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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Board of Education Candidates Night 2023

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

By Jennifer Ersalesi

Pictured from left to right: James Bogosian, Laurie Corizzo, and Dennis Healey.

On Tuesday, October 17th, the Rutherford High School PTSA and Bergen County Council of PTA presented a candidate forum for the Rutherford Public School Board of Education candidates seeking either election or re-election to a three-year term. Dennis Healey, James Bogosian, and Laurie Corizzo attended the forum. Unfortunately, Diane Jones was unable to attend due to a health issue. This is Rutherford will give a synopsis of the candidate's responses to the questions posed by audience members.

In response to the question regarding the biggest issues the Board of Education will face in the next three years, James Bogosian spoke of the need to create a succession plan as many of the school district's leaders begin to retire. Laurie Corizzo addressed the issue facing children recovering post-pandemic and agreed that the Board of Education will need to deal with upcoming retirements and the need to offer competitive salaries while being fiscally responsible. Dennis Healey explained the need to retain the best administrators and teaching staff as the teaching pool has become drastically smaller, especially when it comes to finding Math and Science teachers. He also mentioned that the Board will need to continue making sure the curriculum matches the needs of today.

When asked if the Board of Education should be reviewing books and determining the appropriateness of books within the schools, Laurie explained that overseeing the curriculum falls on the Superintendent, not the Board of Education. Dennis spoke about the great professionals we have within the school district who are qualified to review literary offerings and make appropriate decisions. James agreed with both Dennis and Laurie and said that decisions are made strategically through a chain of command from teachers to supervisors to building administrators to the Superintendent.

One of the questions focused on the district's biggest priorities. Dennis Healey said that the district will need to continue to assess and prioritize students' achievement, focus on leadership succession, continue to work on school safety plans and implementation of those plans, make decisions that are fiscally prudent, and communicate effectively to the Rutherford community. James Bogosian spoke of the need to continue focusing on the core aspects of the curriculum, developing the profile of a Rutherford High School graduate, and making sure that the baseline core instruction is accessible for all. Laurie Corizzo reiterated that the school district is in a recovery period after the pandemic and there is a need to focus on social-emotional learning and the mental health of students, including behavioral concerns by collaborating with families.

When asked whether parents should have the ability to choose what children should be taught in the school system, James explained that the public schools adhere to the NJ State Curriculum. Parents are only able to opt their students out of a few curriculum topics. Laurie explained that she recently attended the NJ Counselor Association conference where they were told that parents do not have the right to determine what children learn since the school districts support the state standards through the curriculum. She also mentioned how there are only a few topics that can be opted out of by parents. Dennis spoke about how parents can always express their opinions but the state directs the standards that must be followed.

In response to the questions regarding the challenges the district is currently facing and how they can be fixed, Laurie referred back to the district's goal of student achievement and focusing on the end result of each student's academic career. She also spoke of the need to find ways to deal with the turnover in staff and successfully recruit new teachers. Dennis reiterated the need to focus on student achievement and retaining and recruiting staff members. He believes that the Board should continue to encourage and provide professional development, negotiate fair contracts while being fiscally responsible, and have Board of Education members participate in community events. James echoed Dennis' ideas and also addressed his concern over the increase in HIB reports, which does not only occur within the school but within the community. He believes the Board needs to continue to find ways to partner with the Rutherford Police Department to minimize these incidents.

Candidates were asked how the Board of Education members arrive at the common good for the school district when there might be differing opinions. Dennis said that the BOE members work collaboratively, especially within each committee and there is always very good discourse. The Board President and Vice President assist if a conclusion cannot be made. James agreed with Dennis and added that the Board members are working to make sure students have what they need. He said he cannot recall a time when an agreement took longer than ten to fifteen minutes to reach. Laurie said that although she does not have the experience of being on a BOE, she deals with collaborating with others with differing opinions in her professional and personal life. She understands the importance of conflict resolution, effective communication, and the need to compromise especially when decisions are based on facts and the best interests of the students.

When asked how they plan on addressing rising health costs when working within a school budget, James said that the Board can only select from what is available and they make the best decisions they can based upon the options provided. He said that he realizes that health benefits attract the best candidates. Laurie spoke about how this is a difficult issue and she doesn't see many ways out, so since the rising cost cannot be stopped, the district will just have to ride the wave the best way they can. Dennis explained that unfortunately rising health costs are a concern everywhere and the Board will have to try to provide the best health plans to attract and retain the best staff, but that it is a difficult balance.

While responding to the question of why each candidate wants to become a Board of Education member, Laurie said she has always wanted to be part of the Board because of the children. She wants to be able to communicate with parents and become a support system. She spoke about how she has always wanted to serve her community in this way and now seems to be when she can devote her time. Dennis also said his desire to be on the Board has always been about the students (including his children and grandchildren) and to contribute to the community. James said he would hold his comments till the closing statements.

When asked about their views on the district's commitment to students' safety and which areas of safety might need to be further addressed, Dennis spoke about the physical safety of the buildings and how the district has invested in new security readers, two-way radios, and has worked with law enforcement to digitize floor plans. James said the district takes school safety very seriously and that Mr. Hurely and the RPD have gone through extensive training. He spoke about the great new School Resource Officer and how the police presence within the schools makes the students feel safe. He also commended the school counselors and how they help address mental safety. Laurie agreed with James and Dennis and spoke about how incredibly committed the district is to drills and training. She also addressed the need to support mental and emotional strength and as long as the district addresses the whole child, they are on a good trajectory to ensuring students' safety.

In response to what their greatest accomplishment has been as a Board of Education member, James said one accomplishment that came to mind happened during an executive session, so he could not speak about the details. He did, however, explain that working through the referendum and getting through it at the perfect time (during the pandemic) enabled them to accept lower bids and will eventually enable them to return money to the taxpayers. Laurie spoke about her accomplishments as an educator. She told a story about a fifth-grade student she had nearly twenty-five years ago who reached out to her via social media, they reconnected, and he invited her to his wedding. Dennis said he was most proud of the work he and the other Board members did to prepare for and carry out the referendum. He was also proud of how the district as a whole handled the pandemic, that the district was deemed high performing during the QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) assessment, and that the College Board recently recognized Rutherford High School and put them on their honor roll.

In summary, Dennis thanked the RHS PTSA and Bergen County Council of PTA for the opportunity and said he is willing and interested in serving on the Board again and continuing to focus on student achievement. Laurie also thanked everyone and said that she believes the BOE is a multidisciplinary team, which is what she works with every day in her career. She spoke about the amazing skill set that the current BOE members have and that she believes she has a lot to bring to the table, including a focus on the whole child and the mental health aspect of public education. James thanked everyone, including Dennis and Diane for running with him once again. He came back to the question of why he wanted to be a Board member. He spoke about how much he learned during the pandemic and referendum process and how being on the Board has provided him with so many new experiences, such as attending plays and musicals, sporting events, graduations, etc. Those experiences, he explained, bind so many members of the community together. He also referenced the fact that one of Mr. Hurley's former students has even become part of the Board to give back to the community.

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