2013-05-15 / Schools

Lively Interchange Among Garrison Board Candidates

PTA event draws a big crowd
By Annie Chesnut

The three candidates for Garrison School Board along with moderator Angela Smith (standing). Photo / Annie ChesnutThe three candidates for Garrison School Board along with moderator Angela Smith (standing). Photo / Annie Chesnut

The Garrison School PTA hosted a rare full house on Monday, May 13, in the school library.

With a May 21 election on hand, parents and community members showed up, eager to meet the three candidates for two board seats. Incumbent Charlotte Snow Rowe and newcomers Julia Bellrose Wynn and Derek DuBois are competing for the seat being vacated by longtime board member (and former board president) Anita Prentice, as well as for Rowe’s current slot.

The mood was upbeat but jittery in advance of the program, but once the candidates took their seats, PTA president Angela Smith and treasurer Karen Drotar kept everything running smoothly.

The three candidates clearly are all highly accomplished professionals and parents who want their children’s school to be the best it can be.

While finances were mentioned often—in the context of state aid, unfunded mandates, and the 2-percent tax cap—there was no evidence that cutting school taxes or entering into tough negotiations with bargaining units would be part of anyone’s agenda.

Instead, the biggest concerns seemed to be about educational excellence and how to achieve it; incorporating technology into the classroom; taking fuller advantage of Garrison’s special gifts, such as the School Forest; making sure Garrison students are academically prepared for life beyond the school; and providing wider opportunities for staff development, among others.

Working alphabetically, here are some examples of the ideas presented by the three candidates:

Derek DuBois

DuBois referred to the “magical set of ingredients” and “great track record” of the school, but said he wants to “further engage kids in inquiry-based learning.” He was active in the board’s goal-setting process for this year and said those approved goals are “very much in line” with what he thinks is important.

Regarding the attributes that are essential for successful school board members, he cited kindness, realism, and boldness.

Asked about what he thought the Garrison parent community’s vision is, DuBois said he couldn’t speak for all of the parents, but he believes that the approved board goals generally reflect parents’ “overall vision.”

As for current challenges, he listed the budget and the “barrage of curricular and testing mandates.”

Regarding assessing whether goals are being met, he urged transparency throughout the board process.

The most creative question of the night was how the candidates would spend an extra $100,000 if they had absolute discretion to do so. DuBois noted professional development for teachers and programs that would have “a lot of yield,” such as improving access to the School Forest.

Charlotte Rowe

Rowe, who has, over the past three years, shown herself to be a thoughtful board member who takes her time in considering most topics, worked on district p.r. before she was elected to the school board. She described her motivation as a general interest in community service, and said “the tone that is maintained at the school” is very important to her.

Her essential attribute for board members is being able to listen—to parents as well as to people who don’t have children in the school, “functioning as a reporter,” which is part of her professional training. She also emphasized being a consensus builder.

As for the vision of the parent community at Garrison, Rowe asked, “Don’t we all have a vision for how our child is going to be educated and introduced to the world?” She noted unfunded mandates, excessive standardized testing and budget challenges as the biggest current obstacles.

Rowe emphasized the fiscal oversight function of the board as key, and said the panel needs to lay out “overarching goals” for the superintendent while doing “things you are legally required to do.” She added that measuring success can be accomplished through meetings themselves, reports, public comment, and by keeping a “basic ear to the ground.”

Regarding the mythical $100,000, Rowe said she would use it to “move us forward” and try to meet needs in existing school programs.

Julia Wynn

Wynn, the newcomer (both as a parent and a resident), held her own during the discussions. Throughout the evening she made it clear that promoting technology literacy is her key concern, in fact, she wants Garrison kids to learn computer coding.

In her introductory remarks she noted that while she and her young family had lived locally for only a year, they “adore Garrison and can’t wait to keep putting down roots. Wynn acknowledged that they moved her from Brooklyn, “in part because of the really excellent school.”

Regarding key attributes of a board member, she agreed with Rowe that “it is all about the community,” and recommended patience, “dogged persistence,” and the ability evaluate all areas of a situation without prejudice.

In response to the question about vision, Wynn said she thought there were two visions: one that says, things are great now, and another that says, things could be better. She added that she sees unfunded state mandates as the biggest current challenge facing the board, and said the focus of coard members should be to balance the wishes of the community and the school administration with the budget. She noted parent and student feedback as methods for measuring success.

In her responses to audience questions, Wynn focused heavily on technology, saying at one point “technology is the future,” and noting that computer coding is taught in just ten percent of US schools.

With regard to technology, it was pointed out that in neighboring Putnam Valley there has been a fully functional 1:1 laptop computer program in place for a number of years, with every middle and high school student having a district-supplied computer, and some elementary students too.

Predictably, Wynn was all for such a program in Garrison, saying “It needs to happen.” Rowe, who already serves on the district’s technology committee, said she was in favor of “creative use” of computers to advance other skills. DuBois was less enthusiastic. Noting that the board needs to set the vision and direction of such a program, he urged getting to know and understand each teacher’s “visions and perspectives,” and said “I’m more concerned with how technology is used and how we’re going to engage.”

The Garrison budget vote and school board election is Tuesday, May 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the School Library.

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