Election 2017: School candidates talk priorities, finances, backgrounds

Priorities, school financing and taxes, personal qualifications — questions on these matters were posed by The Ridgefield Press to candidates in contested races for the Board of Education.
Seven school board candidates are competing for four four-year seats on the Board of Education. There are also two candidates on the ballot who are running unopposed for two-year school board terms.
Competing for the four full four-year seats are four Democrats and three Republicans. The Democrats are incumbents Doug Silver and Margaret Stamatis, joined by Kathleen Holz and Carina Borgia-Drake. The Republicans are incumbent David Cordisco, joined by Kaitlyn Hayes and Scott Preston.
Running essentially unopposed for the two two-year seats are Republican incumbent Sharon D’Orso, and Democrat Carina Borgia-Drake, who is also on the ballot for a four-year seat. If Borgia-Drake were to win both seats, she would have to resign one and the vacancy would be filled by a vote of the school board, but the appointee would have to be a Democrat.
Candidates in the contested school race were sent three questions, and asked them respond in writing, within word limits. The questions and candidates’ answers follow. Answers appear in the order in which they were received.

  1. Describe your top three priorities as a Board of Education member? (200 words)

DOUG SILVER (D): Currently, the school start times initiative is the most visible effort to improve the health and wellness of our children, a foundation of our district’s mission. I have worked to ensure that this initiative includes revising the homework policy and graduation requirements. That said, we have nearly 5,000 students depending on us to stay focused on student health beyond this initiative.
Our district’s mission should also guide how we approach the school budget, the safety and security of our children, and the people we employ to ensure the pursuit of academic success. We need to stay focused on our mission through evaluating our assessment and curriculum priorities. The BOE cannot deliver innovative teaching; we CAN support a culture in which innovative teaching is possible.
The BOE can affect the culture by changing the assessment system used to evaluate our schools. Rather than solely focusing on AP results as a reflection of our highest academic achievements, we should be exploring alternative measures that motivate students to develop their passions. This process begins in elementary schools that focus on expanding students’ creativity and sense of self-direction. The current measures of our schools do not value these enough and it’s impact on students.
DAVID CORDISCO (R): I am running for re-election to the Board of Education. Both my children have grown up in school district, I am proud of the education and life lessons they have learned while attending RPS. I want to continue improving the academic standard for all children.
I have three tenets of platform. These are maintaining a balanced budget, social and emotional health of our children, and dynamic learning for all for all students.
Platform

  • Focused to maintain a balanced budget
  • Supporting students’ social and emotional health
  • Targeting dynamic Learning for all students

Maintaining a balanced budget is important to the entire Ridgefield community. We need to focus on continued expense control while delivering on academic rigor.
Social and emotional health speaks to school climate, teaching practices, diversity, and relationship with others. This will result in prevention of bullying behaviors, improved self-esteem, and academic success.
Dynamic learning for students stresses evolution of our teaching environment to meet the changing needs of our students. We must challenge our children and educators to engage in learning, creativity, and discovery.
Together we can improve our schools by providing each child with the education and resources they need for lifelong success.
MARGARET STAMATIS (D): My priority is every student in the Ridgefield Public Schools – all 4,927 of them.  
I believe we must meet the needs of these students through policies and fiscally responsible investments that maintain the high quality of our schools and prepare our students for their individual futures. Specific areas of focus for me over the next few years are:

  • Student emotional well being through a better understanding of where our students are and strategies to address areas of concern.
  • Successful planning and implementation of a shift in school start times with maximum benefit to our students and minimal disruption to our families and community.
  • Continued improvement in the delivery of special services.
  • Identification and development of ways to measure what we value and accountability to those values.
  • Support for innovation in the classroom.
  • Improved and transparent communication and dialogue with our families and community.
  • Strong relationships and collaboration with other town boards.
  • Support for our teachers and staff including meaningful professional development.

KAITLYN HAYES (R): #1. Preserve. We need to preserve our quality of education amidst budget cuts by maximizing the value of every tax-dollar spent. We accomplish this through zero-based budgeting and pushing resources towards students and classrooms.
#2. Protect. We need to protect our kids by preparing them for life. We need social/emotional support programs that develop character, decision-making, ego-strength,fortitude and resilience. These skills will help protect students from bullying, anxiety and substance abuse by encouraging them to make positive choices, believe in themselves, be willing to take calculated-risks and able to try again when they fail. This type of 360-degree approach to education will protect our students from life’s setbacks because we they will be set up to succeed.
#3. Enhance. We must continue to enhance learning. We must embrace that we are educating students for jobs that have yet to be invented. We need to target learning, invest in technology, and keep the bar high for all students. We need implement policies that give educators flexibility to meet students’ needs. We can do this by choosing to value excellence and achieve it by providing students with the tools they need to be successful in the future.  
CARINA BORGIA-DRAKE (D):  As member of the Board of education, I will ensure our children’s education and health are the focus of objective decision-making and resource allocation. I am committed to teacher innovation in the classroom, research based policy choices, and transparent communication to the public. My professional and volunteer advocacy work grant me the skills necessary to prioritize these issues with compassion for all stakeholders.
SCOTT PRESTON: (R): I am a passionate advocate for student social and emotional health with a zero tolerance for bullying & harassment. Unfortunately, our family has experienced firsthand bullying in the schools and the substantial impact it can have on a person’s well-being. Thus, I wholeheartedly support anti-bullying groups like Don’t Be Silent and will do everything I can to lead policy and program actions that seek to rid this from Ridgefield schools.
I am a tenacious advocate for excellence through a rigorous continuous improvement process. Our school system peer group (the DRG) has many initiatives in place to increase successful student outcomes. Based upon recent results, Ridgefield’s rankings have declined. It’s time for Ridgefield to regain our top rankings as a great school district. I wish to help champion this in partnership with my fellow board members.
The third priority area will be to enhance 21st Century learning and technical programs in our schools. Students need the infrastructure, tools and updated curriculum to incorporate the technology to compete globally. We need to be focus efforts on critical thinking skills and how to recognize changing trends across subject areas. Students need to be prepared for tomorrow’s jobs today.
KATHLEEN HOLZ (D): My first three priorities are children, pre-adolescents and teens. Why else would anyone run for the Board of Education?  Our students’ needs differ and I am committed to looking at the big picture: their intellectual, social/emotional, creative and physical potential and health. Excellent outcomes don’t preclude sports, play, hands-on experiences, reasonable homework loads and a healthy school day.  I want to be a part of this conversation; I’ve done it before. Schools are not static institutions; they should continue to evolve to prepare our students for the world they will enter as adults. This work should include building design, technology and professional development. Teacher development training is essential; our teachers must be equipped to lead this road to excellence. We are a fortunate community that values our top-notch educational rating.  Nevertheless, we must be smart about our spending by analyzing current needs, keeping an eye on expenditures while prioritizing best practices.
I want our board to not only look at our students’ immediate intellectual and wellness needs, but also create a dialogue about how we nourish life-long learning.  This work should include partnership with families, thus ongoing and clear communication is needed.  I look forward to that work; let’s do it together.

  1. How would you try to improve the schools in light of declining enrollment, shrinking state support for education, and local property owners’ desire to keep taxes reasonable? (150 words)

DOUG SILVER (D): I don’t think the budget challenges we face will change our community’s support for our schools and expectations of continued excellent results. Fiscal responsibility should be the priority of every BOE member. We will need to focus on becoming more efficient through better evaluation of existing programs in the context of our BOE priorities. Some budget efficiency efforts in the past were effective at improving our schools; some have had profound negative effects. We have to improve the process by which we make these decisions. I have been an active voice on the BOE for reducing the number of initiatives and priorities to better focus on our core values. I believe we are getting closer to the tipping point where some of those core values are in jeopardy. Going forward, we will need to clearly articulate those values. and communicate how each budgetary decision is aligned to supporting them.  
DAVID CORDISCO (R): Ridgefield Public Schools has one of the lowest costs per student in our DGR, we continue to provide an excellent value for our education.  My focus is continued improvement in the academic standards of our schools and provide every child with the opportunity success.
This should not come at the expense of taxpayers. We need to be fiscally responsible and highlight area of cost reduction. This starts with a zero-based budgeting process, asking questions for understanding on budget line items and make cuts that responsible and reasonable.
This needs to be accomplished in partnership with our administrative staff, they need to be accountable, understand the budgeting process and the impact on the taxes. The recommendation on budgets first need to come from the administrative staff and the be vetted by the Board of Education. We need to continue to deliver more with less resources.
MARGARET STAMATIS (D): Developing fiscally responsible budgets that move education forward while meeting contractual and legal obligations is always a challenge, but never moreso than in this uncertain time at the state level.  We have to continue to invest wisely in areas that deliver on the district’s mission to provide learning experiences so all student can pursue their interests and prepare for life. As we do so, we have to look at all programs and practices and assess the value they bring under the current educational model and if they are achieving their purpose. We must plan for the long term and strategically invest in areas that strengthen the foundation for continued growth and improvement in our schools. Any efficiencies found in the budget cannot come at the cost of delivering the high quality educational standards we uphold in Ridgefield. Education is the economic driver in Ridgefield, and every community member benefits from high quality schools.
KAITLYN HAYES (R): I would try to improve our schools by working to maximize the value of every tax dollar spent. Our town is special and our schools incentivize people to move here. I believe we can achieve continuous improvement of our schools by partnering with parents, taxpayers and members of the boards of finance and selectmen. We should seek counsel on challenges encountered and share the successes achieved. This type of ongoing collaborative communication would reduce waste, maximize tax-dollar value and offer a constructive way to address challenges through a shared-approach to problem solving. I believe with smart budgeting, communication and partnership, we can create a new way of getting things done to inspire and attract prosperity.
CARINA BORGIA-DRAKE (D): In the face of declining enrollment and possible changes to our education reimbursement, my actions will prioritize our students. We have increasing administrative positions, year after year, with a declining student enrollment. I will question the value of every administrative position in the academic lives of our students. Regardless of hypothetical cuts, I would rather see our financial resources allocated to the learning experiences of students rather than more leadership positions, studies, and consultant fees.
SCOTT PRESTON: (R): As “The Fiscally Responsible Business Leader” candidate, I will perform detailed budget reviews to gain a full understanding of where the dollars are being spent. As a senior business executive responsible for hundreds of millions in budget oversight, I have the experience and passion for reviewing costs. Specifically, we would review all administrative roles, understand the district cost drivers and seek balanced agreements.  Great teachers make a difference — so let’s attract and retain the top talent in the area. To ensure this process is aligned with the broader community, I would seek regular feedback. We would have an open dialog with all constituents on how we fund priorities such as special education, technology investments and social/emotional health. My family is proud to call Ridgefield our home, my two girls are in the school system and we want to have the best schools the community can reasonably afford.
KATHLEEN HOLZ (D): I’ve worked in schools since the 70’s and I’ve seen declining enrollments and shrinking funds. The 80’s in NYC were disastrous. We had to analyze the situation, adjust budgets, prioritize expenditures and often use creative thinking. I know how to do that. As stated previously, we need to look at future needs as we examine our current budgets. Adoption of new initiatives must include critical examination of current spending. I believe that the board must be responsible for assuring that there is budget transparency as we look for more competitive pricing and cost savings. This requires keen oversight and line item analysis to ensure that all expenditures support our students’ needs. Board members must be able to ask the hard questions about costs while remaining committed to supporting all 5000-plus RHS students. We want to maintain our excellent school system.

  1. What makes you stand out as a candidate for school board? (75 words)

DOUG SILVER (D): Being qualified matters. My experience as a parent, a high school teacher and coach, and K-12 administrator are unique on the BOE. My published research on high performing schools and effective and efficient practices in education expand the conversation at our meetings beyond local knowledge. I am proud of my efforts to bring: transparency to the athletics budget; policy changes to curriculum; and responsible budgets approved by the community through collaboration with my colleagues.
DAVID CORDISCO (R): As a sitting board member, I am experienced and proven. I bring a deep understanding to the education system of our schools. I am committed to the students, parents, educators, and community partners. I am opened minded to ideas and suggestions on how to improve our district. Most importantly, I serve at the pleasure of the voters and my job is to ensure your voices are heard.
MARGARET STAMATIS (D): I’m qualified to continue to serve on the BOE because I am committed, experienced and deeply connected to the community. Through my legal training I learned how to think critically and logically. As a marketer, I value collaboration, relationships and creative problem solving. I’ve brought these skills and attributes to my over 15 years of volunteering in the schools and other community organizations focused on youth. I believe that those who have worked and volunteered with me and alongside know that I bring my full heart and mind into every undertaking. I hope to continue to do so on the BOE.
KAITLYN HAYES (R): I stand out because I bring people together to achieve results: An inclusive playground at BMES, approval for the play-structure at Farmingville, doubled endowment for REF, accountability for delivery of special education services, Pre-K student participation in before/after school activities, a bipartisan-candidate meet and greet for students. I have the heart of a servant, the acumen of an executive and the will of a mother. Vote Hayes on Nov 7!
CARINA BORGIA-DRAKE (D): As a registered nurse with experience in teaching hospitals, I am responsible for ensuring high-tech medical best practices in collaboration with multidisciplinary medical teams. I’m the family’s voice in a complex medical community. I educate patients and train the next generation of nurses. I am fortunate to change and save lives across the developmental lifespan. My profession grants me insight into our advancing technologies and the social and emotional trends within our community. I am the point person for Ridgefield’s efforts as part of Decoding Dyslexia, which is a national grassroots movement. My efforts to impact dyslexia and literacy policy at the local, state, and federal levels illustrate my aptitude for effective advocacy. This legislation has direct benefits to the literacy of our Ridgefield students. My consequent grasp of research-based best practices in our education choices will bring fresh perspective to our Board of Education.
SCOTT PRESTON: (R): I am a tenacious advocate for excellence, have a demonstrated track record of results and have the experience of leading complex organizations and boards. As a father of two girls, one with special needs, I understand we need a school system that meets the needs of all children. I am passionate to protect our kids from bullying and will strongly support student’s social and emotional health. I want to give back to our great community.
KATHLEEN HOLZ (D): My entire forty-plus career has been in schools; I was a teacher for fifteen years and an administrator for twenty-six. I will bring real-world leadership to the board. I’ve balanced budgets, worked with boards, parents and students.  I am committed to transparent communication among all members of the community and I care deeply for our town’s future leaders. My proudest accomplishment is that I am the mother of Emma Zachary, a 2016 graduate who played varsity sports.  I’ve been involved with schools from the inside and out.

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