Three seats to be filled in May 19 election
By Kevin E. Foley
The six candidates running for three trustee seats on the five-member Haldane Board of Education shared views on key issues at a forum sponsored by the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) on Wednesday evening, May 13, in the Haldane auditorium. Lourdes Laifer, PTA president, and Laura Danilov moderated the discussion, posing questions to the candidates — Sarah Carnevale, Margaret (Peggy) Clements, Charles (Chuck) Hustis III, Margaret Parr, Koren (Kory) Riesterer and Evan Schwartz — as they enforced time limits and rotated the opportunity to be the first respondent.
While generally praising the board’s recent success in hiring and budgeting, each candidate made distinctive claims about how to use available resources to provide the best education possible for every Haldane student.
You can read the candidates’ statements here, and a video provided by the Haldane PTA is below. Following are some highlights from their remarks at the forum:
State testing and ‘opting out’
Laifer’s first question asked the candidates to comment on an article the PTA had sent them in advance containing advice from the New York State Association of School Attorneys on the ways school boards should consider requests from parents who want their children to opt out of taking state tests.
Hustis suggested the board should remain neutral, as New York state has no opt-out clause. Advising resistance to media hype and knee-jerk reactions, Parr said, “Nobody is happy,” and affirmed the board should “respond, comply and make the necessary moves to either work with [state testing requirements] or change [them].” Riesterer said the board should poll the community and act from a position of strength in “knowing what we as a small district want for our children” rather than fear of non-compliance.
Schwartz focused on letting parents know how Haldane uses test results, noting that the schools do not use it to label students and have never “taught to the test.” Carnevale agreed, while affirming that the opt-out movement by parents had gotten Albany’s attention in a way that could result in changes. Clements said the board should focus on two-way communication with parents as well as the right use of data, focusing on the “implications for the district, the children, the budget and how does the community feel about that.”
Clements acknowledged that most of the school budget goes to staff but that the small amount left over should be spent on evidence-based solutions to defined needs with clear ways to monitor and measure success. Hustis noted the need to upgrade the infrastructure, suggesting that “down the road we may have to ask taxpayers to approve a bond” for these purposes. Parr stated that most of the board’s budget challenges involved unfunded mandates, negotiating contracts and responsible use of property taxes; noting a difference between wants and needs, she ranked her priorities as “safety, academics, extracurriculars, happy staff and keeping up with technology.”
Riesterer advocated for increasing enrichment programs and drawing on more of the community’s resources in terms of talent and available space. Schwartz, who has served eight years on the board, suggested the need for a longer-term view beyond the current budget cycle or a “bubble class” when demographics create higher enrollments and staffing needs. Carnevale emphasized teacher training and small class size as the two issues with the most direct impact on students while also stressing the need for extracurricular activities that keep children busy and interested.
What the district might do better
Riesterer would like to see more focus on inclusion and diversity, enabling more children with different needs to be educated within the district and alongside their peers. Schwartz is enthusiastic about the schools’ growing use of project-based learning and professional development for teachers under the direction of Haldane Superintendent Diana Bowers. Praising the high level of parent involvement in Haldane, Carnevale also supported project-based learning and the creation of more opportunities for students to explore a variety of skills and activities.
Clements talked about providing the best education possible for students across the achievement spectrum, suggesting that no Haldane graduate should need remedial math or English courses before qualifying for further education. Hustis acknowledged the district’s success in creating good citizens and workforce members but added “there are also opportunities for improvement.” Parr suggested the district could better encourage children to “dream bigger,” to identify and pursue opportunities beyond Haldane in addition to keeping up with technology and learning from the students on that front.
Measures of student achievement
Candidates agreed that the district provided a solid academic foundation, but each noted how the schools might do more to prepare students for the challenges of a complex world and to reduce their vulnerability to addiction. Parr thinks the schools could teach more coping and stress-management skills. Riesterer would like them to foster a “broader view and more diverse understanding of the world” before they graduate, perhaps through more international exchange programs. Schwartz noted the advantages and limitations of a close community in developing social skills, suggesting that travel programs such as the New Orleans trip were becoming a new norm to help children expand their boundaries.
Carnevale stressed the specific need to help high schoolers participate in the larger world to avoid insularity and boredom. Clements acknowledged many successes but suggested there are “not an insignificant number” of children whose needs are not being met by Haldane schools, who may require more diverse experiences to prepare them for the real world. Hustis said the schools should enable children to experience community service, “encouraging them to be involved … to keep busy and do good things” and thereby avoid drugs and alcohol.
Candidates’ unique strengths
Schwartz zeroed in on his eight years of board experience as well as his career in education both as a special ed and social studies teacher and currently as a New York City high school principal. Carnevale stressed her 15 years of experience in teaching and learning, her recognition as the best high school teacher in New York City and her ability to predict if a theory will work in a classroom. For Clements, her experience as a Haldane parent, her success in negotiating complex environments and her view that Haldane is good but could be better are as relevant as her professional experience as an educational research psychologist.
Hustis emphasized his love of numbers, his pursuit of an advanced degree in math and his drive to help children move forward. Parr, noting she is not a professional educator, talked about integrity and shared values, commitment and the ability to “create balance, not only in the budgets but in the community and in the life in general for the administration, staff, teachers and students.” Riesterer said her heart was with students who struggled as nontraditional learners for different reasons, and she wants to be sure their needs are met.
Don’t forget to vote
At the close of the forum, outgoing Board President Joe Curto echoed the opening remarks of Bowers in thanking the candidates for stepping up and offering their respective perspectives and expertise to board service. He advised the losers to stay involved and the winners to dive in and bring a fresh perspective to the issues. The three new trustees will each serve a three-year term, joining current members Jennifer Daly and Peter Henderson, whose terms expire in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The message from all the candidates and forum presiders: Vote! Polls are open at Haldane on May 19 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Room 105. Park in the bell lot and enter through the side door.
Photos by K.E. Foley
Video courtesy Haldane PTA