Three will vie for two trustee seats
Three candidates are running for two seats on the Haldane School Board in the May 21 election — newcomers Jennifer Daly and Julisa Rincon-Tomizawa and incumbent Gillian Thorpe. The Paper’s Michael Turton recently spoke with the candidates in separate interviews. Responses have been condensed but are true to the content of the candidates’ comments.
The Paper: Why are you running for school board trustee?
Daly: We’re at a critical moment. Funding issues will only get harder, and that inspires me to get involved. And I have some time to be involved now.
Rincon-Tomizawa: I’ve been in education for a long time. I can be part of the conversation to influence learning — for my kids and everyone else’s. And I’m a sucker for community service.
Thorpe: Because I’m not finished. It takes about two years to figure out what you are doing. There’s a learning curve. It’s important to have people on the board who know the history and who can hit the ground running.
The Paper: In terms of your experience, what makes you a good candidate?
Daly: I have a background in education. I’ve taught in public schools and created a Regents-level dance program. I have business experience. I’ve been an entrepreneur and had a successful business in Manhattan, made difficult decisions. And I have a family here. I have a young son and I want to make school the best I can for him. I appreciate that I am an unorthodox candidate, having only lived in the area for a short period of time and with a young child who is yet to be in the schools. However, I believe that my fresh, well-informed perspective will be an asset to our community.
Rincon-Tomizawa: My background is in education, with more than 10 years as a teacher. I’ve seen what mandates do to the quality of education — the impact tends to be negative. I’ve worked with many administrators to not let mandates detract from teaching.
Thorpe: I’ve been community-minded my whole life. I know my role, and I don’t have an “agenda.” It’s about keeping taxes low and the quality of education high. As a library director I work with a five-member board — I get it.
The Paper: What personal traits make you a good candidate for public office?
Daly: I think I’m an effective communicator. I can bring people to a consensus, and that’s important on a board. And I can look at the moment, and the future, at the same time.
Rincon-Tomizawa: I am very clear and organized. I have the ability to work with others and to disagree respectfully. I ask questions to clarify why we do things. We can all learn from each other — and that is so valuable.
Thorpe: I really want to hear everyone’s perspective and make the right decisions for the school. Anyone who knows me knows I am very approachable.
The Paper: In your view, what are the top three issues now facing the Haldane Central School District?
Daly: Funding, state revenues and dealing with unfunded mandates. Upcoming union contracts, balancing growth and expectations. And being creative in light of funding reductions.
Rincon-Tomizawa: Definitely funding. As a district that performs well, we get the short end of the stick. Using technology more effectively — it’s a different kind of literacy for teachers; it’s an investment we have to look at carefully, especially in light of budget cuts. And building more support for students who are already doing well — ensuring that they are beyond prepared for the world.
Thorpe: Funding is No. 1. It’s about advocacy. Schools haven’t done that a lot but our community is ready to speak to New York state. I really want to see advocacy for funding. Mark Villanti will be leaving as superintendent. We have a great administrative team, and we have to hire the right person in order to keep them here. And getting good projects done. Just because you don’t have a lot of funding doesn’t mean you don’t change. The solar energy project, the energy performance contract are great examples. That’s how you get things done — by thinking outside the box.
The Paper: What aspects of education at Haldane interest you most?
Daly: The fine arts, because that’s where I come from professionally and personally. But also technology and how we can keep moving it forward.
Rincon-Tomizawa: Direct teacher-student interaction. I’m always interested in how well teachers know our children — as learners, not just their behavior. Instruction has to be transparent.
Thorpe: I’m floored by what Haldane offers for such a small school. Technology now plays such a big role. I want to see that improve seamlessly.
The Paper: What is one aspect of a Haldane education that you think could be improved?
Daly: I think teachers, administration and the board are doing a good job. It’s about how we work with current challenges such as the Common Core and testing. I think there’s a lot going on that’s really good.
Rincon-Tomizawa: There’s always room for improvement. It comes down to “Are we maximizing learning for students?” The college readiness component is very crucial.
Thorpe: For me, right now, it’s about integrating technology. I’ve seen how technology can improve teaching. In terms of languages, we’re struggling to keep French. Do I think that’s a weakness? Yes.
The Paper: Wages and benefits make up about 75 percent of the Haldane budget. What, if anything, can be done to control those costs in a strong union environment?
Daly: Creative thinking. Things like relating wages to the current economy in a pro-rated manner makes sense. I’ve run a business — nothing is off the table. Where is the flexibility? Both sides have to come to the table with that in mind. Everyone wants the school to succeed. It’s about finding solutions.
Rincon-Tomizawa: I think teachers deserve to be well paid, but we really need to look at how we measure performance. We need to work with the union to look at and align our values, to have a common purpose, to understand who we are working for.
Thorpe: It comes down to good negotiations and all parties knowing you’re there to create the best environment for students. A lot of people think we should just cut teachers’ pay — it doesn’t work that way. When we hired (Elementary and Middle School Principal) Brent Harrington, we negotiated to have him pay 12 percent of his health benefits.
The Paper: How would you characterize the balance between opportunities in athletics and the arts at Haldane?
Daly: I think there is a bit of a slant towards athletics, but there has been progress — arts have moved into the spotlight. I fully support the sports and physical education, and I think they should get the support they currently receive and more. I would like to see the arts elevated to the same level. Both sports and fine arts are far beyond extracurricular activities. They are essential parts of creating well-rounded, motivated and creative people. The challenge is not to reduce support for sports, but to increase support for the arts.
Rincon-Tomizawa: We invest a lot in athletics and the arts. Learning what drives students is crucial. We need a balance. Not everyone is an athlete. Not everyone can go onstage. We’ll always be missing a niche — we can always get better.
Thorpe: I’m wowed by the grades our athletic teams get and how they go to state championships. I’m beyond floored by our music and drama productions. We have a community full of artistic people willing to give of their time. That’s our community.
The Paper: Unfunded state mandates are often cited as a serious financial burden for school districts. Can anything be done about that?
Daly: Advocacy by the community — we saw that in the PTA letter-writing campaign. We need to harness that. The state Legislature needs to see what it’s done to our schools. That and creative problem-solving by the board and administration.
Rincon-Tomizawa: Two things — finding the funding to support compliance with the mandates and using the expertise we have to design processes to respond to them. The latter is less costly. The Response to Intervention, No Child Left Behind, is a big burden to school districts across the country.
Thorpe: Advocacy. We have to stop just taking it. I want to work hard with our PTA to educate people about what’s really happening.
The Paper: How might Haldane improve communications with the public?
Daly: The website needs to be more captivating, exciting, user-friendly. Also the way we communicate — not with jargon but language everyone understands, explaining how things affect our life as a community.
Rincon-Tomizawa: We need to have more community forums where stakeholders can be more involved — to promote advocacy for more funding, for example. Community values are important and forums give people a chance to voice their opinions. Some people feel school board meetings are the only place to do that. People in the playgrounds often have ideas — we need that feedback. We need more opportunities to get together. It’s often difficult for people to get to a board meeting.
Thorpe: I think the website needs a major overhaul. It’s a challenge, to have the staff to do it.
Photos by M. Turton