20 Questions with New Rochelle School Board Candidate Tim McKnight

Written By: Robert Cox

Campaign Website

  1. Would you support a more involved public process to review and discuss the annual audited financials, perhaps incorporating a review of actual spending into projected spending? Explain.

Yes, I would support a more involved public process that is transparent. It’s important to see actual spending compared to projected spending so we have a better number to compare to when preparing the next year’s budget.

  1. Would you support hiring an in-­house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.

Yes, I would support hiring an in-­house legal staff to handle routine matters. With the economic distress from Covid-­‐19 it’s important now to look at any ways we can save money. There is always legal counsel that can support our district in a variety of ways throughout the school year.

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

If elected for the school board, I would utilize my direct relationship and first hand experiences with the underserved, low-­‐income community to increase community engagement. I would use my knowledge of program development and network of community partnerships to increase opportunities and services for minority students. I would also be the glue to forge relationships between the City of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle School District and the Community in order to better the student’s educational journey.

  1. Under Dr. Feijóo, since January, the District has refused to fill Freedom of Information requests and, since March, disallowed public comments at regular school board meetings. What is your position on the Board’s role in enforcing transparency?

Transparency is extremely important for any Board that one sits on. We have seen major backlash from the community due to the lack of transparency this board shows. We should make sure we are filling the Freedom of Information Requests and should be making sure all Board Meetings have public comments. This opportunity to hear from the public may provide the board with the thoughts and new perspectives on items that sometimes board members do not consider. We cannot look at these moments during board meetings as a negative period, but as one to gain a pulse of the community. We are elected officials that are charged to provide the best product as possible. It is give-­‐and-­‐take from the board and community that can provide the excellence that is often discussed by our District.

  1. What do you see is the first immediate priority of the school board? Looking out to the end of what would be your term in office, list three outcomes not currently under consideration by the board, that you would like to see accomplished by 2025.

The first immediate priority would be preparing our students and families for a Post Covid education and what that would look like. We need to adequately prepare them for re-­‐entry into our schools. Three outcomes I would like to see by the end of my term would be: More community engagement from the board and district, the decrease of suspensions that adversely affect the African American and Latino students, creation and implementation for a tracking system in house that would track the students progress from Kindergarten to High School (very excited to see the data warehouse in this year’s budget to help support this).

  1. Do you support retaining or removing Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo?

If I were on the Board when Dr. Feijóo was up for consideration I would have voted no on her hiring. However, she is our Superintendent now and I will do everything in my power to support her and the Board to make sure we are striving for educational excellence. I would like to sit down with her and give an in-­depth lesson on who we are as a community and how she can better connect with the community. We are a unique city and this aspect of New Rochelle demands a unique style of leadership, one that cannot emulate practices that were used in New York City.

  1. There has been significant “Black Flight” from the New Rochelle public schools since 2010, with about 650 Black students now “missing”, how would you propose the Board address Black Flight?

“Black Flight” from our community has many layers that do not fall solely on the School District of New Rochelle. I do feel that this small phenomenon can be reversed, but there are some items we must be transparent about and examine as a district. Based on the numbers from 2010, there has been a slight increase in population from the African American community, with a slight decline in the total enrollment numbers. This has many factors that need to be further examined (i.e. location of new members of our community, the household make-up of these new members, the ratio of school aged children and families that have moved out vs. those that have moved in). With the fact that some students of color have dropped in academic performance after their departure from Elementary School, the private school option has become more prevalent for the community. Many households that reside on the North End have the financial means to utilize private schools at a choice for their children. There has also been an increase in student-athlete recruitment from neighboring private schools (Iona Preparatory, Stepinac, Mt. St. Michael, Cardinal Hayes, Fordham Prep) of our local talent. We cannot address the cost of living as a district, but many of the conversations I had with parents that opted for private school is the overall structure and attention to the student-athletes, especially at a HS the size of our single public school. We must develop programs that support the goals of these students. There should be the development of athletic guidance counselor that can support the nearly 500 student athletes during their tenure at the school. We also must address the early opportunities that are provided our students in programs such as PAVE (arts are very big in our community) and Ingnite (many of our students can utilize this as freshman). These are the things that separate us from private schools. This is where a partnership with our city officials can be beneficial, especially with the expected boom to our school population in the forth-coming years.

  1. Would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-­‐K to 5 busing?

Yes, I would 100% support this study. In my position at the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority it has been my mission to support students in anyway possible, and that includes fighting the absenteeism rate I have seen in my community. Anyway, to help our students succeed we need to look at.

  1. There was a great deal of controversy earlier this school year regarding former head football Coach Lou DeRienzo. What are your thoughts on the matter?

I am a New Rochelle Huguenot, born and raised in New Rochelle. I know Coach DiRienzo and I have seen the amazing work he has done for our community. I do not know the specifics of what happened, but I do know that the way it was handled was wrong and a man’s name and reputation became public to the entire state. This should have remained an in-­house disciplinary action that did not deserve the media attention it received.

  1. The District recently announced the hiring of Adofo Muhammad as the new NRHS Principal who then subsequently withdrew. What are your thoughts on that situation?

I am saddened by the way this situation was handled. Mr. Muhammad did not receive the opportunity to do the job he was hired to achieve as the new principal of our High School. I wish him well in the future and hope his family is safe and healthy. Many of the particulars regarding his hiring were not made clear, as there have been a number of speculations about how secure his position was at the time of withdrawal. At this point, we must move forward and hope to secure a new principal by this time next year.

  1. The District plans on moving the Alternative High School from St Gabriel’s Church to Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle. What are your thoughts on that?

I graduated from New Rochelle Schools and was a student at the Alternative Campus. I have seen firsthand the amazing work this program does and thank Mr. Fridovich for creating this atmosphere of learning and running it for so long. I will support a move only if I believe it is in the best interest of the students and the facilities are prepared to house students and can properly accommodate their educational journey.

  1. The COVID-­‐19 pandemic has raised many issues but two of the prominent for the District are Food Distribution and Distance Learning. Address those two points specifically and your thoughts on the District’s pandemic response generally.

Food Distribution: I have firsthand been a part of the food distribution efforts in New Rochelle. My site at 345 Main Street has been a distribution location since the beginning of the pandemic response. Generally, I believe their response has been great in regard to food distribution. This has been a great way for the school district to partner with the community and community organizations.

Distance Learning: Distance learning has raised many questions around the disconnect between school administration, parents and households and our teachers. From the delayed Chromebook distribution to elementary school students, to the delayed implementation of distance learning 2.0, we have learned lessons that we can improve from the disconnection between the major stakeholders in a student’s life.

13. The demands on school board members have increased exponentially over the past decade. Is this a concern for you and, if so, how would you address it? Would you support shorter terms, shorter board meetings, less “required” non-­‐boarding meeting activities, annual stipends?

When making the decision to run for the school board, I understood the time commitment needed to make sure I could be an effective board member. Board meetings are extremely important as well as having time for public comments. Being that I am a strong advocate for the people of New Rochelle and would push for a stronger board presence within the communities, I do not believe in less “required” non-­board meeting activities. Although being a board member is time consuming, it is a commitment we choose to make and our will and commitment should not be driven by stipends or any other personal incentives. I would support a shorter term of 3 years, which would allow the New Rochelle Community to hold current board members accountable to the mission of their position and would also create opportunities for other community members with fresh and new perspectives to serve on the board.

  1. Since the law changed from appointed to elected school board members, over 90% of school board members have resided within North End elementary school districts. What are your thoughts on this?

It’s extremely important to have a diverse elect of Board Members who live throughout the city and have firsthand experiences within different segments of our community. I grew up in New Rochelle in the Bracey Apartments on Main Street. I personally know what its like to grow up in the South End of New Rochelle, and a person who has not lived here and has not experienced what these kids experience cannot possibly relate to them or understand the barriers they endure just to access an equitable education. The voices of the community cannot rely on assumptions; it must be based on first-­‐hand knowledge of the experiences these students endure in our district.

  1. COVID-­‐19 is scary, and with good reason, but many people have learned quite a bit about their own minor weaknesses or idiosyncrasies during the crisis. What is something the pandemic caused you to realize about yourself that in hindsight you took for granted and have now changed? (try to have a little “fun” with this question)

The pandemic has reassured me that the work I have been doing, working with students, working with our community, to bring together groups of people (community organizations, school administrators, households, government entities), promoting unity and to not work in silos, is now coming to fruition. It might have taken a pandemic to make our community work together, but it is now happening and it can only strengthen us and strengthen our city.

  1. To what degree have you been involved with the New Rochelle School District over the past 10 years? Prior to 2019-­‐20, how often have you attended New Rochelle Board of Education meetings?

I have been extremely involved with the school district and community. I graduated from Trinity, Isaac Young, New Rochelle High School and St. Gabes. As the Resident Services Director for the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority, I had to create relationships and partnerships with many schools and administrators to adequately support my student residents. I have been a member of the New Rochelle Connects group run by Dr. Bongo, a member of the New Rochelle Council of Community Services, the Co-­‐Chair of the New Rochelle Network group, Vice President of the New Rochelle Community Action Partnership Board, and a My Brothers Keeper (MBK) Fellow. I have been attending Board Meeting for the last 4 years.

  1. What are your thoughts on Apex Grade Inflation Investigations?

The situation that occurred with our APEX program was an unfortunate one. In a numbers driven society, our schools and teachers have been put in a tough predicament to ensure the proper education plan for students throughout our district. There has been a lot of finger pointing that has taken place. The re-opening of this case and its findings need to be put to rest as soon as possible. The district needs to move forward and learn from all aspects (teachers, administrators, building leadership) on how we can ensure situations such as this do not further taint the image of the academic environment that we are fighting for on what seems like a daily basis.

18. Do you think Board Members should be allowed to take jobs with the District or its’ vendors upon leaving the school board?

There is a direct conflict of interest if a board member takes a position with a vendor upon leaving their term as a board member. In regards to taking a position with the district, I do not feel there is a problem in doing so. The lobbying for contracts or policies that have a financial implication towards a vendor can be classified as unethical and should be avoided at all costs. If the passion and work that has been done as a board member leads you to want to do more for the district in a paid capacity, then I wish them the best in doing so. If they are qualified and meet the criteria of the job, we should embrace one’s desire and ability to enhance our school district.

  1. If you win a seat, you will be responsible for spending about $1.5 billion dollars of other people’s money over the next 5 years. What is your level of financial literacy and how does it apply to this responsibility?

I have had different jobs where I’ve been responsible for budgeting and keeping track of public money being spent. From being an Account Executive at Steiner Sports to now being the Resident Services Director of the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority (NRMHA). Currently as the Resident Services Director for NRMHA, one of my key roles is scouting and applying for grants that will provide funding for resident programing. I develop and monitor the budgets for these grants. My experience will be beneficial to my position on the board as we reevaluate the budget and seek to increase funding for programs that will strengthen the academic success for all students.

  1. The board operates under a “strategic road map”. 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)?

Our district and Board have had a tough couple of years. We have weathered some storms and we have a lot to be proud of what we accomplished during these times.

Direction 5-­‐ Resource Management, Objective B Facilities-­‐ We have done a tremendous job improving our facilities from the Bond, making interior and exterior upgrades and improvements, and making necessary investments to make our district the best it could be.

Direction 2-­‐ Safe and Supportive Schools, Objective A-­‐ Social Emotional Learning and Objective B-­‐ Restorative Practices. We have seen a great push for more equity and the increase of emotional intelligence through social emotional learning. Starting under Amy Goodman and now continuing under Dr. Bongo and school administrators we have seen some great strides in this area.

We also have a lot to be concerned about regarding what our Board and District are not completing from our Strategic Roadmap and that would be everything in is Direction 4-­‐Engagement and Outreach. The district and board have not been effective communicators and effective in communication with parents, working with community partners and having positive public relations.

Bonus Question.

BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on June 9th?

I want voters to know that I am a candidate who is for the community because I am from the community, and the City of New Rochelle is where my passion lies. I have been an active member of this community who is consistently striving towards unity, equality and success for all. For the past couple of years, I have worked countless hours with principals, social workers, house principals, and other school faculty to bridge the gap between school administrators and the parents in the households, to create a more efficient academic journey for the children. Being on the frontline during COVD-­19 has reassured me that the efforts and strides I have been making are well needed. Being elected for the school board will only allow me to further my reach in making a difference in the lives and success of our New Rochelle youth.


Will you vote for the budget?


Do you have anything to say about the mail-in ballot distribution snafu?


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