Candidates for North Shore's school board debate the issues

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Five candidates are running for three open seats on the North Shore School District Board of Education. The trustee election will take place at the same time as the annual budget vote on Tuesday, May 21 in the North Shore High School gym.

Board of Education President Sara Jones, of Sea Cliff, is seeking re-election, as is Vice President David Ludmar, of Glenwood Landing, and Trustee Marianne Russo, of Glen Head. Jones and Russo are each seeking a third, three-year term, and Ludmar, his second. Jerry Romano is running for the first time, and Anthony Stanco, who ran for trustee last year, is also on the ballot. Both are from Sea Cliff.

Residents had a chance to ask the candidates questions and hear their thoughts on school matters at a Meet the Candidates event on May 1.

Experiences vs. outcomes

Question: Do you have suggestions for how to achieve a well-rounded education for our students, one that fosters a lifelong love of learning and creativity?

David Ludmar: I think North Shore does a very good job of helping students explore what they’re doing and being reflective. Having achievement and testing and room to explore and grow doesn’t have to be either or. Our test scores are improving yet we haven’t changed the approach of not teaching to the test, and the way that we were trying to teach our kids — through authentic, hands-on, project-based learning — was paying off.

Marianne Russo: I would be all in favor of increasing recess and opportunities for authentic learning that used to be incorporated into the curriculum, such as the second grade post office, the elementary-level bread study and the colonial village. We had a training session in purposeful play for our teachers through the Columbia Teachers College two years ago, but those opportunities are a blip in the curriculum.

Anthony Stanco: Authentic learning opportunities [were] central to my whole career when I was teaching. It’s rewarding to work with your hands, and in my opinion, there are a lot of shortcomings in the school district addressing children’s actual needs.

Administrative costs

Question: Do you support a thorough review of all the district’s administrative costs, and if you found that some of those costs were unnecessary, would you consider lowering the overall budget?

Jerry Romano: In the business world we have metrics to evaluate things. We need metrics that evaluate administration, the teaching staff and the utilization of classrooms and buildings. Once you sit down and look at the pure numbers than at least you have a basis for making a decision.

Sara Jones: We want to have principals at each of our schools; we want to have a business staff in charge of the internal controls over all the payments we make. You need to have those controls in place, and it does take staff to do that. We always look closely at administrative costs, and we’ve worked on reducing administrative cost sin the past two years, and we’ll continue to do that.

Russo: As a trustee I have continually asked for evaluations of programs and I’ve always looked for areas where to cut. I’m always open to those reductions as long as we’re not sacrificing the quality of instruction, and part of that is [considering] other economic factors going on within the community.

Mental health

Question: Do you believe the district is doing a good job in addressing mental health issues?

Ludmar: Our Shared Value Outcomes orient the entire program around being self-aware and trying to note these things. We commissioned an equity study last year to try and find students who don’t feel connections to our buildings [or] feel somewhat lost, and we recognize that those students need our help.

Jones: We put [mental health] resources into the current budget, but there’s a lot more we can do. Not just give kids the tools for how to deal with it but recognize the role that the schools themselves [play] in creating those structures that are generating students’ issues with mental health. And that’s making sure things are developmentally appropriate.

Stanco: I don’t think we’re doing a good job at all. I really care about my children, and I do not like [that their] environment has been taken over by media and popular ideas, which should be unpopular. We have to instill in children ideas that are available to them.

Teacher evaluations

Question: How do you think our teachers should be evaluated, and are they being fairly evaluated in this district?

Russo: I think our evaluation process could be more critical, and a critical evaluation process leads to improvement in any field. I think we could be more proactive in a positive way [so] some of our teachers have better outcomes.

Ludmar: Teachers in general are a very easy scapegoat in our society, and I believe there are negative forces in our community that feel very comfortable criticizing people. I think teachers in general have a very difficult task in front of them and it is often a thankless job. We have a strong faculty that is succeeding in our district, in my opinion.

Romano: In an organization, there are going to be people that aren’t up to the task — they either need to be trained or trained out. Our children only get one shot at going through the school district, one chance. Everybody’s got to be on the ball.

Giving back

Question: What are you going to give to our children if elected to the school board?

Stanco: I want to give our children a real education, not a preparation to make money in some particular role in our present society. When people are truly educated they’re not grasping to survive — they’re living first. I want your children to have the confidence to face the future. This can be put in to the curriculum if we had the guts to decide what our children need to learn, and instead we let the state tell us what numbers we have to match to look good.

Romano: We need to take a very hard look at what needs to be improved. Everybody learns differently, and we need to provide those opportunities for those people to do that. We’re a very affluent area, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at where and how and why we spend money. It should be spent smart.

Russo: I don’t think the mindset of the board is to take anything away from our students. The goal has been to look at other avenues where we can achieve cost-savings rather than taking away dollars from students. We are committed to affording our students all the opportunities, which will make them grow as a whole student — the fine and performing arts, the athletics, the clubs. [Those] have increased since I’ve been on the board.

Role of a trustee and defining success

Question: What do you believe is the most important role of a school board member, and how would you define the success of a school district?

Ludmar: My role is to make sure the superintendent is overseeing an administration that is current and that is getting students interested in learning, because that is how you measure a district. I want students who delight in learning, who grow through challenges, who are prepared for the world and who will contribute to society in a positive way.

Romano: The role of a school board member is to ask good questions that get you the outcomes you think you need. They may not be popular sometimes, but that’s how you move an organization forward — when you challenge people to think about things they haven’t thought of or haven’t done.

Jones: The budget is something you have to bring your values to, your skepticism, and you’ve got to bring some serious data analysis skills to it. The SVOs are an incredibly important skill set that I’d like all of our students to end up with, but, more importantly, we want kids that are thrilled to go to school, that are engaged when they’re there, that end up being lifelong learners and that are successful in whatever metrics you want to use.