Princeton School Board Candidate Profile: Paul Johnson
Education: Bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Virginia.
Why are you the right candidate for the school board? I will never compromise my moral values and code, or play politics when it comes to our children and our community. Most importantly, I will work tirelessly until every kid and every family in our town feels like they belong. I will make sure our schools remain diverse, our town remains affordable, and that there will be trust and transparency between the board and the public. I am a fourth-generation Princetonian, who is invested in this school system as much as anyone else in our town. Not only do I have skin in the game with three kids who attend Princeton Schools (Grades 3, 5, and 11) but we have a blended family consisting of different races, religions, as well as a special needs child, which gives us insight to many of the issues kids and families deal with on an everyday basis. It has been my life’s work as a coach of student-athletes and as a mentor to help kids from all walks of life reach their full potential. While we have many other issues we must also tackle as school board members, it is essential that we always remember to keep the children at the forefront because they are truly what matters at the end of the day. They are our driving force and our guiding light; they will lead us to a brighter tomorrow. I not only have the passion to drive PPS to become a leader and example to the rest of the world, but I also have the fortitude to stand up to the status quo when it falls short and hinders progress. I am a proven leader and captain and, in this position, you can expect nothing less from me. What separates me from most is that I understand neutral thinking and I know that as Trevor Moawad put it, “Successful people simply do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”
What are the top three challenges the board must urgently address? EQUITY, wasteful spending, and issues of transparency.
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? Humanity, empathy, and leadership. Rather than focus on the dysfunctional and unconventional relationship the board had with the retired superintendent, I think it is imperative that we move on to a better tomorrow while adequately spending our time focusing on how we will forge a productive, accountable, and transparent relationship with the next one. Our primary goal should be to be better for ALL our families, students, staff, and faculty. It is important that the board’s relationship with the next superintendent be one that is responsive and accountable to all members of the board and all members of our community. We don’t want a relationship of friendship and collusion, but rather a working relationship where we will serve as an oversight committee and hold the administration to the highest of standards, enabling us to deliver the best outcomes for all our students and uphold the goals of our district.
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. I do not support continuing the sending/receiving agreement with Cranbury as it stands. One, I believe the duration of the agreement was entirely too long and put a heavy burden on our town and tax dollars. As Cranbury residents have seen a reduction in their taxes they are still able to enjoy the spoils of our schools and our tax dollars at work. As we justly look to add affordable housing as well as deal with growth in our town, and in turn the growth in our schools, we must pay attention to the cost of expanding our school in an effort to keep Princeton affordable for all. Cranbury must pay their due share and it also must not come at a cost in determining whether or not it is viable to add additional housing in our town (particularly affordable housing) because we fear we will vastly outgrow our current facilities. If this agreement proves to be economically unfair for Princeton residents, I would gladly allow the potential legal procedure to occur, permitting the relationship to be further vetted and possibly leading to the termination of our send-receive agreement. It is essential to remember that we must always put our town and its citizens at the forefront, and what’s best for Princeton should always be the board’s concern. This situation should be looked at from many angles but the outcome should always be one that is fiscally responsible and more than satisfactory to Princeton and its residents.
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? No. My answer in unequivocally NO. We should be working in partnership rather than standing at odds with our charter school. We must keep kids in the forefront and stop focusing solely on mere financial positioning. Our sole priority is to educate our children and the charter school has proven extremely beneficial to some of our families. Anyone who claims it’s a financial burden negates that no matter the situation, we will still be “burdened” by accommodating 400+ kids in our existing facilities. We must stop with this talk about burdening and rather move toward shared services and a feasible relationship.
Please provide your opinion on whether the school district is making strides or not when it comes to equity in education. I believe we are far from making any significant impact when it comes to issues of equity. While I believe it was a necessary first step in stripping John Witherspoon’s name off of our school to start the process of healing and reconciliation, we have taken many steps backwards on many other issues of equity. While we have had the equity audit in hand for well over two years, we chose to ignore it until a student demanded action and our country erupted with long-overdue demonstrations for racial equality. We have made errors in judgment from an administrative/leadership standpoint, and have failed to right our wrongs and accept when we have fallen short on the promises we have made to each and every one of our families and students. We must always remember that It was and has always been the pandemic before the pandemic we call COVID-19, and in Princeton we have swept it under the rug for far too long. It is not just an issue for our Black and Brown children, or our children who are in many ways disadvantaged, it is not just a socio-economic issue, or an issue for our special needs’ community, and Latinx community, or our LGBTQ+ community. It is an issue of humanity. We have not done enough and have not even begun to scratch the surface.
How will you improve diversity in the school district administration and faculty? I would make sure the hiring process takes into account all of our school district’s demographics and implement a plan that addresses these needs to make sure the district administration and faculty directly reflect our student body. I would expand my search parameters as well as hiring committees to also reflect the student body with an effort to address these issues of diversity. We would partner with local organizations such as the Bonner Foundation and Princeton University to use their expertise and resources to identify individuals to help us vastly improve our diversity in a very efficient manner.
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? No, it was definitely not a good investment, especially at the onset of the pandemic we call COVID-19. We have been dealing with many issues of equity which have only been exacerbated by this pandemic, and it is essential to not waste money in these areas. Through my knowledge of facilities, I believe this could have also been accomplished at a later date at a fraction of the cost and more importantly through a private donation.
Should the school district still try to buy Westminster Choir College? Why or why not? I think to fully understand the feasibility of buying the Westminster Choir College we must first research the feasibility and cost of adding onto our existing buildings/properties and then weigh our options. We must also look at the ideas of public-private partnerships in an effort to see what best suits the need of our growing community while still keeping our tax dollars in mind.
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. If we can feasibly utilize our existing properties in a cost-effective way and not have a great economic impact on our taxpayers, I would support the use of these properties. It is necessary to understand how much our current properties can grow and what the existing structures can handle as well look to expand these facilities. We must also take into account sports facilities in this process. Classrooms are becoming too crowded and we must prepare for our growing population and expanded grade levels.
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? The short answer is NO, I don’t believe it was fiscally responsible during a pandemic. We could have saved money by purchasing all Chromebooks and could have easily made it optional and allowed families to opt out. Neighboring high-achieving districts use Chromebooks. We had a high number of our families state that they already had computers or could afford them so we should have taken that into account. Families should have been allowed to opt out and money could have been saved. The issues of equity must always be addressed but this clearly wasn’t a response to the question of equity. We have to be more diligent with our spending, especially in times like these.
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? It should be abolished without thought, in an effort to uphold the democratic values of society. It promotes a lack of transparency, and leads to a lack of communication from parents, teachers, and the community. We are elected officials who must answer to those around us to ensure we can achieve our institutional goals, and I would argue that is the essence of this is communication, which is the most vital aspect of our success. The board should want to listen and respond. Karen Lemon, Bill Hare, and I would recommend adding additional forums to create dialogue and trust.
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. Students should never be forced to repeat subjects that they can show proficiency in. If they have mastered it they should be given credit for it, and made able to move onto the next class. It is our job to help kids reach their maximum potential and make their learning experience enjoyable rather than a task. If the state permits why should we stymie their learning and be a roadblock on their path to success.
What will you do to prevent increases in Princeton property taxes? What are the alternatives you propose? There are many ways to prevent the increase in Princeton property taxes, such as shared services, more efficient spending, and cutting down on unnecessary spending. I believe a key to the district’s future and keeping Princeton affordable is building an endowment and a sustainable alumni fund for special projects. It is essential that we use partnerships to reduce costs as well as seeking private funding for special projects. We also need to learn to use local resources to cut cost in many areas. We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise in our community and it is essential we utilize it.
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. Safety is of the utmost importance and I believe our teachers should never have to choose between their safety and that which they love to do — educate our children. We are in unprecedented times and we should have to have the compassion and understanding to realize the situation we are in. One should not have to give up their livelihood because they are at risk during this pandemic. What happened to our humanity and common decency? Teachers at risk should be able to teach remotely. They could be paired with students who have opted for the remote-only option.
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? It is first important that we address the issue of space in order to allow us to provide our families with expanded pre-k offerings. As we do this, we will be able to reduce the burden of families when it comes to private childcare, providing families with financial relief. It is necessary we do this as efficiently as possible in an effort to make our school district more equitable and accessible.
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? No. Cutting support and teachers for struggling students is never acceptable, and undermines the very issues of equity we seek to resolve. Students should never suffer as a result of budget cuts because they are the very reason this institution exists. We have got to do better in these situations and not stand idly by allowing these things to occur. We need to fight for ALL of our students, as they all deserve the resources they need. This was a grave mistake and we have clearly hurt some of our students and families in the process.
How do you plan to advance the special education/general education inclusion goals in the face of the blend of in-person/virtual programming? We have clearly fallen short in this area and this is definitely not a result of the pandemic. Our goals are far from being reached and it is imperative that we do better. Our classroom must reflect our world where all people live, learn, and work together. This integration model not only benefits our special education students, but simultaneously benefits our general education students. Integration whenever possible, inclusion whenever possible, with an effort to eventually make all our classes inclusive with a general education and special education teacher in every classroom when needed.
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? Karen, Bill, and I are running on a platform of diversity, affordability, and trust. The board’s first and what I believe to be the most important shortcoming has been the issue of equity. On this topic and many others, the board has been reactive rather than proactive, and in governance, I would argue it’s a complacency one cannot afford. We have again and again heard of a “consistency”, but it hasn’t been one that has effected positive change. The board has lacked accountability to the very people that have gotten them elected, often ignoring the concern of the families, students, staff, faculty, and the community they serve. It is imperative that the board restore its credibility and trust and this can be accomplished through community conversations and transparency. It is time for PPS to become leaders and show the world what it means to provide education, what it means to be equitable, what it means to inspire. It is time the board upholds its end of the bargain. We are elected members and must always remember we serve at the pleasure of our community. We owe them truth and honesty, and to work tirelessly for each and every one of our families.
Great insights from an undoubtedly great future leader.
If Mr. Johnsonis related to the William Johnson who was principal of John Witherspoon school, No!
Not related. Also Johnson is a common name.
He seems like a strong candidate. His position on ending the Cranbury send and receive agreement is right on, and his position on the computer purchases being excessive is right on. His no to $530,000 for a concession stand in a pandemic when the work could be done cheaper. No is the obviously correct answer to this question and at least he was not on the board when it happened. His understanding of the seriousness of the diversity issues and subtle and not-so-subtle racism of the wealthy left in this country is also correct… More than 40 percent of Black and Latino kids do not belong in special ed. He is correct also that we should not be union-busting the teachers and providing 0 accommodations to teachers during a pandemic. He seems to have at least a basic understanding of worker rights and what is the right thing to do … which is more than we can say for most of our leadership in this town.
Also when asked about pre-K he intelligently directs the convo to childcare. Why do we not have year-round school? Why do school hours not match work hours ? Accepting the Pre-K money tied the districts hands when it came to the pandemic.. bc they have to give priority in the building to those kids… bc again greedy for one more dollar (same attitude w the unprofitable $ from Cranbury)… Finland has some of the best schools in the world and their children do not start school until age 7. What they do have is year-round awesome childcare for all for everyone who wants it.. and the attitude in a place like Princeton the school is not childcare and that the unpaid slave labor of ones wife should cover this shxx is no longer acceptable since slavery is over. WE need all day year round school. The convo about Pre-K before we have this for the kids who are already in school is out of touch.
I have known Paul since we were in kindergarten together. He was a pillar of the school community at 5 years old – and his passion for the Princeton community and its students has only grown with time. He is THE candidate for the Princeton School Board. I wish i still liven in town so i could support him with my vote – but he has the vote of my parents undoubtedly!
I voted for Paul Johnson. I am impressed by his priority focus on equity, empathy and the children/students. I agree that all decisions that are made by BOE members should be seen through that collective lens. Paul Johnson will be a strong new voice and he will bring new ideas that will benefit the students, benefit the town and accelerate BOE initiatives that have been lagging. The recognize that the current members of the BOE have done a lot of good work, but I believe that some mistakes have been made. Vote for Paul Johnson.
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