Six candidates are vying for three contested seats on District 13’s Board of Education on May 16. Newcomer Charles Sanky is challenging incumbent trustee Gerardo Cavaliere, who is seeking re-election. Anthony Grosso and Qubilah Mackey-Matos are vying for the seat of veteran trustee Frank Chiachiere, who decided not to run. And incumbent trustee Patricia “Patty” Farrell is defending her seat against challenger Andrew Sgro in her bid for a fourth term.
The candidates were asked for their thoughts on the imminent end of pandemic federal aid and the future of grading, among other issues.
Charles Sanky spent nearly 40 years of his career in public service as a social worker, hospital administrator, and patient advocate with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He says his background has helped him develop a keen sense of how to ensure complicated systems work for those they’re intended to serve — and a school district is no different.
As a father, he proudly raised three sons through Valley Stream District 13 schools and watched them graduate from Ivy League universities. Sanky credits their early education as a vital influence on their road to long-term academic success.
Now, if elected, he hopes to “create policies and practices” in the board that do “right by every child” and ensure that “no child slips through the cracks.” With the phasing out of Covid-19 relief funding in the coming year, Sanky says the board must provide a “transparent thoughtful review of services that were initiated with pandemic relief funding and assess the impact of those services” to see which ones remain top candidates for continued support and which ones ought to be scaled back.
Given his extensive background in social work, he hopes to bring much to the table in providing students with ways to have consistent structures of social and mental health support as well as a sense of purpose and belonging.
On standardized testing, Sanky stressed the “need to complement standardized metrics with more balanced assessments to measure student performance like projects, presentations, and portfolios. These can provide a more holistic view of students’ strengths and opportunities for growth.”
Gerardo Cavaliere has served on the board since 2020 and has held the title of vice president. In his professional life, he is a Manhattan construction manager for Verizon. Closer to home, he’s been described as a dedicated father whose community involvement is nothing to scoff at. He has coached and managed the Valley Baseball League, Little League, and Soccer Club and currently serves as an assistant Scouts BSA scoutmaster for Valley Stream Troop 109.
Cavaliere has two sons, Nicholas and Christopher, both graduates of Wheeler Avenue School. Nicholas went to Valley Stream North High School, where Christopher currently is a student. Nicholas is an Eagle Scout.
“The state of Covid -19 has set us back, and administrators and the board have been working to undo the effect that it had on our children,” Cavaliere said. “Despite a rollback in pandemic relief funding, state funding has increased, which will relieve some financial burden as the board continues to find available funding through other avenues and create sound budgets year over year.”
Cavaliere admitted that he’s been torn on the subject of standardized testing and sees both the merits and downsides. He believes there is already a solution in the form of parents’ choice to opt out of statewide testing based on their children’s specific learning needs. He noted both his sons took to standardized testing in very different ways and a tailored approach to each of them was necessary.
“I believe that we can and should use multiple resources to create a baseline for measuring student and school performance as well as evaluating teachers and aides,” he said.
Anthony Grosso has enjoyed a long and winding career path in multiple job sectors, including real estate, business, unions, and policing.
The Valley Stream North graduate and Franklin Square resident says he’s ready to apply his varied experience to the board, especially concerning matters of school security and teacher retention and development. He has two children who go to the Willow Road School and one starting pre-K next year.
Grosso said the district could find smart workarounds to the losses in pandemic relief funding in areas of mental health support and teacher retention by “working with local mental health professionals to make sure students and families have knowledge of resources that are available to assist them beyond the school.” He also encouraged “exploring partnerships with colleges and universities with a focus on recruiting the best and brightest educators.”
Grosso also wants to shave down class sizes to improve teacher-to-student engagement, and to remove non-tenured staff from school committees that he says distract them from their teaching.
On standardized testing, Grosso said there are “improvements and deficits that you can miss with it.” He said he would like to push for local district assessments that go beyond rote, pen-and-paper memorization.
“I don’t think anyone wants our classrooms to become test prep labs, and when you focus solely on scores that’s what tends to happen,” he said.
Qubilah Mackey-Matos is a lifelong educator who has taught from kindergarten to eighth grade for two decades. She is currently a social studies teacher for New York City public schools. Close to home, she served this year as the district’s budget ambassador, keeping abreast of the district’s budget details and the latest in local and state education issues to get the community up to speed on what’s going on. Her son went to Howell Road School and graduated from Valley Stream Central.
Mackey-Matos said the district acted judiciously in spending pandemic-funded dollars on programs, from social-emotional learning to teacher training and development, that are self-sustaining. “This means the lessons and strategies created through the initial spending can continue being built upon with no additional funds,” she said.
Mackey-Matos also wants to provide social-emotional support to teachers through “cost-neutral” strategies like mindfulness practices, peer-to-peer dialogue, and journaling.
On standardized testing, Mackey-Matos said, “While teachers should prepare students to do well on these exams, standardized testing is only one of many ways to assess academic progress and should therefore never be the central focus of shaping a school’s curriculum or its educational goals.”
She also aims to work with the board to revisit its disciplinary code to incorporate restorative practices that encourage conflict resolution rather than simply meting out punishment for misbehavior.
Before she joined the school board in 2014, Patty Farrell had been a dedicated Parent Teacher Association leader at the Wheeler Avenue School and Central/Memorial High School.
Now a seasoned trustee, Farrell says she is ready to have tough talks surrounding sustainable budgeting practices for the next few years to make sure future budgets don’t pierce the tax cap amid the phasing out of Covid-19 relief funding and an imminent decline in state funding. She believes the budget should prioritize common-sense items like mental health support, school security, pre-K funding, and keeping buildings up to date.
In light of the pandemic’s disruption of learning, Farrell said standardized testing standards aren’t accounting for students’ current learning challenges. And with so many students opting out altogether, the tests’ ability to capture an overall picture of student progress and performance is suspect, she noted.
“Every parent has the right to decide what is best for their child. When my children took these tests, I used the results to anticipate where my child may have needed help,” she said. “The proficiency and improvement tests issued by the Northwest Evaluation Association which are computer generated and given three times a year show the progress the child has made and are a better tool for the teachers and administration to use.”
Andrew Sgro rose to become an audit partner of a highly successful accounting firm. Now he’s turned his ambitions toward supporting his children’s school district as one of its trustees.
Sgro is a graduate of Willow Road, where his three boys currently attend, and a graduate of Valley Stream North High School. He believes that the district should clearly highlight to parents and residents the “positive and essential” programs funded by federal Covid relief funds and work to add to or improve them by working in hand with parents, students, and teachers.
While standardized testing has its place, Sgro said, “There is nothing standard about how each child learns, and there is no straight-line approach to student progress.” He said he hopes to include more varied and hands-on learning assessments like projects, multimedia, and problem-solving challenges, and hopes to slow or speed up the pace of learning for each student on an individual need.
He said he would also work to cut back class sizes to enhance the learning environment, prohibit non-Valley Stream residents from attending the district’s schools to reduce overcrowding, and push for state-of-the-art school security systems.
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