Princeton School Board Candidate Profile: Hendricks Davis

Hendricks Davis at James Floyd event

Education: Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Defiance College, Ohio; M.Div, ThM. from Princeton Theological Seminary; MSW from Rutgers University

Why are you the right candidate for the school board? I have a life-long commitment to the education of children, youth and young adults and many years of experience and effective leadership of educational, community and advocacy organizations; I have a collaborative and engaged approach in working with people; I am committed to work on behalf of all who are a part of the school district (students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, volunteer and taxpayers; I have good listening and discernment skills to seek mutual understanding and shared values.

What are the top three challenges the board must urgently address? 1) the BoE must ensure the district is fulfilling its educational mission as schools reopen and continue operation in the midst of the on-going pandemic and the other societal and community disruptions impacting students, families, teachers, staff and the broad community–appraising needs and providing all necessary supports 2) the BoE must hire the permanent superintendent; 3) the BoE must develop a comprehensive plan to address ongoing, current and future needs that: address/remove opportunity and achievement disparities; welcome and educate a larger student population; attract and hire excellent and more diverse teaching/instructional/support and administrative staffs; develop high-quality educational space/places and technology; encourage innovative new approaches and broader utilization Princeton’s of resources to educate and prepare students for life and leadership in the coming years.

Please name the top three qualities the next superintendent of schools should possess to lead the district. How would you evaluate the relationship between the board and the retired superintendent? From a governance perspective, how do you think you want to improve the board-superintendent relationship? 1) A person whose vision, mission and values in education align with the school district’s; broad, deep and sustained leadership in public education; a good listener and effective, inspiring communicator. 2) I would not (could not) evaluate the relationship between the current board and past superintendent. Not my job. The BoE should provide a well-defined description of the responsibilities, duties, and authority of the position along with regular review and opportunity for reflection/evaluation/assessment of performance, support for achieving healthy work/life balance experience. The BoE and superintendent should work collaboratively to develop programmatic and capital plans and regularly solicit input and support from the public.

Do you support continuing the sending/receiving agreement with Cranbury? Why or why not? What are the criteria under which you would reevaluate the viability of that agreement? If the agreement proves to be economically unfair for the Princeton residents, would you let the potential legal procedure deter you from taking actions to terminate the send-receive relationship? Elaborate. Yes, I support continuing this sending/receiving agreement which was affirmed by the NJDOE . Moving forward, I would advocate that this agreement (and any longer term contract) be reviewed regularly to ensure that the terms are being met equitably and should new or emerging factors present themselves they are addressed in a timely manner.

The charter school is sometimes pointed to as a significant financial burden for the school district. Do you agree with that statement? If yes, how do you think PPS can hypothetically accommodate the 400+ Princeton Charter School students without increasing the tax burden of Princeton taxpayers to fund the additional facilities and staff required to educate them? The Princeton Charter School is a public school and receives public tax dollars for it programmatic operation. It does not receive funds for capital construction or facilities. Given the strictures placed upon school districts (the 2% cap) it is necessary that schools manage and live within these limits and find ways to maximize the return of every dollar invested. The PPS will not hypothetically but “actually” accommodate (that is, enroll) the Charter school students who enter 9th grade at Princeton High School.

Please provide your opinion on whether the school district is making strides or not when it comes to equity in education. By recognizing that inequities exist in the many facets of the PPS, through the conducting of an audit and commissioning a report with recommendations and action steps; by dismantling the former ad hoc “Minority Education Committee” and forming a Student Achievement committee, the district is making strides in educational equity.

How will you improve diversity in the school district administration and faculty? By hiring a superintendent who is committed to having a staff, at all levels, that is reflective of the broad diversity in the community and who through their leadership attracts and retains highly skilled faculty, counselors, support staff and administrators from different cultures, ethnic, and social backgrounds.

Do you think the approx. $530,000 spent on the concession stand and restrooms at the high school stadium was a good investment or not? Why or why not?  I am not privy to any information relative to this structure that would allow me to assess the value of this expenditure.

Should the school district still try to buy Westminster Choir College? Why or why not? I am not privy to the information that would allow me to make an assessment of the value of the school district buying Westminster Choir College now. But as the school district and community undertake long range planning, it should look at every possible option and opportunity for the extension and fulfillment of the educational mission. This may include purchasing and developing property, redevelopment of existing facilities and resources and/or public-private-institutional partnerships.

Do you believe the school district should buy more property or just use its existing properties/sites if the district needs to expand its buildings to serve more students? What would you use new sites for or how would you use existing land/buildings? Please explain your thinking in detail. See answer above.

Do you agree with the school board’s decision to purchase Apple computers and tablets or should the board have considered other alternatives? Why or why not? Yes, I agree with the decision because it was the most equitable way to address each student’s need for a good quality device for remote learning and internet access.

Do you think the school board should keep or abolish the communications policy that was adopted in November? Why or why not? What are your thoughts on the policy? If the policy aligns with the legal requirements under which members of public boards and Boards of Education operate, it should be kept and followed by members, as “members of the Board of Education.”

Some Princeton parents have had the experience that the school district resists giving students credit for material they have already mastered. Students have been forced to repeat subjects that they can already show proficiency in. When permitted by state law, do you believe that PPS should give students credit for existing knowledge and place them in the appropriate classes? Explain your answer. Yes, if its permitted by state law (the NJ Department of Education).

What will you do to prevent increases in Princeton property taxes? What are the alternatives you propose? Advocate on the state level, as an individual, for property tax relief and alternative ways of funding public education.

Do you believe that teachers who are at a higher risk of COVID who have asked to work remotely should be allowed to do so or should have to choose between working in the school buildings or taking a year of unpaid leave? Please explain your answer. I believe teachers should follow the advice of their physician who knows their personal health situation best. Boards of Education must follow and adhere to the guidance and law as directed by the State of New Jersey Department of Education as it pertains to education in the time of pandemic.

How would you propose to expand PPS pre-k education now that the governor has signed legislation to provide school districts with more pre-k funding? Expand PPS pre-k by adding as many high-quality early childhood education/care opportunities as the dollars received can effectively support! Encourage and support (including scholarship and tuition support from local foundations) community members to obtain education, degrees and certifications.

The recent administration presented a budget that cut support and teachers for struggling students, and the board approved it. Do you think this was the right decision given budget constraints or what would you do differently? I will work with the superintendent and other board members to develop the best possible budget within the constraints of the cap to meet the needs of all students equitably.

How do you plan to advance the special education/general education inclusion goals in the face of the blend of in-person/virtual programming? I will work with the superintendent and other board members to provide all support to address the needs of special education students and families and will encourage the development of a corp of skilled, trained, vetted volunteers, teaching assistants, and student teachers to assist those families who need it.

How has the current school board fallen short and how will you improve? How do you plan to restore trust and credibility of the board or do you think it is already trusted and credible? I don’t have information to make an assessment of the board’s functioning and it is not my job as a candidate for BoE to provide such. As a member of the board, if elected, I will work with fellow members to establish at the beginning of each year group norms, rules, and expectations, as well as goals and a process for assessing our functioning and accomplishments periodically.

The candidate questions were submitted by readers. We received questions from more than 100 residents. Many questions were similar and we chose a variation of the question or combined them. We eliminated questions that were obscure or unrelated to the schools, and questions that were actually statements and were not really questions. We did not edit answers unless they exceeded the word limit. All candidates were given the questions at the same time and were given the same deadline for completing them.