Despite the Mineola School District having gone through much of it’s highly , the process still was a subject between incumbents , and challenger at the recent school board candidate debate April 30 at the .
When asked about what part of reconfiguration they would improve, Napolitano said that she wishes the discussion could have begun a year earlier.
“It was a a lot for people to absorb,” she said, “but we had a timeframe and a lot of hard work was done. I just think that if we had a little bit more time maybe some of the hard feelings could have been a little softened.”
McGrath stated that it seemed to him that the reconfiguration seemed to be done the same way it was 30 years ago, describing it as more painful for him since he was personally involved process. He said he “possibly” could have done something different but “I think we needed to go through that pain in order to get to the other side.”
Barnett, who is vying for McGrath’s seat despite the fact that Mineola’s voting rules take the top two candidates in the May 15 vote, cited the reconfiguration as a leaping off point from his candidacy and his formation of the PEACE organization to “educate the people searching for answers, get them involved in the process.”
He also cited his volunteer service in the district and the at the and the marching band trailer as two of his most visible contributions. “I can’t take all the credit for these things,” he said. “All I did was bring them all together, have them put aside their differences and work for one thing we all had in common: our children.”
With the closure of the set to complete the reconfiguration of the district, Napolitano stated that she was running to continue the “fine tuning of this process” of reconfiguration, especially with “educational rigor” that is coming in the next few years, particularly the core curriculum and certain educational standards the district wants students to achieve as some of the challenges the district is facing in the near future.
“I started this 3 years ago, I’d like to see it through,” she said. “and I’d really like to see the attention, as it has, being turned towards the educational rigor. I have always felt it an honor and a privilege to work with the parents and the children of this community. I take this role very seriously and with great pride. Do we have our challenges? Yes, of course and I promise I will continue to work hard towards finding solutions. But first and foremost, I am very proud of how this district has come and how much we all have to look forward to.”
McGrath named the district’s academic achievement, the 2 percent levy cap and cost containment in terms of union negotiations as the most pressing issues, saying that “the board is taking a heavy line on certainly no increases and we’re looking to get something back from our employees.”
Agreeing that the expired union contract that needs to be negotiated, Barnett stated that although he did not have much details aside from , he would be “interested to hear where we’re at, what the roadblocks are.” He also cited his experience as a negotiator with unions and tried to allay any fears about him not being impartial.
“As far as anyone would be worried that I would be biased, that wouldn’t be the case,” he said.
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Barnett, a retired FDNY firefighter, later went on to say that he felt in light of the 2 percent levy cap the district must now look at ways of protecting programs. “I certainly hope our programs are the last to go,” he said about the new limits. “Education’s not inexpensive. I don’t expect (taxpayers) to happily write a tax check and send it off but I want them to be confident that we’re not wasting a penny of what they send us.”
A series of softer questions were first lobbed at the candidates, including the role of a board member, if they would recommend the high school as a place to send students and their personal communication styles.
Napolitano, a resident of the district living in Williston Park since 1992, believed the role of a trustee is to facilitate communication with the community but also to hold teachers and administrators accountable while letting educators being able to do their job.
“It was clear to the board that serious decisions needed to be made to put this district on sound financial footing, all while keeping and improving our educational programs and goals,” she said, adding that “consensus and compromise are critical to being board members and though last year to process was grueling, the process is something I am most proud to say I was a part of.”
McGrath offered a more legal definition saying that board members’ capacity was almost “unlimited” in their capacity about bringing information back to other board members, administrators and the community.
The number one priority for the district McGrath said in his opening statement was to ensure that the district is “relentlessly focused on helping all our students reach their full potential,” as well as the “belief in the value of high expectations.”
He said that he was in the habit of keeping up to date on policies including cyberbullying, gang activity and teen suicide and felt the district must look at its salary chart as having a table with regular increases regardless of merit “just isn’t financially sustainable.”
Barnett believed that board members need to be “an advocate for our constituents” as they may not wish to go directly to administrators with issues.
He described his communication ability was at times “painfully honest” as he sometimes assumes a devil’s advocate in order to foster discussion but has “tried to tone that down” since retirement. Barnett tempered it saying he is “always willing to talk to anybody and hear their concerns. A lot of people appreciate that and a lot of people don’t.”
Napolitano focused on her one-on-one to discuss issues with parents. “I believe that I’m a good listener, I think that’s really important as a board member because often we all have our... own ideas,” she said, “we have our already preconceived notions about things and I really try to put those away when I speak to somebody.”
McGrath said he visited taking a tour concerning and asking questions “and that’s typically what I’m going to do in any situation” continuing “I like to think I listen. I know there’s people who might disagree but I like to think I listen.”
Several of the questions seemed to have an underlying focus on McGrath, particularly those posed about when a trustee should and the subject of wanting to be a board member in light of negative comments on social media sites.
McGrath, who has served on the board for the last 15 years, said that abstaining in his view was a “highly individualized” decision which would be made by a board member, citing the example of if a board member was “personally involved” with individuals or “conflicted” about a decision.
Barnett could only cite a personal conflict of interest of having a family member involved or if he did not have the necessary information, but would move to table the item. “I believe that as a board member you’re representing the entire community that put you there and your vote i their vote, you don’t want to disenfranchise them by stepping back and not taking any position at all,” he said.
Napolitano agreed that abstentions should only occur in absence of information or a family conflict, calling an abstention “unconscionable” if it “wasn’t something that I was comfortable with,” especially since information is made available the vast majority of times before a vote is held.
For Barnett, being elected was in his view the next step for him in his life of public service and volunteering. “I can’t think of any better way to give of my time than towards the community and towards the students,” he said.
Napolitano, a board member since 2009, spoke directly to comments made by McGrath on social media “that ,” she said. “One of the things that you will know about me is I’m very proud of this district. When I feel it’s appropriate as a board member I’m going to speak my mind about it. It wasn’t a negative; I hoped I turned a negative into a positive.”
McGrath said that he had not seen any negative comments on social media but that “we’re going in the wrong direction” in terms of student performance since 2007, saying the board’s focus had been on “sexual harassment lawsuits” and reconfiguration rather than student achievement and that he wishes to be a part of focusing on student achievement now.
Student achievement in the areas of special education and English as a second language (ESL) was also a sticking point as in Barnett’s view he believes “that this is an excellent (special education) program that we have here” compared with other districts while Napolitano believed the programs “will always be somewhat of a challenge” because of the coming in and then departing only to return in a later year. “I think we do a very good job with our special ed population; can we do better? Absolutely, we can always do better,” she said.
McGrath believed that strong pre-K and elementary programs were “key to ensuring that they are able to learn as closely as possible as students who don’t have those challenges,” adding that he hasn’t “been overwhelmed with complaints” from parents about the programs.
The new also “has its limitations” in McGrath’s as for several years students wont receive it and there are additional costs involved. “I think it’s something that we need to do, hoping that we will be able to do it; with the 2 percent levy cap, I don’t know, something may have to give,” he said.
Barnett felt that there would be an “automatic collaboration” between immersion and ESL students. “Certainly I think the younger you start in any form of education, these kids are like sponges,” he said. “I think at an early age they’re much more receptive to it and they learn much quicker.”
Napolitano cited the reaction of her daughter that is a high school senior and her disappointment that the program wasn’t around for her, not seeing “any negative in it.” She added that “as a board member I’m committed to it and I would like to see it continue” and that the board had held discussions with Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler about how to pay for the program.
One of the final discussions centered around the district’s reading scores and how to create a “community of readers and writers.”
McGrath said the district had established literacy programs. “I think the way we is our attempt to make that happen in more concentrated form,” he said, admitting it seemed to have time for children.
Having the understanding that the core curriculum would put more emphasis on English language arts, Barnett said that he would like students to be held more accountable “for what they’re putting to paper and not just in English,” but in science and history courses too, believing skills deteriorate with the use of acronyms in cell phone texting.
Napolitano believed making the k-2 buildings reading buildings was “fundamental” in instilling a “lifelong love” of reading and writing in students and that parents should be held accountable as well as teachers for reading development.