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Russell Binns: Candidate for Unexpired Term on Rumson BOE

Russell Binns seeks to secure the former unexpired remaining two-year seat of board member Colleen Hodge.

Name, age and address: Russell Binns, 43, 26 Lincoln Ave.

Occupation and educational background: intellectual property attorney, Avaya Inc.; J.D., Franklin Pierce Law Center, 1996; B.S.E.E., Electrical & Computer Engineering, Clarkson University, 1991

Affiliations:

Rumson baseball coach, first graders, 2012; assisted with baseball and soccer in 2011; participated in the Light the Night walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for several years; active participant in charity events for The Valerie Fund for children with cancer.

Have you ever held a position on a school board, here or elsewhere, and, if so, for how long and when? No.

How many years have you lived in Rumson and how many children, if any, (include ages) do you have in the district schools?

I have lived in Rumson since March 2003.  I have two children, a 9-year-old daughter in fourth grade, and a 7-year-old son in second grade.

What was your impetus for running for a seat on the BOE?

A strong desire and passion to ensure that Deane-Porter Elementary School and Forrestdale Middle School are well-run, continue to provide an environment for our kids that fosters success, prepares them for high school, and that the school system maintain its reputation as being  highly regarded throughout the state. 

Another impetus for my interest in running is to represent and be an advocate for the residents and children of Rumson and foster improved transparency of the board to such residents.  Members of the Board are voted to be the voice of the residents of Rumson.  Rumson has a wonderful successful group of residents and they need to feel that their voices are being heard and that the Board is acting in the best interests of them and the students.

I also want to make sure that the Rumson school system is taking advantage of cutting edge educational theory by ensuring that all students are properly challenged, such as through the “Got Grit” strategy implemented in many private schools around the country (see http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Got-Grit%C2%A2.aspx).  And by supplementing classroom training, for example through incorporating Khan Academy into the curriculum, an incredible educator that has prepared over 3500 micro-lectures via video tutorials that have delivered over 200 million lessons (see http://www.khanacademy.org/).


• What do you feel makes you uniquely qualified for this position?

I have been a practicing patent attorney for over 15 years, which required me to obtain an engineering degree (in electrical and computer engineering) in addition to my law degree. 

Between my engineering background and legal background, I’m able to bring the logical and methodical skills of an engineer along with the analytical, investigative, and critical thinking skills of an attorney to this position. I believe these skills would be additive and unique to those skill sets that are currently represented on the Board. 

My wife, Pia, was also a first grade teacher for about 10 years, and education is of the utmost importance to our family. My background has made me a life-long learner and gives me a broad educational perspective to bring to the board. 

I want to use my background to do my part in supporting a system that encourages all students to also be eager and life-long learners, beyond any basic curriculum and state requirements. 

My end goal is to be an advocate for students, and to ensure they are receiving the education, challenges, and encouragement to be the best students possible.

I also have substantial experience serving on several corporate boards, and have a deep understanding of the role a board member plays in ensuring that an organization runs efficiently and effectively, from both a fiscal and policy perspective as well as from making proper employment decisions. 

One of my board memberships is with an organization known as the Intellectual Property Owners that among other things supports education on the importance of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. I am also a frequent speaker on intellectual property issues at conferences around the country. 

In sum (sic), I have a passion for education and am an advocate of a strong educational foundation for all students. I want to help protect the character of Rumson schools and its commitment to educational excellence. 

We need to be fiscally responsible in these times, but we also want Rumson to remain a vibrant, prosperous town that invests in our children’s educations. I also want to make sure families stay involved to strengthen the learning atmosphere.

For all of these reasons, I believe I would be a valuable new member for the Rumson Board of Education. The board makes important policy decisions for the schools and I am well-positioned to understand their practical impact.

As a parent, coach, and lawyer, I will be deeply invested in making the best decisions for our students and our community, and I believe I would help bring a different and diverse perspective to the board representing families that don’t currently believe they have a voice in the management of the school system.

What do you feel is the primary issue the board is faced with and how, specifically, would you address that issue should you be elected?

While I think the primary issue the board faces is to maintain the educational excellence and quality of education in this school system, there are statistics that indicate that the standards may be slipping, and particularly the middle school grades need help to maintain and stay ahead of other school systems in the area and the state. 

While there are other issues, my top priority would be to make sure the right curriculum and policies are being implemented in those middle grades, and that the right resources are in place to ensure that our children are well prepared for the next grade and for the high school. 

To be clear, we need to make sure that each grade has a purpose in both curriculum and execution of such curriculum and in advancing the education of our middle schoolers and we need the parents, the teachers, and school administrators to focus together on improving on any deficiencies. 

The board has been accused of not being transparent enough. Do you feel that is true or not? If so, why or why not and how would you remedy the complaint?

I believe there is definitely room for improvement with respect to transparency.  

There needs to be both an increased transparency through communication with the residents and transparency in terms of understanding the actions of board members.  

The Board of Education serves the public, and is accountable to the community.  Accordingly, it should be as transparent as possible, within the limits of confidential matters and requirements, to the entire Rumson community. Transparency can be achieved not only by explaining decisions at the board meetings, but also through more extensive postings on the Web site.

I truly believe that the board needs to remember that it’s serving the residents and that the residents need to know that their concerns are being heard. 

Rumson has an educated group of residents that have a strong belief as to what is consistent with the best interests of the school. I think a healthy discussion and disagreement amongst the board on issues would be good as long as the clear goal is the best interest of the school system and the students. 

This is an important time for our school district, and I believe I would make an excellent board member, who can and will carefully assess the questions that will come before the board. I thank everyone for their attention and consideration to this important decision.

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