- 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.
While the budget process appears to attempt to bring transparency and understanding to the matter, it just does not bring it to a level that can be understood by the majority of the taxpayers. We can argue if it is intentional or not, but the bottom line is, it just doesn’t work in its current format. My expertise is not in finance and most taxpayers are in the same boat, so it would be important to have a presentation that clearly tracks where the money winds up as compared to where it was projected to go.
- Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.
This would depend on a cost analysis. I have to imagine this would be a significant savings. There is absolutely no reason this shouldn’t be explored ASAP as a matter of policy. Many organizations and city governments, (ours included) take advantage of this construct. If the analysis showed we could save by having an in house lawyer handle the day to day items, and use the big firms for the larger issues, then I would fully support in-house staff. Why this hasn’t been considered and acted on is a mystery to me.
- What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected?
As both a teacher and a parent my job is communication. I have collaborated with teachers, related service providers, administrators and parents to assure the most appropriate path for each and every student. It is crucial to provide our students with the tools needed to be successful in whatever future they choose. As important as it is to provide these tools, it is equally important to assure that our students are provided the proper environment. A safe and nurturing environment is a prerequisite if we want our students to take advantage of the outstanding education and services that we provide. I feel that I am particularly qualified to bring people together and move this attitude forward based on my experience in doing exactly that for over 2 decades. #NewRoStrong must be more than just a lawn sign. We are obliged to come together, to bring out the best in our community, and celebrate the children that are New Rochelle’s future.
- 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?
My platform is Equity and Security for the students; Transparency and Accountability for the community. This is not just lip service. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of the school board to encourage open communication with the entire community that they represent. The board must take input from all groups and weigh all the facts before making a decision. A school board must build public understanding, support and participation. Anyone in the community should expect to have the right not only to speak, but to be heard. How can this happen if the public is not adequately informed. With regards to informing the public, there is a clearly defined process relating to Freedom of Information (FOIL or FOIA) requests. It is incumbent upon the Board to comply with legitimate requests, be it good or bad news. If something is not in the best light, the sooner we address it, the better all around. People make mistakes and sometimes poor choices are made, but when an entity begins to hide things to cover up, it only serves to make it look worse. Most people are understanding enough to read things for what they are. A mistake is a mistake, a cover up is, sometimes, criminal.
- 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 immediate priority is to deal with the vetting and hiring practices of the BOE. Looking at what just happened over the past few weeks drastically underscores the problem at hand. As we move into another year of potential “remote learning” and the challenges that an unsure future brings, we need to be confident in our leadership. The right choices need to be made throughout, be it administrators, teachers, buildings and grounds, security, custodians or staff.
Security and Accountability: We need to provide an environment that is conducive to encouraging students to fulfil their potential. They cannot do that when the district leadership doesn’t have their backs. What is the general perception to the average resident? Are things better now than they were 5 years ago? Murder, attempted murder, sexual assaults, anti-semetic vandalism, a wide-spread and woefully under-investaged grading scandal, the inability to comply with even the most basic codes and rules set forth by the district, along with the culture of secrecy that has been adopted by this board. These are troubling times. Does the general public realize and appreciate the fact that we had the School Medical Director choose to refuse to call 911 when a student had just been stabbed? Does the public realize that aside from this doctor’s professional and moral obligation this doctor specifically chose to protect the school district and not the student? Does the public realize that this doctor then went on to receive full tenure from the district? Where is the investigation? Where is the report to the community? Where is the accountability?
It’s like NYC in the 90s. This quote sums things up quite well I believe, “a government’s inability to control even a minor crime like graffiti signaled to citizens that it certainly couldn’t handle more serious ones.” Take care of the smaller stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself. We need to let, and expect, all employees to do their job. Security personnel and teachers who see, and report, inappropriate behavior begin to feel apathy as they do not see follow through on reports of these infractions. They are not allowed to enforce the rules and do their job. It’s time to stop the intentional ignorance regarding our security policies: public area cameras and supporting the efforts of our security personnel. We need to know what is happening and need to follow up. Now that we have a better insight towards the challenges ahead, we should move towards a more proactive stance rather than a reactive stance in our planning.
- Do you support retaining or removing Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo?
Since the BOE already hired her to a 4 year contract I believe that as a board member it would be my responsibility to find a way to make this relationship work. The discussion is not whether we agree with her decisions or methods, but rather, what is the alternative. To dismiss a superintendent arbitrarily would most certainly turn to litigation that would mean possible payouts of tens of millions of dollars. I’m not comfortable dropping something like that in the taxpayer’s laps. Moving forward, it is in our best interest to strive for a BOE that is as transparent as possible. This includes working together to build public understanding, support and participation.
- 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?
These are certainly dramatic numbers and deserve our attention. It is my belief, that this “flight” speaks directly to my position on providing the proper environment needed for our children. You would be hard pressed to find another high school in the area that offers the breadth and depth of curriculum offered at our schools. There is literally something for everyone. From in-depth special services to the most advanced programs. So you have to ask, ” Why would a parent choose not to take advantage of the exciting curriculum right here in our own neighborhood?” Everything to succeed in any path is already here, except, perhaps, the environment. We do a disservice to our students and staff when we see parents responding in this manner and we fail to address the fundamental question. We all want what’s best for our children, and it saddens me to think a parent must make such a difficult decision, although I can certainly understand their concerns. As a board member, it would be one of my many tasks to begin the process of restoring the proper environment of safety and security along with an inviting and supportive climate. It has to start with someone and I believe I am that person.
- Would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?
Absolutely. Traffic concerns, environmental concerns, health issues, student safety all fold into this evaluation. Some schools, like Trinity have everyday traffic issues with double parked cars, blocked roads etc. Bussing everyone would eliminate much of the car issues and reduce emissions at the street level. This is certainly worthy of an evaluation.
- 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 absolutely understand the need for confidentiality when dealing with a personnel issue, however, this was not just any situation. Did people think that no one would notice when Coach D was reassigned pending an investigation? If this were just any teacher, in any school, questions might not have been asked for a few days. This situation occurred in the weeks leading up to the State Finals. Someone was going to notice!!! If nothing was said about the reassignment, it would have been looked at as a cover-up. Due to the confidentiality, I am not sure about the events that led to this situation, however, we cannot “look the other way” when students, administrators, teachers or staff do not comply with stated rules and policies. This was a very difficult situation and obviously, there were no winners here. It’s that simple.
- 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?
How is it that no one thought to do a cursory internet search on the person who would take the reins on one of the largest high schools in the state? Conversely, was a search done and somebody thought this was a good idea? Either way, a clear indication of the troublesome thought process that goes into hiring. This must end, NOW. In my humble opinion, the attempt to hire Adofo Muhammad was, plain and simple, pandering. Let me pose this question, can you tell me an instance in which pandering actually led to a successful outcome? The bottom line throughout all of this is that the reputation for the district has become such that it is difficult to attract the personnel of quality and substance needed to fill the vacancies. This is a direct result of the failures of the Board, as a whole, to address the events leading up to where we are at this point.
- 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?
Honestly, this is a much underused resource for the district. We need a way to expand it rather than scale it down. This is what appears to be happening. What I can tell you, is that more children need to take advantage of this environment (See, that’s the environment issue again). Students who take part in the “A School”, as it’s sometimes called, more often than not thrive and grow. It gives them the attention that they need to succeed without the larger audience that negatively reinforces behavior. It is sad that this program is often overlooked. So, the question is, does Bethesda Baptist Church expand and grow the A school? If it doesn’t, then it is definitely not the right decision.
- 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.
It is imperative that we provide our students with the supports that they need to be successful. Regardless of whether those supports are in the area of academics, social emotional supports or financial aid. When our schools shut down, we continued to bear that responsibility. I have the luxury of seeing how these situations were handled in both New Rochelle where I reside as well as Rye City where I am employed. Although I believe that remote learning started a bit slowly, it has progressed nicely and the students seem to be getting some screen time with the teachers and they seem to be very responsive in their dealings with the students. As for food distribution, many mistakes were made. It is my understanding that sites were not trained and/or prepared to distribute anything following proper COVID-19 protocols. I absolutely realize that others in our community are in need of nutritional support in addition to just our students. The CSDNR has a responsibility to our students. We have terrific supports throughout our city and state that are dealing with the needs of families and other community members. All one has to do is look at the response from the various food banks. This is all good stuff. However, the only responsibility of the district is to our students who deserve the breakfast and lunch programs. City and private food banks should, and must, make up the difference.
- 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?
To be honest, I have thought about running for the board for several years. The time commitment was always in the back of my mind. I couldn’t believe that this was a position that required so much time and was unpaid. I would support a stipend, to begin after my term of office was up. It is difficult to plan for shorter meetings if we truly want to hear from anyone who wishes to be heard. That is an integral part of making sure we have a cooperative relationship between the board and the public. There are other districts that will allow residents to speak, and once the list of speakers has gone through the queue, anyone else is able to return to follow up, or present a new opinion. Painstaking? Yes. Fundamental, certainly. If we encourage this, exchange information, and improve communication and transparency, it will only benefit the conversation.
- 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?
I would ask, “Why is that?” What makes the candidates from the North End favorites when election day is upon us. Is no one else willing to stand up and run? No, that’s not the case. By coincidence or design, parents are drawn out on election day to their schools with presentations, assemblies and performances. Perhaps this hold that the BOE has on the voting process does not reach out to all community members. Pre-ordained candidates, promoted by the board or board members, need to be a thing of the past. That being said, I do not believe that community members can only be represented by those who live near them or look like them. It is the responsibility and job of a board member to reach out to the community and to hear their concerns, priorities and thoughts. Your vote should be for someone who believes in the same things that you do, but is also willing to listen to you.
- 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)
I love my family and it has been an incredible gift to spend more time with them. My daughter Katie, who I missed while she was away for her first semester at college, arrived home for spring break and never returned to school. My son Wyatt, had much more time to spend with family as, unfortunately, lacrosse season was cancelled. I have been teaching ‘remotely” which has saved me commuting time. That being said…there is such a thing as too much togetherness! We live in a small house and I think my husband is lucky to be able to go OUT of the house for work. As challenging as this has been, I consider it to be an opportunity to recalibrate our senses and find out the true sense of family, compassion, understanding and what it means to be New Ro Strong. They say the bad makes the good and there’s something to be learned in every human experience ( ok I didn’t write that, Lou Reed did) but so true.
- 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?
As my children were younger, and needing to go in two different directions at once, it was not always easy to get to meetings at night. I tried. As the meetings became more available to watch on tv, I made my best effort to follow the best and worst of the shows. Sometimes insightful, sometimes more like the Jerry Springer show.
- What are your thoughts on Apex Grade Inflation Investigations?
This has been such an embarrassment on so many levels. From the early nonsensical efforts of the district, to the stalled, final results from the State. This has obviously been a broad attempt to minimize an abhorrent abuse of a system meant to help students. Unfortunately I don’t think we will ever know the true extent of the abuse and failures that lead us here. That doesn’t mean we should give up on demanding accountability, ever. I would be comfortable with somehow holding back money until the truth is uncovered. Not sure how to do it, but that is how important this is.
- Do you think Board Members should be allowed to take jobs with the District or its’ vendors upon leaving the school board?
Let me be perfectly clear. No, not ever, asked and answered.
- 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 am a teacher, parent and community member. I develop and implement programs for students. I’m not a financial whiz. I think that it is incumbent on the BOE members to bring in the right people for the job. The board should have a go-to person/entity to evaluate and explain the inner workings of the budget. In a perfect world, the board would consist of an educational expert, a construction expert, a financial expert, a legal expert, and other professionals that could not only realize their sections of expertise, but know how to seek out and utilize those professionals to inform the board as needed.
- 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)?
This seems like a wonderful document. I believe that all the core beliefs are spot on. This is what we should have been striving to achieve for all our students and our community all along. This is fundamental. I can’t imagine that any other district’s “roadmap” looks very different. Keep our students safe, teach them with equity, strive for rigorous coursework. Now what? How do we ensure that these values are being put into place with a sense of reality and the ability to measure the metrics. In a sad sense, I believe this map is merely overstating the obvious.
The belief that “schools should be safe, joyous places of learning” should always have been the standard; our #1 priority. This is where I believe we have failed. Although this is listed as a core belief, there is no mention of this in the Vision 2020 outline. We need good leadership and a plan for this, rather than lofty goals and nebulous beliefs.
With regard to student learning, it is critical that we “provide a high quality and challenging education for every child that promotes the intellectual, creative, social, emotional, and physical development of all students”. In order to give students “access to rigorous coursework” we must first address “disparities in reading levels among groups”. Although these are listed as strategic objectives by the district, one is dependent on the other. Pushing students toward a more rigorous plan for high school than they are prepared for, sets them up for failure (or lowering standards). I often say of my students that “I can’t teach them to swim while they are drowning”. Let me repeat, the fundamentals must come first and be solidly in place in order to proceed with the next steps. Just as the children need to be prepared for college, they need to be prepared for high school. Adjusting standards is merely the set up for failure. If students are not ready for the challenges when they get to high school, we have failed in the grade and middle school levels. We can rewrite anything we want, but unless the rest of the world follows suit, the false sense of achievement will not go very far.
BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on June 9th?
My daughter posed a very interesting question to me as I considered running for the board. How are you qualified to address issues regarding inequities among our different populations of students?
It has been my job for over 20 years to deal with discrepancies between different populations of students; whether that is students of different races, different ability levels, different socio-economic backgrounds, we still have to address the problem the same way: giving children what they require to be successful. It’s a matter of equity. This cannot begin in the upper grades. It needs to begin in elementary school. It has to involve community outreach, parent involvement and opportunities to not only work toward closing gaps created by lower skill levels, but to identify a student’s areas of strength and foster continued growth in those areas as well. I ask for no endorsements because I will be beholden to no one. I speak my mind and will not be talked over. If you like me, vote for me. If you like me, tell your friends the same. To quote Ed Koch, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.” That’s how the world works. We will never all agree on everything. But if we can find common ground that brings us closer together, then we will all be serving our purpose as part of the New Rochelle community to do what’s best for our students and our community.
SUPER BONUS QUESTION: BUDGET AND BALLOTS
Will you vote for the budget?
Do you have anything to say about the mail-in ballot distribution snafu?
This is not something that should have caught the district off guard. This goes right to my discussions regarding transparency and accountability. The potential for disenfranchised voters and voting misconduct, as well as suits against the district are enormous.