Education

Meet the six candidates running for the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education

In the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, six candidates are competing for three open seats on the Board of Education. Longtime school board member Doug Cooper and fellow incumbent Jeffrey Connolly are both seeking reelection. Current BOE president Barbara Wheaton chose not to seek another term.

Mr. Connolly, 35, is a financial analyst who resides in Mattituck with his wife and children  is seeking a second term on the board.

He said his top priority is providing support to new incoming administrators — a new superintendent, elementary principal and assistant principal are expected to begin soon — and addressing the long-term issue of dropping enrollment.

“As the elementary students move up to the high school, it will be difficult to offer all of the courses, sports and clubs that are currently available due to the number of students. One student might be passionate about chorus while another makes connections on the baseball diamond, so it is important to offer a variety of programs to keep students engaged,” Mr. Connolly said.

He also said he’d like to see the district expand academic and extracurricular offerings — AP and career-oriented programs, early literacy and math programs — while remaining fiscally responsible.

Collaboration with other districts, he said, could expand those offerings as well.

“The next step will be to improve the in-school experience. I am optimistic that the district will be able to remove the desk barriers and masks this fall, but the district has to comply with state education and department of health guidelines,” he said, adding that the district is already planning summer programs to help students catch up.

Mr. Cooper, 73, is a Mattituck farmer who has served on the Board of Education since 1994. He is currently its vice president and also serves on Southold Town’s agricultural advisory committee.

“I’ve got the most experience,” Mr. Cooper said, adding that he’d like to continue assisting school leadership during a transitional period.

His top priorities are to continue work on critical infrastructure repairs throughout the district. “There’s some major items we’re looking at,” he said, referencing roof, boiler and facade upgrades as well as an ongoing exploration of installing solar panels to offset energy costs.

He also said it’s important to continue adding opportunities for students who aren’t college-bound. “We need to support those kids and teach them trades that they might be interested in. Our kids have to stay engaged in learning,” Mr. Cooper said.

Another key priority is maintaining a budget within the state-imposed tax cap, which he supports.

Over his tenure on the school board, he said he’s most proud of the staff at all levels that the district has hired. “We have, over the years, hired some really good people that I’m very proud and thankful for. We have an excellent teaching staff and they’re doing a real good job right now.” 

Candidates Jeffrey Connolly (from l to r), Douglas Cooper and Aleksandra Kardwell.

Candidate Aleksandra Kardwell, 38, is the owner and president of the Hamptons Employment Agency and has served as past president of the Southampton Rotary Club.

She lives in Laurel with her husband and two children and said she’d like to use her knowledge and experience as a business owner and Rotarian to help enhance students’ learning experience.

“The education of our students is critical to the continued success of our community,” Ms. Kardwell said.

She noted that there has been recent staff turnover in the district and said students, teachers and administration would all benefit from a return to stability.

If elected, she’d like to effectively steward the district’s funds while balancing student needs, providing new arts and technology opportunities and maintaining high-quality facilities.

Ms. Kardwell said the district has done a “terrific job” of educating students amid the pandemic. “The district should, of course, continue to closely follow the guidelines issued by the state to ensure student safety,” she said. “Given the progress that’s already been made to protect the members of our community against COVID, I am optimistic about a return to near-normal schooling this fall.” 

Also in the running is Karen Letteriello, 61, a children’s librarian who has served as past president of the East End Lions Club and is a member of the East End Education Enrichment Coalition, Children’s Librarians Association of Suffolk County and library advisory committee. Ms. Letteriello was also involved in the school PTA, athletic booster club, Gridiron Parents and NJROTC while her children were in school.

She lives in Mattituck with her husband, Dan, and has two children who graduated from Mattituck High School.

If elected, Ms. Letteriello would like to stabilize the administration and create an enriching learning environment while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

She said she wants to expand topics covered in the Parent University program, work to make the STEAM wing a reality and expand clubs and opportunities for students.

While there is community support, Ms. Letteriello said a stronger connection could encourage students to connect with local business that could lead to postgraduate opportunities.

Ensuring an equitable education, especially emerging from the pandemic, is also a pressing issue. “Everyone has been isolated, so we need to create opportunities to bring classes together and foster socialization,” she said.

Candidates Karen Letteriello (from l to r), Edward Marlatt and Denise Taormina.

Edward Marlatt of Mattituck, 69, is a retired professor who holds a Ph.D. in education. He is an active member of the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society and Mattituck Presbyterian Church.

He said he’s running to ensure students are being “educated and not indoctrinated” at school and maintain the school’s community-oriented approach.

Mr. Marlatt said his top priorities include addressing the role of in-person versus online learning moving forward, reviewing the U.S. history, civics, citizenship and economics curriculum and keeping “critical race theory” out of the schools.

He also said adding summer sessions could help address learning loss related to the pandemic.

Denise Taormina, 44, is a financial systems consultant who serves as current vice president of the PTA and is a Girl Scout troop leader.

She lives in Laurel with her husband, Matt, and two children.

“I believe I have the skills needed to incorporate the consensus, needs and priorities of the community into strong policies,” Ms. Taormina said. 

She’d like to focus on the quality of the curriculum, increasing transparency and community participation at Board of Education meetings.

Ms. Taormina also said she’d use her background in accounting to ensure the district is being fiscally responsible.

She said that while the district has a committed and caring staff that creates a sense of community, she’d work on improving communication with parents regarding what children are expected to learn during their year, and what progress they are making toward achieving these goals.

In addition, she said the district should continue monitoring students’ progress in light of the pandemic and continue to relax COVID-related restrictions when possible.

“There has been a lot of turnover with staff this year, especially the administration. I would like to work toward retention and stability of staff, if elected,” Ms.Taormina said.