Next week, four candidates will vie for two open seats on the Merrick Board of Education.
Incumbent Gina Piskin, a trustee for 15 years, is up for re-election. Aside from serving on the Merrick school board, she is also a trustee on the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District board. An additional seat, previously held by Sigal Negrin, is also open. Negrin resigned last September, according to Merrick’s district clerk.
First-time candidate Jennifer Schatzman is part of the general counsel and senior leadership at Omnicom Health, a health care communications network. Tara Casimano is an occupational therapist, educator and business owner who has a Ph.D. in health science research. Jessica Mack, who is running with Casimano, has worked in the public school system for nearly two decades, and holds a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy. All three newcomers have children who have graduated from or are still students in Merrick schools.
Ahead of the election, which will take place next Tuesday, the Herald asked the candidates about their goals and the issues facing the district.
For more information on the candidates, go to liherald.com/merrick.
Herald: Why did you decide to run (or run again) for the Board of Education?
Piskin: I have chosen to re-run for the Merrick School Board, after 15 years of service, because the challenging times our children and parents have had to adapt to warrant a dedicated, fiscally responsible, proven board member. As we start to see a return to normalcy, the future is bright and continues to require work from the whole community. I believe my contribution and accomplishments, as a trustee, will further implement the mission statement of the Merrick school Board.
Schatzman: I moved to Merrick when my son was an infant because of the exceptional school district. I decided to run because I want to be a part of the growth of this community and the continued enhancement of the educational opportunities that drew me here, and there is no better time to begin that journey than at the beginning of my son’s school career. I am the only candidate who will have a child in the elementary schools this Fall. As a parent and community member, I have a vested, long-term interest in lending my time to all children and residents. I bring a fresh voice, with a varied perspective having lived in several different cities and communities, but share Long Island roots. Combined with my professional experience, I believe that, if elected, I will be a positive voice connecting us through shared values.
Casimano: My life has always been focused on service and helping others. I have decided to run for the Merrick Board of Education as its time for innovative ideas and new leaders that are connected to the community. Over the past 2 years our community, and the entire world, has gone through some challenging times; the gap in education equity has grown, the literacy rate has dropped, social isolation and depression especially in children has increased. I feel that by collaborating with other trustees, administration, teachers and of course the community I can help get the children back on track. I love this community; my family has called Merrick our home for the past 26 years and the time just seems right for me to run. I have a valuable voice to add to the conversation. I want to be the trustee I wish I had.
Mack: I am passionate about creating partnerships in education. My husband, Joshua, and I have an eleven year old daughter, Calleigh, who attends Chatterton elementary school. As a former educator, as a former clinician, and as a parent and taxpayer, I believe that parental involvement, parental engagement, and parental partnership is of utmost importance in education. I am aware of the critical issues facing Merrick UFSD, as I participated as a member of: the district safety committee, the district re-opening committee, district interview committees, and as a participant in: monthly president/superintendent meetings, and school board public meetings. I will ask that the board allow for public viewing of the decision-making processes, so that parents/taxpayers will be informed and engaged. I enjoy serving our community -- I will collaborate with the other trustees and will maintain transparency. I will be sure to maintain professionalism while respecting, valuing, and encouraging collaboration with parents and staff.
Herald: What are the main goals and issues you wish to address if you are elected?
Piskin: My main objective, as a trustee, will be to continue focusing on the quality education provided by the Merrick School District. I recognize that the needs and nature of our schools, post pandemic, are extremely different than in the past. It is important to me that we concentrate on the Social Emotional Learning as well as keeping abreast of the constantly demand of STEAM. I believe that communication with parents and residents is very important and will make it a priority. I am proud that I have been part of the Merrick School District and its high standards and maverick approach to education.
Schatzman: If elected I would focus on community unity, new opportunities for productive and transparent dialogue between all constituents and the Board, and building upon our foundation of educational excellence through enhanced programming. Merrick is at our strongest when we are united behind our children and have their best interests at the heart of all Board decisions. I believe that we share core beliefs as a community and would work to re-focus on those shared values, rather than matters that seemingly divide us. I would continue the Board’s efforts to be transparent with all residents about matters of concern, and look for new ways to increase parents’ and community members’ access to information related to the decision-making process. Finally, rather than change the foundations of our districts’ educational and extra-curricular offerings, I would advocate for forward-thinking expansion of existing programs such as STEAM and dual language, bringing them to our youngest students.
Casimano: I believe parents should be involved in the education of their children. Parents should feel valued and heard; I believe all individuals should be treated equally with kindness. I will be a responsive and respectful leader. Specifically, I would like to address literacy in the Merrick schools, until every child is able to read our school is failing. Reading is the foundation to learning and needs to be thoroughly assessed, documented, and dynamically addressed in the curriculum. Additionally, I would like to support appropriate professional development training for teachers so they can become certified in new emerging programs that enrich learning through multisensory methods. I want to encourage a healthy school district culture for work and learning where all voices are heard and valued.
Mack: I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy, a Master of Science degree in School Counseling, a post-graduate certification in Educational Leadership and Policy, and a Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. I worked for a public school system for close to two decades, and I understand the “inner workings” of a school district from both the perspective of a school employee, as well as from the perspective of a parent/taxpayer. The children and parents of Merrick deserve the best that the district has to offer-I will continue to ask the difficult questions, and I will ensure that community members receive timely, thorough, and transparent responses to their sincere questions.
Herald: Why do you feel you are qualified for the position you are running for?
Piskin: For the past 20+ years, I have been actively engaged in the Merrick schools. While my three sons attended Lakeside school, I was a member of the PTA, and ultimately was the president. Since 2007, I have been a trustee on the Merrick Board of Education and served as president. I have been a trustee of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District Board of Education and served as the president there as well. I believe I am uniquely qualified to continue serving the Merrick Schools because of my experiences and proven dedication.
Schatzman: Professionally, I have worked for decades as a leader with the most senior financial executives in my organization, gaining a deep understanding of running a complex financial operation. I have developed and implemented strategic plans, focused on risk mitigation, and have extensive experience in high-level negotiations. My legal background brings with it the ability to see all sides of an issue and foster consensus between people with opposing views. I have spent my career viewing all issues from the business, legal, practical and human perspective – with all given equal weight. Personally, I have used these skills in Merrick to create unity. Through Racism Has No Home Here, now a nationally-recognized nonprofit, I was able to recast an unfortunate narrative about Merrick and build common ground. These skills along with my fresh perspective, and as the only candidate who will have a child in the elementary district this fall, if elected I will be an effective trustee.
Casimano: Throughout my professional career and service commitments, I have consistently proven the ability to manage multiple responsibilities successfully. I have both service and professional experience in fiscal management, leadership and higher education. I have worked within the realm of special education and healthcare service delivery, although most importantly I am a dedicated compassionate person. I believe in education of the whole child and feel that every child has the fundamental right to education. I am qualified to thoroughly review policies and revise or develop new ones as needed. I am qualified to work with district administration as I have served as a college program director interacting professionally with upper management, students, and stakeholders. I have dedicated myself to service locally and internationally through my parish, sports organizations, PTA committee chair positions and numerous professional organizations. I would be honored to serve this community.
Mack: I have experience professionally and personally supporting education. I served on the Chatterton PTA executive board for seven years-in various roles: VP of Cultural Arts, the current position of VP of Ways and Means (fundraising), and for two years, as President. I am honored to receive the 2019 Founder’s Day Lifetime Achievement Award. I founded the first Field of Honor in Merrick School District, and helped raise thousands of dollars for our community’s veterans, and for the Bellmore-Merrick Community Cupboard. I had the honor of serving as a Daisy troop leader and as a Brownie troop leader, and volunteered as a coach for Merrick PAL Soccer, as well as a coach for CYO Volleyball. As an entrepreneur, and from my experience serving on the executive board, I know the importance of budgets and the importance of fiscal responsibility. My professional background, my personal experience, and my skill set prepares me to bring a fresh perspective to the board, all while tackling the educational and fiscal needs of our district.