On May 15, voters will decide between two longtime community members who are vying for a vacant seat on the East Rockaway Board of Education.
Former high school PTA President Theresa Devlin and former longtime district Athletic Director Dom Vulpis are competing to fill John Giannotti Jr.’s seat. Giannotti was elected to the board in 2012 as a newcomer to the ballot, but with his term expiring in June, he recently announced that he would not run for re-election.
Devlin said she believed she would be a good fit on the board because she has children who still attend the district. “I think I can feel the pulse of where things are going,” she said. “With my experience on the PTA, I’ve learned how to advocate for my own children and for other children.” She added that in the past, she successfully pushed for a strategic plan and life-skills program in the district.
Vulpis said that his experience as a phys. ed. teacher and athletic director in East Rockaway for more than two decades gives him the necessary tools to be a trustee. “As an educator, you have the first-line experiences when policies are made by the Board of Education,” he said. “You were the one who carried it out or brought it forward to the board.” He added that he successfully urged the board to initiate a Narcan program at the high school.
Vulpis was the athletic director and a phys. ed. teacher at East Rockaway High from 1995 until he retired last June to accept a job as assistant to the executive director of Section VIII athletics in Garden City. He has lived in East Rockaway since 2001, when he moved to the village from Brooklyn with his wife, Kathleen, his son, Dominic Jr., and his twin daughters, Mary Kate and Kerrianne. All three of his children graduated from district schools.
Devlin has a business background and has been heavily involved in the school community. In addition to the high school PTA, she has also served on the Rhame Avenue School PTA and the Budget Advisory Committee, and was one of the directors of the East Rockaway Education Foundation. She and her husband, Charlie, have lived in East Rockaway for 21 years. Their daughter, Kate, graduated from East Rockaway High in 2015, where their son, Joseph, now attends the Life Skills Program. Their other sons, Jevon and Mason, attend Rhame Avenue.
Both candidates offered their opinions on school safety, which has been a focus of the district in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. Devlin said she was pleased by the plan to use part of the proposed $39.4 million 2018-19 budget to fund additional hours for security guards to patrol the buildings. She added that she believes the board should develop long-term plans to protect each building.
Vulpis said that safety is one of his strong points, noting that he is a volunteer instructor for the Red Cross. He said he is a proponent of the systems the district has in place, and added that he would look for grant opportunities to fund more safety initiatives, including new lockdown technologies designed to secure specific areas of the school buildings.
The candidates also shared their opinions about district officials’ enacting a policy last month that requires students to carry clear backpacks. Devlin said that the use of $3,510 in discretionary funds to pay for 600 backpacks was not well planned. “I don’t necessarily think it was the best use of money, but at least they were thinking and reacted and did something,” she said. “I probably would have researched it a little more.” She added that part of being a board member includes avoiding knee-jerk reactions.
Vulpis lauded the board because the measure enhanced safety, which he called a top priority. He also emphasized the need for transparency when it comes to safety measures — and all important issues. He suggested using Google Docs to send out surveys to parents so the board could determine what community members need and base decisions on data. He also recommended streaming school board meetings on YouTube so parents can stay involved if they can’t attend. “The more you can show the community that you’re trying to involve them in the decision-making, the better,” he said.
Both candidates said they would mesh well with the current board members, but would also bring their own perspectives and ideas. The board now comprises President Patricia Nicoletti, Vice President Keith Gamache and Trustees Neil Schloth and Kristin Ochtera, who work closely with Superintendent Lisa Ruiz. Nicoletti’s and Ochtera’s terms will end in June 2019, while Schloth and Gamache — both of whom ran uncontested last year — will keep their seats until June 2020.
Vulpis said he is a people person, and would listen closely, learn about the district’s needs and then react. Devlin said she is never shy about sharing her thoughts, but also keeps an open mind to those with views different than her own. She also noted that only one out of four board members now has school-aged children, and she would be able to advocate from the perspective of a current district parent.
Regarding the curriculum, Devlin and Vulpis both had their ideas about how to improve course offerings.
Devlin said that the district should continue to improve STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) classes, but also add more foreign language and elective courses. She said she would like to see Chinese and other languages offered, as well as developmental courses that teach students how to balance a checkbook and fill out a credit card application.
Vulpis said the board should collaborate with students and find out which electives and programs they are interested in bringing to the district.
Though they may have differing ideas, both candidates said they want what is best for East Rockaway.
“I really feel like even though we’re a small district, that doesn’t mean that we want to be a lower-caliber school,” Devlin said. “We’re really a small town with big accomplishments — that’s really what I’d love to see us be known for.”
Vulpis said that open communication is key. “My top priority is always to have transparency within the community,” he said.
The election will be part of the district’s budget vote, which is scheduled for May 15, from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School.