- 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.
I support a full review of all the processes to make them far more transparent within the law, including the two-way communication between the education system and parents & students. The common frustration from the parents is lack of transparency and accountability. The budget that is being voted on is not going to be the budget in the fall (or whenever the school year starts). There will be cuts in state aid. Things are going to be turned upside down and the planning should be starting now.
- Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.
Yes, if that would both reduce overall expenses and maintain effectiveness. Just because we cut expenses doesn’t mean the overall results improve. You could cut legal expenses, and still have an outside firm. It’s about management of such a partnership. We don’t want to pay in-house legal staff that doesn’t do at least as better a job.
- What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected?
This should have been the first question. I am first a parent in New Rochelle with a child in the system for more than 10 years, with 4+ more to go. A resident for 20+ years. More than 20 years of business experience in project and budget management. Someone who believes in results and accountability. Someone not interested in using this board for career or political aspirations.
- 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?
The Board should allow transparency and two-way communication wherever and whenever possible. There should be technology where folks can provide feedback as well as live hearings. If there is no time at regular board meetings, then have town halls with both the superintendent and board members. We can do it on web cam now so it’s easier than finding parking. The parents are the board’s and superintendent’s customers. Any FOI request that is legal should be filled. That’s why it’s called Freedom of Information.
- 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 return to a regular school schedule post-covid and what that looks like. I can list several things we are not considering right now that will be important going forward; staggered classes, remote learning software agreements, time shifting schedules, re-purposing job descriptions, facilities redesign, lobbying Albany/County for dollars, transportation, legally accommodating special needs students, finding dollars to cut, forming new community partnerships for facilities and resources, revising the entire budgets for post-covid. This is what everyone should be discussing right now.
- Do you support retaining or removing Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo?
Dr. Feijóo has had a rough year. While I can’t say she’s done a good job, I can’t support removing a superintendent right now. We need a plan of action for students right now. We can’t start a new search for a new superintendent during this crisis. Plus, I believe a removal would mean a buyout of the contract which is then still spending the money.
Better to say we are all in this together and demand a plan of action for Health (including mental), Distance Learning (not the band-aid we have now), Security (to keep our kids safe, not police our kids), Facilities (nearby colleges, businesses, etc. who can provide space for social distancing), Technology (secure platforms, protocol, partnerships, licenses, donations, etc.), Automation (finding efficiencies to save dollars & speed processes, re-purposing jobs), Development (fundraising) and Community (partnerships, space sharing, cultural experience and fun).
Keep in mind any issues in our school system did not start with Dr. Feijóo. We must address these challenges and bring our students back to some semblance of normal schooling post-covid, first. We should offer support to one another.
- 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?
First I would say this question is loaded, phrased as if the school system is responsible. I would hazard a guess the cost of living in New Rochelle and NY has more to do with people of all colors and backgrounds leaving NR. They aren’t missing, they moved.
Secondly, the board’s responsibility is to ensure we have higher education standards, processes, staff, community relationships and plans. Ensuring the classroom is a safe and comfortable environment. If everyone is working towards those goals, then no one will ever leave NR just because of the school system.
- Would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?
I would say yes as a concept, but there will be a lot of work to do post-covid everyone is going to moved around and have a hectic schedule. This wouldn’t make sense right now.
- 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 know this was highly controversial because the coach was great and loved. I don’t know all the information surrounding this case because some of it is confidential. What I will say is that the superintendent & board didn’t handle it well and it was done without at least listening to the greater community, even if you still must reassign the coach. It then reduces the confidence going forward. If you can’t say why, then at least let people get their thoughts off their chest.
- 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?
The information I found on this issue was limited as well. If what is being said in the media is accurate, then he withdrew for a variety of reasons. There are also questions on associations which I can’t confirm. If I believe the rumors, then no person in the NR ed system should be controversial and a distraction from the education mission. If I believe what Mr. Muhammad says, then he pulled out for personal reasons. Perhaps it’s time to move on from the issue and look towards the future.
- 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 wonder why we are moving the HS rather than having two alternative HS coming out of covid. We are going to need space and resources critically. Money is going to be scarce, but we could find ways to expand our facilities for little cost especially for the high school students.
- 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.
Distance Learning right now is two soup cans and a string compared to what we will need going forward. There are multiple platforms, licenses, security, etc. that all must be worked out and should be worked on right now and is not happening. Distance Learning entails an educational profile of each student where their needs are addressed first and then work backwards. Instead we saw a poorly put together email survey (one with broken Spanish links when 50% of our system is Hispanic/Latino). That means someone just wanted to get something out there rather than having a plan. The board and educators should be collecting direct open feedback from the parents and students about what they need and want. Maybe high school students who are 16 would prefer to take online classes at night to finish their schooling. That would free up even more space in the high schools. Something quantifiable, measurable. These are the discussions which should be happening now.
Food distribution is a little more complex but a lot of the same applies. How do you know who would need food or not if you are not asking? There are lots of food banks to partner with, but you first must identify the need. Talk to the people who are on the front-lines right now instead of assuming we know what’s best.
- 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?
I would cut down meetings and not waste any unnecessary time, cutting the demands exponentially. We will have no time to waste once the Fall comes. I know board meetings go to 11 pm at night for some reason but that doesn’t mean they have to. We will also need help from the parents and teachers to form ad hoc committees to develop ideas and work on projects. Technology and creativity will be needed. We must learn to work smarter.
- 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?
My thoughts are NR residents need to vote every year at every level, and anyone who wants to run for office should run for office. If you have high engagement, the end results will be far better. If anyone still needs convincing that voting is super important in 2020, then I don’t know what to tell you. Your address doesn’t speak to your commitment to the cause. I wouldn’t make any negative prejudgments on people on the northside than I would about me being on the “southside”.
- 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 have learned that health & family are truly the most important things you can have, as well as wifi.
- 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?
My involvement has been primarily with my special need son’s education within that district across three schools (Barnard, Columbus, IEY). We have also participated in the Special Olympics, several board meetings, been members of the PTA & SEPTA, fund-raised for our schools and contributed donations to the respective schools.
- What are your thoughts on Apex Grade Inflation Investigations?
There can be no questions when it comes to academic integrity. It is better to have lower grad rates and grades so we can realize the challenges that students have. If we demonstrate there are shortcuts, then that’s the example we are giving to students. Let’s find ways to help students with more alternative sources that are customized. Let the teachers teach and not stifle them with standardization that is just repetition. What matters is the environment and methods that student needs in order to learn.
- Do you think Board Members should be allowed to take jobs with the District or its vendors upon leaving the school board?
Yes, why wouldn’t they be able to earn a living wherever they want? If there are questions on the contracts, hiring etc. from the school system and board then the problem is the bidding/hiring process not being fair. If that inequity exists, then someone will always find a way to game the system.
- 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 managed budgets over the past 20 years that cumulatively total $1 Billion+. And that is in the private sector where when you fail, you are held accountable.
I would also add that financial literacy is not the main issue here. If that was the case, we could just elect a couple of great accountants. The issues are leadership, accountability and transparency.
- 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)?
Got Right – Cultural Competency – the school system celebrates our cultural diversity very well. One of the most impressive things about our students is how different they all are and how well they get along together compared to previous generations which were highly segregated in the schools.
Got Right – Facilities – There has been some progress in facilities and space in the past couple of years. For years, there wasn’t even a sensory gym in the entire school system for special needs students. We also have very nice fields, if they actually let the students use them.
Got Right – Technology – The progress with enabling teachers and students with more technology, has been promising. The technology of the overall admin of the school system is where progress needs to be made.
D.Vega: Got Right – Recruiting and Hiring – New Rochelle has some great teachers who are working very hard. The issues with recruitment have been more with leadership positions.
Would Change – Add Innovation and Automation – There should a focus on transforming the system to save costs and find efficiencies.
Would Change – Change Graduation Rate – I would make this an annual report card with goals. Our graduation rates are trending down, and it’s much worse with at-risk students.
Would Change – Change Communication with Parents – This obviously needs a change as it’s rare to find a single parent who thinks the communication is where it should be.
Would Change – Add Accountability – This strategic plan is from 2016. What has happened since then? Who reports on this? Who is held accountable? There is literally a line that says, “The development of benchmark data and annual milestones will enable the objectives to be utilized for accountability and progress monitoring.” Where are these annual reports with benchmarks? Are they available to public? What is the point to set goals if you don’t report on progress specifically?
BONUS QUESTION: Anything else you feel voters should know about you when they go to the polls on June 9th?
Again, I have no aspirations beyond this position. I have no political agenda or political parties backing me, buying me dozens of yard signs. I have zero connection to the current school system establishment or political establishment in NR. I will work with all the candidates who ran, so their voices are also included. I am only interested in one term on the board and will not run again since I won’t have a child in the system after that. I will commit to lobbying Albany to stop cuts to ed as well as get more dollars for our schools (let’s get our City Hall involved, too). Share this interview, follow me on Twitter @NewRocVega, tell your friends to vote. The mail is slow send in your ballots ASAP before 6/9.
SUPER BONUS QUESTION: BUDGET AND BALLOTS
Will you vote for the budget?
Did not answer.
Do you have anything to say about the mail-in ballot distribution snafu?
The whole process is incompetent and people have lost faith. The entire board should resign and the top 9 candidates from the election should take their positions. So far, I cannot even vote for myself since I have no ballot. New Rochelle residents should be very upset. A $280M budget may pass or fail based on a handful of total votes.