EDISON, NJ — The Edison Board of Education elections is a hotly contested one this year, with 12 candidates vying for three seats. Patch sent each candidate a set of questions about their campaigns.
Our first candidate profile is of Padmaja Chinta, an Edison resident. Chinta is a lawyer and passionate about contributing to the community. She wants to improve the effectiveness of remote learning and teaching module in the school district. Chinta feels there’s much to do in the area of policies and procedures “as we learn to live with this pandemic.”
Read below to learn more about Chinta and her platform for the upcoming elections in Edison.
Name: Padmaja (Paddy) Chinta
Age (at the time of election): 48
Position sought: Member, Edison Board of Education
LL.M., University of Pennsylvania
B.S. (Optometry) All India Institute of Medical Sciences, I also have LL.B. and M.B.A. degrees.
Previous or Current or Appointed Office – None
Why are you seeking elective office?
I am running because I want to help and I believe I can make a difference. I am very passionate about education and advocacy. I believe community service is a noble cause and this is my way of giving back to my community. Edison schools are better than a lot of other schools. But there are many areas that need to be addressed and improved. I feel students’ education which should be the top priority of the Board, often ends up taking a back seat due to issues that have no relevance to education. I also feel students’ needs and residents’ input are not given the due consideration that they deserve. So, I am running, because when I see something that is not right, I want to do something about it.
Describe the single most pressing issue facing the Edison school system?
The biggest challenge I see is a lack of trust – going in all directions. Parents don’t trust the Board. A lot of times the Board doesn’t seem to trust the district. And even Board members don’t seem to trust each other! This lack of trust permeates every issue, be it overcrowding (most pressing) or out of control spending or any of the issues. This is unfortunate because at the end of the day our children are losing out as a result.
My way of tackling it is to be open about my actions and my motives. And to listen, explore and collaborate. Be proactive and not reactive. I am an independent voice, not just a yes or no vote. I will strive to involve everyone in decision making – other Board members, administration, teachers and staff, township council, township boards as well as the community. Joining all the stakeholders in a bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach, is the only way to achieve workable solutions. We also need to change the mindset and approach – there cannot be us versus them. We must all be together on the same side – that of our children.
Edison has 13 candidates vying for three seats. What are the critical differences between you and the other candidate seeking this post?
I bring a unique perspective to the table. I am the only candidate with a legal background and will bring that skill set to approach any issue – analyzing the details, questioning the assumptions, and especially collaborating with colleagues with opposite views to find common ground. My legal background will also help with formulating policy, a critical responsibility of the board. Being a litigator, I will use my advocacy skills to be a strong advocate for our children.
I also have experience as an alumni interviewer for high school seniors applying to colleges. Having volunteered as a UPenn alumni interviewer, I bring valuable insight to better align our students’ experiences with the expectations of colleges. Combined with the fact that one of my kids just graduated high school and one is still in school, I have a direct pulse into the day-to-day issues facing Edison students.
Finally, my even temperament and persistence in exploring all avenues have served me well in my profession and will be helpful on the board as well.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.
- Improving effectiveness of remote learning and remote teaching. We need to plug the gaps in the policies and procedures as we learn to live with this pandemic.
- Increased opportunities for all students. Not just the top 10% but the bottom 10% as well. Not just in academics but extracurricular activities as well. We need creative solutions to provide immediate relief to current students while a long-term solution to overcrowding is implemented.
- Better balanced curriculum and homework.
- Improving mental health education and introducing tools to cope with stress, especially with the extra strain coming from the lack of in-person social interactions. We need to incorporate the tools into student schedule.
- Ensuring a drug free school environment. Not just in policy, but in practice.
- Controlling budget. We need to eliminate waste and unnecessary spend with a laser focus. Without regard to any special interests.
What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?
I have successfully collaborated with the Edison school board and build consensus with parents to advocate for much needed change in the high school placement criteria. At UPenn, as President of the LL.M. Association, I collaborated with the student governing body to make a popular course available to graduate students. I successfully represented a special needs student in an administrative hearing, pro bono. Over the course of two decades practicing as a lawyer, I have obtained favorable results for several clients and negotiated multi-million-dollar settlements – always balancing competing legal and business priorities of clients and advocating for them in efficient and creative ways. I have been selected for various recognitions, including New York Super Lawyers and Fellow of Litigation Counsel of America. The ability to convince others of my viewpoint constructively is a key skill that I plan to leverage if elected to the board.
The best advice ever shared with me was:
Whatever you do, give it your 100%
What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?
I firmly believe that education is the greatest gift we can give to our children. I want to see our schools provide a nurturing environment to every child. We should focus on developing well rounded individuals who have a strong sense of self confidence and self-worth when they come out of school. I believe that being a board member is a position of responsibility. Not a position of power. If entrusted with that responsibility, I will work with honesty and integrity and transparency. My decisions will be guided by the benefit to the community. Most of all, I will always advocate for the best interests of our children.
In anticipation of the upcoming election, Patch asked candidates to answer questions about their campaigns. We will be publishing candidate profiles as election day draws near.
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