Challenger Robert Thomann has lived in Saugerties for the past 12 years. He is married with two children who are currently in college. He served on the Saugerties Board of Education from 2011-2014. Thomann has worked in the field of education for the past 35 years, first as a school psychologist in the Kingston City School District, then as a supervisor for Special Education programs at Ulster BOCES and later as the director of Alternative Programs in the North Rockland School District. He is currently the principal at the Anderson Center for Autism.
What do you think of the current board and its priorities?
I think the people that serve on the board are certainly dedicated and giving of their time, and they mean well, but I think there’s a lack of focus on some of the key issues. I’d use the April 14 board meeting as an example. Other than the gentleman who organized the presentation on the Special Ed field trip and the teacher talking about the 3-D printers, there wasn’t really a lot of discussion from the board members about what was happening as far as educational progress. There was a lack of discussion about education. There was also a breakdown in order.
Would your approach be the same or different?
I think it would be different. I fought to get the Government Relations Committee established. Now it’s one of the most important committees they have. I take pride that that committee is still in existence. We need collaboration with our local governments to get behind issues like: Where are we going with the Common Core? If something seems morally wrong and it’s coming down from State Ed, what can the district do rather than following blindly? The Common Core issue will go by the wayside now that testing is over, but I think it’s important not to let go of that.
Seth was quoting a letter from the Ken-Ton Board of Education [during the April meeting], but I think that board was taking a moral stance saying something that wasn’t right. They certainly got a rebuttal, but I applaud them. If the community is in agreement that something isn’t right, and the testing certainly is not right, then there’s times when, if I was going to get thrown off the board by the commissioner of education or the Board of Regents, and I took a moral stance, I could sleep at night knowing that. I don’t think I could sleep at night saying I kowtowed to an improper practice that has the potential to harm children, and also victimize our teachers.
Why are you running?
I’ve worked in the field of education for 35 years. I’ve been successful in what I’ve done, and I felt a calling to give back to the community when I ran the first time. I thought I was over and done with it, but from the urging of my friends, family, and sitting board members, maybe I’m not done yet. Maybe I’m meant to give something back.
I think I can help make the board a better functioning group, and thereby make the district and all its stakeholders function a bit better together. I really think the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I would have loved to see that PACE forum on the Common Core be a district-sponsored forum and get parents’ input about how they felt, have an honest dialogue about some of the constraints.
What are your areas of interest?
Increasing the graduation rate. According to the 2013 school report card, it’s 72 percent, and 39 percent for special ed students. Thirty-two percent go on to four-year colleges. That certainly needs to be looked at.
New York State has funding for Smart Schools. I would like to see the incorporation of more technology, especially to help out the special ed students, to increase that graduation rate of 39 percent. The district I worked in, North Rockland, had a 60 percent graduation rate. We worked hard to get that rate up.
What is the role of a good School Board trustee as you see it?
To take the trust that the community puts into you by electing you and never waver. If people vote for me, it’s because of the ideas that I bring to the table. I can’t vary from them.
As a board member, you’re a servant. I’m not working for my needs, I’m working for the needs of the community and their children, and all taxpayers. I’m placing their needs above my own. It really doesn’t matter if I like a certain board member or not, I need to act responsibly, I need to act professionally.