The Ewing Township Board of Education will gain some new members next year, with just one incumbent running for the three seats that are up for grabs in the Nov. 3 election.
Seven names will be on the ballot, including that of Channing Conway, who was elected to his first term in 2017. Also on the ballot are first-time candidates Matthew Canulli, Llionel Henderson, James C. McDaniel, Jennifer Miller, Tyrone Miller and Erin Rein.
Two long-time members of the school board, Karen McKeon and Carl Benedetti, Jr., have opted not to run again. McKeon has been on the board since 2008, and Benedetti since 2011.
The Ewing Observer continues its long tradition of publishing candidates’ answers to our questionnaires in advance of the election. Only five of the seven candidates on the ballot this year have responded.
Matthew Canulli, 20, is manager at Marsilio’s Kitchen in Ewing. He is a student at Mercer County Community College, studying business administration. He has lived in West Trenton his whole life, attending Lore Elementary, Fisher Middle and Ewing High Schools.
Canulli is a sergeant at arms with the West Trenton Volunteer Fire Company and has also volunteered with Ewing Little League. Canulli says he attended more than 50% of school board meetings in the past year.
Channing C. Conway, 49, is assistant superintendent of Trenton Public Schools. He has a bachelors degree from Morgan State University, a masters in educational administration from The College of New Jersey, and a doctorate in educational administration and policy studies from Temple University.
Conway lives in the Mountain View area with his wife, Michelle. They have lived there for 16 years. He has twin daughters in 3rd grade at Lore Elementary School, and a daughter who is in 6th grade.
Originally from White Plains, New York, Conway spent his adolescent years in Florida. He is a member of the Ewing Democratic Club and the Ewing Township Zoning Board. He was elected to the Ewing School Board for the first time in 2017 and says he has attended 100% of the school board meetings held in the past year.
Jennifer Miller, 45, is a high school English teacher in the Northern Burlington County Regional School District. She has a bachelors degree from The College of New Jersey and a master’s degree in educational administration from Rider University. She is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership from American College of Education.
Miller, a 21-year resident of Ewing, lives in West Trenton with husband Michael and children: Peyton, 16, a junior at Ewing High; Chloe, 13, an 8th grader at Fisher Middle School; and Brodie, 11, a 6th grader at Fisher. She is originally from Morris County.
Miller is a member of the Fisher Parents Association. This is her first time running for office. She says she has attended about 50% of school board meetings held in the past year.
Tyrone A. Miller, Jr., 44, is a teen facilitator with a Central Jersey family health consortium. The 7-year Ewing resident lives with his wife Kenyanna and his two children: Miron, 18, who is in college, and Tyanna, 16, who is in 11th grade.
The first-time candidate has lived in New Brunswick, Hamilton and Trenton. He says he attended less than 50% of the Ewing school board meetings held in the last year.
Erin Rein, 23, studies law at Drexel University Kline School of Law. She works part-time at a law office in Cherry Hill. She has a bachelors degree in elementary education and psychology with a minor in special education from Rider University.
A lifelong resident of Ewing, Rein attended Antheil Elementary School, Fisher Middle School, and Ewing High School. This is her first time running for elected office. She lives in Braeburn Heights.
Rein says she attended less than 50% of school board meetings held in the past year.
Also on the ballot are Llionel Henderson and James C. McDaniel. Neither of these candidates answered our questionnaire.
Q. Tell us about the moment when you decided to run, or run again, for school board.
Matthew Canulli: During the pandemic, I listened to the concerns parents and students were expressing. I thought “I need to run for school board, I know I can help make a difference.” Giving back to my community is important to me. I am a volunteer firefighter, not for the “hero” title, but to help the people in my community.
We can always do more for our students. Ideas are out there we just need to get the community to become more involved and express their ideas and concerns and I am the person to help get that movement started.
Channing Conway: I decided to run again after several discussions with colleagues pertaining to the impact of the pandemic on education. We spoke at length about the implications of Covid-19 on student achievement and what it might take to accelerate learning in order to fill in some of the gaps created by the additional time out of school.
We spoke about the digital divide and how this pandemic will exacerbate the achievement gap for minority students. As a 25-year educator, I believed I would be able to serve as an additional thought partner with district leadership through these unprecedented times.
Jennifer Miller: As a lifetime educator, I want to become a board member in Ewing to encourage progress in how we approach educating our young people in the 21st century. I have taught at all levels of public education. Currently I teach high school in Burlington County and am working on my Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. I have a vast amount of training in curriculum, social justice issues in education, classroom management, school budgeting, and community relations.
The knowledge and experience I have in New Jersey public education enables me to give valuable feedback to the administration to ensure that we are providing the best possible education for all the students in Ewing Township Public Schools.
Tyrone Miller: The decision to run was not a decision that came in one moment. I told my family years ago I would run when my son graduated high school. The position requires a time commitment, and with my son in college, I have more time. I am running because the board is ripe for a new energy. I will bring that positive and energetic energy. I will bring an inclusive and team like energy to get us all on the same page.
Erin Rein: This summer, I worked for a professor at my law school who was writing a book about children and discussed many data driven practices on educating children. One of the conclusions was that, as a society, people without children need to take more of an active role in caring for children that are not our own.
Although I think it is wonderful that parents want to be on the school board to be active in their own child’s education; it is important that there is someone on the school board advocating for students whose parents cannot be on the board.
Q. For non-incumbents: What experiences make you qualified to serve on the school board?
Jennifer Miller: I am a career educator who has taught at all levels of public education from kindergarten to 12th Grade. I have a vast amount of training and professional development in classroom discipline, classroom strategies and teaching methods, English Language Arts, and Social-Emotional Curriculum. My master’s degree is in educational administration and I served as a member of leadership for Mercer County Education Association when I was still teaching in Ewing. I am currently working on my doctorate in educational leadership with a focus on community and educational organizations.
Tyrone Miller: I have had so many amazing experiences in my life. I have toured the country with the rock band Sugar Ray. I have worked at a record label in NYC. I have been on a reality show.I am the current Head middle school baseball coach at Princeton Day School. Through all those unique life experiences i have learned if you are open and approach your endeavors with enthusiasm you can improve any situation. I have had the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. I leave places better then I found them. If given the opportunity i would love to do that with the board.
Erin Rein: Although I am young, I am uniquely qualified. I attended Ewing Schools, and worked in Ewing schools for six years. I have worked, as a substitute or an aide, in every school in the district. I have my bachelors degree in Elementary Education with a minor in Special Education. I have knowledge both inside the classroom and out. After student teaching I decided to go to law school to make change in the education system on a larger scale.
These past few years I have focused on learning the ins and outs of the education system as a whole. These insights will be new to the board of education and allow me the ability to help make changes in our community.
Matthew Canulli: Volunteering and being a manager are large parts of my life. It’s amazing how much taking time to listen to someone’s concerns does for a person and what volunteering can do to help a community. I want to get this community more involved in the schools. We need to build a better relationship between the students/parents and teachers with better communication to give the students a positive school experience and help them focus on their education.
Being a recent graduate, I feel I have a different perspective and am aware of changes that need to be achieved in our schools. If my ideas were available when I was a student, not only would I have benefited, but my fellow students, teachers and parents would have as well.
Q. For the incumbent: What accomplishments from your time on the school board are reasons that voters should elect you again?
Channing Conway: I am very proud of the work I have been involved in while serving in my first term on the school board. As you may recall, this board of education has been charged with overseeing the implementation of the school improvement projects that came by way of a $59-million referendum. I am happy to say, while the pandemic did delay some of the projects, we have been able to push forward in most to ensure we stay primarily on track to finish the projects mostly on time.
Secondly, I am proud of the attention given to the manner in which student discipline is handled. After a thorough data analysis, we examined our practices and implemented a restorative approach to addressing student infractions.
Q. Grade the current school board and administration on how it has handled education policy during the pandemic.
Channing Conway: I give the current Ewing Board of Education and Administration a solid B for its handling of the policy during the pandemic. This Administration wasted no time in surveying stakeholders with a variety of questions to determine how to best serve the community.
The Administration created a plan which took into consideration all of the voices of the community and while there is no perfect plan that will make everyone happy; I feel this board of education and administrative staff proposed a plan which provided parents with viable options to meet their respective family needs.
Tyrone Miller: The school board has done a great job in a very different and difficult time. It handled going virtual very well. I am sure there were hiccups but, the in school staff starting with the teachers and administrators did an outstanding job.
Erin Rein: I think the board and administration did extremely well handling education policy during the pandemic. It ensured that our children were being given instruction remotely either via web-based learning or learning packets and that teachers were to be available a certain number of hours per day to be accessible for all children.
The district also continued to provide meals free and reduced breakfast/lunch program which I believe is invaluable. These meals are, at times, the only meals some children eat all day. In light of the urgency that the school closure was thrust upon the district I do not believe there was much that could have been done any better.
Matthew Canulli: I give everyone in the administration and the board of education a lot of credit for keeping things running the best way possible with tons of obstacles in the way. I believe to do well in anything, one must first experience it and only then can you improve by learning from the mistakes made. From what I have been told the district was constantly communicating with parents throughout the remainder of the school year and were very accessible for questions and concerns anyone had.
I think one thing that could have helped would have been to provide more directional resources/videos for students and parents/guardians who were trying their best to understand and learn the devices given when learning switched over to fully remote.
Jennifer Miller: I would give the current board and administration a B in how they have handled the current pandemic. The board and administration has dedicated a great deal of time and energy to implementing both virtual and in-person instruction for our students. They have also taken into account the diversity in socio-economic status in our community by providing childcare for working parents who are unable to work from home. They have also been fair with teachers by accommodating most requests to work from home.
An area that could use improvement is in communication and answering difficult questions during board meetings. Many times, questions that are more difficult to answer are ignored or pushed to the side. The area of planning for special education students needs improvement. The administration should make better use of public relations communication through a wider and more frequent use of social media.
Q. What are two of the biggest issues facing the school board in the coming year?
Tyrone Miller: The biggest issue facing the board this year is the pandemic. We must work as a team to have everything run smoothly in schools while still keeping everyone safe. We must hear all the concerns of our staff, our families, and our community. One board member can not change anything. I will be a team effort. We must unite the board and set an example for the community to follow. It is not about how I will tackle the issue, its about how we will tackle the issue.
Erin Rein: I believe two of the biggest issues facing the district are: navigating and dealing with Covid-19 and how it, to date, has affected the referendum projects. The district is faced with many challenges when considering how to safely bring students and staff into the school on a daily basis and ensure their well being. I believe giving each individual the choice of coming into school or staying home and learning remotely is the best and safest option.
However, when offering this choice we must ensure a safe environment for students learning in person and offer the highest level learning program for students who choose to remain virtual. The referendum projects in their entirety will need to be kept on track as much as possible. I am not sure how that works. Some projects may need to go out to be rebid, my goal is that none are canceled in their entirety. These are all things I will sit down and discuss with the superintendent and business administrator as soon as I am elected.
Matthew Canulli: My two biggest issues are community involvement and school environment. I want to encourage the community to attend board meetings and voice their suggestions and ask questions. I want to start a program for students called “students voices,” where students can talk in front of the board about their concerns or suggestions. Board meetings should not just be for parents, the students should be heard too.
School years can be amazing but rough when dealing with obstacles such as hunger, drugs, emotional struggles and bullying. To help find solutions, we need to provide the best resources/programs for them. The meal program should be offered to any child in need no matter the situation. No child/parent in this community should ever feel worried, afraid or that they have no support, guidance, or resources to help them.
I believe when you provide a safe and positive school environment students are able to focus on their education and enjoy school. They become more involved which helps them gain a better connection with teachers, fellow students, and their community.
Channing Conway: The two biggest issues facing the school board this year are both related to Covid-19.
Educating students in the midst of a global pandemic is going to be the biggest issue facing the school board. Whether a child is participating in person, hybrid or remotely there will be a noticeable difference in the manner in which students will be engaged by their teacher. Best educational practices call for an element of small group instruction which will prove difficult to accomplish via remote instruction and equally as difficult for in person instruction when considering social distancing guidelines.
In addition to educating the children, keeping everyone healthy and safe will prove to be equally as challenging. Given that we know so little about the virus and the ease of which it spreads, along with the scarcity of adequate testing, will potentially create conditions where we may have to develop additional plans for intermittent quarantining.
Jennifer Miller: The most important challenges Ewing faces as a school district is the diverse needs of our community and meeting them equitably. It is important to gain more community investment in the schools so that we can more effectively meet the various levels of need among our school population. The board needs to be directly involved with clear and transparent communication to all constituents so that everyone will be informed of the events and resources that are offered throughout the community.
When we work together with all community constituents, with open and transparent communication, we will be much more successful at meeting the needs of our students equitably. Community committees addressing the various needs of our students should be opened up to all community members for an actual seat at the table when making important decisions.
Q. Do you consider diversity to be an important consideration for the district in terms of its hiring practices? How would you rate the district’s approach to diversity today?
Erin Rein: Diversity needs to be an important consideration for the district. I rate the district’s hiring practices as average. Our district participates in CJ Pride to recruit minority candidates. The simple fact is, an overwhelming majority of teachers in the United States are white middle class females. This is not representative of Ewing’s student body. It is important that students can identify and relate to their teachers. We must actively work harder to make sure our diverse students are represented in our staffing. There are many strategies out there that are not in place currently in the district that could be very helpful to hire and retain a more diversified staff. Also more practices such as; improved training, ongoing mentorship, financial and programmatic policies and support.
Matthew Canulli: I believe Ewing is one of the most diverse communities in Mercer County and am proud to have grown up in that environment. Because the student population consists of many different races and cultures it is important for the teaching staff to reflect that as well. When there is teacher diversity it gives our students a sense of belonging, helps with reducing racism and bullying.
We as a community are in this together and need to ensure all of our students feel important and that they have a voice. I feel as though the district has done a good job of diverse hiring…as you walk the halls you will find a very diverse staff that reflects much of the same diversity as the student body.
Channing Conway: As a board member, I believe diversity is extremely important and the work force should resemble the population of the school community. It is my belief children should have the opportunity to learn from individuals with diverse backgrounds and cultures. I believe schools not only serve to provide academic enrichment but also aid in the social and emotional development of children. Exposure to variety of rich cultural experiences helps to build understanding and compassion for the similarities and differences of people who look like you and those who look different from you.
Jennifer Miller: I absolutely believe that diversity is an important consideration when it comes to hiring practices within our district. It is critical for the teaching staff to be in harmony with the students within the community. It is crucial for students to have role models and teachers who share their race and heritage. It is equally important that students are taught by people from different cultures, races, and ethnicities. All students benefit from having a diverse teaching staff.
As a former member of the teaching staff in Ewing Schools, I believe our administration could improve the level of diversity we have on our staff. We have a more diverse representation at the administrative level which is good, but we must do more to attract teachers from all races and ethnicities to better represent our community.
Tyrone Miller: Ewing is one of the most diverse towns in mercer county, if not thee most diverse. That should be reflected by its hiring practices. We as a board, and as a town should celebrate the diversity we have. First and foremost we want to hire the best person for every job we have available. The youth of ewing deserves the board to take the hiring of new staff seriously.