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Meet the school board candidates: Contested races shape up in Mattituck, Greenport, Oysterponds

In addition to voting on school budgets Tuesday, residents in North Fork districts will decide who will be elected to serve on the school board.

There are contested races in three districts: Mattituck, Greenport and Oysterponds.

Here are bios on each candidate:

MATTITUCK

There are three candidates vying for two open seats on the seven-member Mattituck-Cut­ch­ogue Board of Education.

Jennifer Anderson

Jennifer Anderson

Ms. Anderson, 42, is a teacher that resides in Mattituck with her family and has degrees from Georgetown University, Dowling College and SUNY/Stony Brook. She is a Georgetown University admissions interviewer and incumbent Board of Education member.

She said she’s seeking reelection to continue expanding educational opportunities while keeping expenditures low.

“As a teacher and parent of children in the district, I understand the students’ needs and how BOE decisions impact families and staff. I am committed to listening and making good decisions that will have a positive impact on our students while being fiscally responsible,” she said.

Ms. Anderson said the best things about Mattituck-Cut­ch­ogue schools are the community values and how staff, students, families and residents respect each other and work together. 

She said student achievement can always be improved. “Whether our children stay local or move, they need to have the competitive skills needed for college and their career,” she said, advocating for partnerships with neighboring districts for new programs and creating an internship program for students to better prepare them for post-graduate life. Ms. Anderson also said the district should provide extra support where needed for students who fell behind over the last two years.

In addition, Ms. Anderson said the board should identify new ways to increase state aid, funding and grants to better manage resources, fund the five-year plan and begin capital improvements.

While proud of accomplishments the district has had over the last three years, including hiring a new administration, expanding courses and extracurricular activities, Ms. Anderson said she’d like to increase communication and transparency.

She said she supports all three budget propositions, noting that the budget “efficiently funds” programming and the improvements, which include roof improvements and a STEAM wing, are needed.

George Haase

George Haase

Mr. Haase, 64, is a retired business owner who lives in Cut­ch­ogue with his family. He said that he’s seeking reelection to the board to continue working on projects begun during his first term.

He cited the close-knit community and supportive programs as the district’s strengths, specifically the special education program, which Mr. Haase said directly benefited his son, who has since graduated. 

Mr. Haase said it’s important for the board to support the administration, provide student opportunities and ensure facilities meet the needs of students while considering the taxpayers. “We have numerous new administrators and they have been doing a great job,” he said. “The board needs to provide the necessary support for [administrators] to continue to grow and become an even stronger team.”

Mr. Haase, whose wife is a teacher-assistant at Cut­ch­ogue East Elementary School, first came to the East End when his parents purchased the former Orient by the Sea in 1978. He studied accounting at Long Island University and was the co-owner of the Fig and Olive Bed and Breakfast on Skunk Lane in Cut­ch­ogue before retiring.

The most pressing issues, he said, include a new teacher’s contract, five-year facilities plan and enrollment. If reelected, Mr. Haase said he’ll continue asking questions and provoking discussions to increase public transparency, come up with additional solutions to get more students to take advantage of after-school and summer programs and hopes to also address student mental health needs, especially after the last two years.

He said he plans to support the budget proposition since it maintains programming, expands opportunities and keeps the tax increase “well below” the state’s maximum allowable amount.

Jackie Zappulla

Jackie Zappulla

Ms. Zappulla, 50, is a high school English teacher who resides in Laurel with her husband and three children.

She has also been involved as both a coach and board member for the North Fork United Soccer Club for seven years and holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Stony Brook University.

She said she’s interested in running to take a more active role in the local education process. “As both a mother and a teacher, I could offer a fresh perspective to school-related and community issues,” Ms. Zappulla said.

She pointed to the relationships the faculty and staff establish with students as a strength of the district and believes the schools could better promote programs that support social and emotional health.

State and federal funding and following “labor-intensive, frustratingly tedious and very costly” state-mandated COVID-19 protocols are other issues Ms. Zappulla identified as pressing issues the district is facing. 

“The Board of Education can work with parents, teachers and community members to find real solutions to these problems. Luckily, we live in a community of doers and helpers,” she said.

As the district continues to recover from COVID-19, Ms. Zappulla believes the district has done a good job at assessing which students are struggling to provide extra help in the classroom or additional programs, such as AIS.

If elected, she said she’d like to identify new ideas for the district and Board of Education to pursue based on student and teacher needs.

Ms. Zappulla said she is in support of the school budget propositions and said it’s important for the district to continue investing in the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics curriculum. “I think the new wing is an educationally responsible addition and an important investment in our student body’s future,” she said.

GREENPORT

In Greenport, three candidates are vying for two seats.

Babette ‘Babs’ Cornine

Babette Cornine

Ms. Cornine, 75, is running to return to the Greenport BOE after losing her seat in last year’s election. A longtime community member, she had previously served on the board since 2012. Ms. Cornine has two adult children who graduated from Greenport.

“We need to bring back respect to our staff and students; bring back respect to our community; restore consistent and appropriate discipline in our school; and adequately fill open positions of staff,” she said of her reasons for running again.

Many community members possess “wisdom and life experiences” that could benefit students, she pointed out. Additionally, she has heard concerns while campaigning about inconsistent discipline that is “seldom appropriate” in the district, she said. 

“The policies outlined in the student handbook, which sets forth the rules and regulations of our school, are not consistently followed. Positive and trusting relationships should be built amongst our staff and students,” Ms. Cornine said. 

She argued that the building renovation has not been progressing as quickly as she and other community members had hoped, and the pandemic is no longer “an excuse for inaction.” 

“I strongly urge our community to pass the proposed budget this year. I would also ask our community members to consider attending our monthly meetings to ask questions and offer opinions so communication between school and community is reestablished,” she said. 

In her questionnaire, Ms. Cornine also pointed out that the sitting Board of Education allocated nearly a million dollars several years ago to “ensure that our staff was sufficient to afford all students what was necessary for them to succeed.”

Emily Latham Whitecavage

Emily Latham Whitecavage

Ms. Whitecavage, 42, lives in Greenport with her husband and two daughters. A freelance bookkeeper and Greenport High School graduate, she is an active member of the Parent-Teacher Organization. 

“I am running because I would be a good fit for one of the open seats on the board. I am not running on a political platform; my strength is that I am open-minded and an objective representative for the community,” she said. Ms. Whitecavage said she supports the budget proposition, because its benefits “will be felt in our community as a whole.”

Among the top issues facing the school district, she listed communication between the Greenport district and community, the state of the school building — although that “ideally will be resolved with the current work underway” — and post-graduate preparation, “integrating the benefits of our community resources, BOCES and additional school counseling.” 

“We have a small and beautifully diverse school,” Ms. Whitecavage said. “If fostered, this close-knit aspect can be beneficial both inside the school and outside in the community.”

Teachers remain the district’s “most valuable resource” in helping students who fell behind during the pandemic, she said. “They know both the individual needs of their students as well as the goals of a school as a whole.”

She added: “I am running for school board to be a voice for all, to volunteer my time and skillset, and to work with the board to help ensure and continually improve upon the quality of a Greenport education.”

If elected to the school board, Ms. Whitecavage would like the district to explore more community events that focus on “bringing the school out into the community and the community into the school, especially with an eye on post-graduate planning.”

Jaime Martilotta

Jamie Martilotta

Ms. Martilotta, 44, lives in Greenport with her husband, who is a Village Board member, and their three children. A Mattituck High School teacher for more than 21 years, she is also a member of the Greenport PTO, Mattituck PTO and Army Family Readiness Group. 

“Quality education is my life’s passion,” she said. Her experiences as a teacher, parent and community member gives her valuable experience for the school board, she said, adding that, with three children in the district, she has a “vested interest in the success of our school.”

She said she supports the budget proposition, which she called the “bare minimum” to keep the school operational. Finances, “building back our school and community cohesiveness” and “equal opportunities for our diverse student population” are the top three issues facing Greenport, she said. 

“When the population of our school increases our resources are stretched,” she said, arguing the sharp increase of real estate values in the village hasn’t trickled down to the district. “We need to explore more options and work with our elected officials to seek more funding for our school.” 

She identified a number of key points, such as providing support and professional development for faculty and staff, evaluating the district’s enforcement of discipline policies and developing a strong response to bullying.

The school should develop a stronger English as New Language structure and work on community outreach to foster internships and entrepreneurship programs for youth, she said. 

She said the district needs to be aware of the challenges students and their families have faced throughout the pandemic. The district should continue to bring in outside programs to support mental health needs, even as the school moves forward with student education. 

Some other initiatives Ms. Martilotta would like to implement include:

• More public discussion on matters pertaining to the school.

• Hiring a grant writer to work on a percentage basis.

• Exploring local internship opportunities for students.

• Including an interpreter during school board meetings.

OYSTERPONDS

The Oysterponds School District also will have three candidates vying for two seats.

Thomas Stevenson

Thomas Stevenson

Mr. Stevenson, 51, lives in Orient with his wife and two children. A farmer, he’s also chair of the town agricultural advisory committee, secretary of Oysterponds Rod and Gun Club and a leader of Greenport Boy Scout Troop 51. He is seeking his fourth term on the board. 

Mr. Stevenson said constant change from the state education department and unfunded mandates are among his primary concerns for the district. He is also concerned about the “brain drain” facing Southold Town, as many graduates leave in search of better jobs and affordable housing. He noted the value of civic education as well, calling the lack of civic involvement in schools and government “appalling.” 

He supports the Oysterponds budget as proposed. The district superintendent and staff, along with the BOE, have “worked hard to present a responsible budget that provides for excellent learning while maintaining fiscal prudence for the taxpayer,” he said. 

Mr. Stevenson said that while Oysterponds is a “special place” where the community looks out for each other, it could still use some improvements. If voters approve, the school grounds — the driveways, tennis court and basketball court — will be upgraded this summer. He’d also like to expand the district’s STEM program and cooperate with groups like the Peconic Estuary Program to encourage more science in the field, and indicated support for investigating alternative energy.

He emphasized the value of in-person learning and said district staff have been doing “extra assessments to stay on top of loss of learning” during the pandemic. He said the district “increased funding for counseling and mental health so no child ‘slips through the cracks.’ ”

Dorothy-Dean ‘Dee Dee’ Thomas

Dorothy-Dean Thomas

Ms. Thomas, 54, is a wine consultant living in Orient. She has served on the Oysterponds school board since 2010. 

She supports the budget proposition, which she says is “fiscally sound and full of educational opportunities for our children.” A proposition on the ballot would use money from the district’s capital reserve to address repair and safety issues concerning the parking lot, tennis court and basketball court, she said. 

She acknowledged that children are facing learning deficits from the pandemic, although now that they’re back in school, there’s already been a “drastic improvement in closing the gaps.” The low student-to-teacher ratio helped with catch-up, and the district began to develop individual learning plans for each student even before the pandemic, she said.

“Oysterponds is an elementary school and children at this age really need the social interaction and in-person guidance to progress and succeed,” she said. 

She added that with pandemic restrictions now loosened, it would “be nice to bring back and expand” enrichment opportunities with artisans and tradespeople from the community. 

Ms. Thomas also said the district needs to hire new staff after a spate of retirements in recent years, which can be challenging — especially given the shortage of affordable housing on the North Fork. 

As an incumbent, she expressed pride in the district’s program expansions while keeping taxes “basically flat” for the past 12 years, in addition to maintaining the school building. 

“I’m always looking for new ways to add programming opportunities without increasing taxes,” she said. “We live in a great community with loads of talented people who have been very generous with their time to help in this area.”

Miriam Seiver Foster

Ms. Foster, 35, is a baker and co-owner of Orient Country Store. She lives in Orient with her husband and twin children, and is expecting another child in August. Ms. Foster, who also sits on the Floyd Memorial Library board of trustees, is seeking her second term on the Oysterponds school board. If reelected, her term will overlap her children’s time in school.

Ms. Foster called the budget proposition “fiscally sound,” with funds for professional development and to expand and improve school grounds. The board has “worked very hard” to keep the budget steady over the past decade for taxpayers, she said. 

She indicated pride in improvements to school grounds during her tenure; if approved by voters, upgrades are planned for this summer. She also praised the district’s instruction in extracurriculars such as music, art and physical education, which are “fundamental to the well-roundedness of children.”

During the pandemic, Oysterponds emphasized students’ mental well-being by hiring a full-time counselor and character-ed instructor to bridge socialization gaps, she said. “The district is to be commended on how it handled the pandemic and strove to hold in-person instruction as much as possible over the last two years, and implemented elaborate and effective safety measures,” she said,

However, she added, class size has grown and there’s been an increase in non-native English speakers. The district should expand its English as a Second Language program, incorporate dual-language instruction, continue outreach programming for students and reconsider class configurations and staff-to-student ratios. 

She said Oysterponds could also make use of more local resources such as on-site marine education, local historical societies, agricultural instruction and the local library. 

Erin Latham Stanton

Erin Latham Stanton

Ms. Stanton, 41, is challenging incumbents for a seat on the Oysterponds school board. She lives with her husband and three children in Orient Point, where she is farmer and business manager at Latham Farms, which has been in her family for more than two centuries. 

“I was raised in Orient and have returned to the community to give my children the same lifestyle that I was blessed to have. Oysterponds School was a huge part of what made this place so special for me,” she said.

Her father used to attend school board meetings and was very involved in her education, she said, adding, “By running for office, I hope to carry on my family’s long history of community service and share my own educational philosophy with the current, experienced board.”

A New Hampshire-certified science teacher, Ms. Stanton has a history in education. She was vice president of the Oysterponds PTA in 2021-22 and has been a soccer coach and a member of the North Hampton (N.H.) school board.

She supports the district’s budget proposition. The administration and current board, she said, “have done a wonderful job” making it student-focused and mindful of community needs. 

Low enrollment is a problem in the Oysterponds district, although it also means students receive “unparalleled” individual attention from “exceptional and devoted teaching staff,” Ms. Stanton said. She noted that community involvement is one area that could use improvement. 

If elected to the board, she “would like to enhance the admirable work our board is already doing” and “learn from present board members, listen to our community needs and provide perspective from [her] educational background, both formal and informal.”

SOUTHOLD

There is no contested race in Southold, with one incumbent seeking re-election.

Judi Fouchet

Judi Fouchet

Incumbent Judi Fouchet, 59, is the only candidate running for the school board in the Southold school district.

A Southold resident, she is semi-retired with careers in banking and childcare, and currently volunteers with the Center for Support, Advocacy and Transformation. Ms. Fouchet is also founder and board member of Southold School Educational Foundation and business mentor to Southold Robotics Team RICE 870, which recently reached the quarter-finals of a world championship tournament. Ms. Fouchet has been on the board since 2004 and said she’s “comfortable with the work.”

“I have the time and energy to continue at least for one more term,” she said. 

Ms. Fouchet supports the budget proposition, which she said “balances the desire to provide a strong well-rounded education to all the students of Southold, while at the same time is fiscally responsible to our community.” 

She indicated concern, however, about the “continued sustainability of programs in an uncertain economy” and the interruption to education during the pandemic. Especially in the early primary years, she said, such an interruption could cause issues with speech development, literacy skills and “all that follows these critical areas.” 

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