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Meet the Montgomery School Board Candidates

By Barbara A. Preston l August 30, 2021


Four candidates are running — unopposed — for four seats on the Montgomery Board of Education in the November 2 election. Read their profiles here.

From left: Martin “Marty” R. Carlson, Maria Spina, Richard Specht, and Patrick Todd.

The school board is made up of nine seats. Elected members usually serve three-year terms. The board’s responsibilities include: setting and evaluating policy; establishing goals; overseeing that the district schools are well run by the administrators they have hired; and adopting a fiscally sound operating budget for the school district. Board members act on the superintendent’s recommendations, meet with civic groups, and receive input from parents, students, and community members.”


The following board members’ terms will expire in December: Michael J. Morack Jr. of Montgomery; Antoine Yver of Rocky Hill; and incumbents Richard Specht and Patrick Todd.


MARTIN "MARTY" CARLSON

Skillman / 3-year term

School board candidate Marty Carlson, right, with his wife, Ping, and their daughters Lynae and Rita.

Work: Verizon Wireless, Network Security.

Education: University of Minnesota, BS, chemistry; Centenary University, MBA; University of Maryland, MS in cybersecurity.

Important issues: Montgomery is a first-class district. Nevertheless, it has not been immune to the divisiveness, diversity issues, and critical shortages of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) capabilities seen in the rest of the US. To meet these demands in an open and extremely competitive world, our children will need to work with each other’s differences.

Qualifications: I have two children. I have seen benefit from the Montgomery school district, both in academia and sports. I have worked in technology my entire career. And, I appreciate the joy of learning and how it can benefit one over a lifetime.

Why running for office: We who have much too often sit comfortably by while others heed the call to public service.

Community involvement: I expect students to be good stewards of their community. They participate in volunteer organizations, bag groceries at local stores, sell Girl Scout cookies, build Eagle projects, work through religious organizations, etc. I support these kinds of activities, and the district should nurture them.

COVID-19 and school: Children learn best in person. Parents know what’s best for their children. Hybrid learning should be offered optionally for the coming school year. I would like in-person learning— with families in charge of the timing. Families and staff who are comfortable without masks should be allowed such. The school needs staff who are willing/able to accommodate the parents’ and students’ needs. Families are the school district, and I value their views.


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MARIA SPINA

Rocky Hill / 3-year-term

Maria Spina

Work: Math specialist, New Brunswick Public Schools.

Education: Nova Southeastern University, BS in psychology; Georgian Court University, MS in education; Harvard, Ed.M. in school leadership.

Important issues: The return to full-time, in-person learning. The pandemic response of hybrid and virtual instruction was a swift and necessary pivot last year. As our students return to in-person learning, they will have had varied experiences academically, emotionally, and socially. Our teachers, counselors, and staff will do their best to meet the needs of every student. We should provide professional development on how to best support students and each other during re-entry, how to fill gaps caused by pandemic schooling, and ensure the learning loss inevitably experienced by each student will not negatively impact their ability. Diversity, equity, and inclusion. We need to do more in: Cultural responsiveness training for staff and students; Recruitment, support, and retention of teachers who identify as a person of color.


Qualifications: As an educator for 17 years, I know about curriculum development, instructional methodology, school law, and contract negotiations. I will support administrators, teachers, and parents. I will listen, seek varied viewpoints, and apply my professional and parental lenses to every aspect of this role.

Why running for office: I am a “champion for students. ”With three children in the district, I am, as the saying goes, in the thick of it. I have always been on the side of students, and encourage older students to learn to advocate for themselves.

School and the community: It are important to keep our community informed so they can speak positively about our schools to people outside of our community. We should always look for ways to improve transparency and community involvement.

COVID-19 and school: Some school districts chose to return students to classrooms full time last September. These schools followed strict guidance from federal, state, and local health departments and did not have a significant increase in cases among students and teachers. That said, it is important to keep our children healthy and safe. Our scientific and medical communities have the expertise. We should follow their recommendations. Everyone should be masked indoors in public spaces regardless of variants and vaccination status.


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RICHARD SPECHT (Incumbent)

Belle Mead / 1-year term

Richard Specht

Work: IT consultant (retired).

Education: Washington Univ. BS in computer science.

Important issues: We must focus on the academic, social, and emotional impacts from the pandemic. Our administration and staff have done an exceptional job. We must take the lessons we learned to provide the best educational experience for our children. Second, we should continue the district’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Through the community forum held last summer and the recently completed Cultural Diversity Audit, we know we can do better. We must incorporate the outstanding work our staff has begun into our curriculum. Finally, we must focus on the future. We’ve had significant turnover on the Montgomery School Board in recent years. It’s vital we develop a cohesive, productive, and positive relationship within the board, and with the superintendent and staff.


Qualifications: I am a 35-year Montgomery resident and have two daughters who graduated from MTSD. I served two terms on the school board, including as president in 2005- 06, and was appointed to the board last fall to fill a vacancy. My technical and analytical experience along with my ability to work with diverse teams to solve problems are important and needed skills on the board.

Why running for office: When I retired last year, I was looking for a way to volunteer and use my experience to help our community. I am running to continue my service.

School and the community: It is critical for the community to support the district. Board members have an important role to play, representing the community to the school administration. We should add more opportunities for the community to be involved, such as when we update our strategic plan. We have had community forums with the superintendent and the board. We will enhance our communications to be more proactive and to use social media.

COVID-19 and school: I agree with the plans outlined by the superintendent’s for full-day in-person instruction. Based upon the governor’s executive order and the state and local health departments, and our school physician, masks will be required in the schools. Masks also will be used for sports, except when students are actively participating. The district will continue to monitor local conditions and make adjustments as conditions change.


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PATRICK TODD (Incumbent)

Montgomery Township / 3-year term

Patrick Todd

Work: Associate director, test security, The College Board.

Education: Hampton Univ., BS, Business Management.

Important issues: The learning loss caused by the pandemic; Improving communications; Improving transparency. The past 18 plus months have had a devastating impact on our children and their learning. While the teachers did an excellent job in pivoting to virtual learning, there has been, without question, a learning loss. The district must implement strategies to address those gaps. Improving communication with the community goes hand-in-hand with the school board being more transparent in its actions and decisions. This can be done by ensuring our communications are timely, and the district website is updated often. Our communications must be clear and address all questions from the community.


Qualifications: I spent 25 years in law enforcement, where I learned how to negotiate with people from all walks of life. I also understand how decisions can have long-lasting effects on individuals. I also have served on the boards of two home owner associations, including a term as president. While interacting with homeowners and listening to their concerns, I learned to act with empathy while making decisions that impacted the entire community. I am in the midst of my first year on the school board, and there is still lots to learn. I continue to receive training to be a better board member. I have participated on several committees, and proved to be a valuable asset in negotiating a fair contract for our bus drivers and dispatchers.

Why running for office: I am running for a full 3-year term to provide continuity to the board. There has been turnover in the last few years and the community, staff, and students deserve better. A board that is consistent and works together will improve the district.

School and the community: The school board must improve its outreach to community members to obtain their input in order to make better informed decisions.

COVID-19 and school: Per the governor, we will be returning to in-person classes in September. At this time, I fully support this decision. The pandemic has shown us that we need to be flexible. Masks should be worn by all students, staff, and administrators to begin the start of the school year and the policy should be reviewed continuously. We should continue with our sports programs as long as we can continue to do them safely and responsibility. However, we must be clear to athletes and parents that programs could change depending on how the pandemic shifts. The health and safety of the students will drive those decisions.




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