Meet the Princeton Board of Education candidate: Susan Kanter

Susan Kanter

Education: Duke University Class of 85- Economics and Political Science

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

The last two books I read for fun are Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles. These two books are based on Greek mythology and were recommended to me by my daughter who has always been a huge fan of mythology. She loved the modern retelling of the Greek myths and was even able to meet the author and ask her about her plot choices. It was meaningful reading books that she enjoyed so much and talking to her about details I would have never noticed. My daughter was able to nurture her love of mythology throughout her K-12 PPS education in both Latin and in her English classes and I am so glad she shared this recommendation!

Why are you the right candidate for the school board?

My background as a VP of Operations with over 20 years experience in charge of budgeting and projections, as well as my experience on several local non-profit boards broadly prepared me to serve on the Princeton Public School Board. However, it is my work as a longtime PTO volunteer for the 18 years that my three children attended PPS K-12 that really sparked my passion to run three years ago. I served as Treasurer of the PMS PTO for several years, but it is my time as PHS PTO co-President for 7 years and my exposure to issues around social/emotional health, facilities and academic achievement. As a parent volunteer on the Bell Committee, which changed the start time and schedule at PHS in order to promote the health and wellness of our students, I saw what the administration, staff and a supportive and engaged board could achieve and when they put the social/emotional needs of students first. My broad knowledge of PPS, the experience gained in my first term, my passion to see our schools continuously improve in a fiscally sustainable way are all reasons I have chosen to seek a second term.

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

The Board has many priorities but none more important than helping our students meet the challenges they are experiencing in their social-emotional health. As the surgeon general has continued to highlight, there is a national student mental health crisis, and this is no exception in our schools. A second challenge is the learning interruption that many students experienced when the district pivoted to online learning. Not all students were able to be as academically successful when our schools were not in person and both academic and study skills suffered affecting all students, especially our most vulnerable learners. Ensuring the District can continue to implement strategies that successfully help our students reach their academic potential will be an ongoing difficult challenge. Lastly, we live in a town that has both a growing population and a community that feels the tax burden of living in Princeton. Managing future planning in a way that both serves our students while honoring our taxpayer burden is one of the most important challenges that our Board needs to address.

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

We are lucky to live in a community that is highly engaged and wants to see PPS schools serve all our students. Having a community that cares that are schools are effectively serving our students is one of the reasons our schools are well regarded and a reason that new families with young children move to Princeton. We are a district that values not just that each child achieves their academic potential, but also a district that values the social and emotional health of our students. We have made schedule changes and added counseling resources in order to be able to support our students. We are also district that is willing to look in the mirror in order to improve performance. While we have a robust special education program -the Special Education review highlighted changes to better serve our students. The Equity review allowed the District to hear both students and faculty so we can begin to make meaningful changes in our District. A District that is willing to learn and improve is both an example to our students and one that will continue to excel.

What are the top three weaknesses of the Princeton schools?

I think we need to do a better job addressing the varied needs of our students academically. We see that there are students that have both not felt supported in their academics or have not had the supports to achieve their academic potential. Developing strategies and measurables that enable us to improve in this work is critical to the district. We must also do a better job in our district of making all students feel connected, seen and supported. We see in our surveys that Black, Latino, students with spec needs and our LGBTQ+ community among others, do not feel the same sense of success, representation or support that other members of our district feel. Addressing this issue in an intentional and meaningful way is some of the most important work we can support as board members. Finally continuing to address building, field and playground maintenance needs in a way that respects our taxpayers has been a focus that will allow our students and staff the healthy environments they need to teach and learn and protect our taxpayer’s investment in our schools.

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

We recognize that while we are focused in providing each student the unique supports they need to be successful we still must measure much more improvement to feel that we have made truly a meaningful difference to address equity in our District. We have taken some steps- providing tutoring supports, steps to fulfill the recommendations of the Special Education report, looking at strategies to address disproportionality in access in all areas including electives and advanced courses, and expansion of pre-K to give our under resourced students an equitable start in our district. As the district continues to develop strategies around equity education, it will allow us to improve student experience for all our students.

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? 

The Board and the district recognized that continued examination of facilities usage, teaching methods and demographics would be needed to address this potential issue and ensure student experience is not affected as our town grows. In 2021, the Board established the Long-Range Planning committee on which I serve, to work with the district to develop data and strategies to be shared with the full board and community at large. Already, a creative schedule change at PMS created additional capacity of close to 200 students while enhancing the student experience. The district is working to update demographic projections to adjust for growth in Princeton, re-examining space usage within our existing buildings to ensure we are maximizing our current space, considering how new furniture might increase capacity, discussing cost-effective building renovations and finally how alternate teaching methods that provide meaningful learning can expand our capacity. I have been an active member of the Long-Range Planning committee and if re-elected I am eager to use my experience to continue to engage on this important issue.

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

For the past several years the district has strived to hire a staff that is representative of our community. They have attended job fairs that emphasize diversity in the applicant pool and reached out to universities that are specifically training a diverse group of educators. The district is also looking into ways to identify and develop a diverse group of future educators. To recruit and retain these educators and administrators there must be intentionality in the hiring process, and a district wide focus on being not only welcoming but support structures to retain staff so they can thrive in our district. It is so important for our students to be educated by a highly qualified diverse staff and we are excited as a board to support this work.

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 current send/receive agreement with Cranbury runs through the year 2030 and I do not believe, if elected to a new three-year term this will be an issue for our Board. That could change if the state significantly changes the rules around send/receive agreements or If the Cranbury district did not live up to the terms of the agreement. There was some discussion when this agreement was ratified by a prior board as to the length of agreement or in finalizing certain mechanics of the agreement, but the past board found this agreement to be beneficial to our District and I do not expect it will be revisited.

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?

After the most recent PCS expansion our two districts committed to establishing open communication and cooperation to ensure a productive working relationship. As PCS was established almost 25 years ago, a continued discussion of unrealistic hypotheticals does not benefit either District. As a PPS Board member, I have been committed to the goal of supporting this open communication, serving as a PPS Board liaison to PCS. As a PPS Board member (and before I joined the Board), I have strived to ensure our district is welcoming of Charter school students, as many choose to attend PHS. There are families that have children in both of our districts, and they should always feel respected and accepted. NJBOE has set the parameters of the financial relationship between the two districts, but we can do all we can to establish a strong working relationship between the two Districts.

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

It is unclear if the Westminster Choir College will be put up for sale and if it is, whether litigation will be settled to allow a sale. These are just a couple of the many questions around Westminster Choir College property. The proximity to PMS and PHS has certainly led to speculation around this issue, but the focus on our PPS Board has been on our own facilities. However, in close consultation with the town officials the situation should continue be monitored.

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

As a board we are committed to looking to outside revenue sources, engaging actively with our community partners, aggressively perusing grant opportunities, developing an engaged and giving alumni group who could support the areaways the PPS board is supporting alternative revenue sources. We have maintained a AAA bond rating to keep our borrowing costs low as well as taken advantage of state funding opportunities to support building maintenance in support of holding our budget steady. The district has moved to 0 based budgeting to provide closer oversight in budget preparation, an earlier timeline to start the process so that savings can be explored in depth and examined our staffing so that it is being used in the most effective manner. We have also made needed investments in our facilities that will allow us to monitor and lower energy costs. New more energy efficient HVAC, building control systems, LED lighting and solar panels are all steps we are taking to reduce energy costs and put less strain on the operating budget. Obviously in a town that is growing and a budget that faces inflationary pressures this work must continue in order to serve our taxpayers.