Candidates file petitions for New Paltz School Board election

New Paltz School Board candidates Matthew Williams and Sophia Skiles. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

New Paltz School Board candidates Matthew Williams and Sophia Skiles. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

With New Paltz Central School District Board of Education trustees Dominick Profaci and Julie Tresco choosing not to run again to retain their seats on the board when their terms expire June 30, New Paltz voters on May 17 will be asked to approve two new candidates on the ballot: Sophia Skiles and Matthew Williams. Also up for a vote will be the proposed 2016-17 budget of $57 million and a separate $480,000 bus proposition.

The trustee positions carry three-year terms to begin July 1. New Paltz Times recently asked the two candidates what they feel the biggest challenges facing the school district are and what their priorities will be as new trustees.

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Sophia Skiles

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Skiles earned a bachelor’s degree in performance studies from Northwestern University and an M.F.A. in acting from Columbia University. She worked as a professional actor in New York City, where she had strong ties to the Asian-American theater community, and has appeared on stages throughout the Midwest and in Vienna and Amsterdam. Skiles currently teaches as adjunct faculty in the Theater and Performance Department at SUNY Purchase. She lives in Gardiner with her husband and their two elementary school-aged children. “As a theater artist and educator, the nature of my work is collaborative,” she says. “I can speak from direct and recent experience with local students in high school, community and four-year college environments, and I truly enjoy listening, asking questions, earning trust and building consensus.”

 

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the New Paltz School Board?

As a parent of two children currently enrolled at Duzine Elementary, I am learning how deeply this BOE is committed to the value of public education. I believe strongly in this spirit of service and community involvement and I wanted to contribute.

 

Have you ever served on a board like this before?

While I have not been elected to public office, I recently held board positions at the Huguenot Street Cooperative Nursery School (HSCNS) in New Paltz, as parent representative, co-president and president. In these roles, I helped to find collaborative pathways to meet the needs of individual member families and their children, balanced with those of the school community.

 

What skills and experience do you bring to the district?

My board work at HSCNS really allowed my family and me to create what I hope are lasting relationships within the New Paltz community. Additionally, I bring a professional background as an educator in theater. I have spent 20-plus years in diverse classroom communities — public and private, urban and upstate, low-income and well-funded, elementary to college — specifically: an intensive pre-college program at Northwestern University, residencies with elementary school-aged children partnering with ELA teachers throughout all five New York City boroughs, as well as appointments at Mount Holyoke College as a visiting artist and currently as adjunct faculty at SUNY Purchase. I have also taught locally as an acting instructor for Ulster BOCES New Visions Performing and Visual Arts (PAVA) and as an adjunct at SUNY Ulster’s theater program.

 

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

I would first commit myself to a thoughtful learning curve. I understand a number of important undertakings are in process — chief among them supporting the continuing BOE work to see the Capital Project through and help articulate and assess an authentic working understanding of “success.”

 

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

Maintaining communication and keeping parents and district residents informed. It seems like there is so much that the board is doing on behalf of the community, and regular, succinct updates with requisite context and rationale are essential to maintain and build trust and support.

 

Matthew Williams

A native of Ilion, New York (in the Herkimer/Utica area), Matthew Williams, 32, has three young children with his wife, Lindsey Wesserling, a New Paltz native. “When my wife and I were ready to start a family,” he says, “we purposely chose to live in the New Paltz school district because of the schools.” There were other factors, too, he adds, but the school district was priority number one. They lived in New Paltz for five years before moving recently into his wife’s childhood home in Highland — within the New Paltz district — where Williams works out of his home office as a software engineer.

 

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the New Paltz School Board?

I think everyone should take a turn in some capacity, and this seemed to be as good a time as any to take mine. I have three children, and two will be entering the district’s school system at the end of my term, if elected. It’s in my best interest to make sure the board continues to trend in positive directions not only for the future of my children, but for the existing students, faculty and staff. My wife was fortunate enough to grow up in New Paltz and is a graduate of the New Paltz School District, so I’m aware of what a special place it is, and I would very much like to do what’s within my power to keep it that way while working with the current board.

 

Have you ever served on a board like this before?

I have not. This will be my introduction to public service in New Paltz. I have always had the intention of getting involved one way or another, and with my children soon entering the district, volunteering on the School Board made the most sense.

 

What skills and experience do you bring to the district?

I’m a very level-headed, forward-thinking and data-driven individual. A lot of strengths and skills from my professional career will translate well: strong listening and communication skills, data-driven decision-making abilities and a willingness to work with a group of peers who may not always be on the same page.

 

If elected, what will be your top two priorities?

First would be tackling state-imposed testing and funding pressure and the effect that’s having on us locally; protecting the programming that we do have from those external pressures. Second, the Capital Project, overseeing its success and ensuring it’s on time and on budget.

 

What do you see as the greatest challenge the district faces at this time?

Standardized testing and teacher evaluations. Unnecessary and poorly constructed mandated testing cannot get in the way or take away the opportunities we provide our students and stifle the creativity of our teachers.

 

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