Get to know the candidates running for North Salem Central School District Board of Education

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On Tuesday, May 17, the North Salem Central School District will hold its annual budget vote and trustee election. This year, three candidates are running for three open seats on the Board of Education--Deborah D'Agostino, Brandy Keenan and Fran Havard. The North Salem Post met with each candidate and asked them each the same five questions. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.



Deborah D’Agostino

Deborah D’Agostino is the current president of the North Salem CSD Board of Education. She has served on the board for the past 12 years. She has two adult children who both graduated from North Salem Schools. D’Agostino is currently retired.

NS Post: What do you perceive as the biggest challenge(s) facing the district?
D’Agostino: Replacing our superintendent (Dr. Ken Freeston, who is retiring at the end of the 2022-2023 school year). We will probably start the search in September; typically it takes a full school year. We’ve talked a bit about it and we decided that we would use a search firm because the firm will help us focus on what our requirements are. That’s part of their process. That will probably start late summer or early September. We’d have a brief done in the fall so that the firm could begin looking for candidates. Then we would probably start interviewing in early 2023.

Another big challenge is that we always have to look at our facilities. This upcoming year we’ll be doing our facilities master plan, so that will be a focus.

And, the biggest concern I have is COVID recovery for our kids. I think that COVID recovery, especially for our youngest kids, is going to be a major focus in the coming year.

NS Post: What do you see as the primary role of a Board of Education?
D’Agostino: The Board of Ed’s role is pretty clear. We set policy. We technically have one employee who works for us, and that’s the superintendent.

NS Post: Tell us about the most recent time you interacted with a student in the North Salem Central School District.
D’Agostino: I do that often. I’m on a number of committees and unlike a lot of other schools, our students are on our governance committees. I get a chance to see our students at work; I’m always impressed. I’ve had a chance to work with one of our graduates and that can really knock your socks off.

Our mission work is to get students to think about problem solving and to think creatively. I think we meet that mission. These young people are good thinkers, they’re good problem solvers.

NS Post: What do you think is a public school’s responsibility when it comes to student mental health?
D’Agostino: We have one. We have a lot of responsibilities that are not academic. I want our kids to have the best life they can have. If we have to prop them up, I think we have a role there. When I have to think about allocating resources between mental health professionals and teachers, it’s hard to think about that. Where do you draw that line?

NS Post: Anything else you’d like to share?
D’Agostino:
I think that it’s important to show stability in a Board in order to recruit an optimal superintendent. That is, at least in small part, why I’m running.


Brandy Keenan

Brandy Keenan has served on the North Salem CSD Board of Ed for the past three years, having first been elected in 2019. She is the parent of four children. Her oldest child is a high school senior and her youngest is in second grade. Keenan most recently worked as a farm educator for preschool children at Muscoot Farm in Katonah.

NS Post: What do you perceive as the biggest challenge(s) facing the district?
Keenan: My main concern going into the next school year is dealing with the after effects of the pandemic and the lost opportunities for learning, as well as the mental health crisis that is affecting all of our students. We've spoken a lot about that at the Middle School/High School but you can see it at the elementary school level as well. In elementary school, it's largely behavioral because so many of those students didn't get the opportunity to go to nursery school or they were pulled out of school in Kindergarten, so they didn't have time to adjust to the expectations of a public school setting.

It's a difficult conversation, but we need to really start talking about the pressure on our Middle School/High School students, especially where mental health is concerned. A lot of children were in difficult home situations which the pandemic pushed them further into, and they didn't have the supports that they needed. We've been seeing a lot of suicidal ideations, social anxieties and tremendous academic pressure at the same time.

NS Post: What do you see as the primary role of a Board of Education?
Keenan: That is such a complicated question because I think everybody has a different answer to that. A lot of it comes through board president leadership, and the relationship between the administration and the board, as well as individual board members themselves. 

I've met and talked with a lot of BOE members at different districts and they all seem to have a different answer to the role that a BOE plays. I'm less interested in micro managing the school district; for instance, approving every book that the English department is choosing or getting involved in the relationship between staff and administration. 

We do have a fiduciary duty to stakeholders, to provide oversight and to make sure the budget is being spent the best way possible to meet the most needs of the most students.

As a board, we can also provide oversight to make sure we aren't losing students, to make sure that we are reaching all students, to get to know what's going on in the district through committees like Mission, Policy, and Wellness, so that when we vote we come from a place of knowledge and experience.

The thing I wish I could do more of is listening to parents and stakeholders, being another person they can go to to ask questions, voice concerns or just have a philosophical conversation with. 

NS Post: Tell us about the most recent time you interacted with a student in the North Salem Central School District.
Keenan: Before I became a board member (and before COVID), I was in the schools all the time. I worked in the library, I was on the farm to school committee, I ran the book fair. I was always the class parent. As a board member, most of my interactions with students are with the older students, either when they come to us, such as NS4Change and NS for Racial Justice, or when I'm working alongside them on committees, such as the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee. It's amazing to be treating these young adults like young adults, hearing their voices and working through problems with them.

NS Post: What do you think is a public school’s responsibility when it comes to student mental health?
Keenan: Students spend the bulk of their day in the school building. The school can see, in ways that sometimes parents cannot, children who are struggling or becoming withdrawn. If children feel that they can go to someone at school, then that is a necessary service that we can provide because they are under our care when they walk in that building.

Because we have counselors, psychologists, nurses on site, along with teachers who are intuitive and who form relationships with their students, we do have a responsibility to be supportive to students. 


Fran Havard

Fran Havard is running for the North Salem CSD Board of Education. She is a parent to four children and is a second year doctoral student studying educational leadership. (Image courtesy of Fran Havard)

Fran Havard is a parent to four children, three of whom attend North Salem schools. She has been a teacher for the past 22 years, teaching in environments including virtual, urban, suburban, and international public schools. She also works as an executive function coach for adults and teenagers with learning differences. Havard is a second year doctoral student at Manhattanville College studying educational leadership, researching equity issues around online schools.

NS Post: What do you perceive as the biggest challenge(s) facing the district?
Havard: Helping everybody feel included is one of the biggest problems that schools face. Having every voice recognized as being important - parents, kids, administration and teachers. Their voices matter in creating a meaningful experience.

The most important piece for schools these days is listening to every one of those voices and designing structures that hear everyone, and not just the loudest person in the room.

NS Post: What do you see as the primary role of a Board of Education?
Havard: The responsibility of a Board of Ed member is to be really involved at all levels so that you can communicate what you’re seeing and hearing to the larger taxpayer community. There are a lot of good things happening at North Salem and a Board member's responsibility is to participate in all of it and to turn around and tell the stakeholders what’s happening--to be active and to report.

NS Post: Tell us about the most recent time you interacted with a student in the North Salem Central School District.
Havard: One of my favorite activities is going into my younger child’s classroom and reading to them as a mystery reader. I think every Board of Ed member should go into a little kid’s classroom as a mystery reader and watch their faces as you read them a book that has made an imprint on your life, or on your child’s life. There is nothing more magical than seeing them interact with a piece of literature that you are sharing.

NS Post: What do you think is a public school’s responsibility when it comes to student mental health?
Havard: To notice it, act on it, and be on the same page about how to respond. To partner with the community and families to support children in need. The school will see things first; their job is to not ignore it, but to figure out how to connect to the child.

I’ve seen a school where they made sure each kid was connected to an extracurricular to keep them engaged. Mental isolation can quickly become academic isolation. A school’s primary obligation is to get students support and to bring them back to learning.

NS Post: Anything else you’d like to share?
Havard: If I join the Board of Ed, I’m most looking forward to collaboration, communication and to being able to support the district in a meaningful way. For my kids, their friends, and our community.


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