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Freeport Board of Education Election Candidates

Five candidates vie for two seats in Freeport Public Schools election

Posted
The Nassau County Region PTA moderate a "Meet the Candidates" forum at J.W. Dodd Middle School on May 1. Candidates, from left Tanyira Taylor, Jeremy Impellizeri, Sophia Johnson, Gabriela Castillo and Maria Jordan-Awalom answered community questions and concerns collected and asked by Kimberly Bell, far right.
The Nassau County Region PTA moderate a "Meet the Candidates" forum at J.W. Dodd Middle School on May 1. Candidates, from left Tanyira Taylor, Jeremy Impellizeri, Sophia Johnson, Gabriela Castillo and Maria Jordan-Awalom answered community questions and concerns collected and asked by Kimberly Bell, far right.
Nadya Nataly/Herald

Updated: Monday, May 19 at 3:40 p.m. — One of the candidates' questions showed an incorrect answer. The candidate's correct response has been updated and reflects below. We apologize for the errors.

Freeporters will head to the polls on May 21 to elect two new Board of Education trustees. This year’s election leaves open two seats as the president of the Board of Education, Michael Pomerico and the vice president, Anthony Miller, announced early in the year that they would not run for reelection. With two open seats five potential candidates have stepped forward and are running for the board.
Among those running are Maria Jordan-Awalom. Awlom is known for her role as the Freeport Public Schools PTA president, but has also been extensively involved in the NCPD Commissioners Community Council where she serves as the chair for Legislative District 5. She also serves on the Freeport Educational Foundation’s fundraising committee and a member of Freeport Cares. Running alongside Jordan-Awalom is attorney-at-law Gabriela Castillo who was appointed by County Executive Laura Curran as the Executive Director of CASA, Nassau County’s Office of Hispanic Affairs where she oversees the agency that serves as the liaison between County government and the Hispanic community.
The village of Freeport public relations director, Sophia Johnson is also running for one of the seats. She is also known for her involvement with the Freeport-Roosevelt NAACP where she serves as the public relations chairwoman.
Freeport High School alumni Jeremy Impellizeri, who is the Village of Freeport’s environment commissioner, and Tanyria Taylor, owner of Boss Babies, are also vying for the seats. The budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 21.

Freeport Public Schools Board of Education Candidates

Sophia Johnson
Age: 47
Married with  children
Education: Honors Business Administration from Trios College

Why are you running for the Board of Education? Because I was encouraged to run by several prominent Freeport parents who’ve personally confided in me for the last few years. They were seeking help or comfort regarding their struggles in our school district. In my role as the Village of Freeport public relations representative, I have the privilege to be available to listen to complaints and praises regarding the most important contributors that impact our quality of life — our government and our school district.

Having my hands tied from trying to achieve positive impactful changes for our school district from the “outside” is why I decided to run. My goal is to work with our community, superintendent, faculty, administrators and PTA in order to foster a culture of inclusion to spur a more cohesive approach to ensuring individualized student success.
 
If elected what are your priorities for the district? 
My first priority is to conduct a thorough review the entire 2019-20 budget with a fact-based cross-reference of the expenditures. My primary objective is to establish an accessible and transparent community engagement platform to annually highlight the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for our district. My overall priority is to utilize the budget and to work with the community in order to understand student development and improve their achievement.

Do you support a student’s right to opt out of standardized testing? 
Absolutely, even though this poses a funding determinant for the school district. Unfortunately, for the district and the community, we are trapped in a “Catch 22, “ juxtaposed to doing what is best for the children. The “teach for the test” learning environment isn’t working for a number of Freeporters who have opted out and the school district could face losing or gaining state funding based on the statistics gathered from the students who opt-in. Because of this, an accurate assessment that “needs based” funding is contingent upon, could be over or understated. Unfortunately, the impact on each position could inadvertently have a detrimental effect. Nonetheless, I fully support a parent or caregivers right to opt-out.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Freeport Public Schools?
In my opinion, I sincerely believe that equity among our students, who have access to extracurricular activities, competitions, and scholarships, needs significant improvement. I also believe that our superintendent is relatively disengaged from our community and his not being directly accountable to caregivers and parents must change. In addition, I also believe that the most important responsibility of our school board, working with our community to improve student achievement, is severely lacking.

What are you thoughts and opinions on the 2019-20 school budget?
Even though they’ve successfully accomplished a zero-tax increase, only the expenditures were distributed for my review. Reviewing the districts revenues and grant funding is necessary to determine if allocations are distributed well. Expenditures for capital projects/improvements would require an actual walkthrough in order for me to determine if they are justified.

Maria Jordan Awalom
Age: 45
Married with children
Education: Bachelor of Arts from CUNY Queens College; Freeport High School alumna, class of 1992

Why are you running for the Board of Education? I am running for Freeport Board of Education because I know I can be an asset to the school board. Being involved for so many years and always being present has prepared me and put me in the perfect position to run for BOE. I want to continue advocating for all our Freeport children and families and I know I can do so much more as a school board member.

If elected what are your priorities for the district?
My priorities are to be able to work on programs that will meet the needs of all the Freeport students. We need bilingual education for our newcomers. We need more when it comes to mental health. We need health classes started at an elementary level.  Bring transparency and eliminate any barriers to important discussions to empower parents, teachers and students.

Do you support a student’s right to opt out of standardized testing?
I do not support a student choosing to opt out without a parent’s decision to optout. I do support that it’s a parent’s choice, if they believe their child should be tested or not. Every child is different and learns differently.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Freeport Public Schools?
We have a school district that offers all our students an opportunity. A school district working hard every day for the success of the students. We have students who are eager to succeed. We have a community who wants the best for all our children. We must continue on this path to success and work together to ensure that our children are given all the best opportunities they deserve.  From our outstanding music and arts programs, athletic programs and academic programs, we are a school district with so much to offer. Every school district faces some difficult challenges, but we also face many of the same. We must always choose to work together to address any issues we come across.

What are you thoughts and opinions on the 2019-20 school budget?
I fully support the 2019-20 school budget. I am thankful for all the hard work that our school board, superintendent and administrators have done. The tax levy has been decreased for five consecutive years with a decrease of 0.12 percent for the 2019-20 school year. The budget continues to support programs to prepare students for college, career and life readiness. Being a part of the budget workshops through the years has helped me understand the process and appreciate how much our school board and our administration does with the budget and the funding we have.  Freeport spends less per pupil and collects less in tax levy per pupil than the average school district in Nassau County. Thanks to all their hard work all our programs continue to expand.

Tanyria Taylor
Age: 27
One child
Education: Associate degree in science from Nassau Community College and a bachelor’s in social work from Adelphi University;
Freeport High School alumna class of 2010

Why are you running for the Board of Education?I am running to reduce the focus on testing, reduce classroom sizes, increase guidance and counseling, and add a meaningful curriculum. I am running to be the voice of the community and not a voice of my own biases. I am running to advocate for our fair share of funding but also to make certain that our money is properly spent well.

If elected what are you priorities for the district?
Lower taxes; getting our fair share of state funding; nutritional meals; increase in guidance and counseling; reducing classroom size and so much more.

Do you support a student’s right to opt out of standardized testing?
Absolutely. Parents have the right to choose what’s best for their child. These tests create unnecessary anxiety in parents and students as well as take up a lot of classroom time. The tests isn’t measuring skills such as creativity, critical thinking or problem solving. Studies have shown that these test have yet to accurately measure a students knowledge. I support the opt out movement.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Freeport Public Schools?
We are fortunate in the Freeport School District to have many great staff members. A few community concerns would be the nutrition for the students, timely information on what’s going on with their children, mental/emotional support with counselors and homework load.

What are your thoughts and opinions on the 2019-20 school budget?
My thoughts on the budget would be that we have to do more to fight for our fair share and ensure that our voices are being heard.


Gabriela  Castillo

Age: 39
Married with children
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Molloy College; law degree from Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center. Licensed to practice law in New York and North Carolina.

Freeport High School alumna, class of 1998

Why are you running for the Board of Education? I am running for the BOE because I believe in fair and inclusive representation, and as a parent with the children currently in the district, I feel we have not had that representation for many years now.  It is time that changes. The decisions we make as parents when it comes to the educational needs of our children are done so diligently, without any political agenda, or to serve any special interests.  Those decisions are carefully thought out and are done with the purest of intentions because the most important individuals in our lives will depend on those decisions.

If elected what are your priorities for the district?
I am fully invested in ensuring that each stakeholder is heard that means our teachers and our youth who are often overlooked.  I am also eager to begin to see our fair share of funding begin to make its way to our district.  We cannot alleviate some of the deficiencies or even begin to address the inadequacies and inequitable state of our public education system without funding to meet our needs.  With an engaged community, we can begin to advocate effectively to take on the monumental task at hand, which is to bring funding, so that we are not wholly dependent on our property taxes — an already unsustainable and inequitable way of funding our children’s education. 

We need to address the inadequate resources teachers are dealing with to respond to the yearly challenges they face, ranging from overcrowded classrooms to dealing with trauma that many of our children are dealing with.  We have a caring administration and dedicated staff, but I think we need to think outside of the educational box in how we begin to transform our district to meet the needs of all our students and their families. 

Do you support a student’s right to opt out of standardized testing?
Yes, I support a student and their parent’s decision to opt out of standardized testing.  Until we reach a comprehensive and more accurate means of assessing our students, districts and teachers, this is the consequence.  I fully support a family to decide what they believe is in the best interest of their children, but I do believe we all need to have both positions on this issue made readily accessible to our families in order to empower them to make that choice.  As a parent faced with making that choice this year, I know it can be overwhelming, and ultimately my husband and I made our decision. It continues to become increasingly difficult to support in good faith a system that continues to devote my child’s learning time to nothing but test prep without really fueling our children’s desire to fully engage and where other challenges facing our district are not considered.   We are more than numbers.

What are your thoughts on the on the current state of Freeport Public Schools?
Like all other public school districts around our nation, we find ourselves in challenging times.  The district is doing a good job with the limitations they are constantly faced with; however, we must also acknowledge that we need to have broader and real conversations on the state of public education in our state and the inequities in everything from how it is funded to the disparate outcomes in largely communities of color.  We need to address the inadequate resources teachers are dealing with to respond to the yearly challenges they face, ranging from overcrowded classrooms to dealing with trauma that many of our children are dealing with.  We have a caring administration and dedicated staff, but I think we need to think outside of the educational box in how we begin to transform our district to meet the needs of all our students and their families.

What are you thoughts and opinions on the 2019-20 school budget?
Given the difficulties school boards must grapple with each year when working on budgets, I am overall happy.  I appreciate the board and administration working diligently to deliver another budget within the tax cap, not eliminating any critical programs or positions.


Jeremy Impellizeri
Age: 28
Education: Bachelors of Business Administration from Hofstra University;
Freeport High School alumnus Class of 2008

Why are you running for the Board of Education? To bring fresh ideas from someone who has recently experienced our system.  I am a stake holder who plans to continue my family’s roots in the community and start a family here.  I have wanted to run for over 10 years, but now I feel I have the right experiences, knowledge, and support to do so.

If elected what are your priorities for the district?

Get our fair share of funding and provide a voice for the students and teachers.  We need board members who are more than just friends to the school administration.  We need ones who are involved in the process and listen to all stake holders.  I think committees should be formed for all decisions so teachers parents and students all have a say. Funding is so vital to keeping a sound budget each year so continuing the push for it is and should be first priority. 

Do you support a student’s right to opt out of standardized testing?
Absolutely!  Learning should be the priority.  I remember getting into so many healthy debates and discussions in classes, but always getting to a point where the teacher had to “table” the question for after class or after school because we were behind in preparation for exams.  If learning is happening, students are engaged and interested, why should it be stopped?  The state should have a minimum standard, that ensures we are learning and comprehend the basics, not set the control. They should not be allowed to completely control what is learned because all it turns into is memorization which is not retention. Parents and students deserve the support of the district and community to opt out. The burden for funding should not and cannot be placed on the most vulnerable and powerless.  Our kids deserve better.

What are your thoughts on the on the current state of Freeport Public Schools?
I think we are in a great place and moving in the right direction.  I think there are plenty of opportunities but it is my belief that with a different perspective those can be fixed to continue our growth forward.

What are you thoughts and opinions on the 2019-20 school budget?
I think, considering our lack of deserved funding from the state, the budget is sound and well thought out.  I think there is always room for improvement when looking at where cuts can be made.

Correction: In the Freeport Public Schools Board of Education (May 9-15), one of the two pages of candidate profiles was incorrectly printed twice. We regret the errors.