Meet your Board of Education candidates


The West Hempstead school district is preparing for the upcoming Board of Education election next Tuesday, May 21. Two seats are contested — incumbents Kurt Rockensies, the vice president of the board, and Andrea Shinsato, a board trustee, are being challenged by newcomers Rachel Kushner and Aaron Zelig.

Kurt Rockensies

Kurt Rockensies, 30, has lived in West Hempstead all his life and has been on the Board of Education for three years. He is the deputy commissioner and fiscal manager of Occupational Resources for the Town of Hempstead, and says his experience managing federal grants and budgets is an asset to the board.

“As an alumnus of West Hempstead High School, I wanted to ensure all students of the district had the same opportunities I did,” Rockensies said.

As a trustee, he’s been proud of working with high school administration to highlight more workforce development opportunities; speaking at the college preparedness night to make families aware of the services and agencies available to them; and attending the college fair, where he talked to students about the youth programs and the opportunities the HempsteadWorks Career Center has. 

“To make sure our district succeeds, we need community support,” Rockensies said. “Making sure all residents of our community feel welcomed and involved in our schools; ensuring that students in middle school and high school are taking full advantage of college credit courses and electives; bringing more workforce development opportunities to all students of the district. 

“This includes community job fairs, discovering career opportunities, learning about industries they didn’t know about,” he added. “Promoting the trades to all students in the district who aren’t interested in going to college.”

Andrea Shinsato

Andrea Shinsato, 49, has lived in West Hempstead for more than 20 years and has been a trustee of the board for 9 years. Both her children attended West Hempstead public schools, and her younger child later transferred to private school. She is a case coordinator, where she protects children involved in neglect and abuse cases. She joined the board after serving as secretary, then president, of the West Hempstead PTA.

“As a parent, I felt having that representation was vital when making decisions that would affect our students and the district as a whole,” Shinsato said. “My true passion is advocating, and in this position I am able to advocate for our kids, for better resources, equity and quality education. I believe with advocates that truly support all our students, West Hempstead can continue to be a diverse and strong community.”

As a trustee, she’s been proud of participating in the food distribution program during the Covid-19 pandemic, and of supporting bonds and then seeing them become real school improvements like updated classrooms, science labs, safety measures and field spaces.

“Our graduation rate has jumped to an impressive 95 percent over the course of my tenure,” Shinsato said. “Our ENL students are excelling, our test scores are consistently improving. The goals and expectations our BOE have set are showing to have a definitively positive impact on our students.”

If reelected, Shinsato would continue to advocate for earlier college planning. She would also continue to push for pathways after high school that are alternatives to college, like work, trades and internships. 

Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner, 52, has lived in West Hempstead for more than 20 years. She is a dermatologist and specialized skin cancer surgeon with offices in Franklin Square and Farmingdale. Her five children all attended the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in West Hempstead, and three have since graduated.

For 11 years Kushner has been on the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County's board of trustees, serving as trustee and then president of the board. Her experience as president of HANC’s board of trustees would directly inform her work as a member of the West Hempstead board of education if she is elected, she said.

Her goals on the board include “promoting better communication and collaboration amongst all West Hempstead community members and the board,” she said, “And ultimately work towards providing an excellent education to all of our West Hempstead children in the district.”

Kushner currently hosts several students in her dermatology practice, which exposes them to the health care field, she said. If elected to the board, she would similarly focus on real-world career readiness for West Hempstead students.

“I would like to expand the mentoring we provide to our high school students,” Kushner said, “In exposing them to different professional fields that they can pursue after they complete their schooling.”

Aaron Zelig

Aaron Zelig, 44, has lived in West Hempstead for 10 years. His four children attend private school in West Hempstead. Zelig has attended nearly every board of education meeting in the past three years, with his questions and initiatives leading to positive changes for children and families throughout the district, he said.

His more than 20 years of experience in operations would be an asset to the board — especially as the West Hempstead school district, like so many others,is under financial pressure, Zelig said.

“I am confident we can provide the best 21st century education for all students,” Zelig said, “And improve programming while also keeping taxes affordable.”

If elected, Zelig’s priorities include bringing air conditioning into the remaining buildings and common areas; allowing residents attending board meetings remotely to ask questions, an option that the board removed this year; removing policies that limit community and parent involvement in the schools; and bringing more grants that he can help secure for the West Hempstead school district.

“I work collaboratively,” Zelig said. “And if I have the honor of being elected I will bring new, fresh ideas to a board that is in need of change. Our district can’t afford to continue as a fractured board, and I know I can work with all of the board members to try to bring unity.”