This is the third Q&A in a series on candidates for the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. Six newcomers are seeking the three seats that are open this November for three-year terms on the school board.
Name: Julie Ramirez
Education: K-12, New York City Public Schools. Undergraduate, Tufts University. Graduate, Columbia University School for International and Public Affairs.
Year you moved to Princeton: 2003
Favorite book you’ve read within the last year: “The Book of Joy” by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
Schools your children attend: Johnson Park School – 5th grade; John Witherspoon School – 7th grade; Princeton High School- 10th and 12th grade.
Why did you decide to run for school board:
The schools are a huge asset to our community and are faced with many complex challenges over the next few years. I am eager to apply my professional experience to an area that I’m passionate about- our schools. If elected to the Board, I will be reasonable, collaborative, and drive changes that preserve the excellence of our schools for ALL of our children.
Please list the top three challenges the Princeton Public Schools must address and describe why for each challenge:
Preserving Excellence- Our district continues to face pressures from an expanding student population, limits on revenue, and diversion of scarce funds due to the charter school expansion. I will work to seek out creative ways to gain efficiencies and to control the school budget without impacting the quality of education that our schools deliver.
Inclusiveness- Princeton Public Schools are an integral part of our community as they provide the foundation of learning that will stay with our children throughout their lives. I will work on your behalf to ensure that the school community is supportive and welcoming regardless of race, religion, educational attainment, income, special needs, or other characteristics. As Superintendent Steve Cochrane repeatedly states “they are all our children.” As such, none of them should feel lost, isolated, ignored, or left behind.
Student Wellness- The PHS survey gave us a window into the problematic learning climate experienced by many of our high school students. The feedback that emerged from the survey is troubling and cannot be ignored. However, a reactionary response to the challenges and pressures the high school students are experiencing can do more harm than good. My goal, and the goal of the board, should be to examine the best way to nurture our children so that they are fully engaged in their learning and able to thrive and reach their potential, in academics, the arts, athletics, and all other aspects of their busy lives.
Why do you think you are qualified to serve on the board and what strengths do you have to address the problems you have listed above?
As a successful professional and a devoted mother of 4 PPS children aged 10 -17, I am confident that I have the experience, unique perspective, and tenacity to represent you and your children.
Leadership: I have spent the last 20 years driving collaboration between diverse groups to make difficult and complex decisions within fixed budgetary constraints.
Impact: As a seasoned project manager, I will ensure that initiatives can be effectively implemented with meaningful impact and measurable results.
Compassion: Growing up with a severely disabled brother, I have a deep understanding of the challenges faced by the Special Ed children in our community and the importance of inclusion in education.
Passion: I am committed to working with the Board, the municipality, and other organizations in the town to preserve the excellence of our schools and create an environment where ALL of our children are engaged in classroom and extracurricular learning and are able to reach their potential and thrive.
What do you see as the role of a school board member? Describe your responsibilities.
As a school board member, I would first and foremost ensure that I am representing all members of the town and that their voices and opinions are part of any decision the Board is charged with making.
I would take my responsibility as a fiduciary very seriously. The school budget is a huge portion of our residents’ taxes. Further, I would ensure that we have the proper oversight over the administration and seek to preserve the quality of education that is one of the biggest assets of our town.
What are your concrete proposals for dealing with the school district’s overcrowding problems?
I don’t have the magic answer to this difficult question. Based on the district’s demographic study, it is clear that more space is needed for the foreseeable future.
The Board is thinking creatively today and I would encourage them to continue doing so. They should cooperate with the town. I strongly believe that the district should leverage the expertise of the town to come up with the best solution to meet the needs of the growing student population. Given the potential long-term impact of the district’s decision, the Board should ensure that there is transparency, there are opportunities for the town to weigh in and that creative options are sought so as to limit the financial impact on Princeton taxpayers.
Should the Princeton Public Schools continue its receiving relationship with Cranbury? Why or why not. Explain.
Based on my analysis, Princeton Public Schools SHOULD NOT cut ties with Cranbury since it would be extremely damaging to the school district financially. Cranbury provides approximately $6 million annually to send about 280 kids to PHS. If we were to cut our ties with Cranbury, we may gain some more space and perhaps save the salaries of the 2 teachers but the district would be shooting itself in the foot in that it would lose a lot of money in perpetuity.
The town received voluntary payments in lieu of taxes from Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study. Should the Princeton Public Schools seek voluntary payments from non-profit institutions in the community? Why or why not?
I believe that the schools should continue seeking voluntary payments from the non-profit institutions that utilize our resources but are exempt from paying taxes.
Should the Princeton Public Schools continue the current lawsuits against the Princeton Charter School? Explain why or why not.
I believe that the Board, in its role as fiduciary, is obligated to pursue what is best for the Princeton Public Schools and the taxpayers of Princeton. The cost of the current litigation is immaterial compared to the cost per year of expansion which will affect our Princeton Public School budget in perpetuity. It is regrettable that state’s charter school funding structure creates an oppositional climate where the expansion of one school is at the detriment of all of our public schools. This is unfair and causes unnecessary divisiveness between students and families in Princeton. I would be supportive of ways to bring the Charter School and PPS closer together to reduce the financial inefficiencies that our taxpayers bear as a result of having two independent school systems in our town. This might result in shared services and possibly over time we may see consolidation between the schools.
The school district talks a lot about promoting diversity. How do you see the issue and what does the school district need to do to promote change?
I would actively encourage administrators and teachers to continue their efforts to ensure that the curriculum for all levels of students are reflective of the student body our schools serve and to enable students to learn more about each through their academic studies. Positive changes are already underway with recent changes to the summer reading list but must do more. I would continue to support the district’s efforts to hire teachers and administrators that are reflective of the student population. I would also focus on providing support for innovative programs that strengthen the culture of our schools. School culture is instrumental in setting the overall tone of classroom and extracurricular learning and studies have shown that there is a strong link between a climate of inclusion and student success. Some of our schools already do an excellent job of creating a sense of belonging where students feel respected and welcome. We need to build a common culture across
Anything else you would want to add?
My background and experience makes me uniquely qualified to represent you best on the Princeton Board of Education. For more information about my positions, please go to www.julie4PPS.org or http:/www.facebook.com/julieforPrincetonPublicSchools/. Please vote #5 on Tuesday, Nov. 7.