Election 2021

All four candidates on the ballot for the Robbinsville School Board are all but assured to be elected—they are running unopposed.

Incumbents Vito Galluccio, Tanya Lehmann and Jai Gulati will all serving three-year terms, while first-time candidate Lauren Paluzzi will be serving a one-year unexpired term.

Galluccio has been a resident of Robbinsville Township for 15 years. He has a master’s degree in government administration from Rutgers University.

He currently serves as the President of the Robbinsville Board of Education. He is also a Vice President of the asset management division of a global insurance company. Galluccio previously sat on the township planning board and co-chaired the Robbinsville Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC).

Galluccio and his wife, Catherine, have two children. His daughters attend Road Middle School and Robbinsville High School.

Gulati has been a resident of Robbinsville for over 15 years. He has a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree from Temple University.

He currently works as a technology leader at Regeneron Pharmaceutical. Over the past year, he has been serving as a member of the Robbinsville Board of Education which includes being on the Security and Personnel Committees. Gulati is passionate about maximizing student achievement, ensuring equity for all, as well as providing a deeper offering of STEM curriculum.

Gulati and his wife, Somna, have three children. Two of his daughters attend Robbinsville Township schools, and the youngest daughter will enter kindergarten in the following years.

Paluzzi has been a resident of Robbinsville Township for five years. She has a bachelor’s degree in finance, international business and marketing, as well as a master’s in Business Administration.

She currently works for Johnson & Johnson as a finance director. Prior to that, she worked in the fashion industry for various companies, including three years where her job was based in Europe.

Paluzzi and her husband, Neil, live with their three children. Her youngest will be starting at Sharon Elementary School next year. Her two stepchildren live and attend school in Northern Ireland.

Lehmann was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacant seat on the school board. She has a bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg University and a master’s degree in English literacy education from Rutgers University.

She currently works as an eighth grade language arts teacher at Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School. A teacher since 1993, she also teaches English enrichment and SAT/ACT prep at The Peddie School.

In recent years, Lehmann has volunteered with the Robbinsville Little League, Robbinsville High School Baseball and Field Hockey and the PTA. She was also co-president of the Robbinsville MOMS Club.

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All four board members responded to a series of five questions posed to them by the Robbinsville Advance regarding their qualifications to serve on the board and their feelings on a number of relevant issues. The questions and their answers appear below.

1. Explain how your experience, expertise or perspective will contribute to the school board.

Gulati: As a Robbinsville resident since 2005 and having two children in our school system, I have had the opportunity to watch our school district grow in many ways. It has been an evolving journey which has led to new opportunities and, at times, new challenges. Our school District has overcome many struggles, particularly in the past few years surrounding funding, COVID-19 and ensuring we keep a balanced approach ensuring we’re delivering more assets to the classroom while being mindful of the impact to taxpayers. Our school board’s priority is to ensure a quality, financially responsible education to our children, maximizing student achievement, ensuring equity for all as well as providing a deeper offering of curriculum suited for the 21st century.

My professional experience, diverse background and experience can continue to benefit the School District and our Robbinsville community as a whole. I approach each opportunity with an open mind, a willingness to collaborate and strive to make sound decisions based on my passion for education and continuous goal to raise the bar. I look forward to continuing on a path of striving to make our school system the best that it can be for the benefit of our children and community.

Galluccio: Robbinsville Schools have made positive strides in many areas in recent years, and I am committed to continuing that momentum. Academics are improving and Robbinsville High School was recently ranked in the top 20% of high schools in the state. New families continue to move to Robbinsville for the excellent educational opportunities and home values are climbing to record heights, increasing more than 10% this year alone. I believe that a large driver of that is our excellent schools.

During my first four years on the board, I have used my 20 years of professional experience in government finance to focus on ways to support and improve our schools budget so that we can invest more in our schools, and at the same time give taxpayers a break. I am proud that spending in our classrooms has reached historic levels in recent years. Our schools have been able to add new teachers and resources for instruction, special education, mental health and crucial facilities improvements. At the same time, I have also been a champion of reducing or keeping property tax rates flat for the last three years in a row, an accomplishment that has not occurred for many years at Robbinsville Schools. Additionally, I was also part of the board’s effort to reduce fees paid by parents for students to participate in sports and extracurricular clubs by 50%. Robbinsville parents are working hard, doing the best that they can for their families and our students. I believe that we should keep finding ways to help them.

Paluzzi: I am a Finance Director with 18 years’ experience across different industries and continents, and currently work in the healthcare industry supporting finance technology. I have a master’s degree in business and a triple major in international, finance, and marketing, which will bring a diverse experience to the table. I am currently the lead for the Women’s Leadership Initiative Networking pillar and a co-lead on the Open & Out Ally Employee Resource Group. I have learned what makes a diverse, collaborative environment: knowing when to lead and when to listen. I will be a fact-based leader that can make the tough decisions when necessary. I have previously volunteered for the Working Moms Club, Easel Animal Rescue and currently serve as the President of the Homeowners Association of my neighborhood.

Lehmann: Because I am a current classroom teacher, a mom of three (with two currently in the district), and a taxpayer with a vested interest in the school system, I can offer a unique perspective to the Board of Education. I know how a Board of Education’s decisions can impact student learning, development, and growth. For that reason, I am able to offer practical insight that will ensure that the policies set forth will provide the best possible outcomes for the district. Because I am passionate about education and I enjoy learning new and varied perspectives, I am able to work closely with my fellow board members to make informed policy decisions that are in the best interest of the Robbinsville School District.

2. How do you feel about the way that the school board and administration communicate with the community? What do you think they do well, and in what areas can there be improvement?

Galluccio: Communication has been improving, but I think it’s something that we are continually focused on to do better each year. In recent years, we have seen an increased volume and effectiveness of communications with targeted emails and text messages to parents, the increased use of social media as well as video conferencing. The schools have also added an app to put crucial information at students and parents fingertips. These are all positive steps in the right direction, but certainly there is room for even more improvement and transparency. Parents are busy, often juggling work while trying to care for one or more children. Information should be timely, relevant, and accessible.

There has not been a better time to work collaboratively on ways to help take Robbinsville Schools to the next level. I intend to continue to partner with the community, listen to parents and students, and work with the Town and other stakeholders to find ways to communicate better.

Gulati: The current school board and administration has made great strides in being proactive and communicating with the community. It’s important for a school board to provide forums where community members can air their concerns. The Board needs to be open-minded and have a willingness to listen. A school board’s responsibility is to ensure that our schools are well run. We will do that by looking at the big picture and ensuring that we’re focused on accountability, forward-looking opportunities that are all focused on students and their learnings.

I believe the school administration has made significant headway in improving the way our schools are providing updates with the various mediums available. I am a lifelong believer of ongoing learning & change. Change is the only constant and there is always room for improvement. I believe we have many additional opportunities to incorporate better utilize our social media mediums, our District website, and related tools. I am a technologist at heart and believe we should incorporate more technology tools and provide better communications both active and passive for a better engagement experience with the parents and community.

Paluzzi: Over the last few years, the school board has improved being transparent as to guidance, expectations, and vision. They utilize different mediums to communicate, which is helpful to different age groups and within the board meetings I have been able to attend live have always listened, been respectful and created dialogue with the parents. This past year and half has been new and difficult for all of us, so we are all learning to work through and be agile in nature to improve on ways to get our kids back in school, have high staff accountability and standards, and dynamic and collaborative ways of working.

Lehmann: With so much in constant flux these days, transparency is critical. I think the Board of Education and the administration are working to keep up with changes and to communicate them effectively, however, there is room for improvement. While it is difficult to stay on top of the changes in mandates, I believe that it is crucial for policies to be made transparent so that families can make informed decisions to best meet their child’s needs.

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

Galluccio: Navigating through the pandemic has been a significant challenge, and although we have come a long way toward getting back to normal, I would be remiss if I did not highlight it. As a board member, I have prioritized the safety of our students while ensuring that the in-school experience is as robust and close to normal as possible given the restrictions associated with the global pandemic. I was proud that our schools were in the top 20% of districts in New Jersey that offered in-school instruction for those that wanted it during the pandemic. The health and safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. I remain committed to help keep our schools open, but it must be done in a way that follows the medical and scientific guidance to keep students safe.

Gulati: In any organization, including the school systems there will be constant challenges we face on a day-to-day basis. One of the biggest challenges I see is in students’ social and emotional well-being. Many kids may not have the voice to speak to the struggles that they’re having but it doesn’t mean that they’re not there, and it doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling the pressures of the world around them.

The Second big issue I see is the shortage of teachers for the hard to fill positions. COVID-19 has created a shortage of talent available across the globe and we are not immune to it. Our administration has done a tremendous job in staying on top of this. It is something that I and our Board is watching judiciously.

Lastly, as a professional technologist, I also see that students are more technologically advanced than many adults that I know, including some teachers. This puts teachers at a decided disadvantage in the classroom. Technology needs to come into the classroom to keep up with the learning demands of the 21st century.

Paluzzi: Given that all children are back in school, after a year and a half on and off, I think special attention needs to be given on mental and emotional support for kids who need it, as it is a big transition. I also believe that standard guidance with protocols of how decisions are made for the safety and well-being of staff and children needs to be transparent and clear. While we are all working our way through very different times, transparency is key to success, while listening to all side’s opinions.

Lehmann: I think the greatest concern most currently have is the need to address the potential learning loss that occurred over the course of the remote/hybrid experience. To that end, the district is due to evaluate student needs in the next several weeks with the state’s Start Strong assessment which will be one way to quantify any academic challenges to be considered. Another concern at the forefront is the need to ensure students’ health is of utmost importance. We can’t educate students unless their fundamental needs are met. This includes protecting students by following guidelines but also by considering the importance of mental health and how it impacts performance. Additionally, when it is necessary to quarantine students due to exposure, who to isolate should follow the guidelines; nothing should be done arbitrarily.

4. As recent census numbers show, Robbinsville is becoming increasingly diverse. 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?

Galluccio: We live in a tremendous community, with residents and neighbors of many races, cultures, faiths and lifestyles. I believe this diversity is an asset, something that we should all embrace and appreciate. As a board member, I have been supportive of our school’s leadership and work in addressing these critical issues and am committed to continue taking it seriously. We need to have honest and open discussions with students, administrators and families - with a goal of listening and finding workable solutions that include all of our students and community.

Gulati: I find Robbinsville to be a remarkable place to live. I was amazed to see that our overall population grew by 13.4% and that includes a 149% increase in the Asian population. I do consider diversity to be an important part of the district, with 35% of our student body coming from diverse backgrounds, we need to be mindful and acknowledge the changes in our town and school population. There is a huge opportunity in this area. Embracing this change will help all students and residents as we maximize the best of what we collectively bring to the table.

Looking forward, I believe we should be focused on hiring the educator who is the most qualified for the role they are being hired for and appreciates diversity. We need to ensure our educational curriculum is integrated, interdisciplinary, meaningful, raises cultural awareness and student-centered. It should include issues and topics related to the students’ background and culture. It should challenge the students to develop higher-order knowledge, skill, and critical thinking.

Paluzzi: I encourage diversity in all walks of life, as it brings new ideas and experiences to the table, in which people can learn from each other. I believe the District has improved over the years, from students, staff and parents about embracing and celebrating diversity. I’m glad the current board is looking at this strategically and making it apart of their goals. I believe in and support this work and I look forward to helping the Board and District engage even more in these areas.

Lehmann: As a current classroom teacher, I am fortunate to work with students and families from all walks of life and abilities. I respect the beauty of diversity in the classroom, and I celebrate the fact that our town’s increasing diversity is similarly interwoven and becoming an integral part of our community. Hiring practices should always comply with equal opportunity practices, and our teachers should be the very best available and should also represent the diversity of our student population.

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?

Galluccio: Although our schools did a good job in being flexible and adapting to a global pandemic, it was a considerable challenge. Guidance from the state was changing rapidly, and most schools in New Jersey were quite frankly not fully prepared to deliver a virtual learning experience that matched what students and families are accustomed to. Although the virtual experience improved significantly in the months that ensued, it has always been important for me to advocate for re-opening the school buildings in a safe way. Students learn and grow from in-person social interactions with their teachers and peers on school property, and not all students thrive in a virtual environment. Mental health is a significant concern and virtual learning is not ideal for students with learning and other disabilities. Although Robbinsville schools will likely use this experience to embrace technology in a more permanent way going forward, they also learned that virtual learning is not a substitute for the in-person learning and the crucial human interaction that occurs in our school buildings.

Gulati: As I have mentioned before a few months back, I think overall the district did the best they could do provided the situation. Robbinsville is not unique, the coronavirus pandemic has upended America’s K-12 education system, as most schools in every state closed their doors for extended periods to combat the spread of the virus in early days

I commend our school district, administrators and educators who had to make overhauled adjustments overnight to a learning system which historically is completely based on human interaction. The administration’s tenacity along with the support of the Board to get us back in full day of learning was something that I am very proud of. We must continue down the path of aiming to do more.

I believe there is tremendous opportunity and learnings we have during this pandemic. This is not the first and won’t be the last. The ability to pivot and provide instruction which is seamless is an area we need to continue to invest in and ensure our students are getting the best quality education.

Paluzzi: COVID-19 has brought immense challenges to schools, students, staff and families. No one could ever have anticipated the immediate transition to remote learning. We know this period was challenging for many and took an immense mental and emotional toll on all involved in the education system. I think we have to quickly examine and learn at what worked and what did not. This may be the new norm for some time and the District has to learn from the experiences and get ready for what could come.

Lehmann: Our district did more than others, but there are opportunities for growth and improvement. Despite the ever-changing directives from the state, our district did its best to be flexible and accommodating, yet, we need to examine the way we go about reaching all students during challenging times. I am proud of the efforts teachers made to revise their practices and quickly learn a completely new approach to education. However, not all students experienced the remote/hybrid style of learning with the same degree of success, and that is where we need to focus our efforts going forward. It is essential to meet the academic and social/emotional needs of our kids, especially during a crisis. I am encouraged that administrators are open to suggestions from parents and the community in order to facilitate a better approach for all students, and I want to work to ensure that those strategies take place with or without the occurrence of a similar situation in the future.

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