Election Profile: Ira Thor For Howell Township Board Of Education

HOWELL, NJ - Four seats are up for grabs on the Howell Township Board of Education, according to the Monmouth County Clerk's Office.

For the full-term race (with three seats open), board vice president Albert "Al" Miller, Dr. Denise M. Lowe, Ira Thor, and Stephen Dobbins will be campaigning for a seat. Thor, Lowe and Miller are current members seeking to maintain their spots, while Dobbins is a newcomer slated to challenge the incumbents. Current board member Laurence Gurman is also running unopposed for a two-year unexpired term.

Thor is a Howell resident of over 10 years and father of three children, all of whom have attended or are currently attending Howell Township schools. The incumbent has over 20 years of higher education experience, with wife Kathryn touting more than 20 years of experience in special education.

Thor is the Senior Director of University Communications and Media Relations at New Jersey City University, serving as the Chief Communications Officer and spokesperson for the university. Prior to this role, he served as Assistant Director of Athletics for Strategic Communications for 20 years. He also works in professional and collegiate sports, including the NFL’s New York Giants, New York Jets and the NCAA, as well as a number of local colleges as an announcer, broadcaster and statistician.

The Board of Education candidate is a graduate of Fair Lawn High School and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from William Paterson University in 2000. He is currently completing an M.B.A. at New Jersey City University.

“I am seeking re-election for a second term on the Board of Education because as a father of three, the future of our district matters to me,” Thor told Patch. “I'm running because this is something I care about. My wife, Kathryn and I have three children who altogether will be attending Howell Township Schools for 22 consecutive academic years. That’s why I am drawn to give back and to serve the community. This is personal for me because this is about my children and their friends, my neighbor’s children and those kids I will never interact with but are our future.”

Are you running for a spot on the board of education? Contact Nicole Rosenthal at nicole.rosenthal@patch.com for information on being featured in a candidate profile and submitting campaign announcements to Patch.

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

This year, more than any year ever before, the issues are very straightforward. The most important issue right now is the safe re-opening of our school district (and our community) while navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic. If this is not done correctly and monitored continuously, it will have near-term devastating health impacts and long-term will permanently derail the education of an entire generation of children. This is very likely the most important issue that has ever faced the Howell Township Board of Education (or any school district in the country). As a member of the Community Interaction Committee, I was directly involved in the planning of the reopening process which sought input from hundreds of members of our community. I attended every in-person meeting of the Board and was the only Board member to wear a mask while on the dais, demonstrating PPE use. I have publicly demonstrated to the community how our own children were responsibly wearing PPE. I have led by example and I will continue to be ‘in the trenches’ on this issue.

I would like to monitor over the next three years what I call the ‘Progression Gap’. With learning upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, our students may ultimately fall grossly behind the academic progress of students from past years, which will have a permanent impact on their educational foundation. While the solution for this is yet unclear, I think it is vitally important that we monitor the academic growth of our students now more than ever and provide opportunities for intervention.

What are the critical differences between you and the other candidates seeking to serve on the
school board seat?:

While I respect my fellow current Board members and anyone who is willing to run for a nonpartisan, volunteer position such as the Board of Education, one of the biggest differences between me is my current stage of parenthood, communication style, and decision making approach. I am the only candidate this year with children currently enrolled in the Howell Township Public Schools and will until 2028. That matters. This is a crucially important perspective because I am living the issues as a parent.

Additionally, I am a professional communicator. As a chief communications officer for a University in this state who has served on national boards during my career, I fully understand the importance of transparent, honest communication in building community partnerships and perpetuating growth. Furthermore, I value input from the community and seek it out before making decisions. I am someone the community trusts because I have been a genuine, outspoken leader who cares and has demonstrated that through my actions, not my words.
Describe the other issues that define your campaign platform:

Other than our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education, the second vital issue right now continues to be school funding and its impact on the property taxes of our community. New Jersey’s S-2 bill, in theory, was meant to modernize the state’s school funding formula for the first time in a decade. But in practice, it is going to decimate and destroy the budgets of the Howell K-8 School District AND the Freehold Regional High School. Howell was cut $1.6 million last year prior to COVID-19 hurting the state budgets even further, and the FRHSD lost $6 million. Over a 7-year period, this is one of the most serious financial funding impacts that will ever be felt by our community. Ultimately, districts like Howell that have largely carefully planned and budgeted for years have had its fiscal responsibility used against them. Taxing our community to make up the shortfall is NOT an option. The solutions to this are legislative advocacy and efficiencies. We will continue to work with our district administration to find ways to modernize our district to realize cost savings and make processes more efficient to save where we can. Additionally, as a member of the Howell Township BOE Legislative Advocacy Committee, we must continue to press our state legislators to restore much of this funding. Our taxpayers and students cannot be held accountable and forced to endure the burden for the mismanagement elsewhere in the state.

What accomplishments in your past would you cite as evidence you will be effective on the
school board?:

When I ran in 2017, I discussed making the Board of Education more transparent with the community and I think we have achieved that and will continue to improve in this area. Among the ideas I spearheaded was the introduction of live streaming of all meetings, which we began doing in 2018 to allow people to attend meetings in person or remotely, to make it convenient to follow the Board of Education wherever they are, regardless of their schedule. Who knew that in 2020, this would become so critical with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing our meetings to become remote?

More than anything, I have been an advocate for families who have real issues. Hundreds of families in this community have contacted me to help them and I have always done so. The most notable example of this came in Summer and Fall, 2019, when I defended the rights of families who differed with the proposed changes to the district’s busing policy, despite my being at odds over the issue with the rest of the Board. The safety of our children and the concerns of families are important and I will never back down if I feel something is wrong.

The best advice ever shared with me was:

I’ve received a lot of advice in my life but much of the best advice I’ve ever received came from reading the thoughts of others.

Former Governor Chris Christie’s mother Sondra told him "Be yourself. Because if you are, you're not going to have to worry tomorrow about remembering who you pretended to be yesterday."

Time is valuable and important to me. We need to make the time we have on this planet meaningful and significant because it is limited and time is our greatest commodity.

Steve Jobs once said "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

And the greatest quote I ever read about why it’s important to serve and help people also came from Steve Jobs: "If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say you'll fix it later… that's what others do."

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

I'm a moderate, progressive thinker and I can rationally see both sides of any issue. I'm not afraid of challenges. I know how to communicate with people. I know how to listen to people's concerns. I know how to lead in a positive, engaging way. I love this community and this town and I’m excited to serve another three years.

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This article originally appeared on the Howell Patch