There was a special voting meeting of the Middletown Board of Education (BOE) last Wednesday night, where the order of business was to select a new member of the board, to fill the unexpired term of Board member Helene Henkel. Henkel stepped down from the board for personal reasons last month. Out of a dozen candidates to fill the position, ten of which were present to be interviewed, the BOE settled on Andy Nicholes. Nicholes, some may recall, ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the BOE. He teamed up with Board President Jim Cody, but came in 5th (there were 3 seats available). Nicholes’s selection raised a few eyebrows Wednesday night.
There are some, myself included, that believe Andy Nicoles had be given the interview questions prior to the selection process, to ensure that he’d have an upper hand during the interview for Henkel’s seat.
Three questions were asked of each candidate; what do you think your role as a Board member is? What do you think you can contribute as a Board member? And, what do you think is the biggest problem with the Middletown school system?
Each candidate was given an opportunity at an opening statement or comment to introduce themselves to the board members, followed by each candidate being asked the same 3 questions by Board President Jim Cody. There were no probing or follow-up questions to any of the candidates answers from any the board members present; I found out afterwards, follow-up or others questions from sitting board members were not allowed by Cody and that each interview had a 10 minute (or less) time limit.
As the interviews progressed throughout the meeting, it was pretty obvious that Andy Nicholes, who had the opportunity to be interviewed 3rd, had been given the questions early. Unlike those that went before or after, Nicholes had an extensive and well prepared opening statement, that he had taken out of a folder and read as if a script. The answers to his first two questions were pre-prepared and also read (with apparent bullet points) from a piece of paper. Only his last answer, which seemed well thought out, appeared to be off the cuff. Watch the video below, Nicholes questioning begins at the 11:54 mark and finishes at 17:29.
No other candidate was as prepared for the process like Nicholes was. Sure, as the night’s proceedings progressed, the answers from the others being interviewed became more thought out and detailed. I attribute that however, to the fact that the same 3 questions were being asked and they had time to take in what was being said by others to formulate their ideas and give some very good answers.
In my opinion, those that stood out during the selection process and should have been given better preference over Nicholes were in no particular order, Robin Stella, who was the first to be interviewed, John Little, Scott McPherson, Peter Memon and Keshia Guthrie. All have professional backgrounds and had ideas to move the district forward.
Andy Nicholes’s selection to fill Henkel’s seat on the BOE was a farce and looks like a good ol’ boy appointment that could lead to some issues going forward; there are reasons why he came in 5th last November.
Nicholes is a teacher who works in the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District. There will be numerous votes that take place which he’d be prohibited from voting on such as, union and pension issues and possible tenure or other personnel issues. Superficially but no less important to some, Andy Nicholes doesn’t own a home in Middletown (last I’ve heard, he lives with his parents in Leonardo) and unlike others, he has no children attending school in the district.
I don't know if Andy Nicholes will turn out to be a good member of the Middletown Board of Education or not. I've watched the video of the meeting and feel that better choices were available. I do know however, that the dynamics of the BOE isn't likely to change with his appointment.
You can read more about the controversy of Nicholes's appointment to the Middletown Board of Education on the Facebook page MIDDLETOWN New Jersey.