“My mother sacrificed in Detroit to send me to a private school so that I could come here to Princeton and send my daughter to a public school,” explained James Fields, Christian Union Ministry Director at the University and a for Princeton’s School Board.
Fields threw his hat into the ring because of a deep passion for education, a zeal instilled in him by his mother, an educator, and his grandfather, a pastor and mentor.
“It’s been no secret in my family that education is the way to advance oneself, not only in life, but also in socioeconomic status,” said Fields, adding that, “education has always been of prime importance for me and my family.”
As a ministry fellow of an organization that serves over 350 University students, Fields provided mentorship and helped coordinate the ten-week Bible study courses the ministry offers. In June of 2017, he was promoted to direct the University’s chapter of the ministry, overseeing the organization’s budget and working to ensure that the ministry fellows are set up for success in their mentorship roles.
Fields' entrance into Princeton’s educational scene was closely tied to his role as a concerned parent of two Princeton Public Schools (PPS) students; he has a fourth grader and a kindergartener who attend Johnson Park Elementary School.
Last April, Fields was invited to attend a meeting between PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane ‘81 and African-American teachers in the district. He was the only parent there.
The meeting was designed to allow these African-American teachers to share their experiences and observations of how students of color are treated at PPS and any concerns they may have about the district. Fields was deeply encouraged by two things that he observed.
“One was the honest, frank, and transparent way the African-American teachers were able to voice their concerns to Steve Cochrane, [and the other was] to see how Steve Cochrane was willing and wanting to engage with them on these issues,” he said.
Fields noted that he became passionate about the Princeton educational scene at this very meeting.
“The desire to not only talk about problems, but actually be in the place of conversations and be in the place of creating solutions for problems was really birthed for me in that meeting,” Fields said.
Encouraged by the support of his family and some members of the community, Fields decided that he wanted to continue the conversation and add to it as a member of Princeton’s School Board.
Although Fields explained that no one person can solve these issues, he does believe that “through intentionality, through having a fresh perspective, and through having greater representation on the Board, some of these issues [can be alleviated].”
Fields cited his prior experience in K-12 education as preparation for the school board. Before coming to Princeton, he was a school administrator at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., where he had a chance to facilitate a culture and community that was conducive for all students.
“I have experience really bringing together diverse voices, diverse perspectives, and diverse cultures,” he said. “I want to bring that expertise and experience to the school board.”
When asked to weigh in on the Princeton Charter School (PCS) , Fields said that he understands why some parents would want to send their children there, even though it is not a part of his own educational philosophy.
“PCS is a part of the community, whether we like it or not, and they’re here, they’re taxpayers, and a lot of the parents at PCS also have children at PPS. I think it’s unhealthy for us to create dichotomies between the two,” explained Fields. “They are both funded through taxpayer dollars. Because of that, I would like to see transparency on both sides, PPS and PCS, and I would like to see where we can have greater collaboration and cooperation.”
Fields does not support the continuation of the PPS lawsuit against PCS, saying that it has become financially excessive and that it is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Although Fields is quick to assert that the Princeton community does not want any new charter schools, he has a different view on the relationship PPS has with the Cranbury School District, which doesn't have a high school and therefore sends students in grades 9-12 to Princeton High School.
“We definitely should continue our relationship with Cranbury,” said Fields. “Cranbury and the Charter School are almost the reverse of one another, [the relationship with Cranbury] brings money into the district, the Charter School takes money away.”
Fields also expressed sympathy for concerns raised by residents that more PPS spending means higher taxes.
“I think there is a way in which we need to look at other means, aside from increasing taxes, to increase our revenue," said Fields, adding that “making sure our taxpayers don’t necessarily have to bite the bullet every time there is a need” is another point of focus for him.
Fields’ passion for education has also been influenced by his faith.
“One way that my faith impacts me is this aspect of imago dei – it simply means that all mankind has been created in the image of God and has been given intrinsic value by Him, as their creator,” explained Fields. “Every person is valuable and every person has a right and an ability to grow as image bearers of God.”
He added that one of the main ways we grow is through education. This is why Fields has devoted his professional career to education.
“I think it’s a natural fit for me to continue to be a voice, to provide a fresh and new perspective, and to provide representation on the Board to help build bridges over racial disparity and inequality in our district,” Fields said.
Fields is running against five other candidates for three open School Board spots in the Nov. 7 election.