Nine candidates for three open seats on the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education will make their case for election at a virtual candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lawrence Township on Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.
The candidates forum will be livestreamed on the League of Women Voters’ Facebook page at Facebook/LWVLT.org.
The candidates will answer questions from the public sent in advance of the forum, as well as questions from the Lawrence chapter of the League of Women Voters. The candidates will offer opening and closing statements.
Up for grabs in the Nov. 3 school board election are the three seats held by school board members Michele Bowes, Dana Drake and Cathy LeCompte. All three are seeking re-election for another three-year term.
They are being challenged by Heather Camp, Patricia Hendricks Farmer, Gregory Johnson, Olufunmilola Ladigbolu, Tabitha Bellamy McKinley and Jasmine Surti.
Bowes, who has lived in Lawrence since 2007, has two children who attend Lawrence High School. She is a licensed social worker at St. Lawrence Rehabilitation Center.
Bowes said she is seeking another term because she wants to continue to make the school experience for students as positive as possible. She said she looks to find the best solutions and educational opportunities for students by partnering with the administration, staff and parents.
Camp has lived in Lawrence for seven years. Her two children are enrolled at the Lawrenceville Elementary School. She is the former director of Community Engaged Learning at The College of New Jersey, and is presently spending time at home helping her children with their remote learning.
Camp said she is running for the school board because she wants to see more school board members serving who have children enrolled in the school district. She said she wants to create a more transparent education system in Lawrence by building bridges within the community. She believes it is important to have a “diversity of voices at the table to garner the varying perspectives” of district members.
Drake, who grew up in Lawrence and returned to raise her family, has one son who attends Lawrence High School. She is the human resources director at the NJ Infrastructure Bank.
Drake said she is running for re-election because “now, more than ever, experience matters. This is a critical time for public education.” Drake mentioned the inequities in society that demand that the district expand learning content, teacher perspectives and teaching methods. Economic and employment decisions will need to be made with respect to the budget, she added.
Johnson has lived in Lawrence for more than 30 years. He has two children, one who graduated from Lawrence High School and one who graduated from the private Bridge Academy in the township. He is an attorney in private practice and has served as the school board attorney for the Trenton and Paterson public school districts.
Johnson said he was motivated to run for the school board after following the online “#BlackinLawrence” campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement. Reading the stories of Black families, students and teachers who were “marginalized” in the Lawrence school district – including his own family – compelled him to “get off the sidelines” and offer his unique set of skills and experiences as a school board attorney, he said.
Ladigbolu has lived in Lawrence since 2017. She has three children, one of whom is a senior at Lawrence High School. She works in IT as a change control administrator at Columbia University Medical Center.
She decided to seek a seat on the school board after she learned of the limited availability of diverse course selections and internship opportunities for high school students. She wants to see greater collaboration between the community and local pharmaceutical companies and businesses, so students can gain hands-on experiences in STEM (science technology engineering and math) to prepare them for the 21st century economy.
LeCompte is a 22-year resident of Lawrence. Her sons graduated from Lawrence High School. She is a marketing designer for Trimble MAPS in Princeton.
LeCompte said she is seeking re-election because she believes in strengthening the schools. The district’s diversity is its strength, and the board needs to listen to the parents and the community, she said. Lawrence benefits from broader perspectives than most towns, but it requires a “bigger toolbox” to meet the needs of all students, she said. She said she wants to ensure that all students are provided the same equitable learning opportunities they need for self-discovery.
McKinley, who has lived in Lawrence for 10 years, has two children enrolled at Lawrence High School. She is the NAEP state coordinator for the New Jersey Department of Education, where she oversees the national and international assessments in K-12 schools.
McKinley said her background experience in public education – from the local level to the national level – has provided her with a unique vantage point to be able to bring that wealth of knowledge to help make the Lawrence school district a “premier” school district in New Jersey.
Surti has lived in Lawrence for four years. One child is enrolled at the Lawrence Middle School and another child attends Lawrence High School. She is a senior manager in the Consumer Bank Governance and Control Department at TD Bank.
Surti said she is interested in serving on the school board to help tackle the challenges facing the district – both the COVID-19 pandemic and also promoting a positive and equitable environment in the schools for all children.
Farmer did not respond to a request for comment by press time.