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.
l 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 NuckolBall.com.
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.