“Leadership That Listens” slate runs for Hoboken school board

The slate is led by incumbent Trustee Alex de la Torre, the only person running for reelection this year

Antonio Grana, Leslie Norwood and Trustee Alex de la Torre are running under the "Leadership That Listens" slate. Photo by Mark Koosau.

On the other side of this year’s crowded and now heated Hoboken Board of Education election is the “Leadership That Listens” slate, led by the only incumbent running for reelection this year.

In the wake of January’s failed high school referendum, incumbent Trustee Alex de la Torre is leading the slate along with a Zoning Board member and a member of an education non-profit for the three seats on the board, with two of them open.

Trustee de la Torre, Leslie Norwood and Antonio Grana spoke to the Hudson Reporter about what they plan to bring to the school board if they get elected in November.

Meet the candidates

Trustee Alex de la Torre is seeking his second full term in office for the Board of Education, originally being appointed in 2018 before being elected to his first full term in 2019. He was also endorsed by Mayor Ravi Bhalla in 2019.

“It boils down to being part of the progress,” he said when asked on why he was running for reelection. “I believe it’s paramount that there is a board of trustees that not only takes into account the children, first and foremost, but all members of the community.”

Leslie Norwood is a board member of the Hoboken Public Education Foundation, a non-profit that raises private money for public schools, and is running for the first time for public office.

Trustee Alex de la Torre is the only incumbent running for reelection this year. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“I’m running for [the] school board this year because I think the district has had an incredible amount of progress in the past eight years,” she said. “I’m committed to continuing that progress.”

Antonio Grana is a member of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, who’s running for public office for the first time. He said that he wants to be committed to Hoboken when asked why he was running for office.

“My commitment to the district comes from an expression that we call ‘leaning into the community’,” he said. “So when we’ve had children in our district, now up through elementary, middle and high school, and we’ve seen tremendous growth in our district, I want to be part of the trend and see that continue.”

Their top priorities

For their top priorities if they get elected, de la Torre said he would focus on student outcome, saying that they “definitely have the right leadership, the right teachers to get that improvement done,” as well as school facilities which he says “keep him up at night.”

“When you have your enrollment increasing, and there is a demand for kids to go here, what are we going to do?” he said. “Where are we going to put them? Where are we going to put them so that they have the experiences like every other kid in New Jersey?”

Norwood said that she would also focus on academic outcomes, saying that the district has “done a phenomenal job” with AP scores and STEM education, as well as looking into facilities.

“Even with those successes, the board and the district continue to lean into those areas with the Albert platform being released for AP students to help them study, as well as a variety of STEM projects, including the Riverkeeper project, which is new this year,” she said.

Grana said that his concern was where children “are actually going to sit in the future, and where they’re going to have the facilities to participate in the programs that the state and the district want our kids to participate in.”

“We need to have a broader conversation with the community about how we’re going to address supply and demand,” he said. “The demand for our public schools has risen significantly. We have to figure out the supply equation so that we know where our kids are going to sit and where they’re going to participate in all these programs.”

A pro-high school referendum group

The whole group was supportive of the now-failed referendum to build a $241 million high school, whether via their actions or their votes.

Trustee de la Torre said the reason he supported the referendum was because the proposed high school should’ve been viewed as a long term facility, saying the new high school would’ve opened up room for a fourth elementary school with the rearrangement of the current school buildings.

“That would have provided them with facilities more appropriate for the learning nowadays in this century,” he said. “Obviously, the high school kids would have been in a new facility with more labs, a library, all of the amenities needed for 21st century education, whether you’re going on to higher learning or vocational trade.”

Norwood said that she voted in favor of the referendum in January because she felt that the city had decades of “deferred” maintenance and investment in its facilities. “As an infrastructure expert, I feel that it is important to ensure that our capital facilities are safe and appropriate for our student population,” she said.

Leslie Norwood is a member of the Hoboken Public Education Foundation and a first time candidate. Photo by Mark Koosau.

She added however that she felt “frustrated” by the lack of community engagement before the referendum was announced, which was a criticism of the referendum overall.

“The short time period before the referendum, and the lack of transparency, I think that the board can do a better job with all three of those,” she said. “As a public finance attorney, I look forward to participating in the process, if elected, with the community and the board for a joint process for a community process.”

Grana had chaired a group called the Friends of the New Hoboken High School that had raised money in support of the referendum. When asked why he chaired the group, Grana said that land use decisions are “very sensitive topics” and that the investment was targeted to hit before the market made bonds more expensive.

“This is probably the lowest price we could have gotten with building such a facility,” he said. “Any delay, and we can now see what the interest rates means; that now we’re talking about a different price tag. We’ll have to have that conversation with the community as well. But it’s a balancing act, and that balancing act is why you need leadership on this board.”

Response to any future facility plans

When asked if there are currently any plans for another high school referendum, de la Torre said there aren’t, “full stop,” and that there aren’t any plans to put anything to the community.

Addressing what he would do differently in case another school facility plan comes up, de la Torre said that it would be about community engagement. “It’s not just our parents, right?,” he said. “Although it’s paramount for them, we want to make sure we hear from everybody”

“Every constituent has a voice, they spoke loud and clear last January, and I think it begins and ends with that, ensuring that we open our ears, and make sure that we listen to everybody, their ideas and also ensure that we provide as much information as possible,” he continued.

Norwood said that the district needs to improve on utilizing existing facilities and their conditions, as well as the changes in enrollment. She also said that community engagement is “critical for moving forward with any potential plans for capital facilities, whether they be for renovation or any new building.”

Grana said on top of community engagement that they need to have broader discussions about “what the value is, and allowing people to have input on where they see some of those priorities.”

Leading up to November

Asked whether they supported or opposed what national Republicans and conservatives are doing to education in regards to what’s taught about race, gender and LGBT issues, all three said that they opposed those kinds of efforts.

“I also believe that as a school board, we should not be including national politics,” said de la Torre. “I do not support the banning of topics in school.”

Antonio Grana is a member of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and is also a first time candidate. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“Restriction of honest debate, honest awareness, the ability to consume material that helps create critical thinking, my response to [Republican Gov. Ron] DeSantis [of Florida], or whoever is: ‘When did we become so afraid to teach our children critical thinking, and to teach them about differences, which they see around them in the world every year?’” said Grana.

Their answers to national issues came before a campaign flyer was sent by their slate attacking the “Kids First” slate for having ties to Republican and conservative issues.

All three also said that they have no plans to use the Board of Education as a platform for higher office.

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.