There are three candidates running for two open spots on the North Shore Central School District Board of Education. Incumbent Richard Galati is hoping to serve a second term on the board, while newcomers Andrea Macari and Robert Mazzella are campaigning to join the board for the first time.
Trustee Joanna Commander has decided not to run for re-election after serving for six years.
Ballots for the vote on the district’s $110.3 million 2020-21 budget, and the school board election, were sent out May 22, and must be returned to the district office by June 9.
Questions for the candidates
Herald Gazette: What would you do to make sure the district recovers fully from the coronavirus pandemic?
Galati: First and foremost, we have to make sure our students continue to get a quality education, and we need to plan in advance for the unknown. We need to look into more long-term planning and be ready to go on the spot, as opposed to working our way through it as it progresses. We need to look more seriously at what alternatives we have in terms of a return to classes, keeping social distancing in mind, controlling the flow of students and looking out for students in the elementary level on the playgrounds. I think the health of the students is of utmost importance, without sacrificing their educational experience.
Macari: I would use my unique set of qualifications as both a clinical psychologist and a professor who teaches using distance-learning platforms to help our students recover. It is essential that we provide academic remediation to students whose skills might have regressed, and it’s essential that we provide emotional support to children who might be traumatized by this ordeal.
Mazzella: In September, my main concern would be that there was enough time spent reviewing the material that’s foundational from the fourth quarter of this year, with a special concentration in subjects that build foundationally from year to year. My biggest concern is that students are prepared to go to next year’s materials.
Herald Gazette: How do you feel about the district’s current budget-building process, and what would you do to improve it?
Macari: As a board member, you always listen to all members of the community and hear all sides of what stakeholders have to say. It’s important that the school board keep their channels open in terms of communication, and make every effort to be transparent. If we’re going to protect our schools, community members need to feel that they can trust school board members and can trust the administrators in our school.
Mazzella: They do a good job with the budget. They’ve made some changes over the last 10 years to make it easier for the public to understand, and it is all accessible online. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for [Olivia Buatsi], the assistant superintendent for business, as she’s extremely knowledgeable.
Galati: I think the district’s current budget-building process is sound. We try to start from a zero-based budget perspective, and teachers are given questionnaires in the fall asking what projected needs they would have for the following school year. Those ultimately go to mid-level administrators [and] to building level, and finally the central office. Teachers err on the side of trying to make sure they have ample supplies, and that’s why the oversight has to come afterward, in terms of tailoring down what it is the requests come in for.
Herald Gazette: What suggestions do you have when it comes to ensuring that students develop a lifelong love of learning and creativity?
Mazzella: The biggest way to encourage that type of behavior is to not put an extreme amount of pressure on children, especially at the younger ages. The more you focus on the social-emotional side of learning, the better. If you could engage children in learning that’s fun and interactive, their passions are going to be encouraged and praised, making them enjoy learning more.
Galati: My emphasis is academic excellence. We need to provide the best programs academically for all of our students at the top level, as well as some of the students who struggle with traditional schooling. We really need to have a stronger emphasis on individual reading because as time has passed, that piece seems to have really started to erode a little.
Macari: Research is overwhelmingly clear that strong academic programs must integrate social and emotional learning. When we’re focused on looking at curriculums that are developmentally appropriate and involve experiential learning, we’re focusing children on sort of the big picture of what it means to be a lifelong learner versus being a good test taker.
Herald Gazette: How do you think our teachers should be evaluated?
Galati: I’m not in favor of tying an evaluation to standardized tests. I think more open and interactive dealings between middle- level administrators and faculty, and promoting more collegial-type opportunities, would be a good thing to do. Evaluations should be tied to in-person observations from administrators based on teachers’ performance in the classroom.
Macari: I believe the best teachers are those who utilize whole child education philosophy, allowing their classroom to be a safe place for the child. Students are then going to be more likely to take academic risks, and a child who’s engaged in the classroom and feels connected to their teacher is always going to learn best. Principal observations hold more weight, and other local assessments are better measures of teacher performance than the state exams.
Mazzella: I don’t believe in evaluating teachers based upon standardized test grades. I think classroom observation is probably one of the best ways to evaluate a teacher. That, to me, presents probably the best picture of what approaches the teacher takes in a classroom.
Herald Gazette: What are you going to give our children if elected/re-elected to the school board?
Macari: My goal is to really raise student achievement by helping to advocate for the needs of special-education students, the needs of gifted students and the needs of the average student to provide them a wealth of opportunities outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom.
Mazzella: I’m going to give them someone who cares. We have a $110 million budget, and I would love it if all of it goes to programs that will benefit the children. I want as much money being spent productively on creating as wonderful an experience as possible for our children.
Galati: I’ve given my heart and soul to this district, and I’m going to continue to work tirelessly to try and make sure that our students get the best educational experience they possibly can within the constraints a reasonable budget. It’s important for us to continue to keep strong programs both in and out of the classroom.