Jakob Lau, New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate

20 Questions with New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate Jakub Lau

Written By: Robert Cox

Jakub Lau – 2018 Candidate for New Rochelle Board of Education

1. The budget was approved by the board 5-2 on April 17 (5 board members voted for it, 2 voted against it, 1 effectively abstained by not attending the meeting, 1 member resigned months prior to the vote). If you had been on the board on April 17, how would you have voted (YES or NO only; please explain why)

I would have voted no on the budget. The amount of funds not allocated to specific projects or initiatives creates a lack of transparency that justifiably upsets many residents, especially when we are being asked to break the tax cap. Even the funds that are allocated to specific things, like more guidance counselors and ELL teachers, lack the details about how these new staff members will be utilized. This is unacceptable. Not only must we ensure that our residents understand the outcomes they should expect for their tax dollars, but we must also look at best practices from other districts, which have been able to communicate their budget and priorities to their citizens in a clearer manner. 

2. Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne’s current contract expires June 30, 2019. Under the contract, the school board is required to notify Dr. Osborne if they are extending his contract by June 30, 2018. This is not an academic question as one of you will be the second highest vote getter and thus seated immediately and actually face this issue for real on May 16th when you are sworn in. So, if you were on the board now would you vote to offer Dr. Osborne a contract extension? (YES or NO only; please explain why; if YES would you change anything about Dr. Osborne’s contract and what would that be?)

I believe Dr. Osbourne’s current contract strips the board of too much of its oversight power. The board should have input in the hiring of district leadership positions beyond the Superintendent. Currently, it does not. I would demand that Dr. Osbourne provide to the board a written action plan indicating his SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) Goals for the district to be accomplished by June 30, 2019. These SMART goals must address issues such as re-registration and developing authentic restorative justice practices. As of now, I do not believe that Dr. Osbourne has displayed the type of visible leadership and clear vision for New Rochelle Public Schools required to create the type of school system that best serves its students, which is why I would vote no on a full term contract extension.

3. What would you do about NRHS Principal Reggie Richardson? Under Dr. Osborne’s contract, he alone makes decisions on hiring/firing all employees (other than himself). Further, Reggie Richardson is tenured so you cannot fire him except for cause. So, given these constraints, how would you advise Dr. Osborne on the matter of whether or not to retain Reggie Richardson as Principal of New Rochelle High School?

Considering the challenges faced by New Rochelle High School this year, and the community’s concerns about how these challenges have been addressed, I would advise Dr. Osbourne to develop a Principal Improvement Plan with Principal Richardson for the 2018-2019 school year. This plan should be based on SMART goals and Dr. Osbourne’s decision to retain Principal Richardson for the 2019-2020 school year should be based on the successful implementation of this plan. If the Principal Improvement Plan is not successfully implemented, this would allow the superintendent to fire Principal Richardson with cause. Developing clear action plans to determine retention decisions is how I run my school, and it is the type of methodical and strategic thinking I am looking to bring to our School Board. 

4. There has been some consideration given to outsourcing school security to a private firm which would result in firing all security guards (general school aides) and security officers (4 administrators). They could then apply for a job with the security company. Would you support outsourcing school security to a private security contractor? (YES or NO only; please explain why)

No, I would not support outsourcing school security. This would create a separation between the school community and those responsible for creating a culture of safety. Safety begins with a culture of mutual respect and adherence to agreed upon norms for conduct for students and staff. This is far more difficult to achieve when those responsible for maintaining that code of conduct are not part of the community which has to live by that code. 

5. It has been a long-standing board policy (and practice) that New Rochelle High School is a “closed campus”? Although the policy has never changed, the practice was changed two years ago to a de facto open campus policy. This became a major issue after the death of Valaree Schwab. Would you vote to rescind this policy or not? (YES or NO only; please explain why)

It is a dangerous practice to have one policy in writing and a different de facto policy, since this is the current situation, I would vote yes to rescind the current policy. This is a perfect example of the type of concerning practice that as a school board member I would work voraciously to stomp out, and an example of a practice I do not tolerate in my school as Principal. I would demand that a new policy that is adhered to in practice by all stakeholders is implemented. 

6. There has been recent discussions about breaking out the Special Education budget by school rather than a single district-wide line item as has been past practice. Would you support breaking out the Special Education budget by school? (YES or NO only; please explain why)

I support breaking out the Special Education budget by school. This would help ensure that the Special Education budget is equitably distributed across all schools and students in New Rochelle. It would also allow for greater transparency. However, it is important to remember equitable does not mean equal; we must ensure that any break out of the budget ensures that all students receives not only their mandated services, but any additional supports they need to succeed. 

7. There was a good deal of controversy after the arrest of the student alleged to have stabbed and killed another student in January because she was residing in Yonkers while attending New Rochelle High School. Although it appears she had a legal right to attend NRHS (she was previously designated as “homeless”), there was a surge in interest for a residency audit where every student in the City School District of New Rochelle would be required to prove they are legally entitled to attend New Rochelle public school. There has been some question whether to do staggered audits by grades, over several years, or all at once, eventually or over this coming summer. Do you support a residency audit and, if so, which approach would you prefer? (YES or NO only on whether you support a residency audit; if YES please explain your preferred method).

I support a residency audit and understand that Dr. Osbourne has already announced that such an audit will occur this summer. This is a great first step, but it is not enough. In order to address this problem long-term, we must, at a minimum, have students re-register as rising 6th graders and rising 9th graders, or when they switch schools within New Rochelle. 

8. In New York State, City School District’s typically have 5 year terms for school board members. School boards do not typically have term limits. School board elections in New Rochelle are city wide elections. Since the law changed from appointed to elected school board members, over 90% of school board members have resided within elementary school districts that feed into Albert Leonard Middle School (i.e., North End). Would you support any change to any of this? Would you support term limits or elections by districts so that every elementary school district has one representative on the school board, term limits, three year terms, other?

I support a two (2) five year term limit on school board members. Considering the already low turnout for school board elections, I am concerned that requiring board members from specific elementary school districts would result in even fewer residents having a voice in selecting our school board. We must insure that any changes to our election laws do not have the effect of lowering voter turnout. 

9. It is Friday evening. You had a long week. You arrive home too tired to think about preparing a meal. You decide to order “take out”. Where do you order from? What do your order for yourself? Where in your home do you sit while you eat?

I love to cook, I find the process to be meditative; cooking helps me to reflect on my week and determine next steps for my various responsibilities. It does not hurt that my wife loves my steaks and my interpretations of mom’s Polish recipes. That having been said, if I get home too late to cook, my wife and I enjoy a pizza from either Sal’s Pizza II or Deanna’s.

10. The board spends months holding entire meetings solely on the budget including multiple hearings from February to May. These are discussions on where the District plans to spend money. The board spends only a fraction of one meeting each fall on the auditor’s report which covers only actual spending (audited financials). There are no hearings and the audited financials are not released well in advance of the meeting. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending (i.e., the budget)? (YES or NO only; please explain why)

Yes, I would support this. I welcome and support all ideas that increase transparency and accountability for how our tax dollars are allocated. I have significant experience building consensus and collaboration among varied stakeholders, and making changes to the budget process is an important step to building collaboration and trust among stakeholders in New Rochelle. 

11. The City School District of New Rochelle spends large sums of money on outside counsel for legal services, in the neighborhood of $1,000,000 a year. Some of the legal services are highly specialized so hiring specialists may make sense for certain work but much of the work is routine. Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff (like the City of New Rochelle has done for many years) to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? (YES or NO only; please explain why)

Yes, I would support hiring in-house counsel if a review of outside counsel spending vs. the projected cost of a in-house legal counsel showed clear evidence of cost saving by hiring in-house counsel. These types of decisions must be based on clear data, which can then be shared with the community as justification for the decision. This is how we restore trust. 

12. Under New York State law, in-district busing of elementary school students in New Rochelle is partially reimbursable for distances over 1.5 miles. Still, there are benefits to busing students under 1.5 miles despite the lack of reimbursement (student safety, lifestyle benefit to parents, traffic reduction especially around the schools, lower greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). Also, not every student eligible for busing under 1.5 miles would take the bus as they may live close enough where walking is a preferred option and of those who do accept there be existing empty seats on currently scheduled routes. To understand the economics and various pros and cons, would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing? (YES or NO only; please explain why).

Yes, I would support commissioning a feasibility study. I know that bussing is a concern for many families and a feasibility study is the first step to show that the concerns of our community are being heard by our school board. Ensuring voices of stakeholders are heard is a key part of why I am running for school board, I want to help restore the role of the board as a bridge between the the school district and the community. 

13. With the prevalence of social media and online discussion, and a growing interest and awareness of issues regarding our schools, would you support more frequent and accessible communication? Are you satisfied with the methods, frequency and transparency of communication employed by the district. Suggest three ways it could be improved.

I am not satisfied the methods, frequency, or transparency of communication. Here are my top three suggestions for how this could be improved: 

  • Public board meetings should be streamed on Facebook Live in addition to the current live streams. Links to these streams should be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is inappropriate to not take full advantage of the social media tools at our disposal to boost community involvement in our schools. 
  • Adjust the structure of public board meetings; most importantly addressing:
  • Having a rotation of board members respond to questions, and not having all responses to public comment come solely from the Board President. 
  • Combining public comment and Q/A  at public board meetings. Having Q/A happen after public comment limits the amount of voices heard. 
  • Each board member should visit at least one school every school year and report back to the board on the needs they saw during their visit. These meetings and their outcomes should be addressed throughout the budget process. 

14. To what degree have you been involved with the New Rochelle School District over the past 10 years? As a parent? As a PTA member? Volunteer? Vendor? Prior to 2018, how often have you attended board of education meetings? Other?

I have worked as a Teacher, District-Level Coordinator, Assistant Principal, and Principal over the last 12 years. I also serve on the board of It Takes a Village to Educate a Child, and organization that provides STEAM enrichment programs to Special Education students here in New Rochelle. While I only started attending board meeting or watching live streams of the meetings since moving to New Rochelle in 2015; I have been attending board meetings, community meetings, and PTA meetings as a facilitator and participant throughout my career as an educator. This gives me a unique perspective that allows me to not only be aware of what is happening in our community, but to also know how other communities have successfully addressed issues of communication, transparency, and trust.

15. Would you support requiring regular reports to the board (in open session) on how they are implementing the Code of Conduct (PBIS/Restorative Justice) adopted in 2016 and providing meaningful data with which to evaluate progress? (YES or NO only; please explain why).

Yes on both fronts. As I hope I have made clear in my responses, I support any initiative that creates greater communication, transparency, and trust. Furthemore, I believe that these regular reports should be delivered by the superintendent. This would help ensure that the superintendent personally monitors this initiative across our district, and is invested in its success. 

16. The New York State School Board Association identifies three primary responsibilities of school boards (financial oversight, policy, hiring and firing of senior level staff). Policy comes almost entirely from BOCES, New York State and the Federal government. Dr. Osborne’s contract gives him control over all hiring. That leaves financial oversight as the only real role left to the board. Given this, and that if you win a full term, you will be responsible for spending over $1.5 billion dollars of other people’s money, describe your level of financial literacy. What about your background has prepared you to evaluate and adopt (or not) a budget with hundreds of millions in expenses?

As a New York CIty Principal, I am responsible for creating and implementing a budget for my school aligned to implementing my vision. The spending priorities in my budget must be aligned to at least five SMART goals that are supported by action plans for how each goal will be achieved. I want to bring this type of systematic, goal-based budgeting philosophy to our school board. This will prevent us from having a budget that is difficult to understand by many members of our community, and will ensure that the board and the superintendent are accountable for ensuring that spending is aligned to clear goals. Currently, it is too easy to justify spending (and breaking the tax cap) with generalities that do not explain where taxpayer funds are going and how they will create meaningful growth in student outcomes. 

17. The board adopted a strategic road before your term would begin. You had no say in it but would operate under it. Identify three elements of the strategic road map that you feel the board got right (and why). Identify up to three (if any) elements that you would change or drop altogether (and why)? In your answer, address your experience in developing, implementing and measuring progress towards long range plans and objectives.

I agree with the format the board utilized for creating the strategic roadmap. However, what is missing are` the details of how we will achieve the stated mission of  “a high quality and challenging education for every child, in a safe, nurturing environment that embraces our rich diversity and drives our success.” As an example of where details are missing, the road map discusses that “CSDNR will receive job relevant, differentiated professional development grounded in best practices for adult learning.” However, we do not know the pedagogical foci of this professional development. In order for this professional development goal to be meaningful, it requires a focus. In my role as a Principal, I have developed in collaboration with key stakeholders an instructional focus that drives professional development at my school (in my school, this focus is student engagement). An effective strategic roadmap should require every school to develop an instructional focus that drives their implementation of the differentiated professional development called for by the roadmap. The devil is in the details for successful implementation of any roadmap. I have the experience to make sure those details are discussed and implemented. 

18. Having by now completed many years of your own education, describe your various learning experiences over the course of your lifetime (in school but not exclusively), which had the most meaning to you? How do you continue to work to expand your understanding of the world around you as part of your personal learning experience?

I have had the benefit of a comprehensive formal and informal education that has shaped my understanding of the world. I immigrated to the United States from Poland a few weeks before I began first grade, My experience as an English Language Learner taught me how important it is to ensure those new to any community feel welcome and are given opportunities to be active members of that community. Growing up in the Boston area, I had the opportunity to attend The Roxbury Latin School on scholarship, one of the most academically selective private schools in the United States. This experience not only instilled in me the value of rigorous experiential learning, but also formed one of my core values: to whom much is given, from them much is expected. Throughout my formal education at Vanderbilt University, City University of New York, Columbia University, and the New York City Leadership Academy I have been blessed with numerous mentors who have always challenged my thinking and pushed me to always challenge my beliefs. I continue to be a lifelong learner, and I hope to learn and grow along with the rest of our school board. Such an educational philosophy is what will bring the greatest growth to our District. 

19. What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected?

I am the only candidate with experience leading a school, providing meaningful and actionable professional development to educators, and crafting a budget for an educational institution. I also have experiencing bringing together various stakeholders toward a common vision. A consensus builder that can help diverging viewpoints come together for mutually agreeable solutions is what our school board desperately needs in order to address the challenges faced by New Rochelle. I am the most qualified and capable candidate to achieve this goal. 

20. Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on May 15th?

What I have valued most throughout this campaign process is meeting so many active New Rochelle citizens, including the other candidates for the School Board. I have valued the conversations I have been able to have both in person and via Social Media. I hope I have the opportunity to continue that dialogue via my Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/lauforschoolboard (which I will continue to check after the election). I can also be reached at LauForSchoolBoard@gmail.com. Regardless of who you are voting for, I encourage all New Rochelle residents to get out and vote on May 15th!