The Oysterponds School District not only has the most candidates running in this year’s school board elections, it also features the only contested race.
Three seats currently held by board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas, Deborah Dumont and Thomas Gray are up for grabs, but only Ms. Thomas is seeking a new term. Orient residents Tom Stevenson, Charles Squire and Alison Lyne, as well as East Marion resident Betsy Dzenkowski, will also appear on the ballot.
Ms. Thomas, an Orient resident and consultant for Lenz Winery, was first elected to the seven-member board in 2010 and said she’d like to serve another term to follow through on several changes in the works for the pre-K through sixth-grade district. They include implementing the district’s collaborative teaching model and providing teachers with professional development to prepare them for the state-mandated Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Ms. Thomas said she supports Superintendent Richard Malone’s proposed new teaching model for next year, in which grades will be combined. She said she believes it will provide students with personalized learning plans and the classroom settings will encourage students to work collaboratively with their classmates.
“The old way of teaching, with the teacher at the front giving the information and the kids regurgitating it, kills curiosity and creativity,” she said. “These moves facilitate groups and help kids find something that they’re interested in.
“If they’re bored, it’s because they are not engaged and they have the power to engage themselves,” she added.
Ms. Thomas said her goals include continuing to look for ways to bring in more revenue, reducing taxes, developing programs and supporting teachers.
“I’m not for closing the school,” she said. “I think this community would suffer by not having a community school and I’d like see this school expanded.”
Mr. Stevenson is a parent and an organic farmer who owns Oysterponds Farm in Orient. He coaches Little League and assists the school with its student garden.
Mr. Stevenson said he decided to enter the race because he wants to play a part in making “the right decisions for the district.”
“It’s a great group of kids and parents,” he said. “It’s really an amazing school and I want to keep making it better.”
Mr. Stevenson said some of the challenges the district faces include declining enrollment and strengthening its relationship with Greenport schools. Oysterponds currently sends its secondary students to Greenport. Both districts are in the process of finalizing a five-year tuition contract.
Last May, many community members said they voted against the budget after the Oysterponds school board designated both Greenport and Mattituck schools as its secondary choices. After the Oysterponds budget was defeated, the school board agreed to take the Mattituck contract talks off the table. The budget then passed in a revote.
“The relationship with Greenport has to be rebuilt,” Mr. Stevenson said. “I support sending the kids to Greenport. Hopefully we can work it out. It’s not right when parents don’t know where their children are going to go.”
Mr. Squire is a district parent and works in advertising. He said he moved his family from the city to Orient last summer because he and his wife were impressed with what the Oysterponds School offered. He said he decided to run for school board because he believes his open-mindedness can help the district develop fresh ideas.
“I think someone who has just moved in can offer a lot,” Mr. Squire said. “I’m willing listen to both sides and do what’s best for the kids.”
In addition to tackling the district’s dwindling enrollment issue, Mr. Squire said he believes more could be done to promote the school. He also wants the school board to improve its communication with the community since many parents and residents want to support the school and are eager to be a part of its development.
“The board has been doing a good job and I think it’s just a matter of improving on it,” Mr. Squire said, referring to communication between the school board and community. “We have a lot of great parents here who are passionate about the school and want to help make it better.”
Ms. Lyne is a parent and director of the waterfront Camp Quinipet on Shelter Island. She’s involved with the PTA and has a background in facilities management in which she helped develop budgets while working at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
Ms. Lyne, who ran for school board unsuccessfully last year, said she entered into this year’s race because she wants residents to have different choices.
“I don’t think any of the five of us are that different with our ideas,” she said. “Charles, Tom and I all have children the same age. I felt that another option would be good.”
Ms. Lyne said her biggest concern with the district is its “continuous revolving door” with administrators.
In April, Françoise Wittenburg announced she will leave Oysterponds at the end of this school year after serving as principal since 2011. She’s the second administrator to leave the district this year. In July, the school board hired Richard Malone as the new superintendent after Joan Frisicano resigned from the post she had held for over a year.
“We need some continuity and I think everything else with the district’s philosophy and education will flow,” she said. “We need a more thorough interview process to find out what their long-term goals are so we can figure out what they’re thinking and where their vision is for the school.”
Ms. Dzenkowski did not return messages seeking comment for this story.
Two seats on the Greenport Board of Education are up for grabs. School board president Heather Wolf and board member Tina Volinski are running unopposed for re-election to the five-member board.
Ms. Wolf, a parent and management consultant for a division of the Financial Times, was first elected in 2007. She said she decided to seek re-election because she believes her experience on the school board will help the district move forward. Ms. Wolf said she’s pleased with the school board’s accomplishments during her tenure, including hiring Superintendent Michael Comanda and other district administrators, as well as negotiating new agreements with the district’s various bargaining units and working with neighboring schools to develop shared-service agreements.
“All of those experiences add up to a body of work,” she said. “The biggest challenge is balancing the financial demands on the community with providing a premier education. In the face of lots of mandates from the state and federal governments, my answer to that is to continue to share with neighboring districts.”
Ms. Volinski is an advertising account executive for Times/Review Newsgroup, publishers of The Suffolk Times. She’s a former school board president and was also first elected in 2007.
Ms. Volinski said she decided to run again because she believes the current board members work well together and she wants to keep the positive momentum going in order to further develop the district’s curriculum and technology. She’s in favor of consolidating services such as academic courses, athletics and clubs with neighboring districts in order to offer students more options while being fiscally responsible.
“[Senator Ken LaValle] has recognized us on many occasions because he realizes sharing services is what we have to do in order to grow and offer more,” she said.
There are two seats to be filled on the Mattituck-Cutchogue school board, but only one candidate is running. Incumbent William Gatz is seeking re-election, while fellow member Janique Nine has stepped down.
No one other than Mr. Gatz submitted a petition to run for the board. The second seat is expected to go to the person who receives the most write-in votes.
Mr. Gatz, of Cutchogue, was first elected three years ago after running unsuccessfully for the board in 2008. He’s the owner of Long Island National Golf Course in Riverhead.
Mr. Gatz did not return messages seeking comment.
Southold school board vice president Judi Fouchet’s term on the five-member board is the only one set to expire and she is running unopposed for re-election.
Ms. Fouchet is a New York State-licensed day care provider who was born and raised in Southold. She was first elected to the board in 2004. The mother of three children, she has been involved with the PTA and has a business background. Ms. Fouchet said she’s pleased with the district’s direction and current student programs, including the school garden, robotics club and science and art fairs.
She decided to seek re-election because she’s passionate about volunteerism and giving back to the community. She plans to keep fighting for relief from state mandates, she said.
“I want to help to try effect change in Albany,” Ms. Fouchet said. “To me, all you can do is beat on that door to get them to really hear us.”
Incumbent Joseph Polashock is running unopposed this year for the only open seat on the board.
Mr. Polashock, a second-generation member of Millwright Local Union 740, was part of a five-man crew that worked on the frame for a waterfall in the plaza at the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City.
The New Suffolk native was appointed to the school board in 2009 to complete another member’s unexpired term. He ran unopposed the following year.
He said he decided to seek another term because he wants to maintain the quality of life in his community.
“The kids here get the best education,” said Mr. Polashock, himself a former student at the K-6 school. “I grew up here and want to keep our little place going.”