South Brunswick Board Of Education Profile: Smitha Raj

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — South Brunswick resident Smitha Raj is concerned about the falling ranking of district schools. “While the decline in our school performance is troubling, this also has a broader impact on our community as people find South Brunswick a less desirable community to raise their children,” said Raj.

Raj who works as a programmer has a PhD in economics. Along with Raja Krishna and Mike Mitchell, she is running for a seat in the Board of Education this Nov.3.

Raj tells Patch that she has plan to overcome challenges faced by the school system and improve the overall ranking of the district.

Read below to learn more about Raj and her platform for the upcoming elections in South Brunswick.

Name – Smitha Raj

Age (as of Election Day) – 39

Position Sought – Board of Education member

Does anyone in your family work in politics or government? No

Education – PhD in Economics

Occupation – Programmer

Previous or Current Elected or Appointed Office – None

Campaign website –

https://www.facebook.com/Raja.Smitha.Mike/

Why are you seeking elective office?

As residents of South Brunswick, we need a change. We need fresh ideas and fresh voices on the Board of Education to deal with the unprecedented challenges imposed both by the pandemic, as well as the cuts to state budget aid. As a woman and the mother of a child in the school system, I believe I offer that fresh voice. I also believe that our community needs a strong advocate for parents, students, educators, and residents. I am seeking elective office so that I could be that strong advocate.

The single most pressing issue facing our school district is _______, and this is what I intend to do about it.

Our community’s single biggest challenge is navigating the pandemic and the resulting constraints, including cuts to the state budget aid. Parents are struggling to balance their work-life situation and the new challenges they now face. Among students, effective learning is hampered by technical glitches including, in some cases, non-availability of the internet; distractions at home, especially among younger students; and the issues of learning through the Internet. They are also missing crucial personal interaction with their peers. All of these take a significant toll on our children’s mental health. Educators are also challenged every step of the way with their own problems – from working with technology to holding the attention of their students who are physically far away. As taxpayers, we are all worried about the consequences of the looming budget cuts and its implications on our property taxes. Solutions to these complicated problems are not easy. However, even during this challenging period, I first want to ensure that our schools maintain a top-notch curriculum, high quality enrichment programs and extracurricular activities for all our students. I will support our students and educators in all possible ways and make sure that no child falls behind, especially critical for those who are weakest academically. In this regard, I will explore partnering with community members, seniors, alums, and nonprofits to help our students in need. In order to better assist our parents who have issues working with the technology or those who disapprove of their children spending long hours on electronic devices, I believe in providing our parents with more flexibility and choice in terms of how they want their children to work on their lessons Examples include learning via hard copies versus soft copies or completing homework via notebooks versus online apps. In addition, I will work with mental health experts to devise programs to help students deal with mental health challenges, both individually and as a student body. All of these can be accomplished without any increases to our tax burden.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking this post?

As a mother with a young child in the school system, I am uniquely positioned to relate to issues faced by parents, especially fellow mothers, and students of our school district. In addition, my academic and professional background offers me a solid understanding of financial information – including budgets, metrics and taxes. I will leverage my academic and professional experience to search for solutions as our school district prepares for cuts to state budget aid.

If you are a challenger, in what way has the current board or officeholder failed the community (or district or constituency).

We have a serious problem in South Brunswick, which is reflected in our school rankings. As reported on schooldigger.com, during the academic year ending 2010, South Brunswick High School was ranked 87th in the state. That ranking declined to 105 in the year ending 2015 and further to 123 in the year ending 2018. It is also a matter of concern that the school’s latest college readiness index rank is 1209. Compared to that, our neighboring school district, West Windsor-Plainsboro is ranked around 280. The same goes for reading proficiency, where we are 56 percent compared to their 79 percent and math proficiency: where we are 40 percent versus their 65 percent. While we cannot lay all of the blame at the feet of the Board members, they are ultimately accountable for the performance of the school system. While the decline in our school performance is troubling, this also has a broader impact on our community as people find South Brunswick a less desirable community to raise their children.

Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform.

Transparency, accessibility, and accountability are very important to me. I believe in being accessible to our residents over social media and through traditional modes of communication. I will continue to listen to all stakeholders, students, parents, educators, residents, and will work with everyone in the best interest of our students.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you can handle this job?

My rich professional and academic experience includes working with teams large and small, routinely handling complicated deliverables with tight deadlines and never giving up when the going gets tough. In my heart is service towards the greater good of our community. It is the same spirit that guided me during my years as a volunteer teacher. It is the same spirit that is guiding me now that I am running for the Board of Education.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

Many mentors, teachers, family, friends have been kind enough to advise me at various points in my life. It is difficult to choose only one of those as the ‘best’. However, since Oct. 2 was Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary and I am deeply affected by his advice that “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Time for action is now and it is never late, however small the start.

What else would you like voters to know about yourself and your positions?

I wish for the voters to also know that I appreciate the might of every vote and the responsibilities it entails. Unlike many of our brothers and sisters across the world living in authoritarian regimes, we, the privileged citizens of a functioning democracy have a say in the system. I assure voters that I take this responsibility very seriously, both as a voter and if elected, as a member of the Board of Education. As a part of this responsibility, if elected, I will be accessible to voters and will work towards being an effective liaison between the voters and the school system. I strongly believe that through communication and participation, we can strengthen our community and working together, we can be the change we wish to see in our community.

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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