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Phyllis Bursh — 2022 Candidate for the Montgomery Township School Board

Posted September 7, 2022


Two incumbents and eight new candidates will be competing for the three seats on the Montgomery Township Board of Education in the upcoming November 8 election.


New candidates Mohammed Fahd Ansari of Belle Mead; Michelle Dowling of Skillman; Danish Mirza of Belle Mead; Joanna Filak of Skillman; Ania Wolecka-Jernigan of Belle Mead; Douglas Herring of Skillman; Craig Rothenberg of Belle Mead; and John A. Sangiovanni, III of Skillman, along with incumbents Phyllis Bursh of Belle Mead and Richard Specht of Belle Mead, each filed to run for three-year terms with the Somerset County Clerk’s Office.

Phyllis Bursh - Incumbent, Belle Mead


Career:

Volunteer, school board member, attorney, education advocate, and stay-at-home mom.


Family:

Daughter Riley, 23, went through Montgomery schools K-12, MHS Class of 2018.


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?

Answer:

Students, teachers, and staff have suffered from many issues due to COVID-19, both in and outside of school. Students have not all returned to the projected learning levels. More teachers have resigned or retired in the last year due to the high stress. We need to use the state and federal funds for COVID-related needs more effectively.


We must strive for high standards in our curriculum and classrooms for both teachers and students. This includes quality teaching for all students, not just the top or bottom. This means we must train or retrain our teachers on best teaching practices through professional development.


The constant challenge in this district is maintaining a quality curriculum and teachers on a limited budget stretched by new state or federal mandates without financial relief.


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

Answer:

As a K-12 advocate for FairTest, the alternative SAT organization, I worked with teachers, schools, education experts, teacher’s unions, school boards and politicians to improve assessments and teaching. I also have some experience working on race and diversity issues on the college and university level. I volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for foster children.


For the past six years, I have been a school board member. During that time, I was president and vice president, have had experience on all board committees and have represented the board in many school, local, and state organizations. I have attended hundreds of hours of training on school board issues.


Why are you running for the Board?

Answer:

I believe I can contribute more. My experience on the board allows me to work more efficiently. Since I have more historical knowledge than any other board member, I can address the most effective ways to change.


Some concerns are: Children sit on the bus for up to 20 minutes after they arrive at school; Ensuring every student is learning at a high level; Implementing better assessments for students; Improving students’ opportunities for college acceptance and scholarships; and reevaluating our discipline system.


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

Answer:

The board needs to find a better way to respond to those who write to the board or speak at meetings. The board also needs to adequately inform the public on issues to be voted on at board meetings in enough time to allow the public to contribute in an effective manner.


The public learns of a vote the Friday before a Tuesday board meeting and can only comment on the issue immediately before the board votes. Most board members have made up their minds prior to board meetings. It is extremely rare for the public to have any impact on any issue voted on at a school board meeting.


Where do you stand on the new Health Curriculum Standards?

Answer:

The curriculum will be created by thoughtful administrators and teachers who will provide information appropriate for each grade level. For example, by second grade, students will learn that most animals have babies. By high school, students will learn about the developmental process of a child during the time in utero. The state of New Jersey allows parents to “opt out” of sex ed classes if they do not want their children to learn the material.


Most of the “debate” material presented is untrue and a scare tactic provided by political groups. Sadly, the anger shown at meetings is focused on “fear” of difference and the unfamiliar. The outrage is not limited to sex ed but includes the new required inclusive curriculum on race, religion, and LGBTQIA material. Responsible parents will always need to supplement public education with informing their children on their values. ■


* Opinions expressed here are my own (not the school board’s.)

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