Five hopefuls for four seats
Five candidates are running for four open seats on the seven-member Garrison Union Free School (GUFS) board. The election, along with a vote on the budget, takes place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday (May 18) at the school. Three of the four seats are for 3-year terms and one for a single year to complete the term of Jill Lake, who resigned. The candidate with the fourth-highest number of votes will fill the one-year term.
The proposed 2021-22 budget, adopted by the board on April 20, includes $11.69 million in spending, or about $322,000 more than this year, an increase of 2.83 percent. The district proposes raising $9.7 million through property taxes, receiving $976,000 in state aid and using $894,000 from fund balance.
Why are you running?
David Gelber: I serve on the school board’s Facilities Committee and the Planning Committee, both of which are engaged in important initiatives I’d like to see through. In my six years on the board, I’m pleased to say that we’re evolving from a good school to a great one. That’s due to the leadership of Superintendent Carl Albano and Principal Allison Emig, as well as the faculty, which is the best it’s been since I’ve been on the board. It’s a privilege and a joy to play a role in helping GUFS become an exemplar of what’s possible in K-8 education.
Madeline Julian: I’m the proud mother to twin boys, Max and Myles, who are in the third grade at GUFS. My husband Robert and I moved our family to Garrison three years ago. We are deeply vested in this community and passionate about the success of our unique school district. The ongoing capital construction project is an opportunity for me to positively influence our school’s future. With my expertise in construction management, project budgeting and scheduling, I will be able to advocate on behalf of the district to lower major construction risks. I believe that as a working mother and architect I bring a diversity of experience which uniquely complements our current board. My focus on health care design and construction management has led me to a very satisfying career that combines my passion for design and giving back to the community. Designing and building spaces that are patient- and human-centered is very important to me — knowing that at any given time any one of us or our loved ones can become a patient. Additionally, it takes resilience, grit and passion to succeed in these circumstances and we are fortunate to have Carl Albano and Allison Emig leading the way. I also fully support my fellow running mates, Courtney McCarthy and David Gelber, and hope we can continue our fine work together.
Courtney McCarthy: My husband and I moved to Garrison nine years ago from Peekskill, when our two daughters were in second grade and preschool. We deliberately chose Garrison for its size and reputation and immediately sought out ways to become involved in our new community. From being a class parent to chairing Drop Everything and Read week (which I still do!), running a read-a-thon sleepover in the gym each fall, serving as communications chair on the board for the Garrison Children’s Education Fund to serving on the school board for the past four years, I am proud of the personal connections I have made and the deeper understanding of Garrison I have gained through this work. Although my passion for excellence in our schools has not changed since we first arrived, my perspective and appreciation for how far we have come is now more vital than ever.
Ned Rauch: My wife, Liz, and I have two kids: Louise is in kindergarten at GUFS and Auggie, 3, will follow soon. I want them and all students in the district to love their school, look forward (on most days, at least) to going to class and to receive a top-shelf education. If I can, I’d like to help. Meantime, as a parent, I’ve had the chance to get involved with the school, sitting on a pair of planning committees and joining the PTA. To my surprise, I’ve found it all — the discussions about pedagogy, the curriculum, policy — interesting. That tells me I ought to pursue it further. Vying for an open seat — I’m not hoping to oust anyone — seems like a good way to (a) follow my curiosity and (b) help the district. If I can nudge the school to increase its use of the School Forest and offer foreign languages to younger students along the way, so much the better.
Kent Schacht: I’ve lived in Garrison for more than 15 years with my wife, Courtney, and our three children attend GUFS. I know firsthand that Garrison’s teachers and administrators provide top-level support beyond terrific academics, from Individualized Education Program services to the arts and physical education, outdoor education and the incredible adaptations made to learning with the onset of COVID-19. I’m a big believer in public school education, and I’m a product of it. To thrive and progress as a community and society, it’s essential to invest in and prioritize education. My years in public school helped lay the foundation for my career as a business executive and management consultant. My family is and has been active in the GUFS community for years, but a silver lining of the last year is that I am now able to get more deeply involved with the school. I’ve jumped in with both feet to participate as a parent representative in the selection process of our terrific new principal, Allison Emig, as well as working collaboratively with the Strategic Coherence Plan committee made up of administration, teachers and parents to craft the vision of a future GUFS graduate. I’m ready and excited to get more involved.
What qualifications and experience would you bring to the board?
Gelber: My board experience includes six years on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers. I spent several years teaching a journalism seminar at The Horace Mann School. I’m especially passionate about initiatives to make the curriculum more coherent and more inventive, goals shared by Carl and Allison.
Julian: I am a licensed New York State architect with 24 years of professional experience. I’ve worked on national and international projects, ranging in scope from small renovations to world-class medical facilities. I am quality-driven and have worked at Skidmore Owings and Merrill and two of the best health care institutions: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Mount Sinai Hospital System, where I am senior director of project development. I was appointed to the board last year during the pandemic and promptly completed the required board training sessions on education policy, finance and budget. I got up to speed with the other board members quickly and we faced one of the most unpredictable years in recent times. As a New York State School Board Association delegate to the district, I was reminded several times that GUFS was able to achieve what many school districts in the state couldn’t: provide families the option of a safe, in-person, full-time education during a worldwide pandemic.
McCarthy: I have served on the Garrison school board for four years and am presently vice president. Over the last year, the board has worked exceptionally hard to bring in experienced leadership in all facets to the school. Additionally, we guided the school through the pandemic and ensured that all students in the district were given both a full-time, in-person or remote option for the current school year. We initiated the development of the Anti-Racism and Equity Task Force and the design and implementation of the strategic plan, which demonstrates the board’s commitment to responding to the needs of our entire community.
Rauch: Oddly, perhaps, I’m the president of the PTA. Much of our achievements during this strange, pandemic-restricted year are due to the work of the three other parents on the officers’ committee, Krys, Liz and Jake, and as a team, we’ve found ways to support the GUFS community and help it feel a little closer to normal. Additionally, I joined the Strategic Coherence Planning Team, which convened over the fall and winter to establish a new vision of the GUFS graduate —that is, what attributes and dispositions the school should nurture and develop within its students. That introduced me to other parents and teachers I hadn’t met and bolstered my relationships with Carl Albano and Allison Emig. Before that, I served on the school’s Reopening Committee, which met over the summer to figure out how to safely open the school in the midst of the pandemic. I come to all this having spent much of my career as a newspaper reporter, during which I covered, among other topics, education. That job put me in school board meetings and in conversations with superintendents, budget officers, teachers, parents and students in districts from Mount Vernon to Lake Placid. To cover schools well, you have to be able to understand what’s at stake and explain it clearly. I’ve done that, and it’s a good skill for a would-be board member to have.
Schacht: I have been a business executive and consultant for sports and media companies for nearly 20 years. I have advised the senior leadership of several major sports and media companies on improving their businesses and have extensive experience in that effort with budgets and financial management, driving positive change in all types of organizations. I believe this experience making decisions while balancing short- and long-term fiscal and organizational needs will add a diverse and necessary perspective to the board. I know the importance of building consensus in challenging situations and understand the need to relate and listen to concerns and framing issues with the context from which they’re presented. If elected, I promise to do the same for every constituent in the Garrison community.
What challenge facing the district needs immediate attention?
Gelber: The most immediate challenge is to ensure the successful completion of the capital project. We’re very lucky that my fellow board member, Madeline Julian, an architect and a candidate for re-election, is providing indispensable expertise on the capital project. Another board candidate, Kent Schacht, who has years of experience in business and finance, can provide expertise when it comes to project oversight and cost control.
Julian: The critical issue is to continually review our long-term finances, stay within our tax cap and not cut institutional programs. In addition, supporting the roll-out of the Next Generation standards and the implementation of the Vision of a Garrison Graduate and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Coherence Plan. The next school year will require ongoing construction, phasing and temporary relocation of classrooms. The timeline and phasing need to be reviewed carefully. There should also be a noise-mitigation plan and the construction areas left clean and safe at the end of each day. The goal is to make sure that there are minimal disruptions to our students’ education. It will be a challenging year, but if there is something that 2020 has taught us is that with the right protocol, oversight and planning, obstacles can be overcome.
McCarthy: I enthusiastically support this year’s budget, which includes a full-time environmental educator for grades K-8 and reinforces our commitment to technology while staying within the tax cap. I look forward to continuing to serve the Garrison community as a member of the Board of Education and ask for your vote as well as my fellow board members, Madeline Julian and David Gelber.
Rauch: The biggest challenge facing the district is the need to navigate through tumult. Adding to the disruption caused by the pandemic will be the capital project, which will cause a huge mess in the process of creating something quite terrific. The project will require keen oversight. The students, teachers and staff will deserve extra support, flexibility and creative thinking from the administration and board. Parents, meanwhile, should expect clear, up-to-date communication about what to expect. On top of all that, we have to prepare our students to thrive in a changing world. Social norms are evolving quickly, and our environment is demanding our attention and action. It’s a lot. I’d like to help.
Schacht: Led by a great board and strong administration, GUFS is on a great path with incredible potential. To ensure continued progress, the next board will need to manage multiple priorities with an eye toward long-term planning and the ability to adapt to what will likely be an unpredictable world, full of challenges from a budgetary and policy perspective. The most pressing single issue the next board will need to tackle will be careful and thoughtful management of the capital project. As decisions have to be made with regard to the ongoing progress of this vital initiative, it will be vital that board members see all perspectives and navigate a good path forward for the group that balances short-term financial stewardship with smart long-term planning. Beyond that project, I’m eager to advocate that our administration continue to maximize assets unique to Garrison, like outdoor education in the School Forest, as Superintendent Albano has made a priority. Additionally, I’m excited to focus on the integration of the work done by the Strategic Coherence Committee. I believe that our school can build individual success for every student and parent. A school that accomplishes that will significantly lift its community. I am excited about the prospect of playing a leadership role in this process.