20 Questions with Adina Berrios Brooks
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20 Questions with Katie Castellano Minaya
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20 Questions with Barbara D’Alois
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NO Questions with Christopher Daniello (did not answer questions)
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20 Questions with Stephen A. DiDonato
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20 Questions with Sharon D. Footes
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20 Questions with Matthew T. Hirschman
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20 Questions with Michael Leone
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20 Questions with Timothy McKnight
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20 Questions with Mario A. Scarano
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20 Questions with Julia Taylor
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20 Questions with Donald Vega
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Question 1 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Audited Financials
- 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.
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: We need to have a budget that is understandable for everybody. There are mandated expenses that we have no say over, but there are ways that we can be open and honest about what we are spending. We need to be able to justify why that expenditure is beneficial.
Sharon D. Footes: Yes. I would support a more involved public process to review and discuss the annual financials. This lends to the transparency the public continues to ask for.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I believe that we have to trust the professionals hired to construct a budget that soundly allocates the necessary funds appropriately. We also have an obligation to present and share information in a way that the public can not just see, but understand. Not everyone is an accountant or actuary. The information and language should be understandable, transparent and accurate.
Michael Leone: The public does not need to be more involved in a review or discussion of the annual audited financials. Audits are conducted by outside professionals AFTER the budgeted money has been spent. Audits show whether or not the school district spent the money where it said it would spend the money. I have no reason to doubt the auditors’ results.
The district’s problem is in budget formulation. No one is looking at the benefits of the expenditures or whether they are effective. If the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent for Business are unable to make such analyses, then they either need to be replaced or the school district needs to hire financial consultants to conduct cost-benefit studies of what the district is spending on what.
The school district’s budget and its budget process have been a complete failure for years. The Board just rolls over core expenditures from year to year without question and then adds a few new bells and whistles to appease parents. This process is not acceptable. It lacks accountability, transparency, and prudent fiscal management. No one knows why we are spending what we are spending or whether what we are spending on specific resources and programs are actually beneficial. Audit of expenditures is not the problem. The budget needs to be revisited from ground up.
Timothy McKnight: Yes, I would support a more involved public process that is transparent. It’s important to see actual spending compared to projected spending so we have a better number to compare to when preparing the next year’s budget.
Mario A. Scarano: Yes. I would. My primary responsibility, after creating a nurturing and educational environment for the children of our school district, is to the taxpayers of our community. As a Board member I would seek to create the highest level of transparency possible. The act of involving the public in the most basic function of the BOE cultivates trust while discouraging waste and or fraud.
Julia Taylor: Yes, I would encourage transparency and community involvement. I am a firm believer that we should be presented with accruals instead of projections from previous years’ budgets. Taxpayers deserve to know how funding is allocated. The conversations around the budget need to happen frequently throughout the year.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 2 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: In-House Legal Counsel?
- Would you support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters to reduce District legal expenses? Explain.
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: More than open to it. I do not understand how and why we do not have in-house counsel already. It would be cost effective and guarantees that we have consistency and more control with our legal representation. There is an advantage of having council how works for us as opposed to representing us by virtue of a contract agreement. The bottom line is that we should do what is best for operations and what is most cost effective for our tax payers.
Sharon D. Footes: Yes. I would support a in-house legal staff to reduce the Districts legal expenses.This approach is the best practice to conserve funds.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I am open to that option. Having a firm does allow for more resources, but there are simple legal tasks that can be handled more cost effectively if we had some in-house legal at our disposal.
Michael Leone: Here again, the answer lies in the data and the results of a cost-benefit analysis. What kinds of legal expenses does the district have? Review basic contracts? Simple legal advice on bids? Yes, one in-house counsel, or maybe one attorney part-time or on retainer for these basic continuing legal issues. Litigation? No, the district needs outside counsel with expertise to help.
Timothy McKnight: Yes. I would support hiring an in-house legal staff to handle routine matters. With the economic distress from Covid-‐19 it’s important now to look at any ways we can save money. There is always legal counsel that can support our district in a variety of ways throughout the school year.
Mario A. Scarano: Yes. My fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers would compel me to seek savings wherever I could. This idea is a common sense approach to handling the district needs without the overspending which is often characterized by a lack of respect for taxpayers.
Julia Taylor: Yes, I would encourage transparency and community involvement. I am a firm believer that we should be presented with accruals instead of projections from previous years’ budgets. Taxpayers deserve to know how funding is allocated. The conversations around the budget need to happen frequently throughout the year.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 3 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Skills & Experience?
- What are the skills and experiences you will bring to the school board, if elected?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: As a Parent of three daughters who have been a product of the New Rochelle School District and Proud of their success thanks to the education they received from our very schools here in New Rochelle , I want to help other children achieve what my children have achieved. I am a tax paying homeowner who would be mindful of what and where the monies collected for the schools go and after my experience as the President and Vice president of the Glenwood Lake association nestled in the Webster Magnet School area I value the ability to deliver what is equal and fair to all the students. My 15 years as an electrician at NBC I was part of a maintenance team providing services to our clients in all aspects of the business from Studio to Viewers with the value of the truth being number one in what the people expect and should receive.
Sharon D. Footes: My Command Sergeant Major said to me,”Footes, your skills are your willingness and commitment to the task.” I believe that then and it rings true now.These would be the skills and experience I bring to the Board.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I was the board president for my Co-op. I hope to bring a fresh level headed perspective to the board. I’m not afraid to ask questions. Questions when I do not know the answer, and questions that others would be too intimidated to ask.
Michael Leone: The roles of a Board of Ed member are narrowly proscribed: (1) to review and approve the budget, (2) to hire and oversee the Superintendent, and (3) to make policies to help administrators and teachers to achieve the district’s mission. I bring sorely needed business, 26 years, and Board experience, 9 years, to the table.
Timothy McKnight: If elected for the school board, I would utilize my direct relationship and first hand experiences with the underserved, low-‐income community to increase community engagement. I would use my knowledge of program development and network of community partnerships to increase opportunities and services for minority students. I would also be the glue to forge relationships between the City of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle School District and the Community in order to better the student’s educational journey.
Mario A. Scarano: Being a resident of New Rochelle for 65 years I spent 12 years as a student in the New Rochelle City School District. I began my professional career as a teacher and a coach. I then became an administrator in the district. I believe not only do I have the skills and experience, but also the leadership needed to make the necessary changes at this time.
Julia Taylor: I am a former teacher, assistant principal, and currently a Teacher Development Evaluation Coach. As a school board member, I believe my professional experience, as well as my perspective, would enable me to understand and work effectively on many levels. For example, as a parent myself, I empathize and understand the challenges faced by parents/guardians today. I also have a firm grip and understanding of the many issues we confront as school administrators and teachers.
Also, I firmly believe in the importance of a community that can work together to achieve positive outcomes. As a school board member, my unique qualifications and experience enhance my ability to work on behalf of all involved. My dedication and drive are grounded in my firm belief that each and every one of us is entitled to the best possible education possible and I am enthusiastic and willing to devote my energies to working with other board members.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 4 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Enforcing Transparency?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: The district has demonstrated one thing over the years. While they recognize and throw the word “transparency” around very casually, they are not familiar with what the term means. This is demonstrated time after time. Ultimately they force the hand of people like Bob Cox to continue to prove and dig.
It is shameful that as a district and as a board, we can not be honest with the very people that we are elected to represent and advocate for.
Sharon D. Footes: The lack of transparency has to first be noted. Then, understand and make clear that board is in violation of the Freedom of Information Act . It is of the uttermost importance that our leaders are always working within the law.
Matthew T. Hirschman: There must be something that they are hiding. The mountainous piles of problems only grow when they aren’t addressed and public information is held hostage by bureaucrats. What could they be hiding?
Michael Leone: Failure to fill legitimate FOIL requests is not only unacceptable, it is illegal. It violates the Freedom of Information Act. If the Superintendent or a member of the Administration is at fault, the Board needs to correct this problem ASAP. If the Board is at fault, it needs to correct its own problem. If it fails after request, we need to recall all of the members ASAP.
Speaking at public meetings presents a different issue. While a government has no right to restrict public speech, except in very limited circumstances, it is not obligated to give the public a forum to speak. While having public comment periods at open meetings is important, the failure to provide a public comments period at each meeting is not necessarily a violation of any law or the First Amendment.
Timothy McKnight: Transparency is extremely important for any Board that one sits on. We have seen major backlash from the community due to the lack of transparency this board shows. We should make sure we are filling the Freedom of Information Requests and should be making sure all Board Meetings have public comments. This opportunity to hear from the public may provide the board with the thoughts and new perspectives on items that sometimes board members do not consider. We cannot look at these moments during board meetings as a negative period, but as one to gain a pulse of the community. We are elected officials that are charged to provide the best product as possible. It is give-‐and-‐take from the board and community that can provide the excellence that is often discussed by our District.
Mario A. Scarano: This is totally unacceptable and I will make sure if elected this will change. The school board should have the highest commitment to cultivating fairness, transparency, and access. There is nothing that is discussed in board meetings that the residents of NR should not have access to.
Julia Taylor: I believe in full transparency and following the law as it pertains to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 5 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Immediate Priority of BOE?
- 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.
Question 6 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Keep or Fire Dr. Feijóo?
- Do you support retaining or removing Superintendent Dr. Laura Feijóo?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Dr. Feijoo came in with a lot of controversy and a lot of promise. She has not been the stabilizing force that many of us hoped she would be. In a perfect world, she would be gone.
Sharon D. Footes: No comment.
Matthew T. Hirschman: Dr. Feijoo has over there years left on her contact and it is not likely that she will willingly step down. On the other hand, I am not in favor of buying her out and throwing good money away. This is where it complicates things. In a ideal world I would like to see more competent leadership.
Michael Leone: That train (Dr. Feijoo’s employment status) has left the station. Maybe the process by which Dr. Feijoo was hired was flawed. BOE Candidate Katie Castellano Minaya is challenging the process in court and the court will make ultimately decide whether the breach of BOE hiring policy was material and we have to replay the hiring. In the mean time, the District has a contract with Dr. Feijoo. I think the Dr. Feijoo has tried very hard in some hard and trying times. The board would be completely and irrevocably financially irresponsible to terminate yet another Superintendent’s contract and pay 5 years’ salary to but it out. Unless a court rules otherwise, I think that New Rochelle does best to put the past behind it and move forward.
Timothy McKnight: If I were on the Board when Dr. Feijóo was up for consideration I would have voted no on her hiring. However, she is our Superintendent now and I will do everything in my power to support her and the Board to make sure we are striving for educational excellence. I would like to sit down with her and give an in-depth lesson on who we are as a community and how she can better connect with the community. We are a unique city and this aspect of New Rochelle demands a unique style of leadership, one that cannot emulate practices that were used in New York City.
Mario A. Scarano: I support removing Dr Feijoo, she never should have been hired in the first place.
Julia Taylor: I support working with the current superintendent and holding her accountable. As a taxpayer, I want to see this contract to fruition, unlike the three contracts we’ve paid off in the past two years.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 7 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Black Flight?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Any flight is an issue. If parents are not comfortable keeping their children in our schools for any reason that should be considered OUR failure. We need to repair that. That will be a challenge that I hope to address.
Sharon D. Footes: Black Flight is not solely an issue of the Board. Many factors go into how and how Black Students leave the District.
Matthew T. Hirschman: Restoring dignity and focusing on excellence and accepting that not every policy has to stroke a perceived narrative. We need to make sure that all of our students are getting all the resources possible.
Michael Leone: “Black Flight” from our community is like the many-headed hydra. Without more information, the question asks for too much conjecture and speculation. A lot of back flight from New Rochelle is because of upward mobility of black families and that is good flight for the blacks who leave. We should not try to retain a specific ethnic or racial group just for the sake of retention.
Timothy McKnight: “Black Flight” from our community has many layers that do not fall solely on the School District of New Rochelle. I do feel that this small phenomenon can be reversed, but there are some items we must be transparent about and examine as a district. Based on the numbers from 2010, there has been a slight increase in population from the African American community, with a slight decline in the total enrollment numbers. This has many factors that need to be further examined (i.e. location of new members of our community, the household make-up of these new members, the ratio of school aged children and families that have moved out vs. those that have moved in). With the fact that some students of color have dropped in academic performance after their departure from Elementary School, the private school option has become more prevalent for the community. Many households that reside on the North End have the financial means to utilize private schools at a choice for their children. There has also been an increase in student-athlete recruitment from neighboring private schools (Iona Preparatory, Stepinac, Mt. St. Michael, Cardinal Hayes, Fordham Prep) of our local talent. We cannot address the cost of living as a district, but many of the conversations I had with parents that opted for private school is the overall structure and attention to the student-athletes, especially at a HS the size of our single public school. We must develop programs that support the goals of these students. There should be the development of athletic guidance counselor that can support the nearly 500 student athletes during their tenure at the school. We also must address the early opportunities that are provided our students in programs such as PAVE (arts are very big in our community) and Ingnite (many of our students can utilize this as freshman). These are the things that separate us from private schools. This is where a partnership with our city officials can be beneficial, especially with the expected boom to our school population in the forth-coming years.
Mario A. Scarano: The Board must seek to restore excellence and purpose to every student’s education in our schools. We must reverse this trend of disastrous leadership and return to proper board governance and sound hiring decisions. I do not think that flight from our schools is based on race as much as it is based on quality education or the lack thereof.
Julia Taylor: As a board member, I would want to look at the data to see why students are not attending our public schools and encourage a plan of action. I know there are a lot of students who leave the district for programs like Prep for Prep, athletic scholarship opportunities to preparatory or private schools, and some parents simply opt for a smaller environment. If indeed there is “black flight” then I would want to see a plan of action from the Superintendent that addresses this issue.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 8 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Universal Pre-K to 5 Busing?
- Would you support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5 busing?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Yes. There is no harm in exploring sound options.The idea of Universal bussing has a lot benefits. It addresses safety and congestion in and around the buildings. Particularly during the A.M. rush and afternoon dismissal. It also could be a part of our district wide green initiatives.
Sharon D. Footes: I would support commissioning a study to evaluate the feasibility of Universal Pre-K to 5th grade bussing if it meant the board would follow through with the recommendations.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I’m extremely supportive of Universal Pre-K but we need to see if we can afford to do so.
Michael Leone: As a Board member, one of the key roles is to make policy. More information is always better than less, especially, for making policies. Decisions should never be made on conjecture and speculation. Therefore, I will always support studies. What is more important, however, than supporting a study is acting on the results of the study. The current Board spent money on three different consultants regarding safety and security issues in our schools. The consultants conducted their own studies, drew their own conclusions, and made their own recommendations. The final reports were very similar, yet the Board has failed to follow through on these recommendations. What a waste of taxpayer money! I will not waste taxpayer money.
Timothy McKnight: Yes, I would 100% support this study. In my position at the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority it has been my mission to support students in anyway possible, and that includes fighting the absenteeism rate I have seen in my community. Anyway, to help our students succeed we need to look at.
Mario A. Scarano: Yes.
Julia Taylor: Transportation is a key issue in any school budget. We must examine past busing studies to inform future decisions. The study should be done in real-time and not be predictions of traffic patterns.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 9 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Coach D?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Lou DiRienzo was trying to protect a family member. There are a lot of people who would not think twice about family first. He was a very highly respected, accomplished and influential member of the district for decades. Yet there must have been some policy that he violated. So I do understand how a decision may have been unavoidable.I do think that it could have been handled better. Fortunately , this issue has been laid to rest. I do hope that there are things that we can all learn from it.
Sharon D. Footes: No comment.
Matthew T. Hirschman: While the end of the public story saw a state championship, it divided the community and turned it on its head. Dr. Feijoo and Amy Moselhi demonstrated a disregard for what they allowed to spiral out of control and turn New Rochelle High School into a national headline.
Michael Leone: As a Board member, two of the roles are to hire and oversee the Superintendent and to set policy, not to investigate allegations of errant employees or to discipline them. Investigation and discipline belong to someone in Administration. My role would be to question: Did the Board have a policy which would have covered the handling of Coach DeRienzo’s situation? If yes, then we must ask whether the policy was followed. If not, then the Board must develop a policy to fill the void or revise a flawed policy. If investigation and discipline fall to the Superintendent, then my role is to question: Did the Superintendent follow school policies? If yes, then the results may be unfortunate, but they were justified. If not, then the Board must deal with the Superintendent.
Timothy McKnight: I am a New Rochelle Huguenot, born and raised in New Rochelle. I know Coach DiRienzo and I have seen the amazing work he has done for our community. I do not know the specifics of what happened, but I do know that the way it was handled was wrong and a man’s name and reputation became public to the entire state. This should have remained an in-house disciplinary action that did not deserve the media attention it received.
Mario A. Scarano: This incident is by far the most telling on how out of touch this board is with the New Rochelle community who entrusted them with their vote. Throughout the process I couldn’t understand how the superintendent could take an incident that should have been handled internally by Coach DiRienzo’s supervisor and the high school principal, then blow it up into a national disgrace. Dr. Feijoo and the board’s leadership blew it so out of proportion that it only added another stain to a once outstanding national reputation. Having hired and then supervised Coach DiRienzo for a number of years I had the pleasure of seeing the interaction he had with his students which was amazing. I only wished that the rest of my staff could connect with their students like Coach D did. To have a 30 year reputation destroyed by Dr. Feijoo and the BOE is nothing less than a crime and those responsible should be held accountable their actions or lack thereof.
Julia Taylor: As a former athletic director, I fully understand the process and procedures when dealing with a private legal matter which the district was not allowed to comment on.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 10 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Adofo Muhammad?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: As far as I know, Mr. Muhammad declined the offer. At this point there is nothing more to say.
Sharon D. Footes: No comment.
Matthew T. Hirschman: This is one of the most abysmal failures in New Rochelle city school district history. I’m sorry that Mr Muhammad’s story book return to New Rochelle wasn’t meant to be but the BOE handled this horrible from the very beginning. Some very important questions should have been asked BEFORE they offered Mr. Muhammad a contract and I’m sad that this had to be played out in public.
Michael Leone: As a Board member, two of the roles are to hire and oversee the Superintendent, not to hire employees. My role is to question: Did the Board have a policy which would have covered this hiring situation? If yes, then we must ask whether the policy was followed. If not, then the Board must develop a policy to fill the void or revise a flawed policy. In this case, the hiring of a school principal fell to the Superintendent. My role is to question: Did the Superintendent follow school policies? Did she properly vet the candidate? In a case such as hiring a high school principal, I would be curious about the candidate and would conduct my own independent investigation. In the case of Adofo Muhammad, I would not have had to look very far before I uncovered his controversial background. At that point, I would have been prepared to vote NO on his nomination. If all Board members had done some due diligence, maybe his candidacy never would have reached a vote. The fact is Mr. Muhammad was unanimously approved by the Board.
Timothy McKnight: I am saddened by the way this situation was handled. Mr. Muhammad did not receive the opportunity to do the job he was hired to achieve as the new principal of our High School. I wish him well in the future and hope his family is safe and healthy. Many of the particulars regarding his hiring were not made clear, as there have been a number of speculations about how secure his position was at the time of withdrawal. At this point, we must move forward and hope to secure a new principal by this time next year.
Mario A. Scarano: This is a prime example of unprofessionalism at the top that creates confusion and division that weakens our school district. Who announces a hire without actually hiring the person first. That is what the school district did in this case. The announced the hiring of Adofo Muhammad without him ever signing a contract. No one does this.
Julia Taylor: As a person in the community, I do not want to speculate without having information. According to the letter I received he withdrew because of family issues due to COVID. I am happy to see that NRHS has an interim principal effective July 1, 2020. I hope the superintendent and assistant superintendent of human resources are both following policy as it pertains to hiring.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 11 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Moving Alternative High School?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: The facility is best suited for our kids today should be the one we use. Disrupting something that seems to be working makes little sense to me. If Bethesda is a better site, we’d have to consider it. From what I have gathered that’s not the case. If this is a move to placate a few individuals in the community, I could not support a move.
If the move is necessary for reasons outside of my scope of understanding, then there might be reason to support a move. Maybe there are other sites that need consideration.
Sharon D. Footes: The short answer to the Alternative School being moved to Bethesda Church is “NO WAY”.
Matthew T. Hirschman: That needs to be thoroughly investigated. Is this move in the best interest of the alternative high school, or is in the best interest of trying to mend a relationship with Feijoo and some of her biggest critics? We need a facility that suits all of the needs of our students and faculty.
Michael Leone: My decision of whether or not to move Campus (Alternative or “A”) School from St. Gabriel’s School to Bethesda Baptist Church would be data driven. We know the many benefits that Campus students receive from small class size and personalized attention, and we would expect these benefits to be the same at each location. What I do not know are the costs. We know that St. Gabriel’s needs some capital improvements. We know that Bethesda Baptist Church lacks certain basic facilities like a cafeteria, a gym, and bathrooms, and that it needs to be retrofitted to make sound-proof classrooms. As an outsider, I am not privy to the costs. As a Board member I would decide based on which location could offer the same benefits at the lowest cost.
Timothy McKnight: I graduated from New Rochelle Schools and was a student at the Alternative Campus. I have seen firsthand the amazing work this program does and thank Mr. Fridovich for creating this atmosphere of learning and running it for so long. I will support a move only if I believe it is in the best interest of the students and the facilities are prepared to house students and can properly accommodate their educational journey.
Mario A. Scarano: I just don’t understand the move, is this a payoff to a friend, did they consult with Joel Fridovich who was the principle of the Alternative School for the past 25 years now retired, who I consider one of the finest school administrator I’ve ever known and had a profound impact on his students. Probably not, but it’s something that needs to be investigated.
Julia Taylor: I have heard the facilities at St. Gabriel’s are not great so we should research viable options to ensure we are following the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 12 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: COVID-19 Response?
- 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.
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: The food distribution was handled in a manner that has raised many issues. There was poor coordination, and communication. There were also some very dangerous decisions that did have people exposed to Covid positive people.
We could have done better.
Furthermore, the necessity to feed people who simply didn’t qualify for free school lunch might be considered charitable, but it was unnecessary.
The distance learning initiative was forced on school districts all over the country. From what I’ve gathered, there was not much direction from the top down. Then there was a great deal of confusion.
We didn’t equip all of our students with Chromebooks soon enough, and the policies were less than stellar.
I recognize that the teachers were working hard. My daughter is a teacher as well, so I am familiar with the amount of time that was required to ensure as much success as possible. We can only improve ourselves if we are willing to be reflective and critical.
Sharon D. Footes: Food Distribution 1 thru 10 = 6, Distance Learning 1 thru 10 = 5.
Matthew T. Hirschman: This is a tough question. Primarily because the response is still ongoing. I do reward the efforts of the students, teachers and parents. I’ve been unimpressed with the decision making and excessive communication that amounts to nothing from the superintendent and board president.
Michael Leone: The response to the pandemic with regard to food service is to be compliant with State mandates to provide nutrition to the District’s children in need. This has little to do with the Board of Education other than to ensure that the Administration is doing the best job to ensure compliance and provision of meals to this demographic.
All school districts were charged with the responsibility of developing distance learning plans in very short order. New Rochelle started off slowly using Google classroom and YouTube to deliver content and assignments to keep the students moving forward but this was not sustainable in keeping the students engaged. Students lacked structure in their day, no class periods and no scheduled class times were a detriment. The teachers did a wonderful job of researching relevant content at that time and I truly believe did they best they could with the tools they had. Given some time, the District administrators and teachers have heroically come together to enhance the learning experience by having the children attend class every day on a schedule, to see and hear their teachers, to ask questions in real time, and to have a more “normal” school day. This can only get better if, God forbid, this goes on for an extended period of time. The District Administrators in collaborative effort with our very capable and resourceful teaching staff should continue to research ways to keep the children engaged and to make sure that every student has the tools to succeed.
Timothy McKnight: Food Distribution: I have firsthand been a part of the food distribution efforts in New Rochelle. My site at 345 Main Street has been a distribution location since the beginning of the pandemic response. Generally, I believe their response has been great in regard to food distribution. This has been a great way for the school district to partner with the community and community organizations.
Distance Learning: Distance learning has raised many questions around the disconnect between school administration, parents and households and our teachers. From the delayed Chromebook distribution to elementary school students, to the delayed implementation of distance learning 2.0, we have learned lessons that we can improve from the disconnection between the major stakeholders in a student’s life.
Mario A. Scarano: Did not answer.
Julia Taylor: It was nice to see the community come together to support families in need. We should make sure everyone is taking advantage of all of the programs available in the state and our country. In terms of distance learning, it was a learning curve for everyone. Distance Learning 2.0 was a good start and I would like for us to build on it. Moreover, I believe interactive, synchronous learning for all students coupled with improvement in Response to Intervention (RTI); Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 supports will improve student achievement.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 13 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: BOE Terms, Stipends?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Shorter terms can be a blessing or a mistake. A sound school board needs to have an understanding of the history of the system. They need to know what we have done in the past, and what successes or failures came as a result.
I suppose that the length of term is only an issue if the board is failing.
Annual stipends could also break the same way. While this position is presently not stipended, and I am running for a seat, I would not think that it’s not fair for me to run, potentially get elected, and then vote myself a stipend. The idea by itself is not necessarily a bad one.
Sharon D. Footes: The demands of the board have changed and that is not a concern for me, nor do I believe there should be a shorter term, no to shorter meetings, yes to less required non- board meetings and activities and no to an annual stipend.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I think there’s a case to be made for shortening terms to three years instead of five. What I thoroughly reject however is the free rein that board members seem to have in our schools. I am eager and enthusiastic about attending concerts, award ceremonies, sporting events and academic competitions. I do not feel that my place is within the buildings between 8 and 3 daily. I do not support annual stipends. This is a volunteer job.
Michael Leone: I am prepared to put in the time and energy to be a Board member. The length of a Board meeting is determined by the agenda and public comment period. Over the years, the number of agenda items and their complexity have increased. I do not see them getting shorter or any less complex any time soon. I support the current 5-year term. The job is complex, one needs many skills, and they are not all learned overnight. A 3-year term is too short to be truly effective. Where I think that Board members waste time is in visiting schools during the day. An outside board member of a public company often has no idea of how the company makes its products and s/he does not need to do so to be an effective Board member. Several years ago, the public had unlimited time to speak during Board meetings and that was a drag on meeting length. When Lianne Merchant became Board president, she imposed the 3-minute rule. Many people complained, but one has only 3 minutes to speak at Citizens to be Heard before the City Council, and the limit keeps people from unnecessary rambling and forces them to make their points. No, the Board members should not get stipends. That would be taking taxpayer money away from its intended purpose, namely, education of the children.
Timothy McKnight: When making the decision to run for the school board, I understood the time commitment needed to make sure I could be an effective board member. Board meetings are extremely important as well as having time for public comments. Being that I am a strong advocate for the people of New Rochelle and would push for a stronger board presence within the communities, I do not believe in less “required” non-board meeting activities. Although being a board member is time consuming, it is a commitment we choose to make and our will and commitment should not be driven by stipends or any other personal incentives. I would support a shorter term of 3 years, which would allow the New Rochelle Community to hold current board members accountable to the mission of their position and would also create opportunities for other community members with fresh and new perspectives to serve on the board.
Mario A. Scarano: Spending more time doesn’t necessarily mean getting more done. Having recently attended a number of presentations I found that school board members seemed to think they had to show their audience through their comments how intelligent they were. To be honest, quite often it wasn’t necessary. I assume, if you hire the right people and place them in the right position they will do an outstanding job. They do not need to be told by 9 board members on what a great job they did. Also, I would support shorter terms and shorter board meetings but would not support annual stipends.
Julia Taylor: The demands are not a concern for me since I’ve been attending board meetings since I relocated to New Rochelle in 2011. I do not believe board members should receive annual stipends and do not support reducing board terms as stability encourages growth.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 14 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: BOE Members 90% North End?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Ideally the board would be more representative of New Rochelle’s geographic diversity. By not having board members from all corners of our city, it might leave some people out of the discussion, and feeling disregarded.
However, forcing districts in the BOE, like our city council might leave some of our brightest minds out.
I’d like to see more across the board participation, citywide. That can all start with more open access to meetings, and not stonewalling communication.
Sharon D. Footes: I believe the only way to change this is to follow or adopt the New Rochelle City Council model of dividing the city into district so only residents from those districts can represent them on the board. This is integral to ensuring fairness and equity throughout the city school district.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I’ve spent the majority of my life in New Rochelle on the Southside. I hope to break that trend. Objectively speaking a persons address should not blur their visions or opinions.
Michael Leone: I think this may be attributed to the fact the most people residing in the North End are homeowners where there is a large population of renters in all other areas of New Rochelle. A homeowner may have more interest in the District operating efficiently as it directly effects their tax dollars and property values.
Timothy McKnight: It’s extremely important to have a diverse elect of Board Members who live throughout the city and have firsthand experiences within different segments of our community. I grew up in New Rochelle in the Bracey Apartments on Main Street. I personally know what its like to grow up in the South End of New Rochelle, and a person who has not lived here and has not experienced what these kids experience cannot possibly relate to them or understand the barriers they endure just to access an equitable education. The voices of the community cannot rely on assumptions; it must be based on first-‐hand knowledge of the experiences these students endure in our district.
Mario A. Scarano: I believe the only way to change this is to follow or adopt the New Rochelle City Council model of dividing the city into district so only residents from those districts can represent them on the board. This is integral to ensuring fairness and equity throughout the city school district.
Julia Taylor: One of the reasons I am running for the board is to hopefully be one of those members from the South End of New Rochelle. As a resident of Sycamore Park, I would like to see additional representation from all parts of New Rochelle.
Donald Vega: 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”.
Question 15 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: What Did Pandemic Teach 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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!
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: Losing so many thousands of lives and living in an essential quarantine has been quite the experience. I’ve always valued my family and friends. And the thought of any of them falling ill or victim to Covid was heart wrenching.
It has given me and my family the opportunity to be more present with each other.
Sharon D. Footes: What I realized about myself and took for granted is how I spend my free time. I did not value time for myself and now I do.
Matthew T. Hirschman: Covid-19 is indeed very scary. One thing that I’ve taken for granted and hopefully changed is my level of being annoying to my wife. I’ve done more of the housework and I can honestly say I’d rather be at work doing construction!
Michael Leone: While I always thought my wife and I were splitting the responsibility of the children’s school work, I’ve learned I was in no way carrying my own weight in this department. This became crystal clear during a family dinner conservation where my kids said Mom was the teacher and I was more of the security guard. Now that my wife is required to return to work at least part-time, I have had to ramp up helping out with meals and school work. I am now the security guard and lunch lady….no stipend for these by the way!
Timothy McKnight: The pandemic has reassured me that the work I have been doing, working with students, working with our community, to bring together groups of people (community organizations, school administrators, households, government entities), promoting unity and to not work in silos, is now coming to fruition. It might have taken a pandemic to make our community work together, but it is now happening and it can only strengthen us and strengthen our city.
Mario A. Scarano:Did not answer.
Julia Taylor: I found out that I tend to be excessive when it comes to organization and scheduling. You can walk into my dining room and see humungous post-it notes! I had to make sure both of my daughters had daily routines before Distance Learning 2.0. My husband is also a teacher so it was very important for our family to keep a routine that didn’t drive us crazy.
Donald Vega: I have learned that health & family are truly the most important things you can have, as well as wifi.
Question 16 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Past Involvement with District?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: I have always been civically active. I have attended board meetings and council meetings over the years for various reasons.
Sometimes in celebration, sometimes to protest to what is going on in the schools or city. I’ve always enjoyed this connection.
As a recent retiree, I now have the time, and still have the desire to contribute to making the schools and by default the city a place to be proud of again.
Sharon D. Footes: I have been involved for the past 8 years and speaking at the board for the past 5 years.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I’ve followed the issues and engaged in discussions. I’ve watched many meetings online. I’m obviously trying to become more involved.
Michael Leone: My family is interested in the general health of the District as we have and had children in the schools and the need for fiscal responsibility and oversight has always been lacking. For a while it looked like there was some progress to that end and then with all of the turnover in key Administrative positions, that progress stalled. The District needs a strong Board that will follow their own policy’s. I usually watch the meetings after the fact so I can digest all the information going on and not be distracted. Even though I’ve not been a physical presence at the meetings, I am informed and understand the need for change.
Timothy McKnight: I have been extremely involved with the school district and community. I graduated from Trinity, Isaac Young, New Rochelle High School and St. Gabes. As the Resident Services Director for the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority, I had to create relationships and partnerships with many schools and administrators to adequately support my student residents. I have been a member of the New Rochelle Connects group run by Dr. Bongo, a member of the New Rochelle Council of Community Services, the Co-‐Chair of the New Rochelle Network group, Vice President of the New Rochelle Community Action Partnership Board, and a My Brothers Keeper (MBK) Fellow. I have been attending Board Meeting for the last 4 years.
Mario A. Scarano: I have not participated or been involved until the Coach DiRienzo incident occurred. My wife Janet and I have been attending sporting, music and theater events over the years and have remained in contact with many staff members. Also, prior to selling my wife’s family business, Jan Mar Trophy Co. on January 2, 2019, we sold and/or donated awards and apparel products to many of the schools in the district.
Julia Taylor: My husband and I have been attending PTA meetings for both of my daughters since we moved here in 2011 and I have attended board meetings since then. We were part of Halloween events, school parties, international night, grandparent visit, and various play productions, I have taken professional pictures, and produced a performance video for parents. Both of our daughters are avid swimmers and participate on the swim teams in New Rochelle. My youngest daughter has participated in New Rochelle Soccer, basketball, and lacrosse. I also consult Gratis for parents who are struggling with getting related services for their children. Lastly, I am a great translator for my Spanish speaking neighbors who need support.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 17 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Apex Grade Inflation?
- What are your thoughts on Apex Grade Inflation Investigations?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: This is a stone that still needs to be turned over and addressed. These unscrupulous findings with the grade fixing scandal really damages our integrity. While closing the achievement gap is an important task, the attempts to improve graduation rates and effectively close that gap should never have been done so unethically. Here is an example of poor modeling of behavior. We should be practicing the same standards that we expect our children to hold sacred. This was an epic systemic failure.
Sharon D. Footes: No comment.
Matthew T. Hirschman: Even with what was brought to light, the district continues to cover up what has been discovered. There was a scapegoat, but I don’t think she was the mastermind. I can only hope that the higher authorities take action, as I am aware that they are involved or at least enlightened.
Michael Leone: The Apex Grade Inflation scandal was unfortunate and it came at a very weak time in the district’s administrative history. I do not know all of the intimate details, but I do know that oversight of grading is not a Board function. The Board hires a Superintendent who hires other administrators who hire subordinates. In this case, the Superintendent dropped the ball in failing to maintain supervisory control over the high school principal who hired the two persons responsible for inflating the student grades. The Board had to hold the Superintendent accountable. It did. It failed to renew Dr. Osborne’s contract. The year 2018 was one of calamity after another that I hope we never see repeated.
Timothy McKnight: The situation that occurred with our APEX program was an unfortunate one. In a numbers driven society, our schools and teachers have been put in a tough predicament to ensure the proper education plan for students throughout our district. There has been a lot of finger pointing that has taken place. The re-opening of this case and its findings need to be put to rest as soon as possible. The district needs to move forward and learn from all aspects (teachers, administrators, building leadership) on how we can ensure situations such as this do not further taint the image of the academic environment that we are fighting for on what seems like a daily basis.
Mario A. Scarano: It’s sad because as a former teacher at the end of each class I would take time to ask my students what they learned. If they didn’t have a reasonable answer then I didn’t do my job. It was the administrator’s and supervisor’s responsibility to make sure that each teacher asks that same question. Also, the administrator/supervisor’s should ask themselves did I provide the proper atmosphere that is conducive to learning for all students.
Julia Taylor: I think that it was unfortunate that it happened and I do not believe in online credit recovery. If it didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a scandal. We can find other ways for students who are overage and under-credited to earn credits legally.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 18 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Board Members Taking District Jobs?
- Do you think Board Members should be allowed to take jobs with the District or its vendors upon leaving the school board?
Adina Berrios Brooks: Absolutely not.
Katie Castellano Minaya: No. Absolutely not.
Barbara D’Alois: Let me be perfectly clear. No, not ever, asked and answered.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: There should be a policy in place that strictly prohibits this practice. It is a conflict of interest.
Sharon D. Footes: No.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I do not believe that they should. We need to make sure that nepotism doesn’t have a role in our school board.
Michael Leone: Never.
Timothy McKnight: There is a direct conflict of interest if a board member takes a position with a vendor upon leaving their term as a board member. In regards to taking a position with the district, I do not feel there is a problem in doing so. The lobbying for contracts or policies that have a financial implication towards a vendor can be classified as unethical and should be avoided at all costs. If the passion and work that has been done as a board member leads you to want to do more for the district in a paid capacity, then I wish them the best in doing so. If they are qualified and meet the criteria of the job, we should embrace one’s desire and ability to enhance our school district.
Mario A. Scarano: Absolutely not it’s a direct conflict of interest.
Julia Taylor: I do not support board members taking jobs in the district after tenure on the board.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 19 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Financial Literacy?
- 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?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: I am not a financial advisor nor do I pretend to be. I am a Taxpayer and a person who knows how hard it is for a dollar to be made in this country. We need to spend other people’s money wisely, with clear reason, and provide final results that are made public to all. I will want to know every detail of the expenditures that we are responsible for and hold a check and balance system.
Sharon D. Footes: My level of financial literacy is that I have a background in Food Service and Retail Management. To add I can read, write and have a somewhat fair grasp on how to manage other people’s money.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I’m not an accountant but I was President of my Co-Op Board in Norwalk Connecticut. In this capacity I did oversee the financials for over 160 units. I’m not afraid to ask questions and ask for help from people that are more knowledgeable than me.
Michael Leone: My educational and professional experience fill this void on the current Board. In my 26-year career, I served on the Boards of Directors for two key industry organizations: The Specialty Advertising Association of Greater New York (“SAAGNY”), the industry trade association (8 years), and the SAAGNY Foundation, a charitable organization that raises money to support charitable events for children (one year). As a SAAGNY Board member, I sat on numerous committees, chairing most, was elected to the executive committee, and served as Treasurer, Vice President, and President of the Board. When I took office as President, the association was in the red. It had a disorganized and disjointed business model with little or no fiscal oversight. While serving as Board President, one of my main goals was to restore the financial health of the organization. Collaboratively, working with SAAGNY Board members and staff, the business model was reconstructed with defined fiscal oversight and sound fiscal initiatives. Today, the association has a healthy seven-figure fund balance.
Timothy McKnight: I have had different jobs where I’ve been responsible for budgeting and keeping track of public money being spent. From being an Account Executive at Steiner Sports to now being the Resident Services Director of the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority (NRMHA). Currently as the Resident Services Director for NRMHA, one of my key roles is scouting and applying for grants that will provide funding for resident programing. I develop and monitor the budgets for these grants. My experience will be beneficial to my position on the board as we reevaluate the budget and seek to increase funding for programs that will strengthen the academic success for all students.
Mario A. Scarano: I believe the most important job of a BOE member is to oversee the fiduciary responsibilities of the district. As director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics for both the New Rochelle and White Plains City School Districts I was responsible for my programs budgets so I have a fairly good financial understanding.
Julia Taylor: I have experience with writing grants which I have had to schedule millions of dollars for student services. As a former athletic director, I had twenty-one teams with a limited budget. I successfully ensured that all student-athletes had the necessary equipment, fees, and uniforms. I was also an assistant principal at a school where I was responsible for the budget and I had to schedule teacher salaries, supplies, vendors, and funds for student services. I also have experience with spending Title1, Title 3, adhering to the Commissioner’s Regulations Part 154 as well as Students with Disabilities (SWD), Part 201.
Donald Vega: 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.
Question 20 of 20 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Strategic Road Map?
- 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)?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: I have heard a great deal about the strategic roadmap, but I am not so sure that it has been functional or practical at all.
It states: “The City School District of New Rochelle, through an active partnership amongst community, parents, staff and students, will provide a high quality and challenging education for every child, in a safe, nurturing environment that embraces our rich diversity and drives our success.”
Yet we have had students killed and injured, large portions of the community feeling isolated and unheard, organized cheating with the APEX scandal, and more.
I could go on, but you get the point. This roadmap is no more than hollow words. Zero substance.
Sharon D. Footes:Student Learning, Engagement and Outreach, Superb Staff, Safe and Supportive School, Excellent Teachers, Resource Management
Matthew T. Hirschman: The strategic road map has many things right on paper. The key is to putting what’s on paper into reality. Safe and supportive schools, student learning, and resource management are three that stand out for me as being important in the success of our students. The road map is stressing elements that seem to overly magnify a set of concerns, while neglecting others. It reads like a politically correct policy that has done more to divide rather than improve.
Michael Leone: I believe that the core beliefs of the strategic road map to be on point. The beliefs look to make sure that everyone involved with the schools, should become a better person because of it. It is inclusive. It understands that the school, its students, its teachers, and its parents/guardians are all part of the equations to “educate the whole child”.
What I feel they got right:
The reserve fund: This is currently at the State-mandated maximum.
The staff: I believe the teachers to be the District’s best assets. Our map allows for the staff to continue to grow and flourish academically to become better teachers and better role models for our children.
Engagement and outreach: It is better than it was, but there is always room for improvement.
What they got wrong:
I believe the Board needs to take the ethnicity out of the equation. We should always strive to hire the best and the brightest to serve our children and our community and this should not be driven by the color of the person’s skin or where they were born. It should be driven by quality of their education and experience only.
Timothy McKnight: Our district and Board have had a tough couple of years. We have weathered some storms and we have a lot to be proud of what we accomplished during these times.
Direction 5-‐ Resource Management, Objective B Facilities-‐ We have done a tremendous job improving our facilities from the Bond, making interior and exterior upgrades and improvements, and making necessary investments to make our district the best it could be.
Direction 2-‐ Safe and Supportive Schools, Objective A-‐ Social Emotional Learning and Objective B-‐ Restorative Practices. We have seen a great push for more equity and the increase of emotional intelligence through social emotional learning. Starting under Amy Goodman and now continuing under Dr. Bongo and school administrators we have seen some great strides in this area.
We also have a lot to be concerned about regarding what our Board and District are not completing from our Strategic Roadmap and that would be everything in is Direction 4-‐Engagement and Outreach. The district and board have not been effective communicators and effective in communication with parents, working with community partners and having positive public relations.
Mario A. Scarano:Did not answer.
Julia Taylor: In my profession, I have adhered to a similar document that guides our work but we call it the comprehensive educational plan. I believe that we are emerging in the following areas which have been made clear to the community through communication: have a reserve fund that is at or near the maximum allowed by NYSED; have completed the five-year capital plan outlined in 2016, with learning spaces that incorporate technology appropriate for learning in the 21st century; have made progress in developing the system-wide culture of innovation that will be needed to ensure we continually prepare all students for success in college, career and beyond
The strategic plan was created in 2016 and we have until December 2020 to see if we accomplished the objectives. Some things to consider and keeping in mind that the current pandemic has widened the achievement gap are: have demonstrated evidence of overall improvements in student learning and achievement across a broad spectrum of measurements including, but not limited to, state assessments; have reduced the achievement gap by decreasing disparities in outcomes that are correlated with race, class, disability, native language, or geography; have a pedagogical staff that is ethnically more reflective of the students we serve and knowledgeable of cultural differences and learning styles in our diverse school population
I am not sure that we will meet these measurable objectives during this time and if it will be realistic. In reading and following this map, keeping in mind my experience in this mind, I am not sure the district can provide evidence of meeting these goals by the end of this. year.
Donald Vega: 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 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: What Else Should Voters Know About You?
Adina Berrios Brooks: 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.
Katie Castellano Minaya: 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!
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: I have been a resident of the City of New Rochelle for over 35 years. I take pride in my City, my Neighborhood, my fellow citizens and will not be intimidated by anyone who does not have the same values for our children that they are justifiably deserving.
Sharon D. Footes:Did not answer.
Matthew T. Hirschman: I’m your average Mom and Pop candidate that is not being backed by any politicians or special interest groups. I feel that politics has no place in our schools. I’ve lived in New Rochelle most of my life and have attended Trinity, Isaac Young, BOCES, and New Rochelle High School. I’ve worked in this city as a lifeguard at Hudson Park and the city pools. I’ve also been a bus driver for the school district here in New Rochelle. I love my town and want the best for our students and residents.
Michael Leone: All of us candidates care about the kids. That is a non-issue. I think that all of us are drawn to the Board because of recent tragedies that have negatively impacted our kids. Each of us believes that we can make a difference. I am running for the Board of Education, especially, because I see a big gap in the financial knowledge and managerial ability of the current Board.
In the last 5-10 years, the school budget has grown without rhyme nor reason and we do not know if the additional expenditures have even been worth it. We are under a 2-year old mandate from New York State to break out expenditures per pupil per school and it has not been done. The Title I and Title III monies are listed by use, not by school or program, and we do not know if these monies are getting to where they are supposed to go. This year, the Superintendent carved out $2 million for what she calls an Equity Budget, where all schools receive a weighted increase in building budget, but I am still unclear what these weights mean or how they were calculated. Yes, I am happy to hear that the tax levy is not increasing, but the budget and the budget process need more transparency and fiscal oversight. The Board must be more accountable to the taxpayers.
Also, in the last 5-10 years, the Board has made some very questionable hiring and firing decisions. It has approved candidates for administrative positions without thorough vetting. With such high turnover in key administrative positions in recent years, New Rochelle needs a strong Board that will call into question decisions of the Administration and examine the District policies to see where the shortfalls are. The Board needs members who will exercise more oversight of the Superintendent and his/her hiring and firing decisions. The school district needs more accountability for managerial decisions and more transparency, accountability and fiscal oversight for financial decisions. Vote Leone!
Timothy McKnight: I want voters to know that I am a candidate who is for the community because I am from the community, and the City of New Rochelle is where my passion lies. I have been an active member of this community who is consistently striving towards unity, equality and success for all. For the past couple of years, I have worked countless hours with principals, social workers, house principals, and other school faculty to bridge the gap between school administrators and the parents in the households, to create a more efficient academic journey for the children. Being on the frontline during COVD-19 has reassured me that the efforts and strides I have been making are well needed. Being elected for the school board will only allow me to further my reach in making a difference in the lives and success of our New Rochelle youth.
Mario A. Scarano: Did not answer.
Julia Taylor: I am a strong advocate for all children. Should I earn a seat on the school board I will always consider their needs first. I will work with the board and community to make certain our children’s needs are identified and addressed and that community concerns are heard. I think we can do better than has been done in the past. It is my vision to bring a greater sense of stability and confidence that will bridge the gap between school administrators and community members.
My platform includes the following key points:
Financial Efficiency – whereas the financial challenges of funding public education are significant and the tax implications are a pressing and ongoing burden I plan to utilize my educational budgetary experience to bring a fresh perspective to these challenges and ensure school monies are spent in a way that maximizes student potential and is consistent with a vision of our districts‘ strategic road map.
Resources – Presently, our students and families are dealing with a whole new reality in remote learning. Students and parents have to be able to become more proficient in the use of technology that will replace actual teaching in a classroom. Ideally, our District should offer online classes for parents as well to help them learn how to navigate platforms like “google classrooms”. Gone are the days of worksheets and writing. Students should focus on platforms that show whether or not they have mastered the content. Teachers also need ongoing professional development in the use of technology in education.
Given the major budget cuts new Rochelle will face because of this pandemic we must have a plan of action that will ensure our students have the resources and support they need. My experience and expertise in creating an accountability action plan further support my candidacy and ability to be a productive resource.
Advocacy – Recent headlines have highlighted the upcoming budgetary crisis and lack of state funding. With millions of dollars spent to deal with the current pandemic, we need our board of education members to fight for fair funding. I am committed to partnering with our local elected officials to provide strong and urgent advocacy on behalf of New Rochelle.
I hope to earn your vote for the New Rochelle Board of Education and reiterate I bring with me valuable experience as a parent, teacher, and school administrator that no other candidate possesses.
Donald Vega: 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 1 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Will You Vote for the Budget?
Adina Berrios Brooks: Yes.
Katie Castellano Minaya:Yes.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: No.
Sharon D. Footes:No.
Matthew T. Hirschman:No.
Timothy McKnight: Did not answer.
Mario A. Scarano:No.
Julia Taylor: Did not answer.
Donald Vega: Did not answer.
SUPER BONUS QUESTION 2 for 2020 NRBOE Candidates: Anything to Say About the Mail-in Ballot Distribution SNAFU?
Adina Berrios Brooks: I believe the state and the district MUST extend the voting deadline to ensure sure every vote is counted.
Katie Castellano Minaya: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.
Barbara D’Alois: 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.
Christopher Daniello:Did not answer.
Stephen A. DiDonato: It’s why the whole crew needs to go.
Sharon D. Footes: They need to push the election back. People still haven’t received their ballots and want to vote.
Matthew T. Hirschman: They need to push back the election at least a week because I believe this is voter suppression and it might be intentional.
Michael Leone: Being New Rochelle, it’s no surprise that there is some sort of issue with the voting process. While we are not the only district experiencing this delay issue, the administration should have been more on top of it.
Timothy McKnight: We should have fought as a district to ensure the power of our votes is granted, especially during this time. We need to hear and feel the pulse of our community, and it was evident that we needed more time. This is a suppression of our voice and power of our vote.
Mario A. Scarano: It really concerns me that if this BOE can’t run a simple annual election how have they managed to oversee a $280 million dollar budget and have they.
Julia Taylor: Did not answer.
Donald Vega: 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.