A challenger emerges: two vie for Oceanside Board of Education seat

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As the election for an open seat on the Oceanside Board of Education approaches, two contenders are vying for the seat of board President Kimberly Grim Garrity, who will retire after 21 years as a board trustee on July 1. Either Stuart Kaplan, a professor at Nassau Community College, or Charles Lyon, a sales representative at Richner Communications, will take her place.

The educator

Kaplan earned a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Cortland and a master’s at Hofstra University. He is the father of two daughters currently attending Oceanside schools and has been involved in the district’s PTA. He said he has attended nearly every school board meeting over the past few years. Aside from teaching full-time at NCC for 23 years, Kaplan is also the chairman of its Mathematics, Computer Science and Information Technology Department.

“These students became my students,” Kaplan said, noting the large number of Oceanside High School students who go on to attend NCC. He said he has both a personal and professional interest in becoming a trustee. Kaplan said he wants to use his experience to “make a better district,” which includes making a priority of maintaining and growing opportunities within state-mandated budgetary restrictions. He also plans to continue the discussion on safety and security, a hot topic across the country in the wake of the February Parkland, Fla., shooting, and to bring more attention to mental health issues. “People in the district are who [these students] turn to,” Kaplan said, noting the importance of taking care of the district’s children by keeping mental health programs running and making them accessible.

Curriculum is also on Kaplan’s agenda. “I’m a curriculum guy,” he said. He has been a chairman of the college-wide curriculum committee at NCC, where he and his colleagues revised almost every degree to comply with the State University of New York mandates. Kaplan said he believes college and career readiness is essential for high school students, noting that he “knows what’s next.” He concluded, “I’m an educator. I believe in education. It’s what I do for a living.”

Kaplan declined to comment on his opponent, saying he did not know enough about Lyon.

The salesman

Lyon was born and raised in Oceanside, attended School No. 3, the old junior high school on Merle Avenue, and graduated from Oceanside High School in 1982. He earned a degree in public communications from Syracuse University. His mother, Anna Lyon, was a business manager for the school district in the 1990s.

Lyon has no experience in education, but he said that he sees his lack of background in the field as a positive. “[The board] needs someone who will benefit the community at large,” he said, adding that the board’s duty is to serve the neighborhood, especially the students, and not the administration. He said he believes his experience in sales and marketing are vital. “It’s important for the schools to market what they do and communicate that to the community,” he said.

Lyon added that Oceanside residents have told him that they feel they are being left in the dark about school matters. He also said that many students are “falling through the cracks.” Despite the school district’s generally good standing, he said he believes there are too many students ignored under the current system. He said he would focus heavily on students’ needs and developing programs for them.

Lastly, Lyon said he believes there is currently a negative impression of the board in the community. He said he would like to bolster accountability and make operations more transparent, noting, “Only the good things are told” to residents, and adding, “Things are not as good as they seem.”

“The board is not supposed to be a spokesperson for the school,” Lyon said. “They’re supposed to represent the community.”

Lyon said that seeing Kaplan initially run unopposed sparked his decision to enter the race. He acknowledged that Kaplan is well groomed for the role, and that his own lack of an educational background could hurt him. Still, he believes that he would serve the community well.

“Education is certainly a major factor, but might not be a determining one,” said Herb Pitkowsky, a resident who is active in Oceanside school affairs. “[It is] always good to have fresh blood circulating through.”

He added that new perspectives and viewpoints are great. Pitkowsky has worked with Kaplan on the buildings and grounds committee, and described him as “capable” and “competent.” He added that Lyon “doesn’t have name recognition,” but he looks forward to hearing from him and is intrigued with how someone with a business background would fit on the board.

Pitkowsky noted that there is a small margin with these elections and that a handful of votes could be the deciding factor.

In addition to Kaplan and Lyon, school board Trustee Seth Blau is running unopposed for his seat.