Four candidates vie for 3 seats on Sparta BOE

An incumbent, 3 newcomers, including 18-year-old

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  • Kylen Anderson

  • Joann Hoover

  • Jared Chiariello

18-year-old student seeks BOE seat

By Patricia Morris
— Jared Chiariello, a Sparta High School senior who is running for a seat on the Board of Education says that the Board of Education is somewhat disconnected from the schools; it's not there every day.
He is.
“I don’t plan on being the voice of students specifically,” said the 18-year-old. “I want to [also] be the voice of teachers, administrators and staff of the schools.
“I’m trying to be more connected to everyone in all the schools, not just Sparta High. I want to be part of it [the Board of Education], and if you’re part of it you can criticize it, get everyone’s voice heard.”
In addition, he says, as a Board member he would “still want to do what’s best for the people in town; not just throw money. You have to be realistic.”
Chiariello is co-captain of his school’s debate club and a member of Model UN, but now wants to enter the public arena in real life, and he’s serious about claiming a seat on the Board. He says he sees the school system as an important element in the township’s civic life—“I love seeing all the people come to the games,” for example — and that “the Board has done a good job,” but he sees room for improvement as well, and that’s where his perspective as a student comes in.
Chiariello is highly critical of what he says was a decision to cut teachers’ salaries as well as music, arts and after-school programs in order to pay for the $1 million “1::1 technology initiative,” which was furnishing every student, even first graders, with individual Chromebooks (laptops that run on Google and get their programs largely from the Internet).
“The Chromebooks run only Google Chrome,” said Chiariello; you cannot run other software on them.” Thus, unlike, for example, sophisticated equipment in the computer labs, they can’t be used for design or other special-use software.
“I don’t see a need for these laptops,” he said, noting that one student couldn’t even complete the registration for it because his home doesn’t have Wi-Fi.
“The district has compensated for the loss of experienced teachers with impersonal devices. I have witnessed classes moving at a slower pace due to computer glitches, projector issues, internet access failure, online login issues.”
“As a student I can tell you it’s not really improving classes,” he said. For one thing, “You can take notes on Chromebook, but people aren’t always taking notes.” They can, for example, easily overcome the system’s “guardian” to surf the Net and play games, something teachers can’t constantly police. He says that group projects are now done by individual students connecting online, so that there is no face to face or real collaboration, just individuals doing their own bit by themselves.”
“I think [the 1:1 initiative] was more of a pride thing than an educational thing,” he says. “There’s a certain kind of glory behind the word ‘new,” but ‘new’ doesn’t mean ‘better.’ And it’s not better to replace a proven good with a risk—[in this case] an expensive risk.”
Chiariello is also dismayed by hearing that many of the district’s teachers complain of being underpaid, and that some are leaving for better salaries at other school systems.
“I don’t think our teachers should be leaving,” he said. “Teaching in Sparta is something teachers should be proud of; teachers should want to come here.
“Sparta is a wealthy town, especially for the area. Sparta High is a very good school and the Board of Education has done a good job, but it’s sad to see our teachers leaving.”

By Patricia Morris

— Four candidates will be on the ballot Nov. 7 to fill three open seats on the Board of Education. Jared Chiariello, an 18-year-old senior at Sparta High School, is the youngest to enter the race (see sidebar).

Kylen Anderson, who is finishing a three-year-term, her first on the board, is running for reelection. Joanne Hoover and Jason (Jay) Ventresca are also seeking seats on the board.

Anderson, who holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC at Chapel Hill, has lived in Sparta since 1999. She was elected to the board in 2015 and has been chair of its ad-hoc committee to upgrade athletic facilities and has served on the Finance and Operations, and the Personnel committees and the committee to interview and choose a new district superintendent. Her two daughters graduated from Sparta High School and her late son also attended the public schools.

Anderson says she is running again “for many of the reasons I ran in 2014: I believe strongly that public education is the cornerstone of a strong community.” She also thinks continuity on the board helps it meet goals.

A hallmark of her candidacy is reconciling excellence in education with fiscal conservancy: She says she has worked hard in concert with the administration to stay within the districts 2 percent budget cap, while implementing a full-day kindergarten, expanded robotics program and “1:1 technology initiative” (i.e., furnishing all students with Chromebooks), largely by using funds saved from existing budgets.

A long career in education, says first-time candidate Joann Hoover, has equipped her to work with a broad range of students, parents, faculty, staff and administrators in the education system.

Hoover has taught health and physical education at Lenape Valley High School for 15 years; she has coached varsity field hockey there for 14 years and varsity softball for 10. Before that she taught at Randolph Elementary. She played Division 2 basketball at Lockhaven University, her alma mater, and earned a master’s degree in teaching from Marygrove, an online university. She grew up in Netcong and lived in Byram until her move to Sparta three years ago; she knows the area well. Her children attend Sparta Middle and Helen Morgan Schools, and she’s served those schools as well as those she worked for in a variety of volunteer positions as well as formerly working and coaching with Dr. Michael Rossi, now district superintendent.

“I never wanted to be an administrator,” says Hoover, “but I always wanted a challenge,” so when this became available, she jumped at it.

Health teachers, she says, “teach everybody in the system,” and one of her greatest strengths is the ability to work with every single learner, no matter how or how quickly they learn: “We are trained to use so many learning styles to find a way to reach, challenge and motivate every single student.” Coupled with a coach’s experience in organizing, planning and running programs, she plans to use those skills on the board level: The goal for the district, she says, is “to individually assess every single child so they can have success inside the classroom.” While on the board she would encourage the district to keep up with STEM challenges, and a major issue she hopes to address on the board is transportation: “Bussing is an issue,” she says,” and the district needs to “find a better way to manage bussing so that kids aren’t sitting on the bus for an hour.” Being a single mother, she says, has also shown her that the current bussing system can be hard on parents as well.

Jay Ventresca started working with children as a teenager, at first to impress his high school sweetheart, Nicole, who was volunteering with children at church. She is now his wife and he now has made children his career — he owns and operates three First Impressions Day Care Centers: in Newton, Lake Hopatcong and Stanhope — and his avocation, as he is known around town as “Coach Jay” by young soccer, baseball and basketball players.

Ventresca attended Oneonta State University, part of the SUNY system, on an athletic scholarship. He started studying journalism, but then came the “Aha” moment when he realized he really liked kids. He changed his major and worked in the school’s daycare before- and after-school programs, later running such programs in local public schools while pursuing a master’s degree at night. He earned a master’s of education degree in reading.

Nicole Ventresca volunteers in several programs that involve youths, and the couple’s three children attend Sparta Public Schools.

As a member of the board, Jay Ventresca sees no need for major changes: “I am super pleased with the Sparta district, and I really want to see more of the same,” he says. “My three kids are thriving, doing well; I can only speak from my own experience but the teachers our paths’ have crossed are phenomenal.”

As a board member, he says, he would “like to let common sense prevail.”

When it comes to financing education, he says, “I understand the people who are against school taxes, but it’s almost ‘you get what you pay for.’ If you want a great education, there’s a premium for that.

“I’m an advocate for kids, for all individuals, to create avenues for them. It costs to have these programs in place.”

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