School Board Candidates Talk Issues

School Board Candidates Talk Issues

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Ocean City High School

By MADDY VITALE

There are 11 Ocean City Board of Education candidates running in the Nov. 2 election. They are vying for three, three-year seats.

Following is a list of questions asked of the candidates by OCNJDaily.com. The candidates are being profiled in a series of articles focusing on school district issues.

Catherine Panico, Dale Braun, Chris Halliday, Jacqueline McAlister, Suzanne Morgan and Robin Shaffer were profiled in previous articles. Ryan Leonard, Liz Nicoletti and Henry Disston Vanderslice are profiled in this story.

Ryan Leonard and his family (Photo courtesy of Ryan Leonard)

Ryan Leonard

How long have you lived in Ocean City?

My wife Samantha and I both grew up in Upper/OC, and we were OCHS class of 2001. After college we lived and worked in Manhattan, moved down to Rumson, and when our oldest was in preschool, we made the move back home to be closer to our families, friends, and hometown.

What is your occupation? Affiliated Organizations?

I am the Chief Information Officer for a global fintech company. My team runs information security, infrastructure, and all technology for a variety of 24-hour markets.

Do you have children in the district or were they in the district?

I have two amazing sons. The oldest is in first grade at the Primary School, and the little guy is currently at Discovery World for preschool.

Why are you running for School Board?

For exactly that reason! My kids will be OCHS Class of 2033/2037, and while just thinking about that blows my mind, they are our number one concern, and we hope they receive the same amazing educational experience we did.

What do you hope to do if elected and what do you think is working/not working currently on the board?

I want to represent all students, families, and stakeholders; even those who may not agree with me. I do have some concerns that the families of our littlest learners aren’t always well represented on the board or the meeting agendas.

Friends are frustrated with the unnecessary difficulty for parents (especially of younger kids) to be involved in this process. The simplest example of this is that the district already pays for professional recording of every school board meeting, but a stakeholder needs to file an OPRA request to get a copy. It’s 2021. Other districts in the area proudly post their meetings. We should as well.

What would you like to change/achieve, new programs, different way of handling the COVID pandemic?

You can’t have experienced Zoom-Kindergarten last year and not know that we are in desperate need of technological upgrades in the district. Our teachers last year were exceptionally resilient and nothing short of incredible, but the technology platforms we provide to them are simply not adequate.

I feel that adding a seasoned IT professional to the board will help to modernize some of the platforms and systems the district uses, as well as help us to focus on the future.

Have you held office before or do you have anything else in your background that you believe lends itself to being a board member? Do you work or have you worked in the education field? 

My mother is a retired art teacher, and I have multiple other amazing educators in my extended family. I have witnessed first-hand the dedication and devotion to their students they all have, and it inspires me to want to help them succeed even more.

While being a tech executive isn’t directly related to the education system, my information security background is focused on training, teaching, and empowering coworkers and stakeholders. I have been a tutor/mentor for multiple organizations, and I give back wherever I can leverage my time and skillsets.

Liz Nicoletti, far right, with family. (Photo courtesy of the Nicoletti family)

Liz Nicoletti

How long have you lived in Ocean City?

Full time since July 2019. I have also spent all of my summers in Ocean City as my parents own a home and my husband and I have owned a home in Ocean City since 2001.

What is your occupation?

My occupation is a stay-at-home mom.

Do you have children in the district or were they in the district?

Yes, I have children in the district. Tricia is a junior at the Ocean City High School. Christian and Connor are freshmen at the Ocean City High School and Will is in the seventh grade at the Ocean City Intermediate School.

Why are you running for school board?

I am running for school board because I believe I am being called by God to stand up and stand against some of these tyrannical ideas and mandates that are infiltrating the school systems and indoctrinating our most innocent, the children. I believe our educational system in this country is in a crisis.

Our Ocean City community values should reflect the Ocean City public high school, middle school and elementary schools. I want to see more parental involvement in school decisions, especially curriculum. I would like to see traditional values back in our schools. I want our constitution back at the forefront. We need to select a new superintendent that reflects the school community values.

What do you hope to do if elected and what do you think is working/not working currently on the board?

I believe that what is not working on the board currently is proper communication between community, parents and the board and the superintendent as far as emails or phone calls which leads to the morale of the atmosphere in the board room.

What would you like to change/achieve, new programs, different way of handling the COVID pandemic?

As far as the COVID pandemic, I would like to get things back to normal including optional mask with a common sense approach. Allowing parents to make appropriate decisions for their children whether to let them engage in the activities or not.

Do you have anything in your background that lends itself to being a board member? Have you served before? Do you work or have you worked in the education field?

I have never held a political office before or served on the board, however, I have been on sports teams all of my life and have led my teams as captain on many teams including D1 field hockey at St. Joseph’s University. I think being on a team is crucial to participating on any board, not just this Board of Education.

I studied elementary education at St. Joseph’s University and I taught at Presentation BVM School as a sixth grade teacher for two years and I taught in the Oxford school district as a long-term substitute. I have been a certified teaching tennis-pro for many years.

My volunteer experience includes 10 years of Tennis in the Streets, a grass roots organization bringing tennis to the inner city and was also selected to People to People Ambassador Program as a teaching ambassador to Australia.

Disston Vanderslice with family. (Photo courtesy of Disston Vanderslice)

Henry Disston Vanderslice

How long have you lived in Ocean City?

I was born and raised in Ocean City all 35 years, with the exception of college and time spent on my career in Philadelphia.

What is your occupation?

Real estate. My family has owned a local real estate company for 30 years. I hope to bring my experiences in businesses, as well as my background in media and technology, to help fill a need on the school board.

Do you have children in the district or were they in the district?

Soon to be! I have a one-year-old, Henry, who will be in enrolled in the Ocean City school district in just a few years.

Why are you running for School Board?

I care deeply about the future of the children in our community, and I love Ocean City with all my heart. Family has been deeply rooted in this unbelievable community for over 70-plus years, and now that my wife and I have a child of our own, I knew it was time for me to step up and do my part.

With having a son and hopefully more children one day, I absolutely feel that it’s my duty to give back to the community by providing a fresh perspective to the school board. I’ll approach the role with one agenda, and that’s making decisions based on what’s best for our children and their future.

What do you hope to do if elected and what do you think is working/not working currently on the board?

I’ll approach each decision with an open mind and a common goal of making the best choice for our kids. As we move forward, it’s important to carefully approach how we implement state mandates. We have an obligation to the community to continue to grow as a district by learning and adapting.

It’s apparent that there’s a very talented and accomplished group of candidates running in this school board election. Very rarely will you see 11 candidates running for three open school board seats. It shows that people really care, and want to help. We all have to work together to make the best decisions for our children.

What would you like to change/achieve, new programs, different way of handling the COVID pandemic?

I feel for the many parents in the community that had a tough time juggling life while students were at home, so I’m thrilled that we’re back to in-person learning. It is imperative that we put the mental health of our students, teachers, and parents in the forefront when making important decisions.

Have you held office before or do you have anything else in your background that you believe lends itself to being a board member? Do you work or have you worked in the education field?

I bring a strong business background, specializing in digital marketing and technology. Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate. Our students should have the best tools available to help them grow as students and as people.

I’ve also coached youth sports since I was in 7th grade, helping out at OC Basketball camps. The little league fields are named after my grandfather, Harry Vanderslice, and I hope to help carry on his legacy by being heavily involved in Ocean City’s youth Athletic programs. I learned so much about life from my childhood coaches, and I hope to leave the same effect on kids that I have the opportunity to coach.

Meet the candidates at a public Q&A session on Tuesday, Oct. 19, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Ocean City Free Public Library’s Chris Maloney Lecture Hall (1735 Simpson Avenue). The forum will be moderated by radio personality Maryann McElroy. Candidates will have an opportunity to share their platform and answer vetted questions from the community.

Community members may submit questions to ocnjpta1@gmail.com.

Here is the full list of candidates:

James Bauer, incumbent

Dale F. Braun Jr.

Chris Halliday

Ryan Leonard

Jacqueline McAlister, incumbent

Suzanne Morgan, incumbent

Catherine Panico

Robin Shaffer

Conor Fleming

Liz Nicoletti

Henry Disston Vanderslice