SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. -- School board elections are coming up on May 21, and The Daily Voice wants to highlight candidates running for the Board of Education of the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns.
Four candidates are vying for three open seats on the Board of Education: incumbent Vincent Nadile, Carol Banino, John Paine and Jennifer Liddy Green.
Jennifer Liddy Green has lived in Sleepy Hollow with her husband and three sons since 2000. Green is a stay-at-home mom. She previously worked as a litigator in Manhattan for 10 years, first as a prosecutor in Manhattan Family Court and then in civil litigation for private companies and public agencies such as the New York City Board of Education and the New York City Police Department.
What qualifies you to be a school board member? One of the bonuses of staying at home to raise a family has been the opportunity to simultaneously take on a bigger role in community affairs. Over the past thirteen years, I have had the joy of helping out as class parent at Tappan Hill and Morse, serving on the board of the Tarrytown Nursery School, volunteering for local charities like Rivertown Runners and being an active member of my church, Immaculate Conception. I believe my biggest contribution to the community, however, has been the leadership role I have taken as a founder and current board member of Kids' Club of Tarrytown & Sleepy Hollow.
Kids' Club is a local charity that came to life after the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester left Sleepy Hollow in 2009. My husband and I were early supporters of the work the B&GC did to help needy local families by providing a safe and stimulating place for children to go when they were not in school. When the B&GC decided that they could no longer run a program here, my husband and I and a number of other civic-minded community members undertook the task of forming a new charity, Kids' Club, that could help fill the gap left by the B&GC's absence. To date, Kids' Club has been instrumental in initiating programs to support the emotional, educational and physical needs of underprivileged youth in our community.
Among other things, Kids' Club has started a mentoring program in the district that not only provides support for younger students who may be struggling in school, but also gives older students a chance to get work and leadership experience. We further have supported district children by providing new musical instruments to the Washington Irving music program, giving funds to the YMCA's drama programs, sponsoring a SAT/college preparation course to be brought to the district this summer and funding the purchase of laptop computers for Warner Library. We fund summer camp scholarships throughout the district. We have partnered with and/or otherwise supported the work of other local charitable organizations such as the Community Food Pantry, the Korean Church (literacy program and music lessons) and Sleepy Hollow's Life Center (after school and summer camp), to name a few. We also founded a group called the Community Coalition, which has brought together the many generous non-profit organizations in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow to identify the needs of the community and to coordinate service efforts.
At my suggestion, Kids' Club also began an initiative to provide preschool programming for underprivileged children in the district, and this year we are searching for ways to influence educational growth even at infancy. We realize how important early childhood learning is to the long-term success of a student and to the success of a school system as a whole. As a Board of Education member, I will continue to advocate for early childhood education.
Through both my involvement with Kids' Club and with my own children's education, I have gotten to know many people throughout the school district and the community. In addition to my plentiful interactions with the wonderful teachers, support staff and parents in the community, I have conferred with District Superintendent Dr. Smith on subjects ranging from how to improve school test scores, the pre-K initiative described above, my support of the school social workers and their contributions to the district, and how Kids' Club can enrich the lives of Middle and High School students with guest speakers and other programming. I have advocated before the Committee for Special Education and am familiar with Pupil Services, the Challenge program and after-school programs, too. I believe these contacts, as well as my demonstrated interest in serving this community in a thoughtful and effective way, are some of the reasons why I would make a successful school board member. What are the three biggest issues facing the school today? The three biggest issues facing the district are how to: one, maintain high academic achievement for all our students; two, challenge those students who are capable of doing superior work; and three, keep the school budget in line during difficult economic times. If elected, I would like to achieve all three of these objectives.
If elected what would you do about them? To maintain high academic achievement, the district needs to be mindful of the importance of class size and teacher to student ratios, especially in the lower grades. I would hope to be able to maintain assistant teachers and, if necessary, hire new teachers so that our students can benefit from individualized attention and instruction. It has been my experience that it is in smaller groups and settings that children truly absorb and master the material being taught. I also am concerned about the level of kindergarten readiness we are seeing in our district. I would advocate for a Pre-K program that services more of our district's children, so that John Paulding does not see such a wide gap between those children who have been exposed to a classroom setting before kindergarten and those who have not.
To challenge our brightest younger students, I would encourage elementary school teachers to always have extra assignments and projects available for those who are capable of doing more. There is no reason for a child to be bored in a classroom. If a child finishes an assignment quickly (and correctly), he or she should always have a next level reading, research or writing assignment available to work on. Rather than segregating these academically gifted children from the rest of the student population in special classes, however, I would like to see teachers creating opportunities within their own classrooms to challenge each individual child. For more reasons than I could go into here, I do not think "tracking" is the right way to go for these younger grades. I think that Middle School, once the students have a proven record of achievement and ability, is the more appropriate time to introduce honors programs and the like.
In order to keep the budget manageable, the district has to distinguish between those items that we want and those that we need. We certainly cannot have everything, and we need to be realistic about our desires. While being mindful of the community's preferences, we cannot just rubber stamp those expenses that generate the most "buzz". We need to consider what is best for the district and the community in the long term. It is a balancing act, and I will bring a critical eye and questioning attitude to each requested cost. I also will ask whether there are other funding sources that can provide desired programming without additional expense to the district.
If something had to be cut from the budget to meet the state tax cap, what would you cut? This is a difficult question to answer without knowing the specific expenses that will affect us in the coming years. We were fortunate this year that certain monies became available to us from the state and other sources so that the district did not have to seek a significant tax increase. We also had a number of personnel retirements which enabled the district to save money. It's hard to know how the pieces of the puzzle will come together year to year, and, at this time, I have no specific programs or personnel that I would single out for elimination, although I do believe that academics has to be the district's first priority.
Moreover, I have learned that the district is seeing a trend toward a larger student population. In light of that, it would be my goal to maintain elementary school class sizes at levels that are consistent with other neighboring school districts. Recent reports have reiterated the importance of this criteria in a student's academic success. Dependent on the specifics, I expect also to support spending on maintenance of our school infrastructures, and, if necessary, expansion of same to meet the needs of our growing children and district.
I am mindful, however, that we can't let the tax burden on our home owners get out of hand. I appreciate the struggles that our residents have in paying for a school budget that gets bigger and bigger every year. Hard choices will have to be made to keep expenses manageable, and I would hope that my Board colleagues and I could work together to gather consensus from the community on which programs/personnel are a lower budgetary priority, and also how, in some cases, to find new funding sources for programs that might not otherwise survive the cut. As I have expressed above, it has been my experience that this is a vibrant and generous community which has the capacity to fill in some of the programming gaps that the school district alone cannot.
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