Niraj Patel is one of four Libertarian candidates running for New Hope-Solebury School Board in the Nov. 5 election.
He lives on Pidcock Creek Road with his wife, son, daughter, and two cats. The Patels are a driving force behind the local science fair, although they seem to prefer to avoid the limelight.
Patel received his BBA in MIS and Finance from Temple University, and Executive Education at the Wharton Business School. A global entrepreneur, Patel specializes in technology, finance, real estate, and knowledge process outsourcing. He was an EVP and CIO at GMAC Commercial Mortgage, founded ISGN (a mortgage technology provider), is a managing director at Musser Group (private equity company), a partner at Witmer Partners (business advice and management services), and is both an adjunct professor and executive-in-residence at the Fox School of Business.
I asked him why he decided to run for office. “When I got asked, I didn’t say ‘yes,’ I said ‘let me think about it,’ and I thought about how technology and education are changing at such a rapid pace that no school district has enough talent to handle it today. So they need all the brain power they can get with technology to help them make better decisions and make better relationships, so I said to myself, ‘You know what? I had to do that in corporate’ — you look for technology that would benefit the business, you selected it, you worked with emerging ones, and you worked with right partnerships, and you made sure people knew how to use them. The rate of change is increasing, unlike five years ago, when there wasn’t the Khan Academy, there wasn’t Corsair, there weren’t all these new tool sets that are available today.”
In terms of whether Patel sees the greatest opportunities for using technology in the administrative or student learning area, he said, “The kids already know how to use it. They sometimes need guidance. The teachers have to be able to guide the kids in the right direction, so they can recommend an app to a student, for example. How do we get them that language?”
If elected, the technology questions that would most concern Patel from a board perspective would be, “What does our school system need? Are we okay? Are we better? Are we worse? Do we need more? Are we behind or ahead of the students…academically speaking, because technology is just an enabler of things…it could be sports, like ‘Do I have all the right technology to make sure that my kids have all the assessments done before they get out on the field?’ Technology is really about getting it to do what you want it to do,” he observed.
“In corporations, you had a discipline of what they called a ‘total cost of ownership’ on technology…I think we may need some assistance in our total cost of ownership today. It’s the entire cost of ownership: So, when did I buy it? What’s the life of this equipment? Is it going to run out in two years? What am I going to use it for? Are people trained enough to use it? Will I get the value out of this I need? And when it’s all done, do I get another device? If the market is shifting, if I’m going to go fully ‘bring your own device’ does that mean I’m phasing out computers in the school, and everyone’s going to bring in their own device, and will I need a super high-speed network because I want it to be perfect and running right?” asked Patel.
“Technology is all about productivity and efficiency. But also technology companies have a tendency to be more partnership centric, so they’re willing to put things on the table to work with a school district like ours in different ways, so how do you engage some of those players to partner with us? And when you talk about security, it’s tech enabled. There’s cameras. Are we just going to put up cameras, or are we going to do something more sophisticated with cameras? Are our cameras going to be smart enough to know what kind of cars are driving by — is there an odd car; what’s going on?
“How can we manage facilities better?” he continued. “What are the brains behind our building management systems? How do we handle how much electricity we’re using? What’s our normal electricity usage? Should we we be turning off our air conditioners at 11 p.m. and have them kick back on before 6 a.m.?” asked Patel.
“All of those things mean better dollars for us — if we manage our electricity better it means more money for us for other things…like education.”
“During campaigning,” he continued, “One of the most frequent questions we’ve received is on online education…should we be doing more in k-12. And my answer is, yeah it’s great to have, but it’s not the end all. Look, there’s no reason that with our school district size, every one of our kids should have the option of going to Ivy League, to a superior school if they chose to, we can do it…we’re small enough.”
“With businesses, it wasn’t what I did with the business, it was what I did to make the CEO more successful,” said Patel. “In this case, what did I do to help the teachers and administration to make better educated kids, more well-rounded kids, better able to take on the world?”
Ultimately, Patel would like future generations to recall of his contribution to the the school system that “He used what he knew, and he made it better.”