As the schools pull out of the pandemic, candidates in the Freeport Board of Education election can finally focus on non-Covid-related matters.
Election day is May 17, and two seats on the board are being contested. They are currently held by President Maria Jordan-Awalom and Vice President Gabriela Castillo.
Four people are running for the seats. The 48-year-old Jordan-Awalom is one. The other three are newcomers Jacques Butler, 54, Ben Jackson, 60, and Shuron Jackson, 23.
All four are graduates of Freeport High School.
The candidates detailed for the Herald the issues that motivated them to run. All four brought up school safety.
Jackson is president of Ben’s General Contracting Corp., a member of the village Zoning Board of Appeals, chairman of the Home Industry Board and president of the Chamber of Commerce.
We need to expand vocational schooling. We have a good BOCES shop program — I just think it should be expanded. When I went to school in Freeport, they used to have a metal shop, a plastics shop, an electronics shop. The students can make a great living. It’s what I do, and I love it, so I’m partial.
We should also give vocational students an education in basic accounting, management skills, contract law, so they know how to figure out pricing and overhead.
Butler is an operations manager for Verizon. He has led the Freeport PAL soccer teams, pre-K to age 19, for 12 years.
The future of our children is imperative, and I have a common bond close to the children through my PAL groups. A priority is making sure the children have the best available programs to continue to succeed. We need to make sure the budget is utilized properly across the board so the kids are given the best that’s offered, technology-wise and classroom-wise. We also need to teach life skills, because as these kids move on to college, many things that were always done for them, they’ll have to do themselves when they go away.
Jordan-Awalom, a full-time homemaker with two children at Freeport High School, was elected to the school board in 2019. She was recently honored as an Educational Partner by the Nassau BOCES Educational Foundation.
I want to continue some projects that barely got started when we got hit with Covid during my first term on the school board. We’ve completed a number of capital projects in spite of Covid, like updating air conditioning and ventilation units across the district. We’ve budgeted to create a position for a director of equity and inclusion to work with our staff and create that culturally responsible atmosphere amongst everyone. And I want to continue developing partnerships like the ones we’ve formed with Adelphi, the Cradle of Aviation, and Northwell Health/Cohen Children’s Medical Center. … I know I can do so much more as a school board member.
Jackson teaches fifth-grade English at Leadership Prep Bed-Stuy Middle Academy in Brooklyn. He is completing a master’s degree in education.
I’m running because it’s important that we have diversity of thought on the school board. We serve a very diverse population, from [English as a New Language] students to students with neuro diversity. It’s important that we have the resources in place to support them. I also want to make sure that we’re making students aware of all the career opportunities out there, not just on the end of college,
but in the technical aspect as well.
BEN JACKSON: There is violence in our schools. We need to mesh with the Freeport police to assist with Freeport’s community affairs, not to lock people up or arrest people, but to stop things before they happen. We also have the Adopt-a-Cop program for the lower grades — maybe we need to expand it to junior high and high school.
JACQUES BUTLER: Kids fight in school — we get it — but the classroom should be a safe harbor. We need to make sure we have certified and trained security personnel that know how to de-escalate situations. And I understand that if a person takes a security job at minimum wage, they’re going to give us minimum service. As a school board, we need to make sure that we’re paying for quality service.
MARIA JORDAN-AWALOM: Safety in our schools has always been a priority. The effects of Covid on mental health are higher. I sit on a Nassau County Police council, with Commissioner Patrick Ryder. This is something that’s going on nationwide. Most of these fights have been boyfriend-girlfriend situations, but I think seeing our students as a whole, what’s going on at home — any traumas going on at home — is all part of their safety. Also, hiring new guidance counselors, which is part of this budget, and hiring security officers.
SHURON JACKSON: My take is that it’s important to have partnerships between teachers and students. Also, providing counseling services and follow-up. If a student is suspended for a few days, when that student comes back in, checking in on them, letting them know that they can bounce back, still be the best that they can be.