When polls open in East Rockaway next Tuesday, incumbent Board of Education President Dom Vulpis and challenger Dan Caracciolo will appear on the ballot, vying for one board seat.
Vulpis, who served as athletic director at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School for 22 years before he retired in July 2017 to become assistant to the executive director of Section VIII athletics in Garden City, has been on the board since 2018. Caracciolo is running for the board for the first time, but has been involved in several school and community committees and groups, including the East Rockaway Education Foundation and ERHS Alumni Association.
Ahead of the election, the Herald asked the candidates about their goals, visions for the future and assets they would bring to the board.
Herald: Why did you decide to run (or run again) for the Board of Education?
Vulpis: I’m running for re-election because we have projects that began during my tenure that would benefit the community to see them to completion.
Caracciolo: I love East Rockaway. I grew up here, and I credit East Rockaway schools for my academic and professional success, my strong sense of community and, of course, my marriage and family. I am seeking a position as school board trustee so I can reinvest in the next generation of East Rockaway’s children, the way so many people in this community invested in me. I want the chance to ensure all of our kids are supported, nurtured and given every opportunity to succeed in order to keep our hometown strong and vibrant well into the future. As a banker, homeowner, taxpayer and working parent, it is also extremely important that the district maximizes the value of every taxpayer dollar, and I’m confident that my background lends itself to the district’s long-term financial security.
Herald: What would your main goals be and what major issues would you wish to address if you were elected to the board?
Vulpis: My goals are to continue the transition from remote and hybrid learning back to full-time in-class learning, continue to implement policies for educational equity and allocate federal funds to programs that will bring student competence to pre-pandemic times. Furthermore, I’d like to keep addressing the mental health and wellness needs of our students through our Northwell Health partnership and to build on the district’s strategic plan by setting new goals and objectives.
Caracciolo: My main goals are to help the district develop a long-term strategic plan, what I’m calling a “Master 2050” plan, to amplify the reputation of East Rockaway as a premier district for all students, families and future homeowners. I want to maximize opportunities for all students by identifying and filling program gaps, supporting a stigma-free learning environment for all students, whether they excel in academics, compete in sports, perform in the arts, have a love of languages or have special needs that we can meet together.
I also hope to use my personal and professional networks to build public private partnerships within the district that can create opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, exposing students to public servants and business leaders in East Rockaway to help guide career and college decisions. Encouraging community investment can reduce the tax burden and improve the quality of the district’s programs and services. Finally, another goal is to build on the board’s recent investments in transparency and accountability by creating a user-friendly district-wide financial dashboard that is translated, digested, accessible and collaborative so every taxpayer can understand how and where the district spends our tax dollars. Residents and taxpayers really should be the ultimate voice in setting priorities and defining and driving not just satisfaction, but success.
Herald: Are there any educational courses or curricula that you wish to see implemented that are not now offered?
Vulpis: We are looking to implement a pre-K program with federal funds. We are hoping to use the learning curve the pandemic taught us with technology to leverage new innovative curricula.
Caracciolo: I am excited about the new courses being offered in the art, technology and family and consumer sciences departments, and hope that the district will soon provide more opportunities for students to learn languages necessary for our country to continue to lead in a global economy. It would be great to expose students to sustainability as a component of STEAM education, to encourage innovation that will help their generation tackle all sorts of climate-related challenges to everything from food to energy. I would also love for our students to learn basic, practical financial literacy that will help them succeed both in college and entering the workforce.
Herald: How do you think you would work (or continue to work) alongside the other board members and superintendent?
Vulpis: I have been working beside fellow board members and the superintendent’s team of administrators with the ability to share views that will promote programs. Consensus building with team members comes about when there is a common thread to serve the students.
Caracciolo: First, I am a team player. In my professional life and in my volunteer work, I enjoy being part of diverse teams and committees that have shared goals. I know that everyone on the board, as well as the superintendent, shares my goal of doing what is best for our community and our students. Despite being an independent outsider, I’m lucky to have almost lifelong relationships with some of the board members. Finally, as a parent with two students in the district, and as a leader in the East Rockaway Education Foundation, I have cultivated an open and constructive dialogue with [Superintendent Lisa] Ruiz [and] her leadership team, and I look forward to working alongside all of these great public servants. I want to bring fresh eyes to the board while opening the district up to everyone’s input, and I have no other allegiances other than to our children and residents.
Herald: Why do you think you have the experience necessary to be a good fit on the board?
Vulpis: My experiences as a [board] trustee, vice president and president afford me opportunities to write and review school board policies. Having a long-term relationship in the schools and community enables the school culture to continue to grow with the values the community is proud to display.
Caracciolo: I have a lifetime of experience growing up, learning, serving and living in East Rockaway. I have helped this community overcome challenges during Hurricane Sandy, and helped my children succeed educationally and socially through the challenges of remote learning. I think people on the board and in the schools know that I definitely care as much as they do, and that common ground will drive our collaboration and help the board achieve our goals. Professionally, my experience in identifying and managing financial risk, building relationships, and negotiating business agreements will bring a new and objective skill set to an already successful team.