Five candidates run for 2023 BOE election on Nov. 7

Five candidates are running in this year’s Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education election on Nov. 7. There are four open seats for the Board: two in Hillsdale, one in Montvale, and one in Woodcliff Lake.
Five candidates run for 2023 BOE election on Nov. 7
Who they are and where they stand: The Pascack Valley Regional Board candidates

Five candidates are running in this year’s Pascack Valley Regional High School District Board of Education election on Nov. 7. There are four open seats for the Board: two in Hillsdale, one in Montvale, and one in Woodcliff Lake. The Trailblazer reached out to each candidate for their insights on their goals, priorities, and changes they wish to see for the upcoming term.

In Hillsdale, incumbents Kristin Martin and Gini Varghese are running for reelection. In Montvale, incumbent Michael Weaver is running for reelection. Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang and Jennifer L. Levison are running for one open BOE seat in Woodcliff Lake. 

Scroll through the article to read each individual candidate’s interview. 

  • Jennifer L. Levison (Woodcliff Lake)
  • Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang (Woodcliff Lake)
  • Gini Varghese (Hillsdale)
  • Kristin Martin (Hillsdale)
  • Michael Weaver (Montvale)

Editor’s note: Each interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Meet the BOE candidate: Jennifer L. Levison
Meet the BOE candidate: Jennifer L. Levison

Jennifer L. Levison is running for the Woodcliff Lake seat on the PVRHSD Board of Education. The other candidate running for the seat is Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang. 

Levison was born and raised in New Jersey before moving to California to become a teacher through the Teach for America program. She received a master’s degree in social work and worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence as a therapist. 

Now a stay-at-home mom in Woodcliff Lake, Levison is an active volunteer through the Parent Faculty Association (PFA), her local synagogue, and the nursery schools her children attended.  

The Trailblazer interviewed Levison about her goals, why she is running, and the changes she wishes to see as a BOE member. 

Why Levison is running for the Woodcliff Lake seat

I think our school district is wonderful. It has always been a top-performing school, and I want to see that continue. I want to see that we continue to attract and maintain excellent staff, teachers, and really give the students what they deserve.” 

Levison’s goals and priorities for the upcoming year

“One of my priorities truly is school safety and making sure that all of you students and your teachers walk into a building every day because you can’t feel safe learning if you’re not feeling safe walking in the building. One of my top priorities is just to look at what security is in place now. Are there vulnerabilities? And how can we secure those areas of vulnerability?”

“One of my priorities in addition to the school safety and security [is] also knowing that the guidance department has everything that they need, all the resources and training that they need to provide a safe, emotional environment for the students so that you always know that you have a place to [go] if you do need something.”

What Levison hopes to see change from last year

I think transparency is really important and having everybody have access to the information. I know that as a constituent, as a parent, I didn’t always know where to go to get the information. I still am trying to figure [out], learn my way around it. So I think making the website more user friendly.”

A specific cause Levison hopes to advocate for during her term

“There are so many causes and I think they’re all so important. And for me, it just boils down to each of you students feeling safe and feeling free to be who you are, whatever that looks like, and knowing that you have the support to do that. I’m so impressed by the clubs that the schools have, and I only know about Hills because that’s where my son is. But the clubs that are at Hills and the way that the administration really embraces having social action clubs giving back to the community. And I think that is such an important part of the high school experience, to kind of balance out all that you have and all the gifts that we have and giving back.”

The skills Levison has that she thinks are useful as a BOE member

“I am a really good listener, and I think before you can be a good leader, you have to be a good listener, and you have to hear what people’s concerns are. You have to really be able to hear and not just listen, but to really what the needs are of the community. I’m passionate in the things that I believe in and I’m not afraid to speak up. And whether it’s writing letters to superintendents, which I have done, or to principals or to ask for meetings, I’m not afraid to do that.”

“One year, I want to say 2013, there was an election, it was being held at the gym, and I came for dismissal and I saw a voter who didn’t understand the way the pickup line worked. [He] started banging on a parent’s door of the car. There was a baby in the car and he started yelling at the parent. I’m like, wait a minute. Why are there elections here when there are students here? It doesn’t make sense. So it took almost two years, but I ended up going to city council and working with a member of the city council, and we got the elections moved down to the church, which they were up until this year. But I saw a true need for a change. There was an issue of safety of the students and of the parents at pick up.”

“It’s just an example of when I was able to identify that there was a problem. I didn’t wait for somebody else to make a change or to suggest it. I kind of did it myself [with] other members of the community. It wasn’t just me alone. But I went to the city council and then other members of the community joined me in the effort. So I do bring a balanced perspective, I think. And yes, I have my personal ideologies and beliefs, but I can also understand and see that other people have beliefs that may be different than mine, but I can value it for what it means to those individuals and how we need to find a balance.”

“Not every issue or every problem is going to be solved and make everybody happy. That’s just life, you can’t make everybody happy with the same decision. But you can certainly do your best and you can certainly hear what people have to say.”

Meet the BOE candidate: Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang
Meet the BOE candidate: Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang

Stephanie Mong-Ping Huang is running for the Woodcliff Lake seat on the Pascack Valley Regional Board of Education. The other candidate running for the seat is Jennifer L. Levison. 

Huang has lived in Woodcliff Lake for the past 16 years where she has raised her two children, who are currently students at Pascack Hills High School. With that, her slogan emphasizes her priorities: “In Pursuit of Excellence in Education | Our students are our greatest investment.” 

As a candidate, she focuses on preparing students for college and or career success with the necessary mindset, foundation, experiences, abilities, and knowledge to accomplish their goals with ongoing excellence in education.

Huang has utilized her education in her career and life with a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Art in addition to her undergraduate degree. Her career in pharmaceutical marketing and medical education has spanned twenty years. Huang has also dedicated herself to being a PFA volunteer for eleven years, a Girl Scouts volunteer for three years, and she spent three years coaching recreational basketball. 

Huang has stated her opinion on the necessity of open communication between students and faculty for constant improvement. Her interview with the Trailblazer conveys her message to students and faculty for her election to enhance the board.

Why Huang is running for the Woodcliff Lake seat

“I’m in Pursuit of Excellence in Education. It’s not only a tagline, it’s not only a slogan, but it’s how I’ve raised my kids and how I feel that this is important for the entire district, for Pascack Valley and Pascack Hills, that we need to focus on the academic excellence on their mental, psychological, emotional wellbeing. And my kids have taken full advantage of honors classes, AP classes, extracurriculars, and sports.”

What Huang hopes to see change from last year

“I think both schools already have very good programs in place. So I would like to contribute to it to make sure it stays excellent.”

“I worry that politics have influenced the social media dialogue and that dialogue is causing a major disruption in our children’s academic experience. My focus is still on the student, it’s on their academic rigor and their well-being.”

“I feel that our social climate has taken away from some family values. Therefore, I feel that I am the ideal candidate to fight for our family values and to instill, again, the most important thing for our students: their wellbeing; physically, mentally, and emotionally.”

How Huang’s volunteer work will influence her term as a BOE member

“I see how there is so much commitment to making sure our students’ needs are heard and met, therefore, we’re on the ground level at meeting their needs. So, since I’ve been volunteering and hearing out the students and seeing what we need to provide for them, I want to continue that dedication on the board of education.”

Huang’s goals and priorities for the upcoming year

“For my goals, I’ll highlight three of them. Number one is to empower families and teachers toward cooperation in student education. It takes a village to raise a kid. Let’s be part of the village. The next goal is to promote, as I’ve said before, academic rigor and character excellence. The third one is that I want to communicate transparency in the decision-making process. So everything that I know, that everything on the Board of Ed, is out there, on the public record: on the website, the agenda and the minutes. But sometimes there are closed sessions and discussions that I think could be useful for the public to know. I understand that we need to have discussions, but I think we lose some transparency when it’s a closed session.”

Additional Comments

“I think as high school students, it’s interesting for you to learn what I learned on the hierarchy of how information actually gets to the Board of Ed. So if there is a–an example is if there’s something that happens on the football field, then it would go to like that gym teacher or sports coach in charge. Then if that’s not resolved, it would go to Mr. Papa who’s in charge of the athletics department. Then if it weren’t resolved in that situation, it would go up to the assistant principal. Then if it’s not resolved, it goes to the principal. Then if that’s not resolved, it goes up to the assistant superintendent, and then if it’s not resolved, it goes to the superintendent. Then finally, only then does it get to the Board of Education. I just didn’t know it had all those steps. So I hope that enlightens you.”

Meet the BOE candidate: Gini Varghese
Meet the BOE candidate: Gini Varghese

Gini Varghese is a Hillsdale resident who is running for reelection. She has been a BOE member for three years and served as BOE Vice President during the 2022-23 school year. 

Varghese has lived in Hillsdale for 16 years with her two children, one of whom currently attends Pascack Valley. She has served as a nurse practitioner for over 20 years. In her free time, Varghese enjoys reading, gardening, and playing pickleball. 

Varghese discussed why she is running, her goals, and the changes she wishes to see in the upcoming year. 

Why Varghese is running for reelection

I think the first year, definitely when you’re on the board board there’s a lot of learning. I think by the time you get to three years on your service, you are really in a place where you’ve learned the day to days, you’ve learned there’s so many terms. There are so many regulations, right? We’re bound by the statutes of the state of New Jersey. By the time you get to year three, you’re comfortable, it’s not so new. You know how things run. And I think you’re primed in a good position to really offer a lot more, because that learning curve is not as steep. And then there are things that need to be done that you can do without having to learn those initial things.”

“I really, really love what I do just because it benefits students. And my job is a job of service, so I really do feel that this is another way that I could be of service. I especially feel like being a parent and being on the board is so rewarding because you’re on the ground with your student. You hear from your child’s friends and things from a different perspective. We also need the perspective of course, of people who are outside of the regular community. But I do think it’s a really unique perspective when you have a student in the district that you’re in. So I really feel like I am primed to really make a difference on the board after my first term where I’ve learned so much.”

The skills Varghese has that she thinks are useful as a BOE member

“I like people. I think that that really makes a big difference. I am a people person. I am able to connect with all sorts of different, though I pride myself on finding things. So even if it’s not something I know anything about, like you do something that I’m not sure [about], I pride myself on being able to show my interest in the differences in people.”

“I really listen, I am open-minded in the sense that I feel like even if you and I have differing viewpoints, listening to you is so beneficial because maybe I’ll learn something. I will decide to tweak my opinion or I’ll realize, you know what, thank you for telling me your side. I do think those are really necessary traits in someone who’s on the board because we’re here for the students, but we’re here elected by the taxpayers.”

A specific cause Varghese hopes to advocate for during her term 

“Like I mentioned, I just came back from the [NJSBA School Board Association] conference. And one thing I really took away from that was even if you go up by one number, say you think you’re, I don’t know, [a] five, right? In that scale, even if you go up to a six, it’s great. It’s an improvement. And I have to be honest with you, I really do think that we’re a great district. I said we’re an eight or a nine, honestly, and so I think we can get to that nine or 10.”

“And I do think at this point, when you’re that close to being so good, I don’t think anything’s perfect. I think there’s no such thing as being a 10, because we’re always growing. But, at the same time when you’re this far, the changes are subtler. They’re not obvious sometimes. So for me I’d love to see us go higher.”

Varghese’s goals and priorities for the upcoming year

“I really want to have greater knowledge of what we’re talking about on a day-to-day basis. I think we’re a great Board, I have to say. We all get along well. We have our differing opinions, but we’re all super respectful of each other. I think we have a great Board. I’d love to see us do a little more as far as things to enrich us as a Board. Research shows when you have a Board that works well with the superintendent, the students are the ones who benefit.”

“Our superintendent is new and we are very, very happy with her. This is her second year, so maybe she’s not new anymore, but she spent the first year really paying attention to what happens. She didn’t walk in like, hey, I wanna change everything. I can’t wait to support her in these positive changes that she’d like to make. I’m very excited to be able to give my input from having one child who’s already there, as a parent, but definitely as a board member. I think I’m just going to be better at being able to do what I do in the next term.”

Additional Comments

“I am really, really happy to be a Board member for a district that is so great as ours because we really do have a great district. I can’t wait to be part of those nuanced changes or improvements that hopefully we’ll make as the years go on.”

Meet the BOE candidate: Kristin Martin
Meet the BOE candidate: Kristin Martin

Kristin Martin is a Hillsdale resident who is running for Board of Education reelection. 

She has lived in Hillsdale since 1999. She is a mother of two children, a son who graduated from Pascack Valley and a daughter who is currently a senior there. 

Martin has taught in the Upper Saddle River School District for 25 years, where she had the opportunity to teach math, science, social studies, and language arts. 

She discussed why she is running, her goals, and changes she wishes to see made. 

Why Martin is running for reelection

“I chose to run for reelection, because I really feel that this current board has the best interests of the students in mind and is moving in a very positive direction that I’m proud to be part of. I really feel that we can offer a lot of new programs for the students and also make sure that our community has a connection and things are transparent. I think that that’s really become the case over the last three years.”

The skills Martin has that she thinks are useful as a BOE member

“Like Mrs. Varghese said earlier, I really do listen to others, and I feel that I have an open mind. I also feel that my work in education over the last 28 years helps me understand the students who ultimately we’re here for. I have a pretty good understanding of where they’re coming from from my middle school background.” 

A specific cause Martin hopes to advocate for during her term

“Nothing specific but I do think that we need to be more aware of our communities and that there are people in need. My daughter’s cheer team is starting to work with Families for Families in Wyckoff. We’re just starting to create a bond with them and we’re going to start adopting families and I know that they do so many collections from clothing to food to providing services. I think that the whole outreach in this district, like my daughter has had the opportunity to do Peer Leaders and there’s so many different ways that students can stay in their comfort zone, but still provide a service for others. It’s really impressive and I’d like to be a part of anything that students do in that regard. 

What inspired Martin to advocate for this cause

“I think there’s a misconception that if you live in Bergen County that there’s no need. I think that the needs might be different but I think there is still a need not only for a community, but also for our students to have awareness of how important it is to give back to others.” 

What Martin hopes to see change from last year

“I just think that as new board members join us, not that I want to see anything change, but I do hope that they continue with an positive attitude because I think that there was that rocky time four years ago that I don’t want to see poison and distract the Board from doing what we need to be doing.” 

Martin’s goals and priorities for the upcoming year

“My main goal would be to continue to focus on the wellness of not only our students but our staff and make sure that they’re in a position where they’re able to continue to provide the guidance for the students.”

Additional Comments

“I would love to put a big shout out to the staff in our high schools because watching them work with students and the passion that they give. Between my two children, I’ve seen a lot of teachers, and they are outstanding. I feel like our students are very lucky because it’s not like that in all the schools in Bergen County or beyond. I really want to give a shout out to all the staff members, whether it is the janitors, or the teachers, or the paraprofessionals, or the administration. When I walk into Pascack Valley, because I’m there a lot, I really feel like it’s a true family, and I feel like the teachers are very approachable. I really appreciate that because my daughter has really gained a voice that I don’t know she would’ve had if it was a little bit less supportive.”

Meet the BOE candidate: Michael Weaver
Meet the BOE candidate: Michael Weaver

Michael Weaver is running for re-election, unopposed, for the Montvale Board of Education seat. 

Weaver was unavailable to comment on his stance in the upcoming BOE election. Based upon his former election campaign in 2020, he focuses on equal access to a good education and BOE communication to the public. His experience includes being a BOE member for the past three years, being a former Montvale town councilman, and the current principal of Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Fair Lawn.

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Kaitlyn Verde, Editor-in-Chief
Kaitlyn Verde is a senior at Hills. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the Arts & Entertainment and School News sections her sophomore and junior years, respectively. This year, Verde is excited to be the Trailblazer's Editor-in-Chief alongside Olivia Ge and report for the community with Hills Pride. Fun fact: Verde enjoys reading in her free time, and her favorite book is "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue."
Olivia Ge, Editor-in-Chief
Hills senior Olivia Ge is looking forward to being on the Trailblazer for her final year. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the Sports section her junior year. This year, Ge is excited to be the publication's Editor-in-Chief alongside Kaitlyn Verde and manage stories for the Hills community. Fun fact: Out of the different food categories, Ge's favorite is fruit, with the exception of bananas and pineapples.
Paige Geanopulos, School News Editor
Hills junior Paige Geanopulos is looking forward to being a part of the Trailblazer for another year. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the In-Depth section her sophomore year. This year, Geanopolus is excited to cover breaking news stories within the Hills community. Fun fact: Geanopulos loves the outdoors and hikes regularly.

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