20 Questions with New Rochelle Board of Education Candidate Valarie Williams

Written By: Robert Cox
  1. The budget was approved by the board unanimously on April 23rd.  If you had been on the board on that day, how would you have voted and why?

The budget was approved by the board unanimously on April 23. Based on this premise, I assume that the board members reached a consensus, prior to the vote even being cast. If I were on the board, I would have voted “yes”, based on the consensus that was reached. 

2. Currently, most of the top administrative positions in the District are held on an interim basis; come July 1st, four board members will have been replaced in 12 months, 7 of 9 board members will be in their first term in office and 6 of those 7 will have just two years on the board. Speak to the issue of stability as it applies to the administration and the board the impact on recruiting senior-level administrators.

Consistent leadership matters. Fortunately, New Rochelle still has veteran board members. Moreover, our interim school leaders have school leadership experience and credentials which are transferable to their current interim positions. Similarly, I am a veteran school administrator, teacher leader, and teacher with experience in school leadership. I welcome the opportunity to on-board the new superintendent and share my knowledge of school leadership and governance with my colleagues on the board. I have experience in hiring school personnel and an assistant superintendent. I have schooled byWestchester County superintendents and I can consult with them. I earned a M.S.Ed. in School Administration and I learned how to build a budget and how to reduce a budget by 10%. As a special education summer school principal, I developed and implemented a budget for 70+ and 200+ students. I have working experience with school education policy, school law, and special education regulations. 

3. The Superintendent Search was run by the current school board President who will no longer be on the board after June 30th. As a new board member, you will inherit his recommendation for a new Superintendent along with a new School Business Official and NRHS Principal. Would you support the board postponing a decision on these critical hires until after a new board is seated even if that meant filling key positions on an interim basis for another year?

On July 1, 2019, the new board will have an opportunity to select key staff. We will have an opportunity to use best practice in human resources management. I have studied these practices in my doctoral course work in Executive Leadership through St. John Fisher College.  In addition, I have been on interview committees as a teacher leader and as a principal. The new board will have opportunity for a fresh start as we select key leaders. This process will also help us to bond a team. 

4. There was a recent board discussion about the demands placed on board members in the context of reducing board terms from 5 years to 3 years. Would you support shorter terms? Would you support term limits? Would you support a $10,000 annual stipend for board members?

I do not support reducing the board terms from 5 years to 3 years. We need stability particularly when we need to on-board so many key leadership positions. We need to trust that we have selected the best key leaders and once they are there, the board needs to work with them and each other in the spirit of goodwill and collegiality. The board and administration need to work together for the benefit of the students. 

However, I do support term limits. I think that it is prudent to allow different voices to be heard on the board instead of having the same voices for 20+ years. I would support an annual stipend for board members or at least upfront payment forevents, fees, training, travel, lodging, food, professional journals, and other costs that are associated with board business. 

5. There has been a great deal of discussion over the past 16 months regarding School Resource Officers. What is your position on school security generally and SROs in particular?

Student safety is a priority. The publicschool mandate is to provide a free and appropriate education in a safe environment.I do not want armed police officers in our school. The police have an important job. However, I do not feel safe having guns around me or the children. New York City has unarmed SRO’s who are trained by the NYPD. I don’t want our children, families and the community at large to have the false impression that theenvironment in the New Rochelle schools is so dangerous that only a person with a gun can save us. There are protocols and procedures that are mandated by New York State. We need to work with BOCES and the existing legislation like SAVE and DASA and offer common sense, evidence based, security measures that will improve the discipline, climate and culture of our schools. I think the money can go towards professional development and providing our current security staff a fair and living wage. In addition, I think that hiring more community-based security we would be effective. Community-based securityguards know and have a vested interest in our children making the best decisions. It is a stepping-stone to the middle class. 

7. The demands on school board members have increased exponentially over the past decade or so starting with moving meetings out of City Hall to the school buildings, then adding principal presentations, then adding student performances, then adding various board sub-committees like a Policy Committee, then adding a School Buddy program, then adding ad hoc committees like Culture & Climate which meet during the school day. Is this a concern and, if so, how would you address it?

As a board member, I think that we must adhere closely to the mandates and guidelines for board service. I think we should caucus with other boards of education at the local, state, andnational levels to determine best practice in board service. We can share our experiences and work to improve board service throughout the state. 

9. 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 elections by districts so that every elementary school district has one representative on the school board?

Board service is at-large. There are benefits and inequities. I think having an effective board, might attract people from other areas of the city. I would add diversity and balance to the board. I have been educator for 25 years. I have worked as a reading specialist, classroom teacher, teacher leader, special education summer school principal. I am a native New Rochellian and Igraduated from New Rochelle High School, and I attended Jefferson, Trinity, and Isaac E. Young Jr. High School on the southside. My family lived in the Hartley Houses, then we moved to Franklin Avenue., Park Place, and Drake Avenue. Education through the New Rochelle public schools, Iona College of New Rochelle were steppingstones to the middle class.    

10. You wake up late. There is no time to go through your typical morning routine. What do you do about breakfast?  Where do you eat it? What do you eat?

Typically, I have a light breakfast which consists of a hard-boiled egg, a banana, and a cup of coffee, which I eat in my car on my way to work. 

12. 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?

I would need examine the regulations and look at past practices and best practices. Then I would act in a manner that is appropriate for a board member and keep in mind what is most prudent and economical course of action. 

13. 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?

Transportation is a key line item in any school budget. I think that it is prudent to examine past busing feasibility studies to inform our decision to commission a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing. Based on our findings we can determine the best busing feasibility to examine. 

14. 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.

Typically, people who are receiving appropriate communication are silent, because they are not having a problem. I think that the board can canvass the public on this issue and determine what type of communication people would desire, the frequency, and accessibility of communication. Then develop a plan and determine how it will be funded and who will implement, assess, and maintain the modes of communication. 

15. 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 2019, how often have you attended board of education meetings? Other?

Over the past years, I have attended and supported various New Rochelle School District activities.  Prior to 2019, I have attended about 2 BOE meetings a year. I have been a PTA member of the PTA in my school district 

16. What are your thoughts on the T&M investigation related to Apex Online Learning?

Online learning is the current wave. However, there is the challenge of assuring that students are doing the required work and they are being graded fairly. I think that is beneficial for students to earn grades honestly. I think that questionable grading activity needs to be investigated. In addition, students need to be given the opportunity resubmit their work if there are questions of impropriety on the part of the educators. Struggling students need to assistance in completing assignments independently and up to standard.

17. The New York State School Board Association identifies three primary responsibilities of school boards (financial oversight, policy, hiring and firing of senior level staff) with the budget being the biggest responsibility. 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?

I have prepared a budget for a special education summer school with 70+ staff and 200+ students. As part of my M.S.Ed. in School Administrated I created a budget and reduced the budget by 10% under the tutelage of a school business official. I have connections with Westchester superintendents. I managed funds from $200,000 federal Voluntary School Improvement Grant as the facilitator of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program. Outside of K-12, I worked for a fullservice credit union. I worked as a bank teller, check processor, telephone customer service representative, and account researcher.  

18. 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 have adhered to strategic roadmaps in my school district. I have developed strategic road maps with my fellow students in my school administration classes. I feel comfortable with hearing the rational for the items in the roadmap. People put their time and dedication into forming the map and I want to show respect for the work that they completed. If you have ever worked on a group project, you know how personal it can be. I have respect for the work that people have done. When people feel that you respect them, they will work with you. I need my colleagues on the board to want to work with me, in the spirt of comradery. In addition, the new superintendent will create his or her own strategic roadmap. I feel comfortable working with veteran board members to make the current strategic road map work until it is changed or fine-tuned by the new superintendent. 

19. 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 am a life-long learner. I plan to continue my learning in the field of education. I want to form relationships with people at all levels of academia. At the state level, I was appointed as a reading specialist to the 2016 Common Core Standards Review Committee in Albany. Out of 1,000 people I was selected to serve. I would like to work on other state and federal educational committees. Perhaps I will take leadership positionson state and federal school board committees. 

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

I am running for the New Rochelle Board of Education, because I am a native New Rochellian and a career educator.  I am a graduate of New Rochelle High School and I attended Jefferson, Trinity, and Isaac E. Young, Jr. High School. I received a world-class education in the New Rochelle public schools and I want to use my skills as a reading specialist, teacher leader, and special education summer school principal to help on-board the new superintendent, administrators, and staff as we implement our strategic roadmap to raise student achievement and promote wellbeing.

The issue of under staffing must be addressed and I have used best practices in human resources to hire central office and building level staff. In addition, the district needs to be fiscally responsible and I have prepared a budget for a special education summer school with 70+ staff and 200+ students. Outside of K-12, I was a Senior Member Services Representative at a full-service federal credit union. Also, the district needs to remain in compliance with federal, state, and local mandates and I have studied school law in my master’s and doctoral courses, and I have a working knowledge of special education policy.

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