SOMERS POINT — Four candidates vying for the three open seats on the Somers Point Board of Education: incumbents Wes Kazmarck and Staci Endicott; Kazmarck’s wife, Darcy Brown, and Tehron “Tay” Person. Board President Richard Gray chose not to seek re-election.
The Current asked each of the candidates via email or phone interview to provide background information and weigh in on some of the important issues in the community.
Wes Kazmarck, 39, is seeking his second three-year term on the board. He is a graduate of Mainland Regional High School and West Virginia University. He owns four retail stores in Sea Isle City and Ocean City and is president of the Ocean City Boardwalk Merchants Association.
Kazmarck and his wife, Darcy Brown, have two children in the school district. He has been a room dad for six years for both of his children at Jordan Road School.
“What I really consider my most valuable contribution to the board is my ability to relate to people, to listen to various perspectives, and still remain focused on the idea that I am an integral part of a small group of people charged with making transformative decisions for our youth,” he said.
“With every decision and every vote I cast, I revisit that essential question, which is, ‘How will it affect our children? Not my children, but our children.’”
Kazmarck said the most important issue facing the board is families leaving the area and the decline in the student population. He said it is unfortunate that the district has seen four superintendents in his three years on the board.
Dr. Baruffi is a bold superintendent with an excellent reputation, but our time with him will expire, and our district will not reach its full potential until we have a long-term superintendent with a vision. The BOE will need to be certain our next chief school administrator is committed to the families and children of Somers Point. But we also have to remain mindful that our taxpayers stepped up to the plate when they passed the referendum and take extra care to ease their burden wherever we can.”
He said the verdict is still out on redistricting.
“Our enrollment is declining, which alters our needs, and we don't have definitive answers on what the total cost to the district and the city of Somers Point will be for making the switch. We need to carefully consider our options but we can't do that until we open the discussion to city officials.”
He said he will not consider a scenario that includes cutting any member of the current teaching staff or one that will increase class size.
“Our student-to-teacher ratio is a benefit to our district and I will not sacrifice that advantage,” he said.
The school district’s best asset is its diversity, he said.
“It is a small but sweet slice of the real world and more important than any test the students may take.”
Staci DiMattia Endicott, 41, is currently serving a one-year term on the board. She is a behavioral health provider and student assistance coordinator at Egg Harbor Township High School. She graduated from Rutgers University and has a master’s degree in social work from Monmouth University. She is a licensed clinical social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor.
She has three schoolchildren in the district.
Among the assets she brings to the board, Endicott listed 19 years of experience working with children and families as a mental health and drug and alcohol clinician; 13 years working with at-risk children and their families in a school setting; her involvement in the community as founder and chairwoman of Cub Scout Pack 55 of American Legion Post 352), a Girl Scout troop leader, Green Thumb Garden Club member, municipal alliance member in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township; and her experience planning drug and alcohol education and organizing and implementing National Night Out.
She said the district is facing a number of important issues that go hand in hand, and prioritizing needs and developing an action plan that will allow members to work collaboratively to address concerns, identify all of the district’s resources and ensure that all are used wisely for the benefit of students, families and taxpayers is paramount.
“The current Somers Point Board of Education is made up of individuals with a variety of backgrounds, professional expertise and experience, which I see as a considerable strength. It provides us with the potential to accomplish great things. Unfortunately, the interpersonal dynamics are such that it often interferes with productivity, and more importantly, transparency. These are the three things that must be addressed concurrently, and I will continue to advocate for this.”
The teachers and staff are the district’s best assets, she said, noting their genuine concern and commitment, and how well the educational community and the police department work together.
With regard to redistricting, Endicott said the board is awaiting results of a study by Porzio and Associates.
“They will give us data and the best course of action and the best thing to do in terms of our students, our families and the taxpayers. We also want to look at variables like continuity of services and if redistricting could enhance student achievement.”
She voiced concern about the possibility of the two married candidates each having a seat on the board.
She said it is a “legitimate cause for concern for our residents and taxpayers that their interests won't be adequately represented. As a taxpayer, it gives me great pause considering the possibility that two out of a total of nine individuals that are responsible for the determination of a sizable portion of our tax bill go home together … not to mention the potential that exists for other conflicts that may arise.”
Darcy Brown, 39, has a master’s degree in special education and is a special education instructor for the school-to-work transition program at Egg Harbor Township High School, where she is part of the team that plans and schedules the district’s professional development.
She and her husband, Wes Kazmarck, have two children in the Jordan Road School. Brown is active in the Jordan Road School parents group and has been a parent representative on the school district’s committees for Title I, discipline, and district evaluation.
Brown said the skill set or expertise she brings to the board is humility.
“I have 14 years in education, but that does not make me an expert. In fact, I learn something new every day, and often times it comes from a child,” she said.
Her experience has given her the opportunity to successfully teach children with severe behavioral issues, cognitive impairments and learning disabilities and to do so in-district with their peers, she said.
While the people who have decided to serve the public are passionate, the dynamics of any board can be difficult to navigate, Brown said.
“The Somers Point board, in its current state, seems to be at a stalemate,” she said. “The problem is our teachers and children are charged and ready to go. We need to move forward and we need to do so at a rapid pace but we also need to pause and celebrate our accomplishments. It's time to bring solutions to the table. And I believe, if you're not prepared to do so, you should step out of the way.”
The district’s greatest asset is the understanding that maintaining its arts and extracurricular programming is essential to the vitality of the district and students, she said. “I know of no other district, large or small, that provides all the opportunities Somers Point Schools extends to our children. It is really a highlight for our district.”
While redistricting seems simplistic, it is actually quite complicated, she said.
“We have to consider the details carefully. Our only two options for saving the district and taxpayers money would be to cut teachers or shut down a building, like the New York Avenue School. Although I would consider the latter if it were feasible, we can assume the current board is not considering that option given the most recent referendum passed which included plans to make improvements (there). So we're left with reducing staff and I cannot fathom a scenario where we can afford to cut teachers given the state of our schools. We need all hands on deck.”
Tehron “Tay” Person, 39, is part of the business development team at Office Concepts in Egg Harbor Township. He is a graduate of Lehigh University, where he was a member of the football team. He is serving his second term on the Mainland Regional High School Board of Education, which expires Dec. 31.
Person said he brings a unique perspective and skill set to the board. Aside from already serving on the Mainland Board of Education he has been a classroom teacher, a consultant for Scholastic Books and a union representative, which allows him to see issues from more than one angle.
“I can see from the curriculum perspective, the teacher’s side and from the board side. I am a stakeholder and a board member and have experienced education at 360 degrees, and I think I have an objective view,” he said.
He said the biggest challenge the board has is making sure that when the students leave Jordan Road for Mainland or any other high school that they are on the same plane as their peers from other districts.
“We know we have some great teachers that raise the bar for their students and we want to support those teachers and students.”
The district’s greatest asset is the staff, he said.
“We have strong teachers who are committed to their job and their students. We also have a great community here in Somers Point that believes in education.”
He said he is ready to step away from the Mainland school board.
“I decided I could leave Mainland because I would be leaving the board in good hands; Mainland’s trajectory is excellent. But over the last four years there have been a lot of changes in Somers Point,” Person said. “I am vested; I have four daughters, and if elected I would like to be part of the team to steady the ship.”
Person said he does not have enough information to make an educated opinion or choice on redistricting, but he is willing to take a look at it.
“As a board, we must take all things into consideration. Our overarching goal should always be our students, our schools, our community and our stakeholders.”