John Paul Kopacz, Joseph F. Laurita Jr. at Oyster Bay’s Meet the Candidates

Sharing their qualifications, plans for board


Oyster Bay-East Norwich Board of Education candidates John Paul Kopacz and Joseph Laurita, Jr. shared their vision for the district and qualifications at Meet the Candidates held on May 1 in the auditorium of Oyster Bay High School. The event was narrated by Barabara Epstein from the League of Voters, who asked the candidates questions submitted by residents. The election for school board and the budget is on May 21.

There are two seats open on Oyster Bay’s Board of Education. One is for a year, due to the early departure of board member Norah Windhausen, and the other, for four years, for Darren Gerbosi’s seat, who has decided not to run again. Kopacz and Laurita will both be on the board regardless of the election outcome, but it is up to voters to decide who will be there for one or four years.

Kopacz, 43, of East Norwich, said as an educator and administrator for the past 17 years at the Great Neck School District, he has the skills needed to help OBEN move forward. His experience as an engineer prior to his career in education, will also help him to be effective, he said.

“My engineering degree is evidence of my creative problem-solving skills that are needed to address complex issues,” he said, “and my knowledge of the school board, both as a parent, teacher and administrator also makes this a natural fit. As a math teacher in Great Neck I know what excellence looks like and I look forward to engaging in conversations on how to make Oyster Bay’s schools even better.”

Laurita, 47, a realtor living in Oyster Bay, and a former police officer for the New York Police Department, worked for eight years in Brooklyn. Then he went on to be a Garden City police officer for 20 years retiring in 2002. Laurita said his background in law enforcement will benefit the district.

“I want to make sure in this crazy world we are living in that the kids are safe in school,” he said. “My goals are to make sure the parents are being represented properly in school and that their rights are represented and that they are able to make decisions for if their child should get a vaccine.”

When asked about a rise in racism in schools, both candidates said it should not be tolerated.

Laurita said he wasn’t aware of an increase or any incidents at Oyster Bay schools adding, “no one should be excluded.”

Kopacz mentioned ways the district was working to share different cultures as a remedy to racism. He cited international day, where students learned about other cultures by sampling foods from different countries.

When asked about bullying, both agreed it was not acceptable. Laurita said bullying needed to be taken seriously and handled.

Kopacz said the number one job of school districts is to keep everyone safe. “I never want anyone nervous to come to school because they are being bullied,” he said. “Bullying needs to be dealt with, with a firm and decisive manner and there needs to be a message sent that it is not acceptable.”

The candidates were asked how test scores could be improved. Kopacz said the district offers different ways for students to seek extra help, which he supports.

“The more time you can put in, the better opportunities you’ll have to perform,” he said. “I see students at night going to SAT classes focusing on extra help outside regular classes which is great. And the district offers math tutoring throughout the building during the day.”

He also believes it’s important to make learning exciting so students will want to learn. Kopacz cited as positive the district’s project-based experiences outside the classroom in the community.

Laurita said there are other components to consider. “Success in education is not just at the school. It’s a partnership with what parents are doing at home, what they are encouraging their child to do,” he said. “I often wondered where are the flashcards. Everything seems to be done on computers. We need to step back from technology and do some old-fashioned learning using flashcards, repetition and homework problems.”

Laurita and Kopacz agreed that there should be an increased focus of science, technology, English, and math. Kopacz said he would support an increase in funding and programs like robotics and science research. Laurita said interacting with computers and technology in general is important to know for employment.