Six vie for three seats in V.S. District 24 board election


Three seats on District 24’s Board of Education are up for election, with three challengers aiming to unseat three incumbents seeking re-election. District 24 comprises the William L. Buck, Brooklyn Avenue and Robert W. Carbonaro elementary schools. It is the smallest of Valley Stream’s three elementary school districts, with just under 1,100 students.

Cristina Arroyo is challenging incumbent John Maier, who has been a trustee since 2013 and is seeking his fourth term. Arroyo made an unsuccessful bid to nab an open seat in 2020 that is currently held by Melissa Herrera.

In the second contested race, incumbent Kimberly Wheeler is facing a challenge from newcomer Cynthia Nuñez. Wheeler has been a trustee since 2016, and is seeking her third term.

In the third contested race, Meaghan Fleming is challenging incumbent Markus Wilson, who was appointed by the board to fill Joseph Shipley’s vacant seat following his resignation in 2020. Wilson is now seeking election for a full term this year. Fleming made an unsuccessful bid last year to unseat Wilson, who had run for the remaining year of Shipley’s term.

The Herald asked the candidates about their platforms and their ideas for progress and change. We interviewed them by email, and their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Arroyo vs. Maier

Herald: Why did you decide to run? 

Cristina Arroyo: There are no people on the board who are advocating for the children of people like me, a Latinx single mom; or people like my friend Shehla, who’s Muslim, or Lisa, who’s Jewish, or Bianca, who’s trans, and I could go on.

Now, I don’t know if the board and administration don’t want teachers of color, but I know that there’s not a single Black person teaching in a district where 86 percent of students are not white. I don’t know if the leadership bears any animosity against LGBTQ+ people, but I know that the health/sex classes they approved erased the biological and social experiences of this community. And I don’t know if our elected officials consider Spanish speakers to be second-class citizens, but I know in a school where the largest racial student demographic is Hispanic, nobody who can speak Spanish is available when you call.

While mission statements, public commitments and community forums are nice, they’re useless if they don’t effect sustainable, systemic change — and not in 18 months or five years, but now.

John Maier: No response was submitted.

Herald: What, if anything, would you like to see changed regarding school district policy and procedures?

Arroyo: The best policies and procedures will count for nothing if they’re not properly implemented. Hence, the first thing we need to do is establish some accountability safeguards for our leadership. This means that we need to establish policies and procedures that encourage community transparency and voice, including with issues such as accessibility, elections and nepotism.

Then we need to address the vetting and review process of the curricula. In the past two years, there have been materials provided to our students that run counter to their growth and development as citizens of the world. And as such, our children need to be exposed to more than STEM — we need to bring back music, language and civic programs, among others.

I would like to see someone with education and expertise in organizational justice be a part of the administration. In terms of equity, the district has been reactive, specifically because they either don’t have the will, skills or both to address such complex and nuanced issues.

We need to start shifting to proactive action to not only create a fair and welcoming place for students, parents and teachers, but also to financially unburden taxpayers.

Maier: In the last several years, the board has gone over the policy book, which has been a large task, going over hundreds of policies. We made sure our policies were consistent and in compliance with education law. I would like to encourage more of a partnership between the community and the board. Communication and transparency are the keys to this goal.

Herald: What educational programs or initiatives, if any, would you like to see continue or expand?

Arroyo: First and foremost, technology. The pandemic forced the district to create a technological infrastructure for remote education overnight — and they did an excellent job. However, as in-person instruction has slowly become the norm, the district has shown an unwillingness to use this new tech infrastructure for students, parents and teachers with differing needs who may benefit from it. Not only will integrating remote education bridge inequities, but it will also allow for greater and quicker access to learning materials.

Another area that the pandemic spotlighted is mental health, and the district responded. This year, even, they will get more state aid for expanding their mental health programs, and that deserves a standing ovation. Hence, we need to work at using mental health services, not only to address the effects of Covid, but also toward the things that have been there before and will be there after, such as bullying, poverty and domestic abuse.

Maier: It is the board’s responsibility to set policy and direction that will keep our district up to date with rapidly changing technological advances, both in terms of the district’s technology and the skills and tools we provide our students.

At the high school level, I would like to see more CTE programs that will help our students thrive in today’s workforce. I would also like to expand universal pre-K if we can. Pre-school provides opportunities for children to learn in a way that interests them, building a positive association with learning.

Finally, it is my belief that to provide a quality education you must have exceptional teachers. I believe we do in our district. Their expertise is a result of the professional development programs and teacher mentoring programs we have in place. I would look to continue our work in this area.


Wheeler vs. Nuñez

Herald: Why did you decide to run?

Kimberly Wheeler: I’ve always been active with my children in school. Whether it was class parent, PTA president, multiple positions on the PTA board, volunteer for multiple committees/events, and currently on the South High School Parents Club. When I decided to run for the school board, I turned my energy and volunteering to be for all the children and community. I enjoy watching them throughout our district and become self-sufficient adults. Plus, as a community member myself, I wanted to be sure that the district was fiscally responsible, and policies were being enforced.

Cynthia Nuñez: Everything I do is centered on my children and the well-being of my family. I have a daughter who is a successful product of the Valley Stream School district, originating from District 24, and is about to complete her first year of college at Penn State University. I know firsthand the quality of education offered in Valley Stream is substantial. I also have a son currently in District 24, and I want to ensure the quality of education he receives is as good, if not better, than that of my older child.

We are in the 22nd year of the 21st century and I’m very aware that education is what prepares a student for college and/or a career. I want to help ensure that the Valley Stream school district upholds that standard for all children. 


Herald: What, if anything, would you like to see changed regarding school district policy and procedures?

Wheeler: Over these last three years, as chair of the Policy Committee, we decided that it was prudent to conduct an exhaustive, comprehensive review of every district policy and procedure we had.  With education law and the operations of school districts changing over time to meet new challenges and mandates, our policies and procedures needed to be consistent and in compliance. Therefore, this review resulted in many policies being updated, some being eliminated, and several new policies being introduced to reflect the changing nature of our district’s operations and educational programs.

Nuñez: Rather than change, I would like to take advantage of the opportunities in academic progression for the 21st century. There are plenty of opportunities to enhance the policies and procedures in all buildings K-12. Social emotional learning support and growth, especially post-pandemic, is important in all buildings. Partnerships with teachers, PTA and school staff is essential.

Kids come to school every day to learn, feel safe and be happy. Schools provide that environment. They give children the opportunity to socialize in academic settings. In a post-Covid world I want there to still be opportunities for children to read and write, speak and listen, and socialize with one another in person. Technology cannot completely replace that. However, it is also really important to continue to use technology in a positive way where it enhances academic growth. The opportunity for children to build their 21st century technological skills through use of technology in classrooms, in a positive and constructive way, is essential.

Herald: What programs or initiatives, if any, would you like to see continue or expand?

Wheeler: Continuing awareness of mental health programs within the district to ensure that each child’s social, emotional and mental health needs are met. Encourage more participation and discussion from our community at board meetings — we want to hear everyone’s voice, as this is the only way to achieve positive change.

Nuñez: Anything that bridges a child’s experience from one building to another is something that should be expanded on: For example, accelerated language program(s) and challenge program(s). Acceleration and challenges in the elementary school provide students access to quality education. This also gives parents a lens into the curriculum and instruction in the building. As a parent, you know where your children are physically, you know they are safe and happy. Acceleration and challenge programs allow you to also know, figuratively, where your children are headed next in terms of their academic curriculum.

Because I have a daughter who has been through the district, and I have a son who is currently in the heart of his educational journey in Valley Stream, I realize there are opportunities for some programs to be refined so that they meet the needs of 21st century learners like my son. I believe we are on our way there; we’re making progress.

Fleming vs. Wilson

Herald: Why did you decide to run?

Meaghan Fleming: I decided to run for the school board because community members and staff believe in me and asked me to. I do feel like I bring a lot to the table with my education, time on the PTA board, and just as a parent. I am very involved in the community and have been for years. I enjoy meeting people around town and sharing ideas. This is where I was raised so I have a deep connection to the community and roots here. I want to be a liaison for the people while working with the teachers, staff and administration to bring the best to or district. I think I can help create a shared vision. I think my education in mental health, rehabilitation counseling and elementary education as well as my job experience both in those fields as well as in sales and marketing makes me a well-rounded candidate.I want to give back to a community I love. I have a fourth grader and a 2-year-old so I plan on being around for a while. I also think it is important for my children to see me take on this civic responsibility and be advocate for our students, staff and community as a whole. 

Markus Wilson: My two youngest sons are my motivation to run for re-election. I want to ensure that the district in which they are being educated continues to provide them with the best opportunities. I am uniquely qualified to represent our children, parents and community as the district continues the progress we have made, providing our children with an exceptional educational experience.

Herald: What, if anything, would you like to see changed regarding school district policy and procedures?

Fleming: Honestly, I think the schools are great. I do think the school board needs to be more transparent. The average parent has a hard time navigating how things work. They often feel out of the loop and unengaged. Making things more accessible and having open communication is key. I do feel that the structure in which the majority of our schools are built can be modified some in terms of allowing for freedom of expression and individuality. As well as allowing the younger students in our schools more opportunity to learn through play. I do not believe little ones should be at desks or tables for most of their learning. I believe in more hands-on activities that get all the senses going.
I also believe that homework should be limited to 20 minutes a night, not including independent reading time for elementary students. I’d love to see homework a thing of the past entirely, but I know that once they reach higher grades homework is more essential to the learning process and students need to review their materials and prepare for more independent work that comes in the future. However, in Elementary school children after school should be outside.

Wilson: I believe our district has done an excellent job providing our children with a quality education, access to technology and enhancements to school security. Unfortunately, due to a teacher shortage, we were unable to find qualified teachers for our foreign language program. My hope is that in the next year we are able to revive that program in the district. I also want to increase access to translation services for our families with limited English proficiency so that they may more fully engage with the school district.

Herald: What programs or initiatives, if any, would you like to see continue or expand?

Fleming: I would like to see more mental health and wellness programs in our schools; possibly an actual Wellness class twice a cycle in order for students to learn more about mental health issues and how to recognize if themselves or peers may be in crisis.
I would also like to see a new health and biology program be implemented to discuss the different physical and biological changes that occur at different stages in a student’s life. Thirdly I would like to see more Green initiatives for our schools, including but not limited to recycling or environmental, vegetable gardens and composting. Lastly, I think our district would benefit greatly from a dual language immersion program starting in kindergarten. I know this would be a huge undertaking but it is something that would make our students global citizens and give them the competitive edge in the expanding job market.

Wilson: I want to continue working with the board to expand our universal pre-kindergarten program so that we can serve more families in our community. We should continue to work with our elected leaders at the state and federal level to secure increased funding and flexibility to expand the program in our district. I also want to continue working with the board to diversify our hiring practices by partnering directly with colleges and universities to attract diverse candidates.