20 Questions with New Rochelle School Board Candidate Katie Castellano Minaya

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 100% encourage our district to involve the community more in understanding the budget, projected spending, and actual spending. And to that end, Mr. Kern, Assistant Superintendent of Business, has made sure every question that has come to the district related to the budget has been answered. This information has been shared at board meetings and also was made available online, in a form that is clear and readily understood. Taking these steps helps build more trust in the school system. Tax payers and residents deserve to know what the budget entails, and then the reality of spending as the year goes on. This does not mean to say that we are overstepping in our role as BOE members, but rather ensuring that information is shared widely to all stakeholders. Especially in a time of covid-impacted education, as priorities change and emergencies arise, keeping the community informed is of utmost importance. My advice to the district would be to include a budget update at each BOE meeting so that it is not just being discussed at one time per year.

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

Every school district throughout New York State is required to have a legal team to advise and handle many issues, from school board governance, employee rights, regulatory school law issues, and so on. We must constantly work in collaboration with the New York State School Boards Association to determine best practices and follow the most up-to-date education law. It is troubling to see that the line item for legal expenses in the budget increased from $630k to $894k between 2019/2020 to 2020/2021. It would behoove us as a school district to do a cost benefit analysis to determine if there are ways to decrease these costs, including the possibility of in-house legal staff.

Furthermore, compliance with legal mandates avoids costly litigation. Any decisions made should involve the coordination with the New York State School Boards Association and also the more local Westchester Putnam School Boards Association. I would advise our district to look at best legal practices in neighboring districts to help improve this situation.

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

I am a mother, teacher, and advocate for children. I am a public school teacher as well as an experienced education technology consultant, Director of Operations, and director of family literacy programs. I also have strong connections in the New Rochelle community that would enable me to better represent the needs of ALL our students and families (Girl Scouts, Advisory Committee on Immigrant Affairs, Ward PTA, New RoAR, New Beginnings Dance Studio). Above all, I bring positivity, solutions, teamwork, and the ability to bring people together. In my various roles as Director of Operations, teacher leader, founding Dean of Culture and Community, and UFT chapter leader, I was charged with many of the same skills that would help our BOE increase family involvement and strengthen connections to the community. I have regularly led school culture initiatives by planning family conferences, back-to-school nights, Ward Readathon PJ Storytime, a family literacy Title III program, and community-based events. As Director of Operations at Harlem Village Academies, I built and maintained strong relationships within school and surrounding community partners, including co-located middle and high schools, YMCA Harlem after-school program, Beacon Community Center, and the Asphalt Green swimming program. I also have consistently and effectively created systems of communication between family, staff, students, and community partners, such as bilingual family newsletters, blogs, and social media. I will help be a champion for our school district to improve our community standing and improve our relationships with families, especially those that have felt isolated and marginalized. Finally, my perspective as a teacher of inclusive education will help me advocate for all children, throughout the district.

  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?

We cannot just think about the BOE meetings alone, which are by nature already excluding so many people who may not be able to attend for various reasons (work constraints, childcare, language barriers, transportation, feeling of not being listened to). The BOE meetings are just one piece of the puzzle that is family engagement. As a school district, there are many best practices that are helping families feel more engaged. For example, some schools have offered events in the very neighborhoods where families live. Also, school leaders and teachers have found innovative ways to reach out to families using social media and creativity (the examples are endless). The BOE, too, must think of ways we can better listen to families that go above and beyond simple online surveys. Who are the people that are NOT completing surveys, and why? This data tells us just as much as the data gathered in surveys. How can we get creative about permanent committees, Town Halls on specific topics of concern, radio shows, social media? I applaud the district administrators for their responsiveness to emails, yet there are many families for whom that is just not a realistic means to communicate. Let’s build upon the best practices that already exist through many of our schools, PTAs, and community leaders to be more inclusive.

  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.

Since I began the process of campaigning many months ago, so much has changed. The original requirements to even run have been removed. Yet, I have managed to still gather 200 signatures, reach out to families throughout New Rochelle, and hear their hopes and dreams for our district. My immediate priority would be to ensure the safety of all students and staff as we plan what is next for school openings or potential continuation of remote learning. And while I support access to accelerated programs for ALL kids, and improvement of restorative practices to reduce disciplinary action and increase students’ safety, and the social, emotional, and academic support of every student, it comes down to preparing for the current covid-impacted education crisis we are in. This is our opportunity to partner with students and families, work closely with FUSE members, and insure a supportive and challenging education for all our children. By 2025, I envision our district gaining a national reputation for being the district that led the way during the pandemic. I envision our district being a leader in being able to minimize and eradicate the success gaps that were uncovered in Phase 1 of Dr. Feijoo’s plan as superintendent, which will only happen with creative and stellar professional development, building on teacher and school leader best practices, and community/ family partnership. And last, but not least, I envision our district being so sought after by school leaders and teachers of all backgrounds, that everyone wants to work here and never leave. That will be the New Rochelle I know we can be with a national reputation for academic excellence and inclusion.

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

Dr. Feijóo is our current superintendent and she has worked extremely hard to help our school district since she started in November. The reason I am running is that I want to assist anyone in the Superintendent or other school district administration level, to help our district live up to its full potential as a district wherein ALL children can truly have the opportunity to succeed. I have worked closely with the BOE, Superintendent, and assistant superintendents over the past years even prior to Dr. Feijóo, even if I haven’t always agreed with all of their decisions. It behooves the community to work in collaboration on behalf of our students. For example, in order to promote increased community engagement, I shared with the BOE the idea of a family coordinator, similar to the model at my public school, so that families could have a key person from the community to support them with their onboarding, needs, and connection to the school. I was gratified that this idea was supported, even if it had to be removed from the budget due to the pandemic. I have hope, and a solutions-orientation that is much needed in our school district. A BOE member must represent the community, serving as an advocate for the children and families in our district.

  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?

If we are truly going to talk about “Black flight” then we need to talk about the history of New Rochelle and the history of this nation. This will not be summed up in one paragraph in The Talk of the Sound. It will not be addressed in one forum or workshop or Town Hall. Black flight is real in New Rochelle and the data confirms that many Black families, when able, are choosing to send their children to other schools. Children are not all the same. Not Black children. Not white children. Not any children. There are times when many students, particularly Black children, are stereotyped, experience micro and macro-aggressions, and deal with effects of racism on their daily educational lives. It is not one person’s fault and no one person can fix it. We will need to ask hard questions and have courageous conversations if we want to go below a surface level answer to this question. It will require us looking at the history of access and power in this city. We will need to look at the effects of generations of miseducation and missed opportunities that are the effects of systemic racism. Again, this is not any one person’s charge to be able to solve it. When we begin to really talk about the impacts of racism on our children, then the work can begin. Teachers all love their children but many have been trained to be color blind and treat all children equally. A school district where all children flourish, in an environment of high expectations, inclusivity and diversity should be our overarching goal and the best way to attract and retain families and their children.

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

Our transportation system most definitely needs improvement. In fact, my daughters were amongst the children on bus 12 route last year that went through a series of different drivers over a span of a month. I had to comfort crying children on several occasions when their route was changed suddenly and they were fearful of their safety. This was not acceptable. However, I was pleased to see that the district worked to alleviate the situation. There are problems and concerns related to transportation that will not be solved overnight or with a commission, but it is a start. I would worry about funding, though, being that we are already going to be pressed for funding in our district. In terms of transportation issues, I would recommend that the district work in collaboration with families to plan for their needs. Most immediately, we need to determine what will happen with school re-entry in the fall.

  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?

Many of the facts of the case remain private, and appropriately so. Moreover, adhering to procedures and due process is a legal mandate and necessary to ensure the rights of all concerned.

  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?

Policy with respect to hiring of personnel should guide decisions, including communication with the school and community at large. I would hope for more thoughtfulness and caution in the future.

  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?

The facilities at St. Gabriel’s presented challenges to the day-to-day educational experiences of our students and exploring another site was inevitable. Communication with staff and families is imperative.

  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.

In terms of food distribution, I was pleased to see how quickly the district partnered with community leaders to ensure there was a plan for food security for our students. I am thankful to have witnessed firsthand the efforts of our community that so quickly had to rise up and support, as well as fill in the gaps. The difficult reality is that there were shortages at times and volunteers had to supplement the food that was provided by the school district. There have been tens of thousands of meals provided since the pandemic began. Where was the emergency readiness planning, though, prior to the pandemic? Every school district should always have a plan in place for disaster/ emergency preparedness. Let’s use this time to ensure we are even more ready for any disaster that could arise. What are the lessons we learned? How can we better coordinate with city officials, local leaders, and families? What are best practices from other districts that we could use to help improve?

Distance learning has been a challenge for everyone, regardless of your school, income, or background. It has been especially difficult for our under-resourced communities. I applaud care -givers who are trying their best to support their child’s learning, teachers, counselors and social workers who worked tirelessly to learn new ways of instructing students. Access and the availability of technology were problematic. Again, we need to have a district-wide plan in place at all times. Now is the time to collect data from parents, students, community partners, and teachers to help us as we rethink education. Let’s use this as an opportunity to build something stronger, more engaging, and more inclusive than ever before.

  1. 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?

This is not a concern for me as a candidate because I’ve attended every BOE meeting for about 2 years and I know what I’ve signed up for. My loyalty and commitment to our school district is strong and unwavering. I would NOT recommend a stipend as this may encourage people to run for the wrong reasons. I would consider 3 year terms as a way to hold BOE members more accountable for their leadership, but this would have to be discussed together with the community. My hope is that the BOE meetings would be shorter by becoming more efficient. I also believe that as our district improves relationships with community stakeholders, communication will engage the greater community.

  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?

Since the BOE election is an at-large New Rochelle election, it is imperative that ANY candidate, wherever they live, works to outreach to families throughout New Rochelle. No one should be running to just represent one school or one geographic area. They should be partnering with communities throughout New Rochelle in order to hear the hopes and concerns of ALL families. I think it is extremely concerning that there are no Spanish speaking BOE members considering that our district has so many Spanish speaking families. Also, we need to do more outreach to make sure that our community knows Spanish translation is available at BOE meetings. My hope is that all BOE members work to ensure that the concerns of those who have historically been most marginalized and silenced would be elevated. This will require relationship building, listening, and advocacy, all strengths I possess.

  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 helped remind me that I need to just slow down and take moments through the day to just be. Not do anything. Calm my mind. Be present reading with my daughters. Play games with family, take bike rides, build a garden, spend time in nature. Being forced to be on technology so much for work/ school has also made me appreciate moments when I can completely disengage from tech. It brings me back to my childhood when we didn’t have any technology and used our imagination to play for hours upon hours. Also, I appreciate watching old 80s movies with my family since my daughter Camila’s class made this a Sunday afternoon tradition during the pandemic. Finally, I’ve found myself writing letters to family and friends as an additional way to communicate!

  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 started getting involved in the PTA and BOE meetings when my 3rd grade daughter started school here as a kindergartener. I began attending more regularly 2 years ago when there was talk of removing the CILA program at WARD when Dr. Parvey was interim superintendent. I attended budget meetings, too, to see how the priorities of the district aligned with the budget. My concern was that equality and equity were being conflated, so I worked closely with Dr. Parvey to discuss language access and literacy support for our students. I will continue to attend all BOE meetings and offer solutions and resources regardless of being on the BOE or not. Having a kindergartner reminds me that I am in this for the long haul and will do all I can to help our district reach its full potential.

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

I’m disappointed and concerned about the reputation of our district. I want this to be the district where EVERYONE wants to be. The Apex Grade Inflation situation was extremely disappointing and could have been avoided if there were stronger systems in place with checks and balances. We need accountability and oversight, and a reinforcing of administrative leadership towards the proactive as opposed to the reactive.

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

No. Absolutely not.

  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?

One of the single most important charges of a BOE member is to oversee the school district budget. All members should have a strong background in financial literacy. Fortunately, I have had the experience of being on two School Leadership Teams in New York City public schools, as well as being the Director of Operations at a school. I was chosen by staff members to be the Chair of my school’s SLT. SLTs must use consensus-based decision making. In this type of process, all participants contribute to and help shape the final decision. By listening closely to one another, members come up with solutions and proposals that work for the group. This approach is empowering because each member has the opportunity to influence team decisions. When all members are able to voice their opinions and concerns, they are more likely to stay invested in and connected to the work of the team. This sets the stage for greater cooperation and mutual respect. In my role as chair of the SLT, I work together with the school administrators, our Union chapter leader, and parent leaders to ensure that our budget is aligned to our school’s vision, mission and needs. We meet twice a month to discuss the budget, how Title I and III funds are spent with community input, and to craft the Comprehensive Education Plan, or CEP.

I also was hired to be the Harlem Village Academy Elementary School’s Director of Operations. The most helpful responsibility was that I managed the school’s budget, all purchasing, inventory, all non-personnel expenses, after-school programming, food services, and all additional school-related activities. I was also responsible for all operations and logistical issues and systems, including but not limited to technology, building facilities, staffing, and resource management to ensure that the Principal could focus on instructional support.

  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)?

We need to analyze the Strategic Road Map, but also pair the Phase 1 and Phase 2 reports shared by each school. In fact, it would have been more helpful to have this data when the strategic road map began so that we could have actually measured the results of the strategic road map particularly in student learning. I applaud the district for ensuring that we now have SMART goals in place to be able to actually measure our growth in each area of the road map (student learning; safe and supportive schools; superb staff; engagement and outreach; resource management). I also recognize that part of the new budget integrates an equity formula to help increase STEAM access for students (science, technology, engineering, art, math). This is a step in the right direction.

The other elements still are aspirational. We still need to improve access for all groups to rigorous coursework at the high school level; improve primary reading levels; still need to improve the graduation rates for ALL groups. We still need to increase safe and supportive schools by improving Social/Emotional Learning, Restorative Practices, and Cultural Competence, but this will require ongoing and consistent professional development for staff. We need to make connections to covid-impacted education, too. In fact, it would be a useful exercise to go through the strategic road map in each of the new committees our district created for this pandemic response planning in order to add specific supports for remote learning. Remote learning should still adhere to improved student learning, safe and supportive (remote) schools, superb staff, family community and outreach, and resource management (budget, facilities, and technology) adhering to the impacts of covid-19.

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

For whoever ends up on the BOE, please make sure that you hold us accountable to listening to the students, families, and communities of New Rochelle. The BOE has the opportunity in the coming years to improve academics for ALL kids. I will bring positivity, a teacher perspective, strong community partnerships, and advocacy for families. Let’s help New Rochelle schools reach their potential!


Will you vote for the budget?


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

This has become a pattern, unfortunately, of poor execution and miscommunication to the New Rochelle school community.  If there was no confirmation that ballots did, indeed, get mailed out, then it should not have been communicated that they were.  The timing is unacceptable.  Money is wasted for return envelopes that won’t even have time to go into the mail.  Those who cannot make it out to drop boxes for health reasons or other limitations, will be negatively impacted.  Everyone deserves to have their vote counted.  I am appalled at this situation as it impacts ALL of our students.

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