slower more stable introduction back to in-person learning would have put us on a stronger footing in the face of Covid.
Sawicki: Overall our superintendent, administrators, staff and others on the Reopening Committee did a commendable job preparing us for the current school year. Despite the state’s delay in providing guidance, planning progress was well communicated to the Board and community. Our reopening plan incorporated expert guidance provided by the district’s physician and our local Department of Health. Cleaning and safety precautions were exemplary.
Remote instruction last spring encountered some challenges and we have improved current offerings and approaches. Looking forward, we need to be diligent in assessing our students’ needs and provide appropriate support. While last minute differences of opinion arose regarding our return-to-school timeline, the decision to reopen under the well-researched plan which provided both hybrid and remote instructional options was correct.
Driver: The current school board and administration have handled the education policy during this pandemic as well as could be expected. These are unprecedented times with no road map or past experiences to guide us.
The board and the administration actively sought out advice and input from parents and students on what was working and what wasn’t. They took feedback, questions and comments, and criticism on a regular basis, all while trying to maintain the integrity of our children’s education. This was not an easy task.
CN: What are two of the biggest issues facing the school board in the coming year?
Genovesi: In looking ahead, the impacts that Covid-19 are having on our schools will by necessity take precedence the coming year. It will be important to assess the impact on student learning and have the ability to effectively balance curricular needs against Covid-19 mitigations such as staffing, cleaning, transportation, technology, etc. Our work around equity and social-emotional learning will also be a major issue in the coming year.
Our students, parents, staff, administrators and community are dealing with unprecedented challenges that are affecting our emotional and social well-being. Ensuring we have the supports in place will make Hopewell a stronger healthier community.
Additionally, there are current and future initiatives that we need to ensure are not neglected including: aging infrastructure; environmental greening activities; and ensuring our grading and second chance learning practices are equitable.
Gordon: Two of the biggest issues coming up will be the safety and security of students, and the inclusivity of the curriculum. Children are in a space that is meant to make them feel safe. Anything that makes a student feel unsafe, or adds anxiety to an already tense situation, should be avoided at all costs. We need to make sure plans are in place, guidelines are followed, and protocols exist to keep everyone safe.
It is also important to update our curriculum to make all students feel accepted, regardless of race, creed, sexuality, or gender. Opening up the curriculum to include students of all backgrounds, will make them feel more a part of what they are learning, and give them a chance to thrive.
Sawicki: Physical and mental health wellness were the primary factors which influenced the district’s hybrid reopening plan. In the coming year, we must continue to focus on staff and student wellness. Beyond its impact upon instruction, the pandemic has accentuated preexisting social-emotional challenges. Our administrators need to study our post-March experience with later start times, outdoor education, and different counseling techniques, and incorporate their benefits as we progress back towards normal full time in-person instruction.
We also face continued budgeting challenges, given higher-than-cap rate increases in health insurance along with the expense of maintaining our aging infrastructure. During this time of declining district enrollment and record per-pupil costs, we must be vigilant in stabilizing expenditures relative to this year’s budget plan, while remaining flexible in adapting to the course of the pandemic. We should thoughtfully consider the significant savings realized while buildings were closed before increasing taxes to address facility needs.
Driver: The two biggest issues facing the school board this coming year are the social emotional health, and the safety of the students and staff. Prior to the pandemic shutting down school, we were already in a crisis regarding health and safety. Suicides were at an all time high amongst young people. Because our school district is the entity which connects our smaller communities, we have an obligation to be the driving force to effect change.
The school board and the administration should create programs, curricula, supports and resources so staff feel supported and the students are safe. I know they have already begun this work; however, we need to continue to make this a priority.
Williams Galiano: Hopewell Valley School District is blessed with staff and leadership profoundly committed and passionate about delivering quality education. The school board will be challenged to partner with the district and the Valley community to transition from hybrid course delivery to full in-school sessions. The transition, leaning heavily on the learnings from the fall of 2020, will undoubtedly include managing logistics, but equally importantly, will be designing and maintaining a safe environment and (re)defining a sense of physical and emotional security for our staff and district Families.
All this will demand accomplishing this commitment in the midst of negotiating a new contract with our district teachers. My professional training project management and facilitation will lend itself well to working with the board as a team to blend multi-stakeholder input with complex and potentially competing objectives.
CN: Diversity, in terms of race, culture and income, is a big issue across the nation general, and in the Hopewell Valley specifically. Tell readers your thoughts on race and diversity in our schools today.
Gordon: Diversity is more than a word that tells us we are different. It is a chance for us to all share experiences from different lenses and learn from one another and see things in a way we may never have seen before. As time moves on, more and more people from different backgrounds will come to our community, and we should embrace and welcome these changes and put plans in place so we are ready for all students who will join our family.
By opening our hearts to all different people, we can learn about ourselves, where the world is going, and better ourselves and our knowledge. The more diverse opinions and ideas we bring together, the better off we are, and the further we can all move together.
Sawicki: Much remains to be done in addressing our equity and cultural competency issues. Current events have helped our nation become better informed about the historical causes of inequity and the challenges still faced by people of color, women and LGBTQIA communities. I see this time as an opportunity for more rapid progress in our schools and the broader community.
The district can serve as an example for local engagement and discussion. For example, current practices focus on education and restorative justice when confronting cases of racism, bigotry and harassment. We reviewed and upgraded textbooks and novels to better reflect our vision and remove biased language and concepts from instruction. Assistant superintendent Dr. Rosetta Treece works with staff to reduce implicit bias, and with local leaders Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills to ensure our history is accurately reflected.
Lastly, superintendent Dr. Thomas Smith leads ongoing, difficult, candid conversations about equity in our schools and community.
Driver: Diversity often is viewed as a negative word. However, diversity makes a community rich. Exposure to diversity isn’t enough. We need to believe in the benefits of diversity. We need to celebrate and embrace diversity. This can be done by teaching our students many perspectives through our curriculum, by having our staff represent the students we educate, by providing resources for the staff and students that depict a diversity of characters, settings, environments. Changes need to be made over time. But a commitment to making those changes should be immediate.
Williams Galiano: From curriculum development to staffing, HVRSD currently explores many opportunities to represent our community through the lens of diversity. Representation within the books and within the body of individuals who serve and teach our children is critically important. That said, we can miss understanding diversity beyond statistics and curriculum.
The undervalued dynamic of diverse perspectives for problem-solving, learning methods, and learning of/from various cultural icons that have framed and transformed the very ground we live on can prepare HVRSD students uniquely.
A real breakthrough on this front would be acknowledging that we have unaddressed bias-based treatment and bullying issues. Training and creating a network of readily available diversity and inclusion resources in each building to advocate for students who feel unsafe. Providing ways to address and repair harm for students contributing to an unsafe school environment would allow learned behaviors of resolution over punishment.
Genovesi: This is a complex, emotionally charged issue. My children and I have witnessed the long-standing challenges. The district is committed to directly addressing these issues and has implemented new curriculum, town halls and training for staff. This summer’s incident reinforces that more, much more needs to be done. Together we will decide where we are headed and the best way forward.
I have the personal and professional experience help make our schools and community more IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Leadership). I’ve worked to understand my own implicit biases, my privileges, and how I can listen and be a better ally. I have participated for the past three years in a research-proven IDEAL teaching and facilitation program. I am the staff lead of the Academy’s IDEAL Board Committee, internal staff IDEAL working group and co-chair of Drexel University’s Anti-Racism Task Force on professional staff recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention.