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Balaji Yegneswaran

Balaji Yegneswaran, Montgomery School Board Candidate
  • Physician, Saint Peter’s University Hospital

  • Family: Janani Mohan, MD, Saint Peter’s University Hospital; Athreya, 9; Varsha, 5.

  • Belle Mead

In His Words:

Q: What do you consider to be the three most important challenges facing the Montgomery School District at this time? Briefly, how would you address these issues?

The three most important challenges the Montgomery school district faces at this time are:

  1. Effect of the COVID pandemic on education and emotional well-being of kids

  2. Increased need for family support due to changing demands in kids’ education

  3. High school graduate's readiness in the era of Informational Technology and job outsourcing.

The COVID pandemic has affected our kids' education, social, and emotional well-being. One size cannot fit all. Some kids thrive well with independent study and in virtual learning but others need a structured environment with teacher’s monitoring. The school district should cohort the kids based on their strengths and weaknesses. To increase the well-being, positive mood, and decrease in mind and body stress, providing educators with training in yoga and mindfulness-based skills should be considered. No one doubts the healing power of art and music especially during the challenging period like having a pandemic. The young minds should have a structured program to learn the art and music even in the online format to help their emotional reactivity and to bring calmness and mindfulness.

Be it a hybrid model or full virtual learning there is a need for increased family support to help our kids' overall development during this academic year. Be it education or sports for our kids to succeed this year the need for parental contribution has augmented. However, the demand from their workplace has not decreased with the increased parental responsibility from the school end. As rightly quoted in many articles, women’s careers could take a long-term hit from the coronavirus pandemic. Women’s careers often take a back seat when duty calls at home. To help parents have a balance with their life and their kids' development the school district should have at least half a day of learning under the supervision of the teacher. This will give parents protected time to focus on their work with the assurance that their kids are spending quality time with their teachers and friends.

As noted from the recent Gallup survey, only 3 percent and 5 percent of Americans say high school graduates are "very prepared" to be successful in college and the workplace, respectively. With the economic turbulence all across the world, the school district should have strategies to develop programs, curriculum, and experiences to increase the readiness of our high school graduates in this era of Informational Technology and job outsourcing. High school students should have opportunities to acquire real work experiences in the form of job shadowing, internships, and entrepreneurship. It will help high school students to better understand financial planning, build social and life skills."

Q: What professional and personal experiences have prepared you for serving on the board?

I come from a family system where academics, art, and music along with sports are given equal importance. Having seen the effect of the Individualized Educational Plan on my close family members improve their life skills has made a great impact on my life. My grandfather was headmaster to a public school in India. My mom is a retired teacher and my father is a scientist. Many of my cousins are teachers of art and music. I am a board-certified physician who takes care of critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit for more than a decade. The word doctor means “to teach”, I am actively involved in the education of the doctors in training. As the physician director of clinical documentation and care coordination overseeing the appropriate utilization of resources used in the hospital and to reduce the waste to provide high-value care by the providers, I understand the financial aspect of the healthcare organization. I’m an elected member of the Medical Executive Committee of Saint Peter’s University Hospital which is the primary governance committee and works based on the input from the medical staff. I am responsible for making key leadership decisions related to medical staff policies, procedures, and rules. I have also published more than 100 abstracts, papers, and research posters.

Since childhood to be a part of the education system has always been my passion. I always use a team-based approach to provide high-quality care to my patients. As a physician, I am trained to listen and to lead a team. I would like to use my training, and my strengths to give back to the community as a board member of education."

Q: Why are you running for the board?

During my service as a volunteer in an emergency room of a busy hospital after my medical school and improving ER throughput, it gave me happiness and satisfaction. Currently, as a critical care physician, I am a front-line worker during the COVID pandemic at my hospital, I have seen people's lives change in front of me. I have always been a leader and worked with a team. Taking care of a very sick patient was never a difficult task for me before but with COVID it made me feel the fear of death when I saw colleagues of mine succumb to COVID. It made me realize what is my real passion. I felt the need for me to volunteer in the School board and give it back to my community to improve the kids of my township. In the current era of fake news and conflicting media information, I would like to use my knowledge and my time to be involved in bringing changes in the policies to improve our kids' education."

Q: The success of Montgomery Schools impacts everyone in Montgomery and Rocky Hill, whether they have a student enrolled in the district, have a home whose value is impacted, or both. What role should the community play in forming policy and monitoring the school district? Is the current structure adequate? If not, what do you propose to improve transparency and community involvement?

I believe the community should be involved in tangible ways, e.g., in decisions on the allocation of school funds and the selection and hiring of school administrators, and the reform/restructuring of schools. The school district should be more transparent and have greater community involvement. We are in an information era where people are very closely connected. Opportunities should be given for all parents to become informed about how the parent involvement program will be designed and carried out. I believe the first step to transparency is to improve the communication of the school board and the community. Communication could be face-to-face communication, the use of technology, and written communication. I am disappointed by the way the school district communicated with the families about school reopening this year. Poor communication like this only leads to increased anxiety and frustration among parents. If elected I would work to improve this communication and provide avenues for better participation by the community."

Q: Should Montgomery offer in-person classes during the pandemic? What about sports? What parameters would you implement?

There has been a rise in multi-system inflammatory syndrome among children with 3 percent of NJ confirmed cases under the age of 18. This is a new disease and the pathogenesis of the disease presentation is so variable. We are learning that adult patients need prolonged recovery time while the data is still premature about children. To offer in-person classes has to be based on data and the incidence of new cases. Every life is precious and the risk and benefit of every activity have to be individualized and cannot be generalized into a yes or no answer. The school district will have to play a proactive approach role with appropriate preparedness, ability to constantly adjust and modify restrictions based on real-time data. As per the CDC recommendation, we can focus more on individual skill building versus competition. Coaches can modify practices so players can focus on individual skills rather than competition.


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