This is the second in a series of profiles about each of the six Fair Lawn Board of Education candidates.
Vladimir Itkin never paid much attention to elections growing up in his native Moscow. The process just wasn’t very interesting, he said.
“In Russia, either there was no choice — there was only one choice — or later on there was a choice between a bad guy and a very bad guy,” said Itkin, who left Russia for the United States in 1994 to attend graduate school at Ohio State University. “Here in the U.S., there is a real choice.”
Today, Itkin is not only interested in the upcoming election, he’s one of the six candidates vying for three Fair Lawn Board of Education seats.
Itkin, who has two young daughters, began attending board meetings last spring out of curiosity as his elder daughter was preparing to enter Milnes Elementary.
When school started that September, he joined the Milnes PTA and volunteered to attend the board’s monthly meetings and report back to the group.
Since then, Itkin has been a regular at meetings, often peppering the board with reasoned questions each month.
Itkin said that as he grew more involved, he became increasingly interested in the process and eventually decided he could best contribute to the district by sitting on the board.
The first-time candidate recognizes that while his Russian immigrant status may affect some voters’ perception of him — be it positively or negatively — he feels his exposure to another culture and educational structure is an asset to his candidacy.
“I’ve been exposed to more diversity, more ways of teaching, ways of doing things.,” said Itkin, who is not affiliated with the majority Russian community group, Unhappy Taxpayers of Fair Lawn. “I can compare [the Russian way] to the American way and pick the best. Sometimes we’re the best, sometimes we’re not the best. And if the latter happens, then there’s an ability to change things."
While Itkin said he’s in no rush to alter the district’s curriculum just for the sake of change, he is keenly interested in further researching its approach to mathematics, especially in the elementary schools.
Fair Lawn elementary students have fared increasingly well on the math portion of the NJASK in recent years using the Everyday Math curriculum, but Itkin said he’s concerned that if the state moves away from the NJASK as it adopts the Core Content Standards, the Everyday Math curriculum may need to be re-evaluated.
“If the change outside of the organization occurs faster than the change inside the organization, you’re going to lose,” said Itkin, who works as an actuary (i.e. “professional mathematician”) for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and has long had an interest in mathematics curriculum.
“In Russia, they say that mathematics is the queen of science,” he continued. “Elementary school mathematics feeds into middle school which feeds into high school. That’s a skill you’ll need in every precise science, and every activity and often in everyday life. That’s something you can’t live without.”
Other than providing students a quality mathematics education, Itkin said his other priority as a board member would be constructing a responsible budget.
“We should spend money on the things that we have to spend money on, and then see what we come up with, as opposed to setting our target first and then deciding where do we spend money to come to that target,” he said. “I think that’s maybe a philosophical change to their approach of constructing the budget.”
Itkin said he would have supported a more gradual, less disruptive privatization of the district’s custodial workers as a cost saving measure. Rather than lay workers off, Itkin said he favored gradually replacing them with privatized staff as the current workers quit or retired—and only if the custodians coming in had passed thorough background checks.
While he’s had various minor quibbles with its actions — particularly regarding the budget and the extended amount of time teachers went without a contract — Itkin is loath to categorically criticize the board, acknowledging his opinion might be different if he’d been on the inside of budget and contract discussions.
He said that, if elected, he’ll join the board with a focus on budget reform, but also with an open mind.
“If I were convinced that you absolutely had to increase the budget 2 percent to maintain quality education, I will be the first to vote for the 2 percent,” he said. “But you’ll have to convince me first.”