Six candidates run for three open seats in the New Paltz School Board election

Voters residing in the New Paltz Central School District should have ample candidates to choose from during the May 15 school board elections. Two incumbents and four newcomers are standing in an effort to take one of the three available seats.

District residents will have an opportunity to meet the candidates on Monday, May 7, when a forum will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school. Incumbents Michael O’Donnell and Brian Cournoyer, as well as challengers Diana Armstead, Glenn LaPolt, Meghan Goodnow, and Joe Garcia will each be given time to present their platforms, as well as take questions from the audience.

Voters will also be weighing in on the 2018-2019 budget proposal of $61,270,000, which will raise the tax levy 3.2% if just a simple majority vote in favor, as it’s exactly at this year’s tax cap. A separate measure to purchase six new school buses would add $480,000 in spending if approved, with a commensurate increase in taxes.

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Diana Armstead

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

My 28 years of work experience as a probation officer and my many hours of community service have taught me to work well as part of a team towards the goal of obtaining the best outcome for families.

In my recent past, I worked with BOCES Beta in Poughkeepsie — an alternative school for high needs kids. I have a holistic approach to helping troubled youth. I work hand in hand with mental health professionals, county attorneys, principals, superintendents, doctors and the families involved to help the kids receive all the mental, physical and legal assistance needed. Working with such large teams means we are not always on the same page, but we all give a little to obtain what we feel is best for the families and students involved. I always strive to find compromise among all stakeholders.

During my 20+ years of community service, I worked with many different groups. With Concerned Parents of New Paltz, I used my communication skills to facilitate a dialogue between the community and the school district. My current involvement with Sisters of Sojourner’s Truth is similar: we are looking for improved avenues of communication with the district to address the equity needs of our students. Our recent dialogue with the school district has been developing a protocol to address incidents of racism, bigotry and bullying. I’ve been a volunteer family advocate, a member of the youth commission and also served on the New Paltz Police Commission for nine years. With the police commission, we researched community needs in conjunction with SUNY New Paltz and I participated in the hiring of new officers.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

As a community member looking in, it seems that the district is on the right track and I hope I can contribute to this trajectory. The school’s fund balance (savings) has grown to $2 million. This is a necessary safety net in case of emergencies. With my interest in the whole child, I’m happy to see the restoration of the school psychologist in the high school and the restoration of the library media specialist. I’m also happy to see the investment in the capital project to address the condition of our existing buildings and the needs of students with more classroom. I am optimistic about the formation of the racial equity committee which will be made up mostly of community members — a way for the board of education to have direct communication with families which I think is so important. I’m sure that the work that comes out of that committee will benefit all kids.

All that said there is plenty of work to do. We still struggle with high property taxes. We still have families whose voices need to be heard. We still have children whose needs could be better addressed, and I’m ready to be a part of that necessary change.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

My son graduated from New Paltz High School and sports was always a big part of his life. He was a two-sport athlete and excelled in both his chosen sports. I have a grandchild currently in the New Paltz district who is involved in sports within the town. I anticipate his involvement in sports within the New Paltz School District as he continues to develop his athletic skills. Physical education promotes physical and mental fitness and character building. It encourages good eating habits, daily exercise and mental clarity. These things combined are proven to lead to a healthy lifestyle. Gym teachers and coaches are an integral part in the life of students and student athletes. Coaches are leaders; they set the foundation for positive expectations, the give guidance and they lead by example. Being a part of a team makes them feel like a valuable part of the school community. Organized sports are not the only avenue to achieve these benefits, of course; all the extracurricular activities offered to our kids are often the things that keep them engaged and excited to participate in school. Sports and the arts have an important place in addressing the whole child and need to be valued and funded.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

Safety and security issues are front and center in many parents’ minds. With so much that has happened at schools around the country, I understand the concerns. My work has allowed me to see successful solutions to some of the issues. For example, I’ve witnessed the value of crisis intervention personnel in schools, who establish relationships with students, identify kids who may be under duress, and know how to de-escalate situations. This is something we could consider along with other safety measures that will help everyone feel safe.

Another issue is equity in every sense of the word. How can we meet needs of all children? We need to spend time looking at curriculum improvements that promote academic achievement, acceptance, diversity and community.

Finally, there is always the concern about the push and pull of financially providing for the needs of all students while yet still promoting wise spending. If I’m elected, I will encourage board involvement in efforts to increase state aid and explore alternative ways to fund public education that do not increase the burden on local taxpayers.

What would be your top three priority issues as a trustee for the next term?

We should strive for a safe and equitable learning institution for all students. I’ll aim to support and expand wellness programs such as the program at the high school that offers kids an alternative space to connect with other students and staff at lunchtime. I’d also research ways we can enhance student support services and improve anti-bullying programs so that the effort extends to all four buildings. I support a code of conduct that’s aligned with restorative justice. Restorative justice is an alternative way to approach discipline that empowers students to resolve their own conflicts. It’s not just an add-on to existing disciplinary measures, and will take time to institute correctly but I think the time invested in adopting it correctly will be well spent.

Another major issue to address is the need for better communication between the school and community. My aim is to promote transparency through improved sharing of information: from committee on special education meetings, to incident reporting, to enrichment events, I want to create more reliable and standardized district communication methods which will improve the participation and satisfaction of parents, students and community members.

Finally, I think we need to address staffing needs. The proposed budget is a good start as it restores a school psychologist, [and] adds three special education teachers as well as an elementary math specialist. I support the need for appropriate class sizes to accommodate all students. I also aim to improve recruitment policies and practices of new staff to attract and retain a diverse and talented pool of applicants.

Brian Cournoyer

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

Over the past six years on the board, I’ve developed a reputation as a reasonable pragmatist, and someone who can work with all of my colleagues, whether we’re in agreement or not. We’re seven people who have to function as a single body, which is harder than it sounds. Being flexible, respectful and open-minded is crucial. As board president in 2014-2016, I helped shepherd the district to a successful $52 million capital bond referendum, and am the only remaining board member who has been with the capital project from the early planning stages to where we are now: a little over a year away from completion, and still under budget.

Education is one of the most heavily regulated of our public institutions, and the laws are constantly changing. For five years, I’ve chaired the policy committee, and with the help of Superintendent [Maria] Rice and our administrators, navigated the district policy manual through all the changes. I have also helped to craft new policies concerning the school lunch program, protections for transgender students and a comprehensive policy for responding to tragedy in our school community. As a member of the legislative action committee, I worked with my colleagues on a groundbreaking resolution against the harm caused by mandatory high-stakes testing to both students and teachers, and worked in conjunction with the town and village of New Paltz to successfully defend taxpayers from a burdensome housing PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). I have stood up for public schools and for teachers, both in my role as a board member and personally. In May of 2014, I and other board members stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the rain with many teachers from the New Paltz School District and around New York State to protest Governor Cuomo’s overtures to corporate education reformers. I bring experience, passion, historical perspective, and continuity to the board table.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

The past five years have seen changes in the initiatives the board has been willing to take on. Prior to 2012-13, the board had been reluctant to involve itself in the broader issues of public education and funding reform outside the immediate confines of the district. With the election of three new board members in 2012, myself among them, the board began to expand its role of policy-making and fiscal oversight into more direct advocacy at all levels of government, with the understanding that what happens in the macro world of government has tangible implications here at the micro level in our district. We successfully communicated the needs of our facilities through massive outreach to the community for the capital project. Our fund balance has been restored to a fiscally healthy $2 million, our libraries are fully staffed, and we have set and stuck to a goal of keeping class sizes low in our elementary schools. Our educational program has expanded when many other districts’ programs have been reduced.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

There is no question that physical education provides all of those things, but it is much more than that. Daily exercise, physical activity and playing sports have all been shown to have great benefits — both physical and mental — for students. Studies show that regular exercise improves mental focus and concentration, physical coordination, and good health and reduces stress and anxiety. The data also show that, generally speaking, students who get regular exercise, good nutrition and practice good sleep habits perform better academically than students who don’t. Our physical education and athletic program are an essential piece in our efforts to educate holistically. I have high hopes for these programs under the supervision of our new Director of Health, Physical Education, and Athletics. I have heard great feedback from parents and students, and I enjoy working with him. The board relies on the superintendent and her administrative team to keep us abreast of the needs, both budgetary and otherwise, of all departments, including physical education and athletics.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

The board is likely to face hiring decisions for several key positions over the next few years that will have far-reaching consequences in the future of the district — its culture, values, and vision — and ties in to all of our current goals and initiatives, from non-academic success indicators to the district’s racial equity initiative. Experience and institutional memory will be an asset in these hirings[sic]. The board will essentially be deciding what the district will look like for the next decade, at least. That’s a responsibility that, if reelected, I will take extremely seriously, and it’s here that I think my experience has the most value.

What would be your top three priority issues as a trustee for the next term?

The health and well-being of our students is always a top priority. To that end, through careful resource allocation and with the help of some grants, we have increased the social and emotional supports available to students, including budgeting for an additional school psychologist for the coming school year, as well as the mental health services provided to students by the Astor program at the high school. We continue to examine adolescent sleep time as the health issue we know it to be. The proper amount of sleep can be a game-changer — figuratively in academics, where studies show that students with healthy sleep patterns perform better on tests, and have lower rates of tardiness and absenteeism; quite literally in athletics, where studies show increased physical stamina and performance and reduced rates of sports-related injury. While we have examined and rejected some proposals because of the potential impact on extracurricular activities, I remain hopeful that a viable solution can be found that works for everyone. However, we won’t find it by not looking for it.

The racial equity initiative the district has undertaken is a critical step toward ensuring that we are living up to the district’s guiding principles to “create a cohesive and inclusive culture K-12 across all buildings and departments,” and “to empower and create success for disengaged and disenfranchised students.” We’ve taken the first steps by acknowledging that institutional racism exists within the district, but the real work is only just beginning. The formation of the board’s Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee is an important milestone in building a relationship between the board and members of the community who have been historically marginalized. I believe the committee will play a key role in building on this new, and fragile, trust. If this initiative is to ultimately succeed, it will mean frank, difficult, yet respectful and productive conversations, and for that, trust is vital. Playing a role in the formation of the committee and helping to develop its structure and charge with my colleagues and many members of the community, some who have been devoting themselves to this work for decades, is one of the things I’m most proud of, and most humbled by, in my time on the board. On the surface, the work seems to focus a lot of attention on a select group in the school community. In reality, all of us, and especially our students, will benefit from sharing a learning environment in which everyone enjoys the same opportunities.

We have also begun the work of exploring non-academic indicators of success for students. To be clear, this is not an indictment of traditional learning or teaching techniques, but an understanding that there are many different kinds of students, and that these differences, if embraced and nurtured, will help nontraditional learners to shine in their own way. “Success” doesn’t always mean a four-year degree, and the measure of success isn’t always a test score.

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If reelected, I will work diligently to bring together all three of these important issues — health, equity, and a holistic approach to learning -— to help make the district’s vision and guiding principles a reality.

Joe Garcia

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

I have had a career in law enforcement as a New York State correction officer for almost 24 years, so I have a strong security mindset. Safety and security are vital to create an environment that our children can thrive in.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

There have been some good things in the district over the last three to five years. One example of something good is the creation of the Racial Equity Coalition. I am a firm believer in a level playing field for all of our students, regardless of race. Discrimination and racism has no place in our schools, or anywhere else for that matter. Every student deserves a school that fosters their ability to learn, and to follow their dreams. In some cases that’s as simple as ensuring that every available resource that the district has to offer is available to every student. In some cases it might mean providing additional resources to some who need it, to make sure that they don’t fall through the cracks, and that they can compete on that level playing field. One example of what hasn’t gone well in the district is the way our sports facilities have deteriorated. The fields are terrible, we have some scoreboards that haven’t worked for a while, and until recently, we had ridiculously outdated uniforms for some of our teams. The parents of the district pay a lot of taxes. Their student athletes deserve better.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

Fitness, teamwork and competition are all wonderful benefits of physical education. They are all benefits that a student can carry with them through adulthood, and apply them in their future careers and in their daily lives.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

Issues that loom large: drug use. We need to address this problem head on. We need more awareness and treatment options. I don’t know if we have it in school now, but I’d like to have Narcan on grounds in case of an opioid overdose. Another important issue, mental health [and] well-being of our student population. I would love to see a health and wellness center at the high school. Another issue of importance is racial equity. The district had began good work on this and I would love to continue that work. Another issue is security. I am in favor of a school resource officer to not only protect our students in the event of an attack, but also to build positive relationships between them and law enforcement.

What would be your top three priority issues as a trustee for the next term?

Top three priorities: safety and security. Mental health [and] anti-bullying programs with a focus on starting this in the early years of a child’s education, and making student more aware of [the] Dignity for All Students Act. Third, I am against the later start time initiative currently being discussed by the board of education. The majority of students parents and staff are against it. Their input is critical in this.

Meghan Goodnow

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

I have worked and volunteered in many different organizations and with many different groups of people, from teenagers and young adults to administrators, community members, teachers, doctors and other professionals. I have coached, tutored and worked with many special needs students since I was in high school. I have been in the childcare field for over ten years and love getting to know the kids and seeing them grow up and succeed. I am a mom of children of special needs that encompass dyslexia, mental health challenges, sensory processing disorders and a child on the spectrum. My husband and I have learned how to navigate medical challenges, individual education and 504 plans. I feel that I understand the challenges that many face and the support the kids and parents need. In our home, we navigate different things that come up each and every day, and I believe the most important part of my family’s life is giving support to others. I am a member of many different organizations in our community, including the New Paltz High School PTSA (president), the New Paltz Middle School PTA (treasurer), the New Paltz Athletic Association (treasurer and merchandise coordinator) and the high school scholarship auction committee. As a working mom and volunteer, I am very proficient at multitasking. I bring my experience of raising five beautiful children to the table, and a proven track record of always looking out for the needs of all children and encouraging them to succeed.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

Over the last few years, the board has been very busy. The racial equity initiative is wonderful and we need to make sure that continues. Having two biracial children at the New Paltz high school, I would like to see the district hire more people of color to fill our teaching positions. I know this is not always easy and I know the district is working hard to fill all the positions that have opened this year, but we could make this happen. I also think more needs to be done for children with special needs, whatever they may be, and I plan to work hard to ensure that those families are well supported. The board is finally taking a proactive approach in regards to school safety, but I feel much more can be done and that they have only scratched the surface of this very important topic. Also, the needs of our student-athletes, musicians, artists, drama club members and other students who participate in extracurricular activities has been largely ignored over the years. I am thrilled with the very recent increase in our athletics budget and thank the board of education and my colleagues on the New Paltz Athletic Association for its support.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

I feel that physical education, sports and wellness are important for everyone, and that is why I support the creation of a health and wellness center at the New Paltz High School. This is an exciting idea to so many people. A place where students and staff can go to exercise, work out, maybe take a yoga class or meditate; these are all things that are good for everyone and have been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and increase self-confidence and self-esteem. Everything in life is based on getting along and being able to work with others. Teamwork is a skill that is constantly developing in any physical education setting, and is an important life skill that can be used every day, not just in athletics. Competition, either on a sports field or in a classroom, is important so that we can learn to push ourselves and rely on our strengths. It also helps to build a foundation for determination and follow-through that can help you succeed. Competition shouldn’t focus on winning and being number one, but rather on achieving personal goals and bettering oneself.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

Advocating for our students that have special needs is very important to me. It often seems that parents get overwhelmed because they aren’t being listened to or that their children aren’t understood. It’s important to take time to get to know the students and see their strengths and weakness and how to better help them and to also support their parents.

The school start time issue has been on the table for several years, and there have been many adults and students voicing their opinions not to continue this venture. I feel that we need to take a break from it for a few years and see what other surrounding districts do before we jump into any changes. I’m not saying to abandon the topic forever, but for now let’s focus on some other areas. Let’s encourage our students in their sports and clubs. We can help to build the health and wellness center which will be beneficial for all students for years to come.

Safety for our students is also very important. For me, the term safety has a dual meaning. It refers to the protection of our students and staff from any physical harm but also it means helping to develop a safe mental space for the students as well. We need to continue to work on security in our schools, eliminating drugs, bullying and racial incidents. I feel that perhaps if we work to increase security we will see these areas of concern decrease. By stating a safe mental space, I mean that there needs to be more than just social workers in the schools. There needs to be point people that the students are comfortable using a resource or liaison. This person can be someone that they go to for an issue, for academic help/guidance or someone that they have a bond with. There are kids that feel alone in school, and due to whatever reason, they don’t have the social network that others do. For these students just to have one person that they know they can utilize when needed, that cares about their best interests, listens and takes the time to get to know who they are, is so important and can make a world of difference to someone.

What would be your top three priority issues as a trustee for the next term?

1: To remain involved in the schools. I feel that we can’t fully advocate for the students if we don’t know them. I have really enjoyed helping at the middle and high schools and watching the kids grow into young adults. Being around to support and cheer for them at sporting events, drama productions, visiting them in the courtyard garden and seeing their creations are wonderful. Some students don’t have someone on the sidelines all the time that[sic] can encourage them. That is part of our job, to support and encourage just as we do for our own children and families. As a board of education member, I want to be part of that support system for as many students as I can.

2: Get a plan in place in all the schools that will allow us as a district to eliminate kids falling through the cracks. When something changes and a student shows negative discrepancies in their academics or socially, we need to be on top of it and recognize it, then figure out what is going on and how to help them. For example: if a student has an IEP or 504 plan in place and begins to have problems in school with grades which [are] uncommon from past years, shouldn’t that be caught and looked into within the first few months of school rather than the end of the year? These situations happen, and it can be to any student, and it’s a shame. The reality of this example happens to be the fact that the student was being bullied and that created the downward spiral mentally, socially and academically. For our students to be successful they need us to advocate for them.

3: To table the topic of changing school start times and to increase our security at all schools for better protection of our students and staff.

Glenn LaPolt

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

I grew up in New Paltz and am a product of the New Paltz School District. In addition, for the past 23 years I have been a classroom teacher in the trenches, talking the talk and walking the walk. I have researched, designed, and implemented curriculum, and in addition to my teaching responsibilities, I have participated in several school improvement committees. During the ten years I served as a union official, I negotiated contracts, resolved labor disputes, conferred with state [Department of Education] officials, and became intimately familiar with the financial, organizational, labor and procedural aspects of a school district. I have a tremendous amount of experience building coalitions between teachers, administrators, students, school boards and community members. Throughout all of this, one thing has remained constant: my unwavering dedication to students and their well being.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

I believe the direction of the district has been a mixed bag. I have been really impressed with the district’s student-centered stance on standardized tests, and I wholeheartedly support its effort to minimize the influence of corporate interests in our classrooms. The initiatives with regard to diversity have been solid and heartening, though there remains more work to be done. Additionally, the board seems to be genuinely concerned about marginalized kids who are likely to fall through the cracks. This is all outstanding stuff.

These are tumultuous and chaotic times in education, from the overreach of corporate entities such as Pearson, Google and Microsoft, to the badly mismanaged roll-out of the Common Core standards, and the continuously changing teacher evaluation systems, to name a few. The board’s decision to launch repeated frontal assaults on school start times is ill-advised and has become a huge distraction. Many teachers, administrators and an overwhelming majority of the students feel abandoned by the board, and strongly disagree with its preoccupation with start times. Studies and data can and should play a role in determining board policy, but they shouldn’t supplant the will of the people whose daily lives will be most impacted. Nonetheless, I wholeheartedly applaud the board for being progressive and having the courage to try new things.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

Physical education is an integral part of a student’s education. It provides many opportunities for students to develop essential life skills like fitness and teamwork. Physical outlets are proven stress relievers, whether they be in the form of physical education, team sports, a walk around the neighborhood, or extra play time at recess. Countless studies also confirm what teachers already know: a break from academics in the form of physical activity helps students regain their focus when they return to the classroom.

In particular, the benefits of extracurricular sports can often be dramatic and far reaching. They foster a strong sense of community pride within and beyond the school, they strengthen peer-to-peer relationships, and they provide powerful incentives for students to maximize their potential, both on the athletic field and more importantly, in the classroom. For some students, membership on a school sports team can literally mean the difference between becoming a graduate or a dropout.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

The district needs to focus more intensely on addiction, a wrenching challenge facing communities nationwide. I have been to the funerals of many young people who tragically succumbed to drug addiction over the past several years, and I know I am not alone. Addiction and drug abuse are complex problems that need to be addressed systemically on multiple fronts, and we are currently not doing enough. We need more aggressive intervention and education, and at the very least, should hire a dedicated substance abuse specialist.

Another concern for the future would be to prevent marginalized and at-risk students from falling through the cracks. The equity initiative is a good start, but we need to build on that momentum. Diversifying the teaching staff in the form of new hires should be a top priority. Other priorities should include gender issues, and the challenges facing our students who are economically disadvantaged.

In closing, the New Paltz Central School Distrcit is the heart of our community, and we all have a role to play in our students’ continued success. My candidacy for the board of education is how I plan to continue contributing to this collective labor; it takes a village.

Michael O’Donnell

What experience would you bring to the board if elected this year? What examples can you offer similar or related accomplishments?

My primary strengths are budgeting and policy. Budget and policy are also the centerpieces of the board of education’s role in governing the district.

I conduct an annual review of every line item in the budget every year, maintaining my own personal database of budget data, cross-referenced against local and statewide expenditure files, and analyzed in an enrollment-adjusted context vs. other local districts. In my two-plus years on the board we have expanded our educational program despite external financial pressures, increased our fund balance from $188,000 to over $2 million, improved our standing with the state comptroller from being listed as under moderate fiscal stress to our current clean bill of health, restored our libraries to full staffing levels, maintained all of our extracurricular arts programs, and increased the interscholastic athletic budget 19%.

My policy-related values are reflected in the resolutions and position statements we’ve made during my tenure. These include an analysis of the state’s faulty and capricious “value-added” teacher evaluation model, opposition to high-stakes testing, defense of parent-led protests of damaging state tests, and an opposition to PILOT programs that shift the tax burden to local residents. I’ve advocated for a transition of school funding mechanisms away from property taxes, opposed a destructive change to graduation requirements that would have left thousands of students without a diploma, exposed the renamed Common Core standards as cosmetic, and opposed the appointment of an unqualified Betsy DeVos to head the U.S. Department of Education. The board has proclaimed our support and vision for public education, opposed construction of the Pilgrim Pipelines adjacent to our high school, opposed federal guidance that eroded the rights of transgender students, reaffirmed our support for immigrant students’ right to a public education, established Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and created a racial equity advisory committee to assist our ongoing effort to address structural racism in our school district.

In my time on the board, and currently as president, I have always conducted myself with an even temperament, professionalism, and a commitment to lead through collaboration.

What’s your take on how things have gone in the district over the last three to five years?

These last three years in the district have been characterized by responsible fiscal stewardship, student-centered policy, evidence-based decision making, and moral leadership.

Increasing our fund balance from $188,000 to over $2 million lends stability to the district’s finances by mitigating the risk of year-to-year revenue fluctuations while also providing the flexibility to allocate funds to respond to emerging needs.

Our policies and position statements have focused on the overall learning environment — a focus which places students in a position to learn. These positions include data-centric opposition to high-stakes testing, unwavering support for vulnerable student populations, and providing multiple pathways to academic success.

We have also focused on students’ mental health. In the past three years we have developed comprehensive protocols to address tragic events, increased support services to respond to increasing levels of anxiety, established a mental health clinic within our high school, and added a psychologist to meet the growing needs of our students.

The board has also exhibited moral leadership when choosing where to focus our time. We are led by a commitment to the district’s core intelligence, rather than personal agendas.

Physical education provides, among other things, fitness, teamwork, and competition. How would you evaluate the relative importance of those aspects?

A substantial body of evidence has proven that physical activity results in improved academic achievement, higher levels of cognition, enhanced concentration and attention, positive classroom behaviors, reductions in stereotypic behaviors (“stimming”), and positive personal attitudes.

From a local policy perspective, it’s important that we ensure these benefits are realized by the entirety of the school population, inclusive of grades K-12 and students with disabilities. This calls for a broad approach to physical education that encompasses four main areas: physical education classes, recess, classroom-based physical activity, and interscholastic athletics. These experiences offer a necessary release valve for social and academic pressure, strengthening a sense of self-worth while creating community and highlighting the importance of teamwork.

Physical activity is an essential aspect of the complete picture of student wellness, which includes nutrition, sleep habits, and mental health. My vision for the board’s work is centered on creating a school environment and educational context that allows students and faculty to succeed; physical education is an important part of that vision.

What issues loom large in your mind for the district, and how would you like to tackle those?

My vision for the future of our district centers on school culture and environment. That focus is a continuation of the current board’s priority of examining non-academic measures of success. My emphasis is on enacting change that places students, staff and teachers in the best position to succeed. I am committed to addressing issues like recess and lunch times, sleep time, comprehensive protocols for addressing racial discrimination, and relief from excessive academic pressures. It is also possible we will experience a significant number of retirements within the district’s leadership. If that is the case, I will advocate to hire leaders with a progressive, inclusive, student-centered, and modern focus to education.

Achieving this vision requires an acknowledgement of the diverse needs of the 20,000 residents of this school district. Allocating resources to account for the needs of the taxpayers, as well as 2,200 enrolled students, four school buildings, home-schooled students, privately placed students, and members of our community who do not have access to institutional power requires a thorough, data-driven, and courageous approach to decision-making. Those are qualities I offer to this community.

What would be your top three priority issues as a trustee for the next term?

My top three priorities are continuations of the board’s current work: the Racial Equity Initiative, a student-focused balance of learning and achievement, and maintaining a strong financial footing.

The racial equity work currently underway could mark the most consequential improvement to our school district in a generation, or perhaps ever, but this work is difficult and the momentum that has been built in partnership with the community could easily be halted. No one who has attended one of our numerous racial equity meetings this year could deny the importance or necessity of this initiative.

We are morally and legally obligated to engage in this work. To deny the effects of institutional racism is to ignore the district and community’s mutually adopted core principles and represents an abdication of our sworn duty to uphold the constitution of the state of New York. Progress toward racial equity is a benefit to all students and the school district community at large. Success in this area also provides a blueprint to address other inequities in our district, such as socioeconomic class, physical ability, and gender.

I will continue to have the district focus on the balance of learning and achievement in firm recognition that these two concepts are not the same thing. A focus on school climate, especially regarding mental health, will allow our students to place their focus on learning for learning’s sake while maintaining high levels of academic achievement that position our graduates for future opportunities and success. Specifically, I would reconvene public forums where the community and board of education would have big-picture conversations about our shared hopes and expectations related to student success.

Careful analysis, attention to detail, and a long-term focus to budgeting are what have, in these past three years, allowed us to increase instructional staff numbers while increasing our fund balance to fiscally responsible levels. I review every line item in our budget every year, and I take nothing for granted when reviewing the construction of our operational plan.

There are 5 comments

  1. Veteran United States Marines

    Do You Stand For The Pledge Of Allegiance To The USA Flag, Or Do You Sit Like The Current Trader Bums Do ?

  2. New paltz Republican

    All should be interviewed by community before election. Many questions for public to ask these people who want to lead our public school.
    Due to known drug use these Candidates should be drug tested. We drug test workers at Walmart be surely should be drug testing all public school officials. Especially with all the modern school problems as teachers students having sexual relations, school violence.

    WE MUST DRUG TEST ALL SCHOOL STAFF

    1. Anonymous

      Did you seriously just compare a major corporation with no union, infamous record of sexual misconduct (men have been proven to get higher pay compared to women there), and a business plan based around paying people barely minimum wage (which might I add you don’t need a degree to work at Walmart and you need how many years of education/degrees to be a teacher…) to a school district?

      1. new paltz republican

        No Public Employee Especially Teachers Are Above Drug Testing. Especially Teachers, They Must be Drug Tested.

        The Teachers Union should also be greatly reduced as it is very very costly to taxpayers. Teachers over paid and only work 1/2 year.

        i do not feel sorry for teachers at all. Work 1/2 year paid too much and almost free health care for life.

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