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Candidates vie for two Rockville Centre school board seats

Newcomers challenge two incumbents

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Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Rockville Centre Board of Education.

Newcomers Nancy Turnblacer and Erika Messier are challenging incumbents Kelly Barry and Liz Dion, who are both seeking re-election. The three-year terms are set to begin on July 1.

The election and budget vote will be held on May 18, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The polling location is the main gym at South Side High School, at 140 Shepherd St.

Below are statements from each of the candidates.

 

Liz Dion

I have served on the Board of Education for the past 12 years, including six years as president, and on the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association Executive Committee for the past three years, currently as a member of the Budget Committee. I am an information technology consultant specializing in training accountants and accounting staff in software applications.

I shepherded the $46 million bond passed by voters in 2013 that brought much-needed improvements to the district. Arts and science facilities were renovated at the high school, needed space was added at Watson Elementary, and air conditioning was installed throughout the district. I expanded access to educational opportunities and advocated to expand the Chromebook program to ensure that all students have access to advanced technology.

I insisted that safety and security be a priority in the district, encouraged the construction of secure entrances, and supported adding a capital improvement line to the annual budget to renovate and maintain aging structures. For 10 years in a row, I helped bring the school spending plan in under the tax cap, including this year’s proposed budget, which has no tax levy increase.

My husband, Peter, and I have lived in Rockville Centre for 30 years, and our two children were educated in village district schools and are South Side graduates.

Last year I was part of the team that hired Superintendent June Chang, who has led the district to open all schools with full instruction, including electives at the secondary level, and all support and specials at the elementary level.

My top priority is to ensure that we continue the exceptional and inclusive education that we have come to expect from the Rockville Centre School District. As it moves out from under the weight of the pandemic, the focus must be the support of all students as they return to a more stable schedule in our classrooms. The priority must be meeting our students’ social and emotional needs, addressing their strengths and the areas where they development. Our schools are ready and prepared for the work, and I am excited to be part of it.

 

Kelly Barry

I am seeking re-election to a second term on the Board of Education after honorably serving for the past three years. I am an 18-year resident of Rockville Centre. My husband, Ciaran, grew up here, and graduated from South Side High School in 1997. We have three children who attend Rockville Centre schools.

I am a social studies teacher at Hauppauge High School, where I have worked for my entire 20-year career. I teach college psychology and I.B. Theory of Knowledge. My love for this community and my passion for education were why I decided to run for trustee three years ago.

During my term, I am proud to have been part of the hiring of Superintendent June Chang. I am also proud of the partnership with Northwell Behavioral Health Center, adding counselor and academic support positions, adapting to the many challenges that the pandemic presented for our students and staff, the one-to-one device rollout, capital improvements, and enhancing our programs while focusing on the academic, social and emotional wellness of our students.

I am an active listener who encourages collaboration and reflection. I will continue to be an intentional and thoughtful voice as the district steadily moves forward under our new leadership while remaining true to its core values.

Three years ago, I stated, “It takes the work and collaboration of the entire community to build and maintain great schools, and I want to be part of that process for all of us in Rockville Centre.” I still wholeheartedly believe this to be true. While over the past three years I have learned that we may have different views on how to realize this, if we remain focused on what we have in common rather than what may separate us, we can productively and respectfully work together toward a positive future for our children.

 

Erica Messier

I am running for the Board of Education because I am passionate about education. After graduating from Lehigh University in 2003, I moved to Rockville Centre and began my teaching career at Garden City Middle School. During my 17-year tenure in the Garden City School District, I have taught social studies, coached varsity athletics, and served on multiple committees designed to evaluate and improve current programs to reflect best practices. My husband, Seth, is also a teacher in the Garden City Public Schools; he is currently the lead teacher for the Gifted and Talented Program.

I have two children, Ryann,  8, and Jake, 4. Since Ryann entered kindergarten in 2017, I have been actively involved in the William S. Covert Elementary School PTA; in 2019, I was nominated to serve as a co-president of the Covert PTA. Over the past two years, I worked alongside the parents, staff and administration of Covert School to design and execute fundraisers as well as schedule and implement worthwhile programming that directly benefited all of our children.

Collaboration has been a hallmark of my work as a teacher, coach and PTA co-president. If elected to the Rockville Centre board, I will commit to representing the entire community, including those who may not have a direct relationship with the public schools, by staying informed on community issues as well as local, state, national and global education. I will bring a thoughtful, sincere and deliberate approach to the position, using my voice to ensure that all stakeholders’ concerns are heard and collaborative solutions are guaranteed. I will use my expertise as an educator to provide oversight with knowledgeable critique and advocacy, ensuring that the educational program aligns with the district’s mission — to provide a safe, nurturing environment in which individual and civic responsibility is fostered, diversity is respected and all students are enabled to realize their full potential.

Please join my Facebook Group, Erica Messier for RVC Board of Education, to learn more about my candidacy.

 

Nancy Turnblacer

In 2013, I moved from Battery Park City to Rockville Centre with my husband, Jon Diorio, who grew up in the village. The driving force in our decision was the top-ranked school district. At the time, South Side High earned very high rankings nationally. Our neighborhood primary schools were also recognized. If elected, I will make it my goal to bring our rankings back to the high level that brought many of us to this community.

I consider myself a strong advocate for children, families, educators and public education. I am an active member of the Hewitt PTA. I have been a class parent, and I regularly help with elementary school events. I teach religious education through St. Agnes as a volunteer, and have gotten to know many children in our community through my four years as a catechist.

I grew up primarily in Maryland, attended Loyola University and majored in economics. Afterward I attended the University of Maryland School of Law, and worked for nearly 14 years at the Federal Trade Commission.

I have three children. My oldest daughter is in fourth grade at Hewitt Elementary, my son is in second grade at St. Agnes Cathedral School, and my 4-year-old “Boss Baby” is in nursery at the Learning Academy in Rockville Centre. After she was born, I decided it was time to leave the FTC and focus on my family and community.

I have been asked why I sent my son, TJ, to St. Agnes this year after he spent kindergarten and first grade at Hewitt Elementary. He has a speech delay and has an individualized education program. He has received services since he was 18 months old. After our experience with remote learning last spring, it was apparent that my son benefited from in-person learning. In August, it was unclear whether Hewitt Elementary would return full-time to in-person schooling, but St. Agnes was prepared to do so, so my husband and I made the difficult decision to switch TJ to ensure that he was in the environment that was best suited to his needs. While the change was hard for us, I believe it made me a stronger candidate, because it has given me a unique perspective as a mom of a child with special needs, a Hewitt Elementary mom, and a St. Agnes mom.

I believe my business and economics background will help ensure that the district operates in a fiscally sustainable manner. While I applaud our proposed budget’s 0 percent tax levy, I am concerned that it was achieved, in part, by relying on cost savings from shuttering the schools during the pandemic and the 22 percent increase in state and federal aid the district received this year. Going forward, I believe we need to look critically at our budget from the bottom up to ensure that we are providing the best academic access for our students while minimizing the burden on taxpayers.

I have also become concerned about the perceived lack of communication to and partnership with our community by the current board and our district administration. If elected, I pledge to operate as a responsive and sincere, unfiltered advisory voice for our community.

For more information about the school budget, voter registration or absentee ballots, contact District Clerk Jackie Wong at (516) 255-8921 or jwong@rvcschools.org.