As Election Day nears, Lacey Patch is profiling the candidates for the Board of Education. Please come back to Lacey Patch for more profiles in the coming weeks.
Candidate Name: Maureen Tirella
Address: 470 Penn Avenue North, Forked River
Occupation: part-time Attorney for Law Guardian and trainer for the Rutgers School of Social Work.
Marital Status: Married with two sons.
Incumbent Maureen Tirella is finishing up her first term plus one year on the school board.
She originally decided to run after see an advertisement seeking a new candidate for the Board of Education. With one year left in his term, former board member Tom Pelcheski was facing ethics charges. The district held a “special election” for his replacement.
“I was always involved in the community and charity work,” Tirella said. Regularly volunteering for the Parent Teacher Organization and at the Lanoka Harbor School, Tirella thought it would be a good opportunity to get further involved.
So Tirella ran in the special election in 2008 and then again for a full term in 2009, now serving on the school board for four years.
“It was basically a way to volunteer. It was a different opportunity,” she said. “I was looking for a way to be involved.”
When she and her husband Lt. Scott Tirella started having children, they decided to stay in Lacey because of the school system, she said, describing it as good, safe and responsive with reasonable taxes.
But as her children continued to go through the school system, she realized the schools didn’t always have the necessary tools or resources, she said, which was another reason for her to run.
As an attorney, she was privy to the school district’s needs, she said. As a Law Guardian, she works with children in foster care and has worked with those in special education as well as school districts.
Being on the school board is unique, she said.
“It’s unlike any other board,” she said. “There’s no independent power. We have the ability to vote.”
The role of the school board is to make the “smartest economic decisions” while benefiting the children, she said. And board members have the ability to direct the business administrator and superintendent with the concerns of parents.
As a mom, taxpayer and community member, Tirella feels qualified to sit on the board, she said.
“My mom skills are number one. I see how decisions impact the students and at home,” she said. Tirella said she is involved as a parent, knows the schools needs and understands the importance of “having a voice for the kids.
“My professional skills assist,” she said. “I have a greater understanding of legal regulations.”
Tirella brings her experience in special education law and school law, she said. She has been involved in negotiations and has worked on committees.
With Tirella’s experience as an attorney, there was no need for the school district to utilize an outside lawyer when negotiating with the Lacey Township Education Association she said.
“We were able to reach an agreement without great disruption,” she said. “I work well with people. I understand being able to find common ground and moving forward.
“As a board, we have to work together. I don’t think of myself as an official…I’m a volunteer,” she said.
In these economic times, the school district struggled, facing “tremendous budget cuts,” she said. “It was a crisis.”
But it is now making great strides — from implementing Storytown and enVisionMath in the schools and curriculum mapping to the solar panel project and working toward smoke- and drug-free as well as safe schools.
“The last four years have been very difficult. We weren’t able to do everything we needed to,” she said. “I’ve been very excited by what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The district was able to install new bleachers at the high school, clean the boys gym room, purchase new technology, issue a block schedule at the middle school and implement a smoke-free high school all without bonding or asking for more from the community, Tirella said. The funds were found within the budget.
The new initiatives are “empowering” the teachers and administration, she said.
“It’s amazing what they can accomplish when they feel supported,” she said.
Tirella believes her open mind and fact checking have been her greatest contributions to the board.
“I’m willing to hear from everyone with no preconceived notions,” she said. “I’m always looking at the facts before we make a decision.”
She has served on the curriculum, negotiation and superintendent search committees, where she used her professional skills, she said.
The search for a new superintendent was one of the most challenging efforts of the school board, she said.
“It was a unified effort. As a board we feel we made the best decision for the district,” she said.
Since then, she feels the district is moving in the right direction, Tirella said, especially after Dr. Sandra Brower’s Academic Achievement Report.
“They’re making a concerted effort to get data based information and translate it into a plan to provide the best education at the most reasonable price,” she said.
The biggest issues facing the district are academic achievement and providing the support to high school students to make good decisions, she said. The decisions the district is making are providing staff with more support and tools while benefiting the students.
“I think it’s a very exciting time for the schools…We have really moved forward and are bringing great improvements to our school district and I want to see those through,” she said.