The race for three three-year terms on the Ewing Township Public School Board of Education is the only municipal race on the ballot in this year’s election.

On Nov. 2, voters will have the opportunity to choose between four candidates running for three open seats on the school board.

Running are three incumbents: board President Lisa McConnell, Vice President Anthony Messina and board member Deborah Delutis.

The three are being challenged by Crystal Fedeli, who is running under the slogan, “Advocate for Children.”

Delutis is running under the slogan, “Honesty and Integrity,” and Messina is running with, “Ewing Kids First.”

The Observer posed five questions to the four candidates running for election to the township school board regarding issues pertaining to the school district. Their answers appear below, in addition to biographical information for each candidate.

Deborah Delutis

Deborah Delutis

Deborah Delutis is a lifelong resident of Ewing Township. She attended Antheil Elementary, Fisher Middle, and graduated with the Ewing High School class of 1995. Delutis has a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University.

She currently works as a front-end manager at Pennington Quality Market, and has been for 24 years.

Delutis and her spouse, Peter, live with her two children. Her son, Kyle, is a senior and her son, Jacob, is a junior at Ewing High School.

1. Why are you running for election (or reelection) to the school board and what are your qualifications to be on the board?

I am seeking reelection on this board because I sincerely care about our community: community being the students and their families, my neighbors and fellow taxpayers, the teachers and staff. Being born and raised here, raising my children here has been a pleasure and I am deeply vested in the well-being of our school district. I have always been involved in my children’s schooling. At each grade level, I developed relationships with staff, students and other parents and I want to help ensure the best for everyone. I have been the PTA president at Parkway for three years, vice president for one year, the president of Fisher FPA for three years. I sat on the Parkway and Fisher Title 1 committees and Anti-bullying committees, the panel to choose the new Fisher Principal, and I was a parent liaison to the BOE during Referendum ’18. As a current board member, I was the liaison to EPEF for two years and served on the Negotiation Committee.

2. Parental involvement in their child’s education is important. What can the district do to help get parents more engaged with their children’s academic efforts?

Parental involvement is key. We have been trying to engage more parents for a very long time. I believe showing that the school district is a warm and friendly place, putting names to faces and giving the opportunity to meet people and become comfortable with district employees and administration makes parents feel more comfortable and want to be involved. Adding more social events (while making it informative) feels inviting and less intimidating; it becomes more appealing. A lesson learned during COVID-19 is the use of the virtual option. Parents are busy. Offering a virtual option for meetings, back to school night and conferences allow parents to make the meeting or event without leaving work or hiring a babysitter.

3. What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?

To me, the most important things we face currently are special education, mental health of students and staff and [the need to] increase technology — all within [the confines of] our budget. We have a wonderful Unified program that I am very proud of, and an excellent special education program. I believe our program will need to expand and grow over the years, as our special ed population seems to be growing. It is very important that all students get the education they deserve. The last year and half have been a rollercoaster for many, adults and children. It is imperative that we focus on the mental health of our students and staff, expanding our counseling services and offering other services. The district is currently working hard on this; I believe it is crucial to continue to do so. Lastly, technology is the key to everyone’s future. We live in an ever-changing world with new technology every day. I believe we are heading in the right direction with hiring a technology supervisor, but it needs to continue to grow. Technology affects students and staff in every step of their day.

4. Do you consider diversity to be an important consideration for the district in terms of its hiring practices? How would you rate the district’s approach to diversity today?

The Ewing School community is a diverse population. The school district strives to hire competent and skilled staff. It is important to have a staff that is as diverse as the student population. I think Ewing addresses that and there are role models throughout our district that show our diversity. As a school district we need to view our cultural differences as assets. It needs to be a place where culturally different individuals work together to develop curriculum, teaching strategies and develop classroom climates.

5. Are you happy with the way the district handled virtual learning during the pandemic? What did you like and what would you do differently?

I think the Ewing schools handled virtual learning well. At first, everyone was in panic mode and did the best they could. As time went on, our program really strengthened, plans were built, enrichments were provided to the teachers, and our teachers did an outstanding job. I believe our district did an incredible job during the pandemic. I am very proud of the efforts of our BOE, administrators and staff to keep everyone safe. Our strategies and plans for a safe reopening were far better than all the other area districts, in my opinion. I really liked our staggered reopening plan. I thought one of our best parts of the last year was the free extended day program for our elementary students. With our students doing half days, it was so important for our working families to have the option to keep their child at school. We kept our staff working, and no one lost their job. There is nothing I would have done differently.

***

Crystal Fedeli

Crystal Fedeli

Crystal Fedeli is a self-proclaimed “past intermittent” resident of Ewing for over six years, who now has been living in town fully for one year. She moved to the township while completing her undergraduate studies at The College of New Jersey, left, then returned once more.

Fedeli has a Master of Arts in child advocacy and policy with a concentration in child public welfare, a Master of Arts in social research and analysis, and is currently finishing her Master of Social Work. She also has an Associate’s and Bachelor of Arts in English studies, a graduate certificate in data collection and management, as well as a paralegal certificate.

She currently works at her emerging nonprofit and B-Corporation, which advocates for and serves single parents who suffer at or under the poverty level. Prior to that, she worked for the state of New Jersey in multiple offices and departments, SAFE in Hunterdon as an advocate, the Mentor Network as a Youth Support Specialist, and Enable, Inc. as an In-Home Support Specialist. She also served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for CASA of Mercer County. In addition, Fedeli is currently a member of the Monarch Housing Homelessness Prevention Advisory Board, the Anti-Poverty Network, and the New Jersey Coalition to End Homelessness.

Fedeli and her husband, Kurtis Warner, have two young children who will be able to attend Ewing Schools in the following years.

1. Why are you running for election (or reelection) to the school board and what are your qualifications to be on the board?

I have worked with and advocated for children and families my entire career. I am running for School Board to represent my entire community which includes the students, parents, teachers, school staff, administrators, and the community at large. I believe everyone should be heard and have a voice in our community. I am running to seek to bring compromise in an age where our communities seem to be very polarized.

I do not believe in one side winning and the other side losing and thus their voice not mattering. I instead believe in aiding both sides to come together to compromise so even the minority side may have their needs and wants represented.

I also seek to serve those most vulnerable and marginalized in our community. Whether I am elected to School Board or not, I want to learn what the needs are in my community so I may work to help those families. I am especially passionate to help those in my community who are single parents who cannot afford all of their families’ basic necessities and those who suffer from substance use disorder; however, I am passionate about helping all who are vulnerable and marginalized in my community, and I hope to do so as a member of the Ewing Township School Board.

2. Parental involvement in their child’s education is important. What can the district do to help get parents more engaged with their children’s academic efforts?

Handling the educational needs of a child/ren is a task in of itself, and I believe that there are many times when external issues other than education interfere with a parent being able to be involved in their child’s/rens’ academic efforts.

Teachers and administrators should be sensitive to cases that involve external issues. For example, a parent may be a single parent and therefore may need to work at their job all day, night, or overnight in addition to taking care of their child/ren when they are at home and not working.

After working all day, night, or overnight all week, and then taking care of their child’s/rens’ other needs, this single parent may be too tired to devote the time needed to their child’s/rens’ academic efforts. Or, maybe this single parent has other children, so to equally devote the necessary time to each child’s academic efforts may be more than a challenge, such may not be possible.

Although as a school board such external circumstances may not be our expected primary focus, I do believe being aware of this possibility is very important. I also believe that I would bring the unique perspective of seeking to understand if and why a parent may not be able to be engaged in their child’s/rens’ academic affairs.

Even more, I bring the expertise of knowing what resources a parent or family may qualify for if they are in need, who to connect them to, and how to help advocate for them to receive any services they may qualify for. It is always important to seek to understand, and to have a strengths-based and trauma-informed perspective.

3. What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?

I believe there are many unique challenges that families may be facing post COVID-19.

I believe one of the greatest challenges other than our families possibly financially struggling is that there are many children who may be academically behind due to the long period of time that virtual learning occurred.

Although every student, parent, teacher, and administrator worked tirelessly to make virtual learning the best it could be, I suspect there are children who are behind, need to catch up, in addition to mastering the material they are expected to master this current school year.

I believe the greatest challenge we face this year and beyond is ensuring our children catch up in their studies so they are not behind while also ensuring they master the material they need to this year and beyond.

4. Do you consider diversity to be an important consideration for the district in terms of its hiring practices? How would you rate the district’s approach to diversity today?

Diversity is very important, and appreciating and respecting diversity of all individuals is very important. We do not all have to look the same, think the same, feel the same, etc. but I believe when we realize we are stronger together in all of our diversity, and we respect each other, we can accomplish much more for the greatest number of people.

This is a passion of mine — helping us to all realize the value each individual brings to achieve a greater end, in all of our diversity. As a member of the school board I would work to promote diversity.

5. Are you happy with the way the district handled virtual learning during the pandemic? What did you like and what would you do differently?

Unfortunately, I was not first-hand able to experience how the district handled virtual learning; however, I look forward to hearing from all members of the community, the students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the community at large of their thoughts and experiences.

I hope to help address every need and concern so everyone feels that they are heard and that their needs are being met to the best of our ability.

***

Lisa McConnell

Lisa McConnell

Lisa McConnell is a third generation resident of Ewing Township. She attended Ewing High School and graduated in 1988. McConnell has a bachelor’s in communications with a minor in business from Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey) and graduated in 1992.

She currently works as a territory sales manager for Worldwide Window Fashions. Prior to that, she was a two-term Ewing Board of Education Member with the offices of President and Vice President.

McConnell was also active on the PTO boards of Antheil Elementary and Fisher Middle School, as well as the parent group for Ewing High School classes of 2019 and 2021.

McConnell has two children. Her daughter from the class of 2019, Allyson, is now attending Rowan University, and her daughter from the class of 2021, Katelyn, is now attending Rutgers University.

1. Why are you running for election (or reelection) to the school board, and what are your qualifications to be on the boar d?

The past six years serving on the BOE have been very rewarding for me. I am proud of the work that we have done to make sure our schools are safe and successful.

I have sat on the facilities committee and am excited to see many of our referendum building projects come to fruition while I am a BOE member. I look forward to working with the district administration and other board members for three more years of successful endeavors.

2. Parental involvement in their child’s education is important. What can the district do to help get parents more engaged with their children’s academic efforts?

I believe being involved in your children’s academic efforts is a choice parents have to make themselves.

I think the district does a very good job of providing tools for parents to be involved … at the younger ages, parent conferences are scheduled early in the year to address any issues teachers are concerned with or parents may have.

At the high school level, there are multiple programs held for parents in the evenings on topics such as college planning, financial aid, PSAT/SAT testing etc.

We have also held outreach events for our ESL families to help them become familiar with the programs available to their children. All of our schools have parent organizations that meet regularly to fundraise and plan events for students. For parents that choose to be involved many opportunities are in place … they just need to be taken advantage of.

3. What are some challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?

I think school districts across the country are all facing the increasing concerns about our staff and student mental health. It is an issue that is very real but not always talked about in an open forum.

After the last school year, we need to pay close attention to this topic and make sure we have the tools and expertise to help deal with any issues that arise. The district has made good strides to try and combat this critical subject, and I would like to see continued resources and education in the future dedicated to the subject.

Another major issue the district is facing are possible transportation disruptions and shortages. There is a critical need for bus drivers across the country, and this will definitely impact our ability to get students to and from school, over to our vocational program and athletes to sporting events.

We need to start planning alternate options, so we don’t get put into last minute undesirable situations.

4. Do you consider diversity to be an important consideration for the district in terms of its hiring practices? How would you rate the district’s approach to diversity today?

I believe Ewing is one of the most diverse school districts in Mercer County.

Because of that, it is important that our staff and teachers reflect that same diversity in order to connect with and understand our student’s backgrounds and cultures.

It is important that all students feel they are being heard and that their concerns, needs and interests are being addressed. By having a diverse staff to communicate and connect with our students, we are able to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

I think the district has done a good job of hiring a diverse group of staff, coaches, and administrators. If you walk through our schools, you will find a wide variety of genders, races, and religions of staff in our hallways. I think this practice should be a priority in the district and we should continue to hire the best, most diverse group of educators possible.

5. Are you happy with the way the district handled virtual learning during the pandemic? What did you like and what would you do differently?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I played a very big part in the planning and implementing of our district plans during the pandemic, so I am probably a bit biased on this answer.

We worked very hard last summer putting together ways to make sure our students would still be able to succeed and have a meaningful school year. The two things I am most proud about in our plan are the fact that our elementary schools were open in person from the very first day of the school year, and the other is that we put together a learning program that allowed each individual family to decide what would be the best for their own children.

Our staff was so willing and flexible in assisting us get our virtual program up and running as quickly as possible. We couldn’t have done it without them. Our students were online in front of a teacher at least a few times a week and the other days were able to communicate with and get help from their teachers if needed.

Many parents have told us their children actually thrived in this program and are upset that we cannot offer it as an option again this year. I believe the district did a great job in an unimaginable scenario, all while keeping the safety and mental well-being of our staff and students as a priority.

I give our staff and administration the highest praise and thanks for the job they did last year.

***

Anthony Messina

Anthony Messina is a lifelong resident of Ewing Township. He attended Ewing Township Public Schools and graduated with the Ewing High School class of 1985.

Messina attended both Mercer County Community College and Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey).

He currently works as an investigator with the Township of Ewing Code Enforcement Division. Prior to that, he served as an Ewing Township Police Officer who retired after 26 years of service.

Messina also has been active in the Ewing community as a volunteer firefighter with the Prospect Heights Vol. Fire Company #1 for 38 years.

Messina is married and is the proud parent of an Ewing High School Class of 2021 graduate.

1. Why are you running for election (or re-election) to the School Board and what are your qualifications to be on the Board?

In the next three years, the Ewing Township Board of Education will be tasked with the following:

A. The completion of all Referendum 2018 related construction projects.

B. As we begin the 2021-2022 school year, COVID-19 still exists. No one can tell what the future holds as we begin the school year and attempt to get back to what a normal school year can be and should be. These challenges are yet to be determined, but whatever they are, they will have to be navigated.

C. The negotiation of the Ewing Teachers Union contract.

D. The negotiation of the Ewing Township Support Staff contract.

E. Last but not least, the negotiation of the Chief School Administrator’s contact (Superintendent).

I am currently serving on the Board of Education’s Facilities Committee. This gives me an in-depth understanding of the ongoing Referendum 2018 construction projects.

As a Board Member, I have been directly involved in the school district’s Referendum projects from the beginning of the process in 2018 when the Referendum was approved.

I have previously served on the Board of Education’s Negotiation Committee for both the Ewing Support Staff and Ewing Teachers Unions contracts.

I have also served on the Board of Education’s Negotiation Committee for the Chief School Administrator’s (Superintendent) contact.

I have had the great opportunity to serve in leadership positions for the Board of Education, having served as Board President and Board Vice President. I am currently serving as the Vice President to the Board of Education.

I have gained a great knowledge and experience from serving on these committees and in these leadership positions, and I believe that experience would be a benefit to future Boards of Education and the greater Ewing Community.

2. Parental involvement in their child’s education is important. What can the district do to help get parents more engaged with their child’s academic efforts?

I think the district makes an honest effort to engage parents to be active in their child’s academic pursuits. Contact between parent, teacher and student is extremely important.

We must continue to encourage parents to ask questions and take an active role in their child’s daily educational process. This is not only something that the district must do, but our society as a whole must promote education to keep parents and students engaged.

3. What are some of the challenges facing the school district that you believe deserve more attention?

Currently the number one challenge facing public education is funding. This is not just a Ewing thing, it is also a New Jersey thing, and it is fair to say a national thing. Based upon the current funding formula by the State of New Jersey as it relates to public school districts, Ewing is currently underfunded by approximately $5 million, which is based upon student population.

This makes it incredibly challenging to attract the best quality educators, take care of the district’s legal obligations as it relates to public contracts, and maintain the level of programs and services that we provide to the Ewing student.

4. Do you consider diversity to be an important consideration for the district in terms of its hiring practices? How would you rate the district’s approach to diversity?

I think the School District has done a fairly good job when it comes to trying to attract the most diverse candidates for employment positions. The School District currently participates in programs such as CJ Pride, which is a coalition of school districts that embraces diversity.

The school district participates in specific job fairs to attract diverse qualified candidates. The school districts also collaborate with colleges and universities for this exact purpose.

Recently, Ewing High School established a club for students to participate in who are considering the teaching profession in Urban areas. These are just a few of the efforts the Ewing Public School District is taking in an attempt to establish a more diverse teaching staff. We continue to strive to improve.

5. Are you happy with the way the district handled virtual learning during the pandemic? What do you like and what would you do differently?

To begin with, in late February 2020, as it became more and more clear as the global pandemic was worsening, no one in education was prepared to “push a button” to go to virtual learning.

The Ewing Township Public School, like many school districts, began almost overnight to create a virtual program. This virtual program was a work in progress every day until the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The district over the summer months of 2020 continued to improve the virtual platform for the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

In September 2020, the school district was much better prepared to present a virtual learning program. One of the things that has come out of this pandemic is the ability to switch to a virtual learning program if the need arises (overnight).

Moving forward, it is my hope that the governor and the state legislature will recognize this improvement and allow school districts more flexibility to utilize and implement the virtual learning platform.

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