Here’s where North Salem's Board of Ed candidates stand on issues impacting the school community
This is the third in a three-part series that shares more about the North Salem Central School District Board of Ed candidates and their backgrounds, their platforms, and where they stand on key issues for parents and community members.
The League of Women Voters of Northeast Westchester recently hosted a Candidate Forum for the four candidates running for two open seats on the North Salem Central School District Board of Education. The candidates--Carolyn Aversano, Matthew DeRose, Kurt Guldan and Christopher Jaeger--addressed a number of topics during the forum, including their positions on various issues impacting the school community.
Related: Meet the four candidates running for the North Salem CSD Board of Education
THE ISSUES: SCHOOL START TIME
The North Salem Central School District is considering a move to a later school start time. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among a number of prominent organizations that have called for later school start times for middle and high school students. According to data from the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association for the 2018-2019 school year, North Salem was one of just six among 45 member high schools that start school before 7:30 a.m. Here’s what the candidates had to say.
Aversano: “The research does support in favor [of a later start time],” Aversano said, though she noted the complications involved with making a switch; among them: financial burdens on the district; logistical challenges and Teachers’ Union approval. “On this particular issue I would need to receive the feedback of the community,” she said. “It comes down to if a majority of parents support, and can we find the right solution within our means to implement it.”
DeRose: “I understand the need for adolescent health and wellbeing. I also believe there are other reasons for the decline in teen mental health, including social media use right before bedtime,” DeRose said. He added that the district would need to support those families who “don’t have the resources or privileges to deal with” a later school start time. “We should work together for an equitable outcome,” he said.
Guldan: Guldan noted that he currently serves on the district committee responsible for exploring a later school start time. “I think this is something that needs to be looked into,” he said. “I think we need to also team up with the Town and the new Rec Center to help us with the kids for different programs to make this work.”
Lauren Rosasco, superintendent of the Town of North Salem Recreation Department, said that she hadn’t yet been approached by District leaders about partnering on any potential programs. “We always want to explore new options for expanded programming; however, we are still new in the building (3 Owens Road) and in the neighborhood so I'm not sure what the logistics of having a bigger daily program run here consistently would be,” she said.
Rosasco added that any decisions would need to be carefully weighed, “but we would be open to having that discussion if the school saw a need that we could potentially assist them with.”
Jaeger: “Research does support that [a later start time is] better for students,” Jaeger said. “I would also be more inclined to get the feeling of the community and parents to see who’s in favor–pros and cons.” Jaeger acknowledged that North Salem is one of the last districts to move its start time back. “I would like to ask those other districts how they did it, how their parents feel about it, and do they feel it's working or not working?” he said. “There are some pros to being one of the last.”
THE ISSUES: DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION
Community member (and former Board of Ed candidate) Jaime Roche said, “aside from tangible measures such as an additional SRO, bulletproof glass, etc, experts believe that mental health programming is an important piece of school violence prevention. Recent results of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed an alarming increase of mental health challenges among youth, most notably among children who identify as LGBTQ+.”
According to the report, nearly 70% of LGBQ+ students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year. Almost 22% attempted suicide during the past year and 45% seriously considered attempting suicide.
Said Roche, “this means that programming and initiatives designed to support this population, like those created by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committees, are essential in promoting positive mental health outcomes for students and a safe school environment.”
Roche asked, “as a potential board member will you fully support our district's DEI efforts? And if so, how?”
Aversano: “I do support the efforts of the DEI committee,” Aversano replied. “I believe that it is not an unreasonable thing to require - that all of the grownups in the community support the fact that every student deserves a school environment where they feel welcome, safe and supported. That’s not a particularly high standard.” Aversano added that “nobody is being asked to change their family values, faith or heritage.”
In an email, Aversano said, “I think many parents learning about the national mental health youth crisis wonder ‘But is it really happening here?’ and the heartbreaking answer is yes. From March 2022-2023 there were 26 suicide assessments in our district (situations that warranted an activation of an intervention protocol to assess the possibility of a suicide intent). Next year the district is launching Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something program - a full suite of mental health and safety resources that includes student training, educator support, and an anonymous alert system. The best thing about this program is that it is designed to empower and activate our community to take ownership in looking out for and protecting each other.”
DeRose: DeRose said that he does, “in my own way,” support the district’s DEI efforts. He said that he approaches DEI “through kindness and wisdom,” adding, “over time we can learn to appreciate our differences to promote healthy relationships with people from all different backgrounds.”
Guldan: Guldan said that he supports the district’s efforts to date. “We’ve done a pretty good job so far,” he said, noting the the year-long professional development training series the District facilitated with Paul Forbes, a bias awareness and equity consultant and former executive director of Educational Equity, Anti-Bias and Diversity for New York City Public Schools. “This isn’t something that just stops today; we need to keep on growing it forward,” Guldan said.
Jaeger: Jaeger said, “I go into DEI with an open mind,” adding, “I do think mental health is a big issue with kids, adults and teens.” Jaeger said he “would be willing to go into it with an open mind and address that from that stage forward.”
THE ISSUES: BUDGET CUTS
Parent Jason LaRocca noted that the District has received several hundred thousand dollars in additional state aid over the past couple years, largely due to COVID relief money. He asked candidates how they would handle the need to make cuts to a future school budget, when such funds run out.
Aversano: Aversano said that her approach would be to align resources to the priorities of the district, noting the importance of a “clear, strategic vision for the district, implemented correctly and with a board that supports it.” She added that her decisioning would come down to “core education vs. non-core education.”
DeRose: DeRose acknowledged that he has “a hard time” reading the District’s budget (the 2023-2024 budget is 51 pages). He said that he “would work with our district and learn how to read the budget,” and added that if it came to making decisions about what to cut, “I’d say don't pay the coaches because I’d do it for free.”
Guldan: Guldan said he would need to analyze what funds the district has to work with, given that each school year is different and presents different priorities. “Is there money savings from not having a JV sports team due to low enrollment? I’m sure there’s a little more here and there that we could find if we need to trim it. Every year you have to look at that to see where you could cut.”
THE ISSUES: INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS
Board of Ed member Deborah D’Agostino asked the candidates how much they knew or understood about the various educational initiatives the District employs, such as differentiated learning or computational thinking.
Aversano: Aversano said, “I think one of the benefits of how our mission has evolved and how well entrenched it has become is that we can really start to get granular about how to serve all students.” She cited Unified Sports, a program that joins people with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team, as one example. She voiced her support for differentiated learning, a method that matches instruction to a student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning. “We have students who have never been good at academics but we haven’t gotten so granular as to identify how we can help them to do better,” Aversano said.
DeRose: DeRose answered that as a parent who has been in the district for just three years, “I learn something new every single day about different assets we have in this community pertaining to education. When you go to the District website you can dive deep into the web and get lost into how many different aspects of education we encompass in this district,” he said. “There’s a lot to read.”
Guldan: Guldan praised the District’s mission, saying, “we’re one of the few districts that has had the same mission for so long. That’s something we should be proud of,” he said, adding “I think North Salem should be very proud of what we’ve taught our kids over the years.”
Jaeger: Jaeger responded, “ I don’t know much about that topic but I do look forward to understanding the risks and benefits of the educational topics and seeing if we can improve on anything if elected.”
WHAT ELSE IS ON THEIR MINDS?
Candidates were asked if there was any topic that hadn’t been covered enough during the Forum. Here’s how they responded.
Aversano: For Aversano, it was mental health. “I think that many parents that are learning about the national mental health youth crisis are wondering as they’re reading these very clear and horrible stats, 'is that really here in our beautiful bubble in North Salem?' Unfortunately the heartbreaking answer is yes.” She went on to cite the over two dozen student suicide assessments the District conducted over the past year. “Even if that number of seriousness was a fraction, that should not desensitize us,” she said. “We need to be very actively attacking this problem from all fronts.”
DeRose: DeRose spoke of his desire to create a parent forum in which to regularly disseminate information about the District to parents. “I would like more community forums where we can talk like this,” he said, “where we can formulate ideas and we can really get down to the social emotional aspect behind how decisions are made. We always forget about the children and including them in things.” DeRose said he would encourage Middle and High School students to attend and participate in “District changes and issues and incorporate them into after school extracurricular activities that include PQ.”
Guldan: Guldan spoke about “all of the issues that occurred after COVID,” saying, “I think we need to get the kids brought up to date. That is a big issue - helping kids recover and get up to speed,” he said, citing learning and mental health.
Jaeger: Jaeger echoed Aversano’s concern about mental health. “I believe mental health and the SRO come hand-in-hand,” he said. “The training is very specific to the schools; they walk around the schools, they will be able to tell if they do see that loner sitting by themselves,” he said. “Maybe they can address the issue before it becomes a longer term issue.”
Voting will take place Tuesday, May 16 at Pequenakonck Elementary School from 7:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.