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School Board Election 2022: Candidate Q&A

An election for members of the Haddonfield Board of Education will be held on Tue Nov 8, concurrent with the General Election. 

The board has nine elected members, each of whom is elected for a three-year term. Three members are elected each year. Two current members whose terms are ending – Jaime Grookett (board president) and Linda Hochgertel (vice president) – are seeking to be re-elected. The other member whose term is ending – David Seidell – will not be seeking a new term.

Since only one other candidate – Greg Esemplare – filed a petition, he, Grookett, and Hochgertel will be elected unopposed.

Also, there will be a Special Election for the remaining year of the term of a former member who resigned. Two candidates filed petitions for that seat: Mark Cartella and Michael Nuckols.

l Mark graduated from Drexel with a degree in Engineering. He’s VP of Development at Alterra Property Group and a head coach for Haddonfield Youth Wrestling. Mark has two sons and two daughters who attend Central. He enjoys fishing with his sons, daddy-daughter dates, and sushi dinners with his wife. 

Mike is a long-time resident whose two sons have gone through Haddonfield public schools from K-12 (Jack, Class of ’21; Alex is a junior). He is an award-winning writer who has worked in marketing for over 25 years. You can read about Mike’s adventures in parenting andbaseball at

Haddonfield Today posed five questions to these candidates.

Q1. Motivation to Run: Why do you want to serve on the Board of Education? Are there specific issues that motivated you to run?

MARK CARTELLA: My motivation for running for the Board can be summed up by my campaign’s slogan: “For Families. For Teachers. For Haddonfield.”  

The Haddonfield School District has done an amazing job of making their curriculum transparent once it’s fully developed. That said, I’d like to see that level of transparency also applied to the curricula’s development and application in the classroom, giving all parents and guardians more opportunity for meaningful contribution.

As a son of two NJ educators, I believe teaching is arguably society’s greatest profession. Teachers and administrators must be respected, properly resourced, and appropriately compensated. Unfortunately, teachers and administrators alike have been leaving the profession at an alarming rate. Over a half million teachers have quit the profession in the last two years, leaving school districts across the country struggling to find qualified replacements. Of all areas impacted, none were more severe than math, science, and special education.  Teachers deserve better. I believe there’s an opportunity for Haddonfield to serve as a model district within the state, to support our teachers better, and stop the hemorrhaging. We must recruit, retain, and train the brightest and best. Our students deserve it.

  Haddonfield would not be the exceptional town it is without its public school system. It’s critical that Haddonfield continue to build upon its legacy of excellence in education in an ever more competitive world, with equal opportunity for all its residents from different walks of life, backgrounds, and upbringings.  

MICHAEL NUCKOLS: My mother was the president of the Board of Education in the town where I was raised. Once a week someone would come to our door looking for help. Bus drivers, teachers, usually parents. And my mom would go to bat for every single one of them. I grew up seeing the incredible impact she had on the people in our community. She is the reason I’m running.

I’ve wanted to serve on the Haddonfield board for years, but I’ve always had a commute that was an hour plus. With the pandemic, I now work from home, so I’m ready and eager to dive in and serve.

As a long-time resident of Haddonfield whose kids have gone through the district from K to 12, I’m excited about the possibility of doing my part for our community as a member of the Board.

Q2. Referendum: The district is planning a bond referendum for early 2023. Do you have a position on the referendum generally? Did you participate in any of the community planning sessions held in 2022? Are there specific projects you are in favor of, or opposed to? 

MARK CARTELLA: The bond referendum is necessary for the long-term sustainability and viability of our facilities and programs. From first-class buildings and fields to full-day kindergarten, an early-learning center, and redevelopment of the former Bancroft site, the list of initiatives in the community is long.  With resources always being finite, I look forward, if elected, to working with the town and all of its stakeholders to responsibly and sustainably deploy the capital that is raised.

MICHAEL NUCKOLS: My General Position – This referendum is a huge opportunity for our community. It’s our chance to set Haddonfield Schools up to excel for the next decade. But to get it right, we need the entire community engaged. We need to be debating and sharing ideas and making sure we are getting the absolute most out of our investment.

My Participation in Community Sessions – I have participated in visioning sessions and watched all the presentations on the referendum. They’ve been informative – but attendance has been low. 

My Priorities for the Referendum – My priorities are simple: classroom space and athletic fields.

If we don’t act, we’re going to have classes taught in trailers and dozens of kids told they can’t participate in sports. And that’s the last thing we want. That will compromise our national rankings, our ability to recruit teachers, and the quality of the education we provide.

Which brings me back to community engagement. The past referendum with the Bancroft property did not have community buy-in, and it failed. That’s where I can bring essential value to the board: Communication.

As a skilled communications professional, I’d like to help make sure the community is hearing from the board and the board is hearing from the community on every step of the referendum. I’d like everyone to feel invested in the direction we choose – and together we move forward as one Haddonfield. 

Q3. Curriculum: Over the past few years there has been a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) initiatives in the Haddonfield curriculum. This year, aspects of the health education curriculum have been debated at board meetings. As a board member, how would you approach these issues?

MARK CARTELLA: As a board member, I would work to engage parents/guardians and residents alike not only to foster but also to integrate their input, producing approaches to these issues rich in diversity of thought, representation, and inclusion. 

MICHAEL NUCKOLS: There’s a lot of good discussion about our social and emotional learning (SEL) initiative (RULER is the current curriculum), and that dialogue is fueling us to modernize our approach and get even better results. But if you look at the recent spike in the incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB), you can see just how much our kids missed our SEL curriculum were learning remotely. 

The health curriculum has drawn a lot of attention, but I think much of that is taken out of context. I also think there is some deliberate misinformation being spread from outside our community to try and create conflict. And all of this is overshadowing any legitimate concerns people have.

Which brings me back to the need for more effective communication between the board and the community. Clear communication will contextualize the controversy, find sensible common ground, and make sure our curriculum is the best it possibly can be.

Q4. Unexpired Term: Since you are running for the final year of an unexpired term, you will have little time, if elected, to learn about the role of a school board member, to become familiar with the workings of this particular board, and to commit to running for a full three-year term. 

Whether or not you are elected in November 2022, will it be your intention to seek a full term on the board in November 2023? 

What experience or qualities do you have that will enable you to hit the ground running in January 2023?

MARK CARTELLA: I agree the remaining year in the unexpired term is not a lot of time to achieve all my platform’s objectives. However, I’ve attended almost every BOE meeting (in-person or virtually) over the last year.  I’m intimately familiar with the challenges the BOE is facing, and if elected will require little time to commence my platform’s initiatives. Accordingly, I am committed to seeing those initiatives through no matter the number of terms necessary.

MICHAEL NUCKOLS: To prepare for the job, I’ve attended almost every board meeting over the past year and read every policy on the board website. I’ve met with multiple board members, parents from all three elementary schools, parents from the special needs community, and some teachers. Plus, I’ve been through the system from K to 12 with my own kids.

If elected, I am 100% committed to running for a full three-year term. If I’m not elected, I’ll probably run again. My kids have benefited greatly from Haddonfield Schools, and I am committed to giving back. 

Q5. Platform: Are there specific policies or practices you would hope to influence during your year in office?

MARK CARTELLA: Coming out of these past two very difficult years, I’d like to see a refocus, reevaluation, and recalibration of curricula, particularly in STEM, coding, and special education, while not forgetting or ignoring the lingering trauma the pandemic has caused. Unfortunately, these areas have suffered the greatest decline in performance metrics in all levels of education (local, state, and national). 

Teachers are amongst our greatest assets, and they must be treated accordingly.  

Finally, an inclusive, apolitical education system is the cornerstone of our society. Lest we forget that. 

For Families. For Teachers. For Haddonfield. 

MICHAEL NUCKOLS: Our current board is doing amazing work, but that message isn’t always getting through. I think I can bring value by supporting more clear communication between the board and the community. 

In the almost 20 years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen what this community can do when it comes together. 

Haddonfield parents are not looking for controversy when their kids’ education is at stake. They want talented teachers, vibrant classrooms, and continued excellence. You can count on me to listen, to collaborate, and always to engage in the important dialogue that is necessary to finding the best path forward.

Election result: Official

This post under this headline was updated on June 24, 2021.

  • Colleen Bianco BEZICH = 2,367 — 20.5% — Elected
  • Kevin ROCHE = 2,113 — 18.3% — Elected
  • Frank TROY = 2,092 — 18.1% — Elected
  • Adam PUFF = 1,651 — 14.3%
  • Jeff KASKO = 1,129 — 9.8%
  • Mark RUSC = 1,097 — 9.5%
  • Daniel ZHANG = 662 — 5.7%
  • Kathryn RAICZYK = 360 — 3.1%
  • Write-in = 65 — 0.6%
  • Registered voters = 10,741
  • Total voters = 4,377
  • Votes cast = 11,536

Image: Norman Rockwell, Election Day, 1944.  (Photo: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.)

Election result: Coming!

Watch the tally live: HERE.

Unofficial results for the May 11, 2021 Board of Commissioners election in Haddonfield will be posted here as they become available, likely around 9pm this evening.

The numbers posted tonight will include:

  • Votes cast in person today at the ten polling places in Haddonfield.
  • Vote by Mail ballots returned by mail and processed to date, and
  • Vote by Mail ballots deposited in one of Camden County’s secure drop boxes and processed to date.

Some voters who received Vote by Mail ballots were under the impession that they would be able to vote in person (i.e. at a voting machine) at their polling place. That was not the case. Such voters were able to cast Provisional Ballots at their polling place, if they wished. Ballots cast provisionally will be added to the tally on Wednesday and Thursday, after they have been verified, along with Vote by Mail ballots postmarked by 8pm today and received on or before Thursday, May 13.

If the unofficial result posted tonight includes margins that are extremely close, it is possible that the final result could be different from the posted, unofficial result. The Borough Clerk is scheduled to take the canvas of votes on Friday.

Image: Norman Rockwell, Election Day, 1944.  (Photo: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.)

NJPen publishes election guide

In advance of tomorrow’s Board of Commissioners election, invited each of the eight candidates “to tell the electorate a little about themselves ahead of the polling.”

Read the candidates’ statements and responses to’s questions HERE.

Correction: Vote by Mail Ballots

The Voter Guide for the May 1, 20211 Board of Commissioners election, published in the April 30 issue of Haddonfield Today, contains an error with respect to Vote by Mail ballots.

The guide lists four options for voting by mail. In fact, there are only three:

  • Mail your ballot. (Recommended as soon as possible. Ballots postmarked as late as May 11 will be counted.)
  • Place your ballot in a secure County drop box. (The nearest is outside the Haddon Township Municipal Building, 135 Haddon Avenue).
  • Take your ballot to the Board of Elections office in Blackwood.

The fourth option — taking your Vote by Mail ballot to your polling place on Election Day — is NOT available for the May 11 election. (It was an option for the November 2020 General Election, and may be in the future. But it is not an option for the 2021 Board of Commissioners election.)

Commissioners must respect approval process

To the Editor, fom Eileen Stilwell, Potter Street

The mad rush for final approval of the borough’s first affordable housing project before the May 11 election appears to be over.

On April 21, the Haddonfield Preservation Commission tabled the developer’s application to build 20 affordable apartments in the parking lot behind borough hall until its next regular meeting on May 19, despite pressure from the Borough and developer, Community Investment Strategies of Lawrenceville.

Armed with a team of lawyers and land-use professionals, CIS badgered HPC at the virtual meeting for a positive vote, so it could seek final approval from the Planning Board on May 4, seven days before the municipal election. HPC had no legal counsel that night to help clarify some of the complex issues. Members of HPC declined to vote, citing an incomplete application and an unclear vision of what precisely the developer planned to do within the historic district.

Any attempt by the borough to bypass the HPC and go directly to the Planning Board before the election in order to lock down one of its largest and most significant housing projects in decades, in my opinion, would be a grave abuse of power.

A potential end run for the developer might be to seek planning board approval  based on the footprint only of the Snowden project, excluding facades or relevant information about public safety, or the project’s ability to blend with and preserve the integrity of  the historic neighborhood. The presentation, no doubt, would suggest that HPC’s approval is anticipated at its next meeting.  Should this occur, I would urge HPC members to find some other way to serve their community, since such action by the borough would indicate their services  would no longer be needed.

Why have an historic commission if you ignore it? Why waste the enormous time volunteer board members invest in each application? Perhaps, it should be disbanded, if it is nothing but window dressing.

Should the commission decide to bypass the HPC, it should be done by public vote, so voters know which of the two incumbents running for re-election voted in favor.

Should they follow the rules — signaling that they, not the developer, are in charge — they should be applauded for their judgment.

Videos of Commission candidate forum

Videos of the Board of Commissioners Candidate Forum, held on Monday, April 12 and sponsored by the Haddonfield Civic Association, may be viewed on the Association’s website, HERE.

There are separate videos for the opening statements, each of nine questions posed to the eight candidates, and closing statements.

The questions, asked of the candidates in random order by Janet Fisher-Hughes, the moderator provided by the League of Women Voters, were:

Question 1: What policy or advocacy differentiates you from the other candidates?

Question 2: Of the three commission seats – public works, public safety, and finance – with which of these areas do you think your strengths most closely align?

Question 3: What are your plans for improving infrastructure in town, such as fixing deteriorating roads and curbs or upgrading and modernizing borough-owned buildings?

Question 4: What will you do to improve Haddonfield’s sustainability plan?

Question 5: As commissioner what are your plans for providing tax savings to residents through shared services, cost savings, and/or revenue generation?

Question 6: What will you do as commissioner to improve communication, community engagement, and increase transparency of town decisions and actions?  As commissioner would you publicly get behind a pledge to record and post all public meetings?

Question 7: One issue facing the township is the resolution of the former Bancroft site.  What are your priorities and vision for the site?

Question 8: What is your position on the land swap between the Board of Education and the Borough to make Radnor Field Green Acres space?

Question 9: Many residents in town are concerned with the speeding that constantly takes place on the main roads and many of the connecting residential streets. What will you do about this ongoing problem?

Tonight: Commission candidates forum

A forum for candidates for the Haddonfield Board of Commissioners will be held tonight, via Zoom.

Sponsored by the Civic Association and moderated by a representative from the League of Women Voters, it will run from 8 to 10pm.

To see the forum live on Zoom, you must register in advance. Go HERE.

Candidates will explain why they are running or seeking re-election. They will discuss their platform and answer questions submitted in advance.

Civic Association Forum: New date, times

A special note for those who marked their calendars based on details published in recent print versions of Haddonfield Today.

The Civic Association changed the original date of its Board of Commissioners Candidate Forum from Monday, April 19 to Monday, April 12.

It changed the original start time from 7pm to 8pm.

And, to accommodate the large number of questions it received fom the community, it recently changed the end time from 9:30pm to 10pm.

SO … Monday, April 12 from 8 to 10pm.

To see the forum live on Zoom, you must register in advance. Go HERE.

Candidates will explain why they are running or seeking re-election. They will discuss their platform and answer questions submitted in advance.

The forum will be moderated by a representative from the League of Women Voters.

1.      The forum will start with a minute-and-a-half opening statement by each candidate.

2.      A question-and-answer period will follow.

3.      If a question is directed to a particular candidate, s/he will have a minute and a half to respond.  The other candidates will have the opportunity to respond, and will have one minute to do so.

4.      Candidates may decline to answer questions.

5.      If a question is directed to all candidates, or if the moderator decides the question should be answered by all candidates, each candidate will have one minute to respond.

6.      Each candidate will have a minute-and-a-half for a closing statement.

7.      The statements and answers will be timed by a League of Women Voters member.

Candidate runs afoul of veterans’ group

NJPen has reported that Mark Rusc, a Board of Commissioners candidate, “faces a cease-and-desist from Disabled American Veterans over his use of its seal.”

Rusc is a disabled veteran and a member of the organization. “However,” writes NJPen publisher Matt Skoufalos, “DAV forbids its membership from explicitly supporting candidates or giving the appearance that the organization supports any candidate.”

Rusc has used the image on his website, lawn signs, and Jeep.

Read the NJPen story HERE.