The Rockville Centre Council of Parent Teacher Associations hosted a candidates forum on May 4, at which four candidates vying for two open seats on the Board of Education fielded questions from the public.
Newcomers Nancy Turnblacer and Erika Messier are challenging incumbents Kelly Barry and Liz Dion, who are both seeking re-election. The three-year terms will begin July 1. The election and budget vote will be held next Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the main gym at South Side High School, at 140 Shepherd St.
“This has been a difficult year for all of our families,” Laura Burns, co-president of the RVC Council of PTAs, said at the forum. “Our children have faced unprecedented challenges, whether they were in school in person, remotely or a mix of both. We’re proud to say that PTA rose to that challenge.”
Representatives of the League of Women Voters introduced the candidates before each gave their opening statements and discussed why they chose to run for a seat on the school board.
Turnblacer, who has three children in the district, was the first one up to bat. She said she decided to run because she cares about children and believes the community needs a fresh perspective on the school board, adding that she was concerned about transparency and the perceived lack of community partnership with the district.
There were “times when parents, including myself, have felt their voices on important topics have been ignored,” Turnblacer said.
She is drawn to public service, she added, noting her 14 years working for the Federal Trade Commission, where she asked questions that helped consumers.
“I believe now is the time to be exploring all the doors of opportunities for our kids, to prioritize conducting business in a transparent manner,” she said, “and define ways to strengthen our district’s reputation to the place it deserves to be.”
Because South Side High School recently fell out of the rankings of the top 100 high schools in New York, Turnblacer said, she would like to figure out how to improve that.
“Rankings don’t tell the full story,” she said, “but they do drive home values and they are an indicator of how our schools are educating our students . . . We have a strong foundation with a committed community that clearly values education — we must continually improve and evolve.”
Barry, whose children also attend RVC schools, said she decided to run for a seat three years ago, while serving as co-president of the Watson PTA, because she believed she could offer important insights and contributions to the district.
“My love for this community and my passion for public education were why I decided to run three years ago,” she said. “They remain the reasons I sit here tonight seeking re-election.”
Barry said that her experience as an educator brings an important lens to the work. She is the International Baccalaureate coordinator and a social studies teacher at Hauppauge High School, where she has worked for 20 years.
Barry noted the changes that have taken place in Rockville Centre over the past three years, including the welcoming of a new superintendent, the installation of new administrators and the adjustments made because of the coronavirus pandemic. “That is why it is important to have steadiness, calm, consistency and stability in the midst of so much change,” she said, adding that her priority is to finish out the year strong and support students academically, socially and emotionally.
Dion, whose children are South Side High School graduates, said she comes from a family of education advocates, and is passionate about the school district doing the right thing for all of its children.
She became a PTA president at Watson and, 12 years ago, when the Board of Education proposed that the district close an elementary school, she ran for a seat.
“During my six years as board president,” Dion said, “I shepherded a $46 million bond, which included expanding our high school, districtwide building improvements and upgrades to our athletic facilities. I have always kept you, the taxpayer, in the forefront of our planning. Our budget has always remained below the tax cap.”
Dion, who works as an information technology consultant, said she regularly attends board conferences and workshops to educate herself and the board on current topics and best practices. “For the past three years,” she said, “I’ve served on the Nassau Suffolk Executive School Board, an organization which brings together school boards across Long Island to learn from each other and lobby for educational priorities.”
Messier, who also has children in the district, said she built her campaign for the school board around four words: parent, educator, advocate and leader.
After moving to Rockville Centre in 2003, she began her teaching career at Garden City Middle School. During her 17-year tenure in the Garden City school district, she has taught social studies, coached varsity athletics and served on a number of committees designed to evaluate and improve programs to reflect best practices.
Messier added that she is actively involved in the PTA, currently serving as co-president of the Covert PTA.
“This past summer I served on the Garden City school district’s reopening committee,” she said, “working with parents, staff and district administration to craft a reopening plan that best met the needs of the students while keeping all students and staff members safe.”
Messier said she planned to bring her expertise as an educator to the board and focus on equity. “My focus as a candidate for the Board of Education is rooted in furthering our children’s academic experience,” she said, “by advocating for and advancing shifts in curriculum and programming that will continue to help ensure a fair, appropriate and above all equitable education for all students.”
To view the full recording of the PTA Candidates Forum, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf_Xg1PBN-U&ab_channel=RockvilleCentre.