Meet the Princeton Board of Education candidate: Dafna Kendal

Dafna Kendal

Education: B.A. Lehigh University, J.D. Seton Hall Law School

What is your favorite book or a book you have read recently that you really liked?

I recently read The Splendid and the Vile

Why are you the right candidate for the school board?

Princeton Public Schools has a long history of educational excellence. Institutional memory is critically important as we emerge from the pandemic and return to a new normal. I have six years of experience serving on the BOE, during which I have held a variety of leadership positions and have served on every BOE committee. I understand how the district works, and how to get things done. As an independent thinker with established relationships,, I am able to see both sides of an issue, create solutions, and build consensus for the benefit of students.

What are the top three challenges the board must urgently address?

1. Ensure PPS continues its tradition of educational excellence; 2. Continue to expand access and programming to engage all students so that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential; 3. Carefully manage property taxes and the anticipated growth brought upon by the new construction in town.

What do you see as the three top strengths of the Princeton schools?

Excellent teachers, committed families and students, and a community that is supportive and proud of the Princeton Public Schools

What are the top three weaknesses of the Princeton schools? 

1. There has been a lot of turnover in the senior administration, so we need to have people settle into their positions. 2. We have to get better at communication, both quantity and quality, 3. We have to be more proactive and less reactive about issues.

Please provide your opinion on whether the school district is making strides or not when it comes to equity in education.

Equity in education means that each student has access to the support and resources they need to reach their potential, regardless of a student’s background, language, race, economic profile, gender, learning capability, or disability. I think PPS is making progress, but we are not there yet. Our students of color, students from low income families, and students with special needs remain under represented in higher level courses, and Black and Latino students are classified for special education at a higher rates than their peers. We are making strides at giving students the general education interventions they need at the elementary level, and the district recently hired a (budget-neutral) supervisor of elementary education, who is in each elementary school every week to assess needs and provide feedback and support to teachers.

What are your solutions to addressing the issue of the growing student population in Princeton as hundreds of new housing units come online? What specific steps should the district take to accommodate an increase in the student body? 

Enrollment is actually down compared to before the pandemic. The Board is in the process of getting updated demographic projections we should be available by year end, and that is one measure we should use to determine what the projected range of additional students will be. We can add a lot of capacity for additional students by freeing up existing spaces, such as moving the technology offices currently at PHS to Valley Road. That would free up some capacity at a lower cost to taxpayers than expanding a building’s footprint. There are other areas we need to look at, such as expanding the cafeteria at PMS, and things like that. Given the information I have seen, we should be able to manage the additional enrollment by renovating parts of our current facilities.

How will you improve diversity in the school district administration and faculty?

We have done a good job increasing the diversity of the administration and faculty, but there is more work to do. Ideally, the diversity of the staff should reflect the diversity of our student body. Our student body is approximately 56% white, 22% Asian, 12% Latino, 5% Black and 5% mixed race/other. In recent years, we have made significant progress in hiring educators and administrators of color, but we need to improve on recruiting and hiring Asian and Latino educators and administrators.

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.

The sending/receiving agreement was renewed through 2030. The Cranbury Board of Education pays the per pupil cost determined by the state as well as the additional costs of special education. Currently, the agreement is fair to Princeton taxpayers, and gives us the flexibility to offer a more expansive curriculum at PHS.

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 overwhelming majority of students at the Princeton Charter will attend PHS. These are our kids too. The Princeton Charter School is not going anywhere, and we are all part of one Princeton. We have put the work in to improve the relationship between Charter and PPS and share best practices.

Should the school district still try to buy Westminster Choir College? Why or why not?

No, the school district should not purchase WCC, for many reasons. The first is that WCC is involved in litigation. That litigation needs to be settled so that it is clear the property is free from encumberances. Additionally, the WCC is not set up for a K-12 school district, so purchasing the property is just one part. Then the district would be required to spend many more millions of dollars to renovate and/or demolish existing buildings that have not been maintained in several years. At some point, it would be beneficial if the school district could purchase a piece of the property, for use as a field, or something like that. But the cost to upkeep and maintain the 23 acre property is just not something the school district can afford to do.

What will you do to prevent increases in Princeton property taxes? What specific alternatives do you propose?

Approximately 50% of our tax dollars go towards the schools. If we want a diverse community then we have to be affordable Our goal should be to hold the line on taxes to the extent possible: 1. Keep spending within the 2% cap imposed by the state. 2. Reduce use of consultants particularly when we have the competency in our staff and community. 3. Leverage the reduction in our costs associated with bonds retiring in 2023 4. Continue to implement efficiency measures (such as reducing energy costs) 5. Continue to explore public and private partnerships. This will allow us to ensure we can meet the educational needs of all our students, critical capacity and facility needs, while working to keep Princeton affordable.