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An Interview With BOE Candidate, Ken Alper

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An Interview With BOE Candidate, Ken Alper

Anna Favetta, Editor-in-Chief

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Q: How many times have you run for a position on the West Orange BOE?

A: This is my first time running for any sort of office.

Q: Why are you running or what inspired you to run?

A: As a father who has been deeply involved in school and community events, I have a strong belief that good people need to stand up and lead when they see a need in their community, and right now I see a real need for my particular skills on the school board. When I worked to get the Gregory School bus lane and kiss & go lane created a couple of years ago, I realized I had a talent for bringing people together and finding solutions to tough problems – so when that project was successfully completed, I realized the things I’d learned through that experience could make me an effective leader on our school board. My professional background in data analysis, my extensive experience working within the parent/teacher/administrator framework, and my consensus-building skills, including my ability to listen to all sides of a discussion and come up with a rational, workable solution – that’s all badly needed right now.  

Q: Do you have or have you had children attend school in this district?

A: I do. Both my children attended Gregory from kindergarten on, and currently one is in the 6th grade at Edison, and the other is a sophomore at WOHS. They’ve had amazing teachers all throughout their years in our schools, and we couldn’t be happier with the education they’ve received.

Q: What are your main policies?

A: Ensure the district focuses on all our students’ achievement – special education, gifted, and all those in the middle, so that no one “falls through the cracks.” Maintaining the amazing breadth and depth of programming offered in West Orange schools is critical to keeping our students engaged, and helps our students by not just creating more opportunities for them to find something great to be involved in, but also by building smaller groups – their teammates, their fellow club members, etc. – for them to find a “home” within. Strong schools build strong communities!

Improve community relations, both by working to solve some of our serious communications challenges in the district and by expanding the connections between our schools and community members, especially our senior citizens – bringing them into elementary and middle schools for activities and events just like has been happening at WOHS. Let’s also expand parental involvement in our schools – I’d love to see the district offering some elementary school parent-teacher conferences in the evening, with translators available when needed. Making things easier for parents who might not be able to attend a conference during the day would be a great way to not only get them more directly involved in their children’s education, but also to bring them more into the overall school community, so that they get to know the teacher, the principal, and the environment their children are in every day.

Identify common-sense ways to cut spending in ways that do not take any funding away from our classrooms. For instance, solar panels could be installed on the roofs of school buildings that can support them and in unused school fields throughout the district, significantly lowering energy costs – homeowners are doing the same thing all over West Orange, so why shouldn’t our schools?  And let’s make sure we’re accounting for all the supplies on hand throughout our twelve schools before we place orders for more – things like copy paper don’t seem that expensive until you get a sense of exactly how much a district with 6,800 students goes through in a year.

Q: How do you plan on improving the West Orange public schools, if at all?

A: Overall I think West Orange schools are doing a great job, but there are a couple things I do want to look into; one of the biggest right now is middle school math instruction: I want to get a closer look at some of the PARCC data that recently came out and see if the district has a problem with math at the middle school level, or if there’s an issue with the test itself. I don’t like PARCC and think there are a ton of problems with it, but I do think there is some value in looking at the longitudinal results – the results of the same group of students tracked over time – for the younger students, where opting out isn’t as prevalent as in the high school. There was a notable decline in math scores from 5th grade to 6th and then again to 7th for the students currently in 8th grade, and while it may just be an issue with the test – the same decline seems to exist in statewide data as well – let’s make sure the district isn’t be doing something in West Orange that isn’t working out.

I also will want to see what actions might be needed once the results of the special education audit are complete, look into whether the district might be able to reconfigure elementary school Spanish so that accomplishes more with our students, and make certain that our honors classes are competitive with those being offered in other districts.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish on the BOE?

A: I very much want to change the tone we see and hear at Board of Education meetings. It’s fine for people to disagree – in fact, it’s good for people to disagree, because when we do, we often come to discover better solutions to tough issues than we would have if everyone started off at the same place on a given topic – but it’s not OK for people to be disagreeable, and we have to put a stop to that. I’ve got a good history of bringing people together to solve problems, and I’m hoping to be able to do that for West Orange,

Q: What do you think needs to change the most about the district?

A: Communications in general is our district’s real weakness, and where I hope to have the most impact. One example: the WOBOE website. It’s really hard to find anything there and difficult to navigate, especially if you’re browsing on a phone. We’ve got to do better. And as I’ve said discussing the tone of board meetings – that’s also a communications issue at heart. West Orange also has too many parent committees and not enough town hall meetings – the district needs to do a better job of listening to more voices when making big decisions. I don’t think anyone is intentionally shutting people out, but bringing more people in requires some shifts in how the district thinks about its communications, and I hope to make a difference on that front.

Q: Why should West Orange students, parents and taxpayers elect you for the BOE?

A: I feel that my professional background, my involvement in our schools and community, and my history of coming up with workable solutions to problems all combine to make me a uniquely qualified candidate. I’ll use smart data analysis to find opportunities for savings while working to keep our schools strong for our children, for our community, and for our future.

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