Question 5 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Immediate Priority of BOE?

Written By: Robert Cox
  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.

Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.

Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.

Barbara D’Alois: 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 fulfill 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-investigated 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.

Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.

Stephen A. DiDonato: This answer might change as the day does. The reason being is because with each day there is yet another issue.

The Hiring of a permanent NRHS Principal should be a priority. How long should our flagship building sit with interim leadership?

We should also be considering restructuring our high school. The House System could be utilized with more oversight. The size has proven to be unmanageable. The same can be said for our middle schools. Is there a way to keep our cohorts together from a younger age?

We also need to revisit the discussion on the SRO program. Our children and teachers are worth the investment in the best security available.

Sharon D. Footes: The immediate priority of the School Board should be overseeing the budget.

Three outcomes not under current consideration are 5190; Hire of Black Teachers; Funds for the Neuro-Diverse Community

Matthew T. Hirschman: Hiring of a NRHS Principal. Hiring a new Superintendent. Installation of cameras viewing 99% of indoor and outdoor School District property. Universal Pre-K in all elementary schools and funding of local nursery schools if elementary schools cannot provide them. While Amy Moselhi balked, and other board members could not deliver, I will demand a full review of the SRO program.

Michael Leone: The first immediate priority of the Board is to ensure a smooth COVID-19 landing. While the Administrators are responsible for planning for reopening, the Board is accountable for its success. While it should not be intimately involved in the micro-details, it must be privy to administrative strategies to ensure that they fall within the parameters of district policies.

If elected, my term would end in June 2025. I would hope to see and expect to achieve the following priorities: (1) Comprehensive review and, where necessary, revision of Board policies or guidelines for hiring non-instructional employees and to see that the policies are enforced. The district cannot afford to repeat its hiring mistakes of the last 5 years. (2) Systematization of the budget process so that the budget is continually evaluated for effectiveness and to make it more transparent. The district needs to engage in cost-benefit analyses of programs and then in line-item expenditures for programs to see if they are still current, relevant, and effective. Accrued expenses (AYTD) must be published when a new budget is proposed. (3) Ensure that Board policies contribute to a safe and secure environment for learning, whether that learning is on campus or online. Unfortunately, what is safe and secure is a moving target. Last year we were talking about metal detectors, pat downs, and SROs. This year, we are talking about masks, social distancing, and distance learning. Has anyone thought to install any kind of safeguards to prevent our kids from being preyed upon by pedophiles online? As a Board we have to try to stay vigilant – one step ahead of the next possible catastrophe.

Timothy McKnight: 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).

Mario A. Scarano: Change the toxic leadership immediately and if the bylaws don’t allow for it, form a coalition to make sure their agenda is not supported.

I don’t know what outcomes have been considered so until I know it’s hard to complete this question. What I believe MUST be addressed, not every student in the high school being provided an education. You have AP College Prep Curriculum for those students interested in college, you have theater, art and music for those students and then you have about a third of the high school population that has no idea what to do once they graduate. When they decided to eliminate the amazing in house vocational program in 1979-80 that had 903 registered students in the program they defended the decision by saying they could continue at Westchester BOCES. My Goal would be to figure out a way with federal funds to bring the vocational in house programs back.

Julia Taylor: Safety and security of all students (revamp of current structure). Actual accruals when we are presented with a budget. Vetting and hiring practices.

Donald Vega: 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.