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Franklin Lakes BOE Candidate: Margaret Bennett

Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch recently spoke with several of the candidates for the Franklin Lakes Board of Education. Here's our Q&A with incumbent, mom and positive participator Margaret Bennett.

Margaret Bennett is running for re-election to the Franklin Lakes Board of Education. She and her husband, Steven Jones, have lived in Franklin Lakes for 9 years.

They have four children ages 7, 9, 9 and 13.

Bennett received a bachelor's and master's degree from San Francisco State University. Professionally, Bennett spent 15 years developing financial research and industry-specific research teams. Most recently she managed a research group for a mid-sized brokerage firm where she helped develop a widely-used successful financial research product. She has also been a writer and editor.

Bennett has been a Franklin Lakes Board of Education trustee since 2009. She is chair of the board’s curriculum committee and serves on the board’s legislative, operations and community relations committees.

She is the Board’s representative at Colonial Road School and Franklin Avenue Middle School. She has served on numerous district-wide committees including administrator search committees and most recently the Efficiency Study Committee. She is an active member of the PTA at Woodside Avenue School and Franklin Avenue Middle School.

Bennett is a founding board member of the N.J. Coalition for World Class Math, a state-wide organization that provides research on state curriculum standards. She is a member of Families with Children From China and has worked with organizations that provide medical assistance to children in Asia. Bennett is a member of the Franklin Lakes Newcomers Club, a RYSA Wildcats volunteer and a member of the Valley Hospital Auxiliary.


What is your profession?

My background is in financial research. I developed financial research products and industry-specific research teams in a model that used a journalistic unbiased approach to gathering information for analysts outside of company-generated financials. I have managed a research group for a mid-sized brokerage firm where I helped develop a widely-used successful financial research product. These skills have helped me tremendously at a Board Trustee. A good board member is impartial. My research background based skills has helped make me a good fit for weighing the pros and cons of the issues that come before the Board. Also, I advocate for research-based curriculum and believe that while the board does not, and should not, participate in curriculum revisions it does need to ensure that all curriculum is supported with sufficient research.

Why do you believe you're a good fit for the Board of Education?

I have been a Board of Education trustee since 2009. My record on the board is one of an open-minded independent voice, not connected to a special interest or any specific agenda. I am an advocate for accountability. As trustee I have been a voice for strong accountability at the top which I have seen ripple through the organization resulting in a stronger classroom experience and more efficient use of resources. When I came on the board in 2009 I felt the core curriculum was lacking fundamentals especially in math and language arts. Holding the superintendent accountable through clearly defined and respectfully communicated goals has resulted in great strides in achieving noticeable improvements in math and starting this September in Language Arts. I also supported many fiscally sound decisions such as being ahead of the state in requiring health care contributions for our administrators and introducing merit components to some contracts. I will continue to support accountability and fiscal mindfulness especially given the current environment of a difficult economy and a 2 percent tax cap. Taxes for the K-8 budget were relatively flat this year and this Board will return an estimated $630,000 to the taxpayer. I want our district to stay on the path of this positive direction with board members who have demonstrated a motivation for progress through respectful participation and a willingness to think creatively about using district resources and finances. My record shows that I am that kind of board trustee. I focus on specific goals that will have direct and meaningful impact. I would like to continue this work and be a voice for growing STEM-based (Science Technology Engineering Math) curricula into our core subjects.

If you could commend the current board on one thing they've recently done, what would it be?

The board has done a great job of being ahead of the curve on reforms — both fiscal and academic. We introduced health care contributions before the state and are one of the only districts whose administrators contribute above the amount mandated by the state. We introduced merit components and have tied this to achieving accountability for specific goals. During a protracted teacher contract negotiations the board achieved many gains for the district such as moving health coverage from the private plan to the state saving the district $50,000 per month.

I am proud of the many curriculum achievements during my tenure on the board which are paralleled to more efficient spending and out-of-the box fiscal initiatives. The result has been achieving gains and progress – results – while not increasing the tax burden. Taxes were almost flat – up 0.07 percent - in 2012 and within that budget we accomplished a great deal. We have become a trendsetter for curriculum development which has benefited our children academically and our district through garnering add-on resources from vendors for being the first out of the gate on these initiatives. Our model status has opened a pandora’s box of opportunities that I want to continue to explore.

If you could criticize the current board for one thing they've recently done — or haven't done — what would it be?

As a trustee and member of the Community Relations Committee I know firsthand it is often difficult to get the message out in an effective manner. Parents and residents are busy and board meetings are lightly attended. E-blasts have been effective but often go unread. I would like to explore other options such as shorter updates which can be easily read on handheld devices. Recently recorded curriculum presentations have been made available on the district web site. This is a great way for parents and community members to view details about updates at their own leisure.

Should you be elected, what is on the top of your list of goals for the board of education?

I will continue to advocate for education reform through more efficient use of resources and unique fiscal opportunities such as those we have already achieved through contract negotiations. I will support the administration in a respectful manner while holding our superintendent accountable through clearly defined goals that will result in stronger curriculum delivery and more efficient use of resources. I will advocate for research-based curriculum revisions to science and social studies and have those subjects overlap with Language Arts through more research-based writing. I will advocate for research-based Language Arts revision for grades 6 through 8 and for a focus on STEM based curricula development. I will support the district as it prepares for the new state tests coming in 2014. And I will continue to be mindful of finding flexibility in our district finances and continue to look for out-of-the-box fiscally sound options.

Why should Franklin Lakes residents vote for you on Nov. 6?

The choice I hope voters make on November 6th is to vote for the candidates with the track record of meaningful dedication and commitment to our district. I am one of those candidates. I have been a strong voice for what is best for the children and taxpayers of Franklin Lakes. Fiscal responsibility and accountability is at the core of my record demonstrated through an almost flat tax increase in 2012 while seeing great improvements in our district’s curriculum. My record demonstrates an open-mind and following my motivation and passion to truly have a positive impact on our town’s schools. A vote for me is a vote for known action, not just words. Our schools are the magnet that brought my family to Franklin Lakes and I am proud of the contribution I have made to grow our district’s reputation. We have been ahead of the curve on curriculum and fiscal reform. Wyckoff and Oakland and many districts around the state are following our lead on our district’s curriculum initiatives of the past three years. I hope voters look closely at what truly motivates each candidate and vote for the candidates like me whose record demonstrates thoughtful participation and a proven track record. My track record is one of positive participation (emphasizing the word positive) in the form of working towards consensus and supporting the administration in a respectful manner to move the district forward. I have been honored to represent the residents of Franklin Lakes on the Board of Education and do so with pride and commitment.

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.


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