A new superintendent, support for faculty and students, and COVID-19 recovery are key for the ‘For the Children’ slate

The candidates are Kelli Conroy D’Addetta, Alexander de Hombre, and Christina DeBari

Running in the Tuesday, November 8 election for the Secaucus Board of Education is the “For the Children” slate. Kelli Conroy D’Addetta, Alexander de Hombre, and Christina DeBari are seeking the three opens seats left by outgoing Board President Jack McStowe, Trustee Kathy O’Connell, and Trustee Jayesh Patel who opted not to seek re-election.

In an interview with the Hudson Reporter, each member of the “For the Children” ticket explained why they were running, described their platform, and answered other pertinent questions. D’Addetta are on the ballot at 1I, 2I, and 3I, respectively.

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Kelli Conroy D’Addetta

D’Addetta was raised and educated in Secaucus and lived here for 46 years. She is married to her husband, a police officer, with three kids. D’Addetta worked as a financial analyst and business owner before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She also is extensively involved in the school district.

D’Addetta was approached to run for the school board in 2012 and won. She ran again, but did not win. In 2021, she was the fourth highest vote getter behind the “Change We Need” slate. She is running again, with a 13-year-old daughter in the eighth grade at Secaucus Middle School.

Alexander de Hombre

A 19 year resident, de Hombre has been married for almost two decades and has two kids. Currently a senior pharmacy technician at Hackensack Meridian Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, de Hombre is also a small business owner.

He is an active volunteer with the Clarendon Parent Teacher Association, an active youth sports coach for basketball and baseball, a member and officer of the Secaucus Knights of Columbus, and a Den Leader for Cub Scout Pack 87.

Christina DeBari

DeBari was born, raised and educated in Secaucus for 46 years. She is married to her husband for 17 years, with two children. DeBari is a cytology lab supervisor at Holy Name Medical Center. A healthcare hero during the COVID-19 pandemic, she has endured a 25-year career in her field utilizing “management, communication, critical thinking, policy writing, and budgeting skills.”

DeBari was the president of the Secaucus Middle School Parent Teacher Organization in the past for two years, and is currently a Secaucus High School Parent Teacher Association board member. She is also a volunteer soccer and basketball coach for over 12 years, a volunteer at Secaucus Distribution Center, a volunteer in Milo, Haiti to develop a hospital cytology laboratory and maintain its functions.

Kelli Conroy D’Addetta

‘For the Children’

During the pandemic, DeBari focused a lot on the social wellness of and activities for students to get back into doing things socially as they returned to the classrooms from virtual and hybrid learning. Now she wants to further assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the district.

“I want to see where we are at academically with the kids and what we’ve lost from the pandemic, because I don’t think anybody came out of this in a better place,” DeBari said. “There’s a lot of post-pandemic affects and I want to bring us up to par. We really need to listen to our teachers and make them feel appreciated and heard.”

D’Addetta agreed with DeBari, adding she wants to improve the quality of school lunch food. She also wants to look at the teachers contract to keep teachers from finding jobs elsewhere.

“I really think that the teachers contract needs to be revisited,” D’Addetta said.

D’Addetta would also like to see more unity on the board. Lack of respect that is a major issue for her, in addition to the search for a new superintendent.

“People are not going to want to come to a district where there is turmoil between the board,’ D’Addetta said.

Communication and clarity on the school board are key for de Hombre.

“We had a rough go with the pandemic,” de Hombre said. “I saw a lot of browbeating on our teachers. I feel like we let them down. They’re the ones that are providing education to our kids and I feel like we need to be there for them.”

Searching for the right superintendent for Secaucus

Secaucus is searching for a new superintendent of schools after replacing former Superintendent Jennifer Montesano with Acting Superintendent Daniela Riser. The search for a new permanent superintendent has become a talking point in this election.

D’Addetta remembers when she went to school and there was only one superintendent, Constantino “Gus” Scerbo, who held the position and understood the towns values.

“He was here the whole time that we were students,” D’Addetta said. “I think it’s important for the person to understand the small town values that we have here.”

DeBari added that the new superintendent needs to listen to teachers in the district. For de Hombre, his top quality in a superintendent was similar to DeBari’s, to listen and support teachers and students.

“They have to be an advocate for our teachers and for the children as well. I think it just kind of flows,” de Hombre said. “If you’re an advocate for our teachers and help them and give them what they need, that will in turn flow to our children and get them to succeed.”

According to de Hombre, the district has improved on advocating and supporting teachers but he wants to build on that.

Alexander de Hombre

New school needed in the district?

All three candidates stressed the need for a new school in the face of overcrowded classrooms and population growth in town.

DeBari raised the possibility of expanding the Clarendon Elementary school building to provide more classrooms. D’Addetta agreed that was a possibility that had been discussed as far back as when she was on the board.

D’Addetta said there was talk of acquiring Immaculate Conception School from the church in town, but there was a cost issue when it came to asbestos. de Hombre also favors of looking into acquiring property for a new school.

Sex education in health curriculum

On hot topic among voters in the Secaucus school district is new sex education standards by the state implemented into local curriculum. The district currently has an opt out policy. DeBari thinks it should be opt in.

“I’m hearing from the majority of parents that the grammar school level is too early to start that type of education in that category.” D’Addetta said. “I’m happy that parents have the choice to opt out.”

D’Addetta said she had read up on the subject and realized it had been debated since the ’80s. She said it’s a very sticky subject, but needs to be done right.

“The state requires that this is something that has to be implemented into the curriculum,” D’Addetta said. “It has to be done, but I don’t think that should be forced upon anybody.”

“From my perspective, at the grammar school level, I think that it’s too early to start this kind of education,” de Hombre said.

Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic

Another important issue to tackle by the “For the Children” slate is the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. DeBari emphasized the need to assess the the state of students in the district following the public health emergency.

“We need to step back and look into our curriculum where we’re focusing on some things that we’re missing,” DeBari said.

D’Addetta added again that it was hard to answer some questions like that as parents. She said she was running to increase communication between the community and the board.

“We maybe need to do some more in person meetings with the parents where the director of curriculum speaks with them about what’s going on and keeps them updated about how the district is handling that and the time lost and how we’re going to catch up.”

To understand why students are leaving the district, D’Addetta suggested an exit interview with students and parents and the Guidance Department.

“The trend is that a lot of these, especially the higher learning children, are leaving the district and I think we need to find out why and what we can do to keep these kids here rather than have them go,” D’Addetta said.

de Hombre thinks the district’s response to the pandemic was great considering the lack of precedent, and it has prepared them for emergency scenarios in the future.

“This allowed us to be prepared and put us in a position where we learned from this,” de Hombre said. He added now is the time to focus on COVID-19 recovery. He said the slate wants to follow up on the student learning gap, promoting and programs aimed to bridge that divide.

Christina DeBari

Endorsement by outgoing board members 

Outgoing trustees McStowe, O’Connell, and Patel decided to endorse “For the Children” in this election. The slate was happy to get their backing.

However, D’Addetta noted there had been some backlash on social media over the endorsement. She said some people weren’t happy to see members they wanted off the board endorse a ticket that may replace them.

Regardless, D’Addetta praised McStowe and O’Connell for the work they have done, having previously served on the board with them. She said that just because they endorsed them, does not mean the “For the Children” slate shares their exact opinions, with each candidate holding their own views.

“We feel that we are all in line with each other in terms of we care about the kids,” D’Addetta said. “We care about the district. But that doesn’t mean that if the three of us get elected, that if presented with something, we’re going to vote the same way.”

On the campaign trail 

The “For the Children” slate has been hot on the campaign trail. From the Diwali Festival to concerts in the park, and events at the pool, the slate has also been knocking on doors searching for support.

While things are winding down as Tuesday, November 8 approaches, the slate is still answering questions on social media and can be approached or in person. They will also be at the Junior State of America candidate forum at the Secaucus High School Performing Arts Center at 11 Millridge Road on Tuesday, November 1.

Running against “For the Children,” Secaucus school board candidates Monica Berckes and Nicholas Mattiello are seeking for two of the three open seats on the Board of Education. Under the “Keep Moving Forward” ticket, they are running on a platform of consistency and transparency, hoping to be the voices of dissatisfied parents in the district looking for a change in the status quo.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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