20 Questions with New Rochelle School Board Candidate Adina Berrios Brooks

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.

As has been raised at the last few Board of Education meetings by many members of the public, having access to more updated, actual spending for the current year would be valuable in planning and budgeting for the upcoming academic year. In my current professional role I am part of a team that manages a $100M commitment to faculty diversity at Columbia University, and those experiences would serve me well on the Board of Education.

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

Our district’s legal expenses in the current proposed budget are $894,000, more than double that of the White Plains School District, which has a proposed 2020-21 legal budget of $400,000 despite that our two districts’ student populations are roughly proportionate. However, while this expense must be brought down, it’s not clear to me how in-house legal staff to the payroll would achieve this. In any event, I would recommend being more proactive to avoid entering litigation, and institute greater oversight to avoid the need for counsel.

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

I grew up and graduated from public high school in Bridgeport, CT, a town not unlike New Rochelle in its racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Even as a high school student I was engaged in community service including developing programming for my peers on a regional youth advisory board. As a college student at Columbia University I worked at an afterschool program in Central Harlem and was part of a successful effort to create an Ethnic Studies program. Right after graduation, I also taught English for a year in Japan. These experiences were early building blocks of a strong foundation for service on the school board of a highly diverse school district.

My early career experiences included an organizing position with the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, working on children’s health advocacy with community organizations across New York State. Later in my career, I participated in campaigns to raise New York State’s minimum wage and reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws. These experiences gave me important first-hand involvement in handling complex public issues and reinforced my appreciation of the power of community organizing and the impact of public policy on people’s lives.

As an undergraduate, I was an Urban Studies major at Columbia University. For the past four years, I have worked in the Office of the Provost, focusing on faculty diversity, inclusion and faculty development. Along the way, I received a master’s degree in Politics and Education and have completed my doctoral coursework in Education Policy, all at Teachers College. My education and experience have well-equipped me to participate meaningfully in school board meetings over the past year, as they provide a valuable frame of reference and an insider perspective. As an administrator in higher education, charged with developing inclusion and diversity, I would be able to identify the school district’s assets as well as areas for improvement, forming solutions and suggesting changes in real time.

  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?

I have consistently promoted more Board transparency over the past year. Specifically, at pre-COVID Board meetings I consistently advocated for expanded opportunities for public engagement through the re-establishment of Board committees, which were disbanded after June 2019. After the COVID shutdown, I immediately shared with the Board leadership examples of other districts that had created opportunities for public comment.

  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.

It’s hard to think of anything more important than successfully addressing the challenges COVID-19 has presented. It is a challenge to even anticipate what specific obstacles a modern school district might face in a pandemic or other emergency. Nevertheless, preparedness and agility in response to change must be part of the fabric of decision making going forward. The outcomes I would like to see by 2025 include:

A narrowing of the disparities (by sub-group) we saw in the Phase 1 reports completed by each school, in access to accelerated academic pathways, in discipline and in academic achievement overall;

Greater involvement and engagement in school governance through committees, more robust participation in PTAs and stronger partnerships with community organizations, local businesses and institutions; and

Creative use of the current City Hall which will be returned to the school district in the coming years. This could include STEM or STEAM spaces to bring together students from across the district and incubate innovative programs that draw from resources spanning across our dynamic City.

Our district should be a national example of an excellent, well-run, diverse school system.

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

The Board of Education did not follow its own bylaws, including 8260, which require that a Citizens Advisory Committee be established by the Board of Education whenever the Board is engaged in a superintendency search. I would not have supported her hire, but as an elected board member I would see it as my duty to work with her to bring about the reform that I advocate for in my platform, with the consistent input from all corners of New Rochelle. Her failure following that effort would become my failure, and our collective failure.

  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?

According to a Gallup Kappan poll on public education the majority of families want their children to attend a high-quality neighborhood school. We need to ensure that they have that choice. New Rochelle schools should be synonymous with high quality public education- for all children. And there are existing programs that appeal to the interests and talents of our children. That has to be our mission: communicating that message to all stakeholders, and ensuring equitable access to these programs for all.

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

This is a critical issue, making sure that services support young children, and their access to schooling. I believe that the district can determine the feasibility of this change, without incurring undue expense in a period of austerity.

  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?

While much of this situation remains unknown, procedural due process is a cornerstone of the district’s relationships at the employee and student body levels. We must provide strict guidelines for any situations that may arise, and enforce them with both firmness and sensitivity towards all those affected. It was unfortunate that the handling of the situation led to even more division in our community.

  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?

Because this is a personnel issue, the details of Mr. Muhammad’s hiring and subsequent withdrawal are not publicly known. It is my hope that the community will be fully engaged in the search for the permanent NRHS Principal this fall.

  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 would have hoped for greater transparency around this decision, and a review of the suitability of the Bethesda site. That said, the possibility of a public school in the Lincoln Avenue corridor is an exciting possibility. I look forward to hearing more specifics.

  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.

After a somewhat rocky start the District has successfully partnered with community organizations and established a food distribution system to meet the needs of the many in our community who are food insecure. It will be crucial that the District remain engaged with the City of New Rochelle, nonprofits and community organizations to ensure that the nutritional needs of students are met, including over the summer months.

As I’ve said in many public forums, I believe the District could be doing more to collect feedback from teachers, parents and students about their experiences with remote learning. Many teachers have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of their students, but there are some who have not received the kind of professional development or technology necessary to teach remotely successfully. For these and other reasons, distance learning has been frustrating for many students and their families.

Looking ahead, we must be prepared for more remote learning, not less, as it is not clear how many students will be returning to brick and mortar classrooms, and when. This preparation includes, at minimum: (1) ensuring that all students have internet access and the accompanying hardware necessary to fully engage the curriculum; (2) thoughtful consideration of the goals of remote learning, and; (3) identification of platforms that allow for a more seamless experience for caregivers and children. The District must use the summer to be creative and partner with those with expertise in distance learning, and must be in dialogue with other educators across the country about best practices going forward. Finally, we must make sure that any remote learning that is planned for next year successfully addresses the needs of special education students and English Language Learners.

  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?

Having attended nearly all of the Board of Education meetings over the past year, and spoken with several current Board members, I have become fully aware of the demands on school board members in this District. I would support 3 year terms to increase accountability to the public, and would support more well-organized agendas to keep the average meeting to two hours. Further, the current practice of having public comment at the end of a three and half hour long meeting must be changed. I do not support annual stipends.

  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?

Recent school board elections suggest that there is greater participation and involvement in this process from other areas of New Rochelle. Given that school board membership is at-large, it is vital that every board member seeks to represent the entire city, regardless of where they live. We must also do more to promote higher turnout in school board elections.

  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?

The pandemic has reminded me of the importance of remaining flexible, nimble and open. As important as it is to be prepared (and I am a planner), one does not always have full control of every situation. In my case that includes being flexible about my kids’ schedules and the division of familial responsibilities, and making optimal judgments using the information that is immediately at hand.

  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?

We moved to New Rochelle nearly six years ago, and since then both of our children have attended New Rochelle public schools. My involvement until last year was that of a typical involved parent – I attended PTA meetings, volunteered regularly at my children’s schools and would occasionally attend BOE meetings in person or online. For the past year I have been much more engaged with the CSDNR, attending nearly every meeting and looking for other points of entry to improve our schools.

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

This District would benefit from school administrators who are dedicated to a culture of ethical behavior and vigilant oversight throughout the district. Furthermore, I would advocate for investigation and ongoing scrutiny into the causes of students not meeting the standards for graduation.

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

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?

My team at Columbia University manages the University’s $100M commitment toward faculty diversity. In my specific role I have developed multi-year budgets to be reviewed by senior administrators to inform policy-making.

  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)?

I believe the following elements of the strategic road map are particularly important, especially in these COVID-impacted times:

Safe and supportive schools: cultivate safe, nurturing environments that embrace our rich diversity and are conducive to learning and growth. This strategic objective includes an emphasis on Socio-Emotional Learning, Restorative Practices and Cultural Competency. Students cannot thrive as learners or as citizens if they don’t feel safe and seen. These objectives will be even more important when students and teachers return to brick and mortar schools after having experienced possible health or financial challenges related to the COVID pandemic.

Engagement and Outreach: foster an active partnership amongst community, parents, staff and students to live our Mission and achieve our Vision. We will all need to work together to address the challenges that the COVID pandemic has created. A more concerted effort to engage and collect the wisdom of all stakeholders is now more important than ever.

Objective B: Recruiting and hiring. CSDNR will actively attract and recruit candidates from all backgrounds for all open positions. The district should develop a robust recruitment strategy to attract a large pool of diverse educators, for the benefit of all students.

Overall, the Strategic Roadmap provides a solid framework for our District. To achieve the objectives laid out in this document will require a willingness to roll up our sleeves and do the work.

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

My family chose to live in New Rochelle because of its warm and civic-minded neighborhoods, its artistic heritage, its diverse population, its suburban cosmopolitanism, and the high quality of its public schools. I am excited and optimistic about working with other board members and the greater New Rochelle community to build on the excellence in our schools, but in a more equitable and effective way.


Will you vote for the budget?


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

I believe the state and the district MUST extend the voting deadline to ensure sure every vote is counted.

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