Biral Patel, an information technology professional with more than 20 years of experience, joined the Edison Board of Education in January 2021.
In our new School Board Member spotlight feature, which we kicked off in January to celebrate Gov. Phil Murphy proclaiming January 2022 as School Board Recognition Month, Patel shares what he’s learned on his school board member journey and more.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science with over 30 professional certifications, such as project management professional, Six Sigma and several other high-profile certifications. My work experience includes various domains, including health care, finance, insurance, mortgage, telecommunications and retail industries. I was also a former member of the Edison Township Zoning Board.
Additionally, I have coached hundreds of individuals in technology, Dale Carnegie human relations and effective communications and other areas. I have also participated and volunteered in Discover Engineering, a program by IBM for science and engineering education for students in New Jersey middle schools.
As a parent of a second grader attending Edison Township Public Schools, I bring a personal passion to serving. I was appointed in January 2021 to fill a vacant seat to serve the remainder of a term. I ran for election in November 2021 and won the election to serve for my full three-year term. I was sworn in for my full term Jan. 3.
Why did you decide to serve on your local board of education?
To make sure our children, parents, educators, staff members and residents are doing the best they can to promote schools that have excellence in education and transparency. Together we can create an environment that fosters growth, stability and helps our schools shine brighter than ever.
I’m just very passionate about academic excellence – as well as serving special needs students and making sure we help students achieve their full potential. When I was a child growing up, my parents struggled very hard to get myself and my sister the best possible education in one of the best schools in our town at that time. I want to work hard to make our district one of the best. I want the children of Edison Township to achieve continuous academic success.
While we have challenges, I do want to say that one of the things I admire most about our district are the wonderful students, parents, educators and staff members. They do a great job. But as a volunteer with several nonprofit organizations, people would reach out to me very often for help, and I would hear about the district’s challenges. I just thought if I could be part of the school board or local government, I could help in a more efficient way.
Can you tell us a little more about your school district?
Edison is the fifth-largest school district in the state of New Jersey. We have a nine-member board and over 16,000 students.
The district includes 19 schools comprised of two high schools, four middle schools, 11 elementary schools and two preschools.
What has surprised you about being a member of your local board of education?
I end of up putting a lot more hours in this volunteer elected role than I previously would have imagined. Since Edison is a huge district, there are several requests that arise every day, and I like to make sure that the appropriate person responds to anyone reaching out for assistance.
What major challenges have you faced as a school board member?
We have a great school district, but we have a lot of work to do – and I’d say the No. 1 issue in my opinion is overcrowding. Our two high schools and middle schools are particularly overcrowded.
For many years, there have been talks about overcrowding and our district had a bond referendum that failed. So, the problem has not been fixed. The district also does not have a full-day kindergarten, and we need one.
I feel it is very important that we work collectively as a board to implement a full-day kindergarten and resolve our overcrowding crisis. It is also very important that we work with the township, the county and state government to make sure we get all the help necessary to resolve our overcrowding issue.
When I was sitting outside the board, I kept thinking this problem has to be resolved right away. If we come together, it is not a hard problem to solve. There are other districts where the government has provided help … but that has not been happening here. We need to make the case that resolving this crisis will be good for everyone. The time for action is now.
What school board accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
From day one, I have tried to step up to work hard and help people. Whether it’s in the corporate world at my job, or community service with several large and small nonprofit organizations or with the board of education, I try to work very hard and put tremendous time and energy into solving problems – and I will continue to do so.
Outside of the board, you’ve done a lot of work to get people vaccinated, correct?
The vaccination initiative we worked on in the beginning of 2021 was also a big achievement for health and safety of everyone. Several months ago, CentralJersey.com published an article highlighting our efforts.
The effort began when we reached out to seniors and the community to help them get registered at the New Jersey Convention and Expo Center in Edison, which is one of the state’s mega vaccine sites and we ended up helping residents seek appointments all over the state wherever available and also giving rides to those in need to get their vaccination.
That is impressive. Can you share more about why you are so passionate about vaccination?
When COVID started, from day one, I was delivering groceries to several seniors of Edison Township and to those who have less immunity or were afraid of COVID in general. I was working very hard even at the peak of the pandemic, delivering food to several residents, hospitals and senior care centers and holding food drives as well as delivering PPE and other necessary equipment to hospitals and at other places.
I also came across many middle school students who were home due to remote learning. I also worked with several middle school and high school students who did paintings showing their appreciation to health care workers. They sold their paintings and then put the money toward relief efforts where I was helping them buying and delivering food to people in need. These children felt very good about their work. I was not a board member at the time, but I started hearing more about the challenges our schools were facing.
When the vaccines came out, getting an appointment was very hard, and people kept asking me where they could find an appointment. So, I would go online and stay up late into the night to book appointments for seniors and other residents who were eligible. I formed a group of volunteers who would stay up into the night to try to secure appointments for whoever needed an appointment – and we also gave some seniors a ride if they did not have one. Our group was fantastic, and I love and admire the work of the volunteers who helped with these efforts.
What challenges has your district faced as a result of the pandemic?
I believe there has been some learning loss that some students have faced – as well as some focus issues, but this is no different than anywhere else.
How does the New Jersey School Boards Association help you carry out your duties as a school board member?
The NJSBA has helped me in my role as a board member by providing webinars, informative training and through its newsletter, School Board Notes.
I have particularly enjoyed webinars related to navigating the pandemic. Everything that the NJSBA has put together on that topic has been very useful. If someone tunes in to the webinars or seeks out the resources, they will find information to guide themselves and others. Also, getting information from other districts and seeing how they have overcome challenges is also helpful.
Patel noted that the views expressed in this article are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Edison Township Board of Education
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