Five candidates will vie for three open seats on the Lynbrook Board of Education in next Tuesday’s elections.
Incumbent Vice President Lesli Deninno, Secretary Robert Paskoff and Trustee David Yaker are seeking re-election, while Nicole Aroksaar and Sean Murray are looking to unseat them and join the board.
Paskoff has the longest term of the incumbents, having served for 15 years, while both Deninno and Yaker have been trustees for six years. Aroksaar is an account manager for an insurance broker and has served as co-president of the Lynbrook High School PTA for two years, and Murray has a wide range of experience working in education, including his current role as principal of West Hempstead Middle School.
Ahead of the election, the Herald asked the candidates about their goals and the issues facing the district.
Herald: Why did you decide to run (or run again) for the Board of Education?
Deninno: During my six years as a trustee on the Lynbrook Board of Education, I am proud of the accomplishments that we have made. While we have remained below the tax cap each year, this year specifically our board has made the decision to have the lowest tax levy that we have proposed during the past five years. While maintaining a fiscally conservative budget, we have been able to add necessary staff and programs. I want to ensure that we remain on this path of providing all students with the tools necessary to succeed. I sit on the board to represent the community and to be its voice. I want to keep our taxes down while ensuring that our schools continue on the path of excellence.
Paskoff: I decided to run for a sixth term on the board to help steer the district out of the Covid-19 struggles. The students missed many events and traditions over the past two school years, as did the parents and the community. I look forward to helping guide the district on our transition back to normal, which will be much smoother with experienced board members in place. Although I no longer have children in the schools, I have a home here. Maintaining a quality school experience in all aspects of a public school system enhances the value of my home. Being born and bred in Lynbrook also helps with my desire to run for the board again. I bleed green and gold and want to enhance the great experiences I had as a child.
Yaker: This past year has certainly tested our resolve, pushed our patience to the limit, and challenged everything we thought we knew about education and the world around us. We all have suffered great loss, both personally and communally, and have been asked to do things beyond what we thought we were capable of. Now more than ever, we must remain steadfast in our mission to nurture our children’s love for learning, teach them to become critical thinkers and have pride in their community in the hope that one day they may choose to return to Lynbrook and raise their own families here.
Each year it seems like we’re faced with new challenges just as we’re getting a grip on old challenges. The world is going through an unprecedented time right now. New mandates are being placed on us daily, with little to no time to prepare, and having an experienced board member to help guide the district through uncharted territory is more important than ever. I have the experience, the understanding and the passion to continue this pursuit, and look forward to the challenges that lay ahead
Aroksaar: In my role as high school PTA co-president for the past two years, I have always been a strong advocate for students and families. I know how important the role of the Board of Education member is to the students, staff, schools and community. When schools closed last March, I was working remotely full-time, and all four of my children were home indefinitely. My two college students jumped right into remote learning, but my high school and middle school students really struggled — first, with a mostly virtual synchronous model in the spring, then with the hybrid model starting in the fall. I saw what a toll the shutdown had on my children educationally and socially, but most of all, emotionally. During our Zoom PTA meetings, and while speaking with friends and other members of the community, I realized that this was a widespread issue. Out of concern for the mental health of our students, I decided to run for the board.
Murray: I decided to run for the Board of Education because I believe that I will bring a new perspective to the board. As a school leader at both the building and district level, father of young children, and community volunteer, I have a broad range of experiences and expertise to contribute to board discussions and decisions. I am a creative problem solver, and I believe the board needs to have creative ideas to solve issues facing public schools today.
Herald: What are your main goals and what major issues do you wish to address by becoming a member of the school board?
Deninno: While navigating the pandemic, our school board and administration took the lead on many protocols. We were the first to allow spectators to attend inside sporting events, and it yielded extremely positive results. The safety of our students and staff was always the primary focus. We should all be very proud, as we came together and worked in conjunction with each other, further showing what a caring and special community we are, where everyone’s voices matter. My main goal is for Lynbrook to continue to take the lead and be a model school district that other districts want to emulate.
Paskoff: As I mentioned before, guiding the district out of Covid-19 and helping the district move forward is my primary goal. As we do this, we must make sure we are being inclusive and listening to all corners of the community. Part of this is addressing our growing diversity, but another part is ensuring that the board speaks for everyone, not just our children or neighbors. As a board member, I have enjoyed attending events at all our schools and gained a better understanding of how each school is unique.
Yaker: A Board of Education is at its best when supporting the educational leaders whom our district has hired, serving as a checks and balances, being transparent in its dealing with all members of the community and remaining fiscally responsible to all its taxpayers, and most importantly giving our children all the opportunities and more to be successful in the 21st century. I think one of the challenges that we will be facing in the coming years is the way in which we, as a district, balance our newfound advancements in technology with the need to not be completely reliant on this same technology. I have witnessed firsthand the wonderful things we can do with technology in the classroom, but also the damage that this technology can do to student motivation, interaction with one another and overall communication. We also must remain vigilant amid the long-term effects that this pandemic will have on our children. We must be prepared to tackle the social emotional tolls that our students will be facing. Finally, we will need experienced board members in order to handle the potential fiscal challenges that we are sure to face in the coming years.
Aroksaar: As I mentioned, the overall mental health of the students is a primary concern. I also worry about students struggling to bridge educational gaps that have occurred in the last year. Lynbrook has a great support staff in our schools, and they are constantly monitoring at-risk students. My goal is to ensure that all students’ needs are being considered and addressed. Our kids are not OK. Many students are flying under the radar and need to know that they are not alone in their feelings of isolation. Our administrators and staff are always working hard for our students, but in today’s world, I would like to see enhanced communication with parents as well.
Murray: My main goals are to ensure that our policymaking and our administrative team are focused on improving teaching and learning for our district’s students. It is imperative that we do not rest on our laurels, but that we seek continuous improvement. In particular, the next few years will require a specific focus on the mental health and social-emotional needs of our students. Every staff member of the district must address these needs in addition to the content and standards.
Herald: Are there any educational courses or curricula that you wish to see implemented that aren't currently offered?
Deninno: In the past few years, we have been able to add necessary staff to meet students’ social emotional needs, added new screenings to more easily identify twice exceptional students, and Flight School, which provides enrichment to all Lynbrook students. We added additional ICT classes so students could remain in their home school building. Middle school students are now offered electives and a choice in eighth grade science Regents, while in the high school, we have additional partnerships with colleges and universities, added extra-curricular clubs, a business teacher with a Virtual Enterprise Class and introduced a Transition Fair, where we prepare our children for life after high school, whether it be for college or a career path. Additionally, we have increased our bandwidth, upgraded facilities, reviewed and enhanced curriculum and courses while providing each child in our district with a tablet. Recently, a Lynbrook High School student gave a presentation to the board on behalf of a group of peers regarding the addition of a public speaking class. She eloquently stated that by offering this course, it would enhance our curriculum and Debate Club. I believe this could be a wonderful addition for our students and something that I will ask the board to consider.
Paskoff: These issues are brought to us by a curriculum committee, which meets throughout the year. Most of our curriculum is directed toward a college goal, but we also need to address those students who are not college bound. Through my attendance at school board conferences, I realized social emotional learning has been a huge issue and will be exacerbated coming out of the pandemic. Resiliancy also needs to be addressed.
Yaker: Lynbrook has continued to do a great job of offering new courses each year. Schoology and Seesaw helped our students organize themselves throughout remote and hybrid learning and has been a terrific source. We now have a centralized Voyager Program with a new screening test to easily identify our twice exceptional students, Flight School to enrich all students, Middle school elective choices, LLI Reading support, the addition of a business teacher to bolster our Virtual Enterprise. I think one class that would serve the community well would be a debate/public speaking class, which I know we have been working on and hope to implement. Now, more than ever, our children must learn how to debate civilly, listen to opposing arguments, and treat one another with respect. This class would be a great stepping-stone in that direction.
Aroksaar: For a smaller district, Lynbrook has many offerings and a growing amount of classes eligible for college credit. Most of the electives are focused in math, science or the arts. I would like to see more humanities courses offered, for example a speech and debate class. A student recently proposed such a class at a board meeting. Parents have also questioned the foreign language program, which I think should also be an area where we may be able to offer additional languages. I also believe it would be great to offer more business classes, such as financial literacy and business law. It would also be great to have a student-run TV channel with broadcasting and media classes (we had this in place when I was a student at South Middle School in the late 1980s). I also believe that we should have better communication on the BOCES offerings and introduce them during middle school so families are aware of the different paths available.
Murray: As a parent, my familiarity with programs and curricula is limited to the elementary and middle schools. I would like the district to expand the readers and writers workshop model into the middle school English courses. This approach to teaching reading and writing has tremendous benefits for students, and supports meeting every student at their individual level of need.
Herald: How do you feel you would work (or continue to work) alongside the other fellow board members and superintendent?
Deninno: This past year has been challenging for all of us and I am proud of how our community, school board, teachers and administrators have all come together and supported one another. Although we may not always agree, we all bring different voices and perspectives, and continue to work together for the betterment of our children and the community. I use my voice to speak up for what I believe in. I have the experience, commitment, drive and ability to continue to serve our community as we move forward in the coming years.
Paskoff: I feel the current board is a well-oiled machine. Despite some differences of opinion, we respect each other, and our open discussions enable us all to support whatever decisions we come to. The board also respects the superintendent and the whole leadership team. We work very well with that team and feel there is always give and take between administration and the board.
Yaker: Working on a school board is a collaborative effort. There are multiple personalities, perspectives, ideas and views on a wide range of topics that impact our community and our children. No one voice is more important or valuable than any other. For the past six years I have tried to be a voice of reason, one who listens twice as much as I speak, and someone who has made himself available to the concerns of all community members. I am so proud of the efforts of the school board over the past six years, but especially proud of our flexibility and commitment to excellence in this past year. I look forward to the challenges that are ahead of us and am ready to continue our work for all of our students.
Aroksaar: I feel I would be an asset to the board. Being the current high school PTA co-president, I have had the opportunity to work with [Superintendent Dr. Melissa Burak] on a fairly regular basis during PTA council meetings. She is always interested in what the PTA is hearing from our members and has always been open to our concerns and ideas. I have interacted with many of the current board members and have been attending board meetings both in person and virtually. I am not afraid to ask questions if I don’t know something and am always willing to listen to hear all opinions. I believe that I would work well within the dynamic of the current board.
Murray: I pride myself on being a clear communicator and consensus maker. I think the best decisions come out of a group of people who bring different perspectives and backgrounds to the conversation. I am a good listener, consider the thoughts and ideas of others and work to find the common ground to develop a solution that each member of the group can support. I see myself being able to fit in with the current board and superintendent successfully.
Herald: Why do you think you have the experience necessary to be a good fit for the board?
Deninno: During my time as a trustee, our board has improved transparency, email correspondence and overall communications and visibility within our community. Please know that I represent you and your family. I am always available to listen to and hear your concerns. I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our children have the best opportunities in our schools.
Paskoff: I have been on the board for the past 15 years. I have worked with three different superintendents. That means I have worked on 15 budgets and many varied contract negotiations. I have been part of the interview process for many of the higher-level positions, including two of the three superintendents I talked about earlier. I can balance the needs of the student with the needs of the community. I have also attended numerous state and national school board conferences that enable me to introduce fresh ideas to our community.
Yaker: The future is bright for Lynbrook. The additions both physically and academically make for a great deal of excitement. Yet there is still work to be done. As a lifelong resident, a teacher, a coach, an active community service leader and a board member for the past six years, I am excited to tackle the challenges that we will surely face in the coming years. These challenges do not scare me, but rather motivate me to continue our pursuit of excellence for the entire Lynbrook School District.
Aroksaar: As PTA co-president over the past two years, I have interacted with many parents and community members and have a feel for what the people of Lynbrook want and need. I feel I bring a balanced and thoughtful opinion to examine issues from all perspectives. My job requires me to work collectively with others in my department as well as interact with clients to help problem solve. My education in accounting and work experience will help during the budget process to ensure fiscal responsibility, while also keeping the needs of our students in the forefront.
Murray: I have almost a decade and a half of experience as a school leader, and bring that broad understanding of student learning, state standards and education policies to the board. Additionally, I have served on the executive boards of multiple other community organizations, including a co-op board of directors. I have been at the table with others where we needed to make decisions in the best interests of the organization and not ourselves. The ability to think through issues that way takes time and practice to develop, and I have been developing those skills for almost 20 years.