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Biren Saraiya

Biren Saraiya, Montgomery School Board Candidate
  • Physician, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

  • Current school board member (incumbent)

  • Family: Neha, pediatrician; Aparna, 13

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?

  1. Pandemic and how to provide quality education to our children - this will be an ongoing discussion as the pandemic evolves. Teachers are the experts in teaching, our jobs as BOE is to facilitate the teaching to optimal delivery of the content to each student. This is something that may be different per school (younger children may have a different need than older children).

  2. Pandemic and how it impacts the emotional health of our children - being isolated and confined in past few months have created emotional burden on all including children, parents and teachers/staff. There are many unknowns and each unknown creates fear. How to handle that for all is a challenge. Just like the challenge identified in #1 (education delivery, which is cognitive information), here the challenge is the emotional challenge. We need to listen to the experts in our district to facilitate screening, diagnosis and treatment of common emotional reactions (not being labeled as a disease, rather a natural reaction).

  3. How to address systemic racism in school - As identified by our children on recent BOE calls, we need to address this in an empathic manner. We need a system to allow for perceived offensive comments to be reported and investigated in a timely manner. We need to evaluate look at all aspects of our institutional policies to ensure we try to eliminate systemic biases, whether it is in disciplinary actions, achievements or normal interactions that may constitute micro-aggression.

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

I am a teacher and I teach communication skills to students. I have managed small to medium size cancer centers with budgets.

Q: Why are you running for the board?

I am a parent and I feel that the focus on teaching emotional well being is just as important as the academic rigor.

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?

The current pandemic has identified stress points in the system. It has also identified opportunities. Historically, we have had minimal community participation in BOE meetings. With Zoom, many more community members are joining. Hopefully we can continue the use of technology even after the pandemic.

We have also learned that we have a diverse community with various view points on the spectrum. We would need to use technology in the future to allow for community to engage in constructive conversation amongst the community as well as with BOE. I hope to create a more collaborative environment going forward.

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

This is a nuanced answer. This is about balancing emotional and physical well being of all (kids and teachers). There are two things to keep in mind:

  1. This is going to be dynamic, we need to be nimble I making decisions. So, we need to have parameters for opening and closing schools.

  2. There are no absolutes. This is going to be about understanding and accepting risks.

We know very little about child development in "remote learning" for the K-12 ages. We are learning about the harms of "isolation" and we will continue to learn that as time passes (some may be significant in future).

From March to now, we as NJ have worked hard to bring down the case numbers - initially to save the hospital beds and medical resources; and now to bring back "new normal" life. As of this writing, we have had one case in the past 7 days in Montgomery. With good contact tracing, we can minimize the spread. The question we need to discuss and agree on is - when does one feel comfortable having their children go to school versus being at remote learning.

We also need to determine would we be able to deliver quality education when doing hybrid AND remote or would doing it both ways - cause us to deliver subpar education (for our standards).

Some parameters to consider:

  • Number of new cases in past seven days in Montgomery and surrounding towns.

  • Percentage of infections / test done.


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