1- What is the role of the BOE and how important is a partnership with the superintendent?
The key to success at the board level is not combat and political pandering but listening, finding points of agreement and building on those points of agreement to patiently achieve consensus.
What has been missing in our school district over the past decade has been proper board governance which has resulted in instability throughout the administration. Not too long ago all but one of the top 15 administrative positions in our district were either vacant or held by interim hires. New Rochelle has become a district that top quality administrators avoid due to the (accurate) perception that we have had a rogue board. I want to be a part of building on the work of Rachel Relkin undertaken this past year to repair that image.
There are no coincidences.
If I were elected and did nothing else in my term I would feel it was productive if it restored board members to their proper roles. Board members need to stay in their lane, to not intrude on the ministerial responsibilities of the Superintendent, to avoid breaking the chain of command by engaging directly with teachers, staff, and administrators below the level Superintendent and leaving it to the Board President to deal with the Superintendent.
There are specific changes that have occurred since the days of the likes of Linda Kelly and Dr. Gaddy or Nadine, Dee, Pearl, and Mary Jane.
By law, Board members have absolutely no authority outside of acting as a body. We have gotten away from that.
I strongly oppose board members sitting on confidential contract negotiating committees.
I strongly oppose the manipulative practice of creating prodigious numbers of ad hoc committees to promote political agenda, especially when they include School Board Members not only on committees but chairing committees.
I strongly oppose the School Buddy Program. I recognize the program has a cute-sounding, warm-and-fuzzy name, but the effect of the program is to directly undercut building principals who are responsible for both managing their buildings and protecting their staff from perhaps well-intentioned but often meddling board members.
I oppose School Board Meetings at schools. School board meetings are business meetings with central office staff that do the business of the entire City School District of New Rochelle. They should be held in District-wide settings of which there are two: the central office building (City Hall) and New Rochelle High School (primarily budget hearings). I would support exceptions based on space considerations like budget meetings or high-interest meetings like post-Sandy Hook or post-January 2018.
The thought behind these programs is the idea that it is important for board members to be present in the schools. It is! But board members like Mary Jane Reddington, Nadine Wallace, Deidre Polow, and Pearl Quarles were not present in schools because they were assigned to be a school buddy. They were present in the schools because they were engaged members of the school community who *wanted* to be in the schools, who *enjoyed* being in the schools.
2-Do you have any innovative ideas about how to increase the engagement of parents?
Yes, I have all sorts of innovative ideas to increase engagement.
The district tends to view “communication” as one-to-many broadcasting. Blast emails, for example, is the computer-based version of the PA system installed in classrooms: “we talk, you listen”. The district needs to change the mindset from one-to-many broadcasting to one of engagement.
Here are two ideas:
(a) develop smartphone app technology which allows the entire school community to engage in maintaining our investment in our schools. Any school community member who seems a need for repair a problem with mold or drinks water that taste funny or if their child’s classroom has a cracked window they immediately report the issue using a smartphone which will route the item to the Director of Facilities who will respond. If the person is not satisfied with a response they can click a bottom to object. I proposed this in 2016 to the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee and last month this new system was rolled out internally; we expect it to be rolled out to everyone by the Fall.
(b) Set up a web service where school community members have the option to register using their own name and be authenticated and then through their account engage the board or school officials. It would not be *required* but there would be advantages. People could participate online via chat or video in board meetings, town halls or with school officials to pose questions or file complaints as an authenticated person. Today, anyone wishing to address the board must attend a school board meeting in person (or over the past year via Zoom which will end soon) and wait for a long time to address the board. A registered user would have the option to record one 60 second video (or audio) submission up until a day in advance of the meeting, it would be reviewed and if appropriate queued up with a series of submissions. The public comment period would begin by playing all of the 60 second video clips (so they are first in line and do not to even attend the meeting to be heard). Users could also submit a brief statement or question as a text which the clerk would read into the record. These and other perks would create demand to be an authenticated user in the system, increase community input while alleviating the need for people to wait hours to speak, attend person. It may seem like it makes it too easy to address the board but I believe it would actually speed up public comments. All questions posed at meetings would receive a written response in a Q&A section of the website; registered users would get an alert when the answer to their question was posted with an option to reply or as a follow up.
These two ideas are good models of engagement rather than broadcasting.
3- If you could ask one question to a returning student in the fall, what would the question be and why?
This is not something I would do. I talk to my own kids and leave other people to talk to their kids. As a board member even more so.
I have four children who all graduated from New Rochelle High School. Two are undergraduates, one is in grad school. My oldest graduated from grad school last May. My wife and I have made it a point to check in with them regularly to get a sense of how they are coping with the isolation that has come with the pandemic which has been especially pronounced on college campuses. It is not something I would discuss publicly.
4- For the past few months, CSDNR employees have called in to BOE meetings expressing their frustration at the lack of a settled contract and feeling underappreciated. How would you go about repairing the fractured trust between the BOE and the staff who works for the school district?
What has gotten broken in the past decade does not get fixed quickly if ever. We have become a deeply troubled district so building trust will take time.
On a personal level I have had relationships where trust was broken and some never recovered. The ones that did were built back up through small gestures, slowly over time, where both parties wanted to try.
This question will best be answered by what sort of Superintendent will be taking over in the coming weeks.
5- Recently there has been more discussion nationally, concerning historical omissions, distortions, and outright lies that are taught in curriculums - particularly when it comes to slavery, Native Americans, and the contributions of people of color. What suggestions would you make to address these concerns?
I fully understand the question and the context. I disagree with the premise. I am a journalist not a curriculum specialist. I know how to ask good questions and ask them when appropriate. But my role as a board member is not to insert my personal views into the classroom which is at the root of the question.
My suggestion is to hire and then evaluate / support the best curriculum and instruction specialists available and leave curriculum development and classroom materials to them.