By KATIE HOOS
New Rochelle’s upcoming Board of Education election will now be a contest with two newcomers throwing their hats in the ring.
Of the nine-person school board, two board members’ terms—Jeffrey Hastie and past Board of Education president Deirdre Polow—are coming to an end and their seats are up for election.
Hastie is seeking re-election alongside challengers Ricardo Monzon and Dr. Salvador Fernandez, while Polow, after serving 25 years on the board, has decided not to run again.
The candidates elected to fill the two vacant seats will each serve a five-year term beginning on July 1.
While they all aim to maintain and enhance the quality of education in New Rochelle, each candidate’s objectives for improving the district are unique.
Monzon, a married father of four children in the school district, has lived in New Rochelle for 23 years and works as an IT consultant for Manhattan Information Systems. He went to Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains and took courses at Westchester Community College before beginning his career in technology.
Over the past eight years, Monzon has been involved in various school and community organizations. He is a current member and past president of the New Rochelle Special Education PTA, current president-elect of the Trinity Elementary School PTA and current president of the Miracle League of Westchester, a Hartsdale-based baseball program for children with special needs.
Monzon, 43, believes he can provide a fresh perspective to the board and better strengthen community involvement within the district.
“I come from a solutions provider background, so I’d bring a new perspective to the board,” he said. “It’s important to get different community groups, parents and school administrators involved to create strategies to solve the problems within the community.”
While Monzon said he believes some of district’s greatest strengths include the teachers and administrators and the unique programs offered—like the dual language program in elementary schools and the kaleidoscope program, an enriched language arts and math program for students in grades four and five—he hopes to improve transparency within the district, if elected.
“There is definitely a lack of transparency and communication,” he said. “The public needs to be more informed as to what’s going on.”
As far as the future of the district, Monzon said he supports a collaborative vision compiled from parents, New Rochelle residents, and district administrators that promotes an equal education for all students, both in the northern and southern parts of the city. “We need to create a vision that we can collectively move forward on, analyze elements of our previous success and replicate them,” he said.
Monzon’s support for a collaborative vision is echoed by Dr. Salvador Fernandez, 54, who is also running for a Board of Education seat. Fernandez, a five-year resident of New Rochelle, is the principal at Intermediate School 52 in Manhattan and has been an educator for 30 years.
“I’m running because I think I can contribute from an educator’s point of view and provide support to the principals and teachers of our schools,” he said.
Fernandez currently has two children in the New Rochelle school district and his wife, Sarah, is a teacher at Isaac Young Middle School. Fernandez, who immigrated to New York City from the Dominican Republic when he was eight years old, is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Adult Learning Center, an organization that offers English literacy programs and job training for Spanish-speaking New Rochelle residents.
While Fernandez said he believes the district succeeds at educating a diverse population of students, he believes community engagement and awareness are lacking.
“If elected, I would suggest starting a strategic planning committee that will work on developing a long-term plan to work with the board,” Fernandez said. “That way, residents can give their feedback.”
He also suggested broadening communication by starting a Twitter account to which residents could ask questions to the board during monthly meetings.
In terms of district finances, Fernandez said a long-term plan to manage and monitor how money is being spent is something the district could improve on.
“I’d make sure education continues to improve so all kids get the quality education they deserve, but also have a checks and balance system to oversee fiscal expenditures and provide interim check points throughout the year so the Board of Education is aware of how the money is being dispersed.”
As a principal in the New York Public School System, Fernandez has been working with implementing Common Core standards since 2010. While Fernandez said the way New York State implemented the Common Core could have been better, he supports the need for equitable education across the district and beyond.
“I see it work at my school and it’s something I think every school can do if everyone’s on the same page,” he said. “All schools should be exposed to the same quality of work across the district, but some schools may need more support. One size does not fit all.”
As for the lone incumbent in the race, Hastie says his passion for education, which he credits to his parents, led him to run for a seat on the board for a second term.
Hastie, a 16-year New Rochelle resident, owns Arkgem Holdings—a consulting firm—and a soccer store.
Reiterating the need for more transparency within the district, Hastie said while he’s proud of the steps already taken, including filming Board of Education meetings, there needs to be even more open communication.
“I’m most proud of the steps toward openness within board,” he said. “They didn’t broadcast school board meetings when I first got on the board.”
Taking community involvement a step further, Hastie hopes to create standing committees comprised of board members and community members to collaboratively discuss things such as finances.
In terms of district finances, Hastie said an inventory management system would be beneficial for monitoring how the district is using its supplies and how much it is spending. He also said he would like to take a closer look at the existing agreements the district has with outside contractors to make sure they are financially smart.
“We’ve got large contracts with vendors for electrical work, but at what point do we determine if it makes more sense to contract the work out or bring on more staff?” he said.
The election and school budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 20.