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David McKinnon

By Andrea Paldy

With three board seats up for grabs and only one incumbent in the race, one thing is certain: the Three Village school board will seat at least two first-time trustees this year.

The candidates, profiled below in the order they will appear on the ballot, responded to questions by email, including about the district budget, declining enrollment, student programs, community engagement, and diversity and inclusion. 

David McKinnon

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University, is running a second time, after last year. 

 Along with his running mate, first-time candidate Karen Roughley, McKinnon is an advocate for proportional representation on the board.  

 “Last year, independent candidates received over 10,000 votes from the community, 43 percent of the total vote. There were three open positions. No independent candidate won a seat. Forty-three percent of the vote, zero percent of the seats,” he said. 

 The lack of independent representatives — those not represented by a union —results in “an extraordinarily closed system,” he said. 

 McKinnon wants the district to be more “parent-friendly” and said if he were elected to the board, he would encourage board participation by “opening up the flow of information,” and making decision making more transparent. He would also make himself available to parents after board meetings, “to give feedback on their proposals.”   

 Founder of the Three Village Parents Alliance, he credits his profession with giving him “a good overall perspective on how the school education system works for its students and how demands on the education system have changed over time.” 

Revamping the elementary math curriculum is a priority for McKinnon. He suggests an opt-in program, similar to the local enrichment program, School Nova, which uses “specialist” math teachers to introduce basic algebra concepts to students early in their education. 

The curriculum would make math “seem more natural to more students” and easier to learn computer languages earlier, he said. It also would “significantly improve employment prospects for many students,” McKinnon said.

To address declining enrollment, the researcher said the district needs to control costs to make itself more affordable and attractive to young families. 

McKinnon supports his running mate’s proposal for more social emotional learning and inclusion and also believes the district should add ethics to the curriculum. 

 McKinnon’s three children have attended district schools. He still has one child in junior high.

Sue Rosenzweig

Sue Rosenzweig

 Sue Rosenzweig, a former news anchor at News 12, says she’s running so she can “continue to advocate for all of the children in our district.”  

 This means doing her part to ensure that taxes are spent “in the most efficient way to deliver the best possible academic experience for each student,” she said.  

 Rosenzweig has served as president of the board of trustees at Play Groups Preschool, and PTA president at Setauket Elementary, Gelinas Junior High School, Ward Melville High School and the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs.

In these leadership roles, she said she has been called to collaborate, “include and respect all opinions,” manage budgets and “keep the needs of children paramount.” 

She is confident in the district’s budget and its management of funds that enabled schools to reopen fully last fall, but Rosenzweig did express concern about the impact the pandemic has had on district families. “Jobs have been lost, savings accounts depleted, many people have suffered terribly.  We will need to be ready to continue to support students whose families have been negatively affected,” she said. 

In response to calls for more diversity, equity and inclusion, Rosenzweig, a member of the Gelinas Anti-Racism and Social Justice Task Force, said, “I hear these calls, and I validate them.”

She said she is inspired by the community — “especially the students” — which seems ready for change and opportunities to have “difficult conversations about biased behaviors, hurtful language, and marginalizing practices;” a staff that looks more representative of the district’s diverse population; literature that “reflects many realities;” and “textbooks that give a more accurate picture of the world and its history.” 

Rosenzweig, who is running with Shaorui Li and Deanna Bavlnka with the endorsement of the Three Village Teachers Association, is the mother of two Ward Melville graduates and two children currently in the secondary schools. 

Shaorui Li

Shaorui Li

Shaorui Li is a principal engineer and research group manager at a national laboratory, as well as an adjunct faculty member at Stony Brook University. She has managed advanced research projects funded by the Departments of Energy and Defense and NASA and was a Long Island Society chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She will serve as chair of the 2022 International Nuclear Science Symposium. 

Li, who has one child in elementary school and another in junior high, said she plans to use her background and professional network to provide opportunities for STEM education, funding and additional resources for student career-building. “It is my passion to expand career-building resources through collaboration with the universities, national laboratories, STEAM museums and studios for our students,” Li said.  

 She also cited the district’s proximity to world-class institutions as yet another advantage that can help students “to advance their career growth through effective district-led collaborations.” 

 Also important to Li is teacher training. She said she wants to continue to provide teachers with opportunities — such as the training they received in remote teaching during the pandemic — to continue to directly benefit students. 

Founder and president of the Asian American Association of Greater Stony Brook, Li is also an executive director of the Long Island Chinese American Association, a board member of Fermilab Asian and Pacific Association and a member of the Gelinas anti-racism task force. She commended the district’s “excellent effort to improve diversity and inclusion” and said that the effort, along with a school board with diverse members, would boost the district’s reputation and attract families from diverse backgrounds. 

Li, who ran for the board last year with McKinnon, said that the “positive and constructive involvement of the whole community” and “transparent communication between the administrators, the board, and district families during the pandemic” have alleviated the misunderstandings and misinformation of the past. She added that she would like to build on this foundation as a board trustee. 

Karen Roughley

Karen Roughley

 Karen Roughley, running mate with McKinnon, said her motivation for running “is to guide the District to become even better in the face of the new challenges and to give parents a truly independent voice.” 

Roughley, who was a vice president of business continuity and crisis management in investment banking before adopting her daughters, added that district students with special needs, along with their families, teachers and therapists, also deserve representation to make sure their voices are heard. 

Like McKinnon, she believes that parents should be represented by board members who have not been endorsed by “special interest groups” and that board meetings should be places where the community can have “real-time discussions on what is being voted on.”

She also wants to ensure “an open line of communication between the district, the parents, and the community,” so parents can be part of the decision making process as they were with the reopening of school in the fall. 

In addition to advocating for world language instruction in elementary school, Roughley would like to see the expansion of vocational education in the district, with the district offering vocational courses in-house. This could save the district the money it pays BOCES, and it could also bring in revenue if classes are open to neighboring districts, she said. 

Having served on the executive board at Arrowhead Elementary, and as current co-president of both the Special Education PTA and Murphy PTO, as well as vice president of the PTA council, Roughley said she’s familiar with district policies and has acted as a liaison between parents and educators.  

Roughley, a 10-year resident with one child in elementary school and one in junior high, proposes “containing or even decreasing” property taxes to both attract new families and keep current families in the district.  

Though she has seen educators “doing their best to be inclusive,” Roughley believes bullying is a problem in district schools. “Inclusivity and respect for diversity — however it manifests — need to be taught to our students in the classrooms,” she said.

Deanna Bavlnka

Deanna Bavlnka

Deanna Bavlnka, a corporate director of human resources, is the only incumbent in the race. A board member since 2011, she is district chair of the Presidential Service Awards and maintains the community Facebook page, Three Village Connection. 

 A Ward Melville graduate herself, she wanted to highlight “sometimes overlooked” district strengths such as the “cutting edge” technology and teacher training that were crucial to this year’s instruction. 

 She added that the district’s Three Village Academy, prekindergarten, special education and intellectually gifted (IG) programs, along with student scholarships and the number and diversity of clubs and electives “set Three Village apart from the rest, every school year.” She also wanted to recognize the addition of mental health staff and guidance counselors to grades 6-12 over the years. 

Even while noting the district’s strengths, Bavlnka said she would like to bring vocational studies to the district through Career & Technical Education (CTE) and EMT classes to the high school students. “With Stony Brook University Hospital in our backyard, I would like to significantly expand and add to our current health and medical courses,” she said.

The mother of two secondary school students said the district has answered calls for attention to diversity and inclusion with the creation of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Task Force that includes, administrators, teachers, parents and students. She added that the district is looking at culturally responsive programs from the State Education Department and is discussing curriculum and professional development to enhance anti-racism, social justice and inclusion. 

Bavlnka said that even with declining enrollment, large costs such as healthcare and retirement “rise expeditiously” every year. 

A particular point of pride was the district’s full opening in September to all students five days a week, while also offering a remote option. She praised “teachers and staff who showed up every day to provide quality instruction to our students, accommodated our students, and put the students ahead of their fears.”

Board elections and the budget vote will take place on Tuesday, May 18, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Gelinas and Murphy junior highs and Ward Melville High School.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

If this were a normal spring, Three Village residents would have voted this week for the 2020-21 school budget and board of education trustees. But in the wake of a global pandemic requiring school closures and social distancing, business has been anything but usual.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pushed the school budget votes and board elections back from their May date to June 9 and said that “in an effort to keep New Yorkers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” voting would be conducted by absentee ballot. That means all 32,984 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the district’s budget and select three board trustees from a crowded pool of six candidates.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Dr. Jeff Kerman and board vice president Irene Gische are running to keep their seats against engineer and start-up founder Shaorui Li, David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University, and Vinny Menten, director of parts sales at Gabrielli Truck Sales.

Candidates are listed below in the order they will appear on the ballot.

Inger Germano

Inger Germano. Photo from candidate

Germano, 48, is running for her fourth term. In an email, Germano noted that when she first ran in 2011, the district faced seismic changes, including the implementation of Common Core, teachers annual professional performance review and the tax cap. Those past challenges position her to make informed decisions about staffing, programs and other changes that the district may encounter as a result of “uncertain financial times,” she said.

A health care administrator at Advanced Cardiac Care, Germano said her experience as a health care compliance officer and managing health care facilities will help when it’s time to make decisions about reopening schools. She mentioned additional issues the district would need to tackle. Chief among them, Germano said, was reopening schools “with the priority being the safety of the students and the staff,” emergency preparedness, online instruction and using technology “to supplement and enrich” student learning.

“The changes need to be made while ensuring that staffing and program changes due to budget cuts are made with minimal effect to the students,” said Germano, who has lived in the district for 14 years with her husband and two daughters.

During her tenure on the school board, Germano created the Facebook group, Three Village Connection, to foster communication and transparency between the community and board members.

She has served on the North Shore Montessori School board and volunteered for the Suffolk County Girls Scouts, St. James R.C. Church, Three Village Basketball and the Setauket Fire Department.

Irene Gische

Irene Gische. Photo from candidate

Gische first served on the Three Village school board from 1983 to 1995 and was president for two years. She ran again in 2011 and was elected. During a phone interview this week, Gische said she is running to “make sure that the programs that we have in place continue and that we continue to look for ways to improve the opportunities we give our kids.”

“The district was very different” when she ran in 1983, she said, explaining that it had considered eliminating foreign languages at the junior high schools. The vote was 4-3 “and that was what pushed me … that was too close for comfort,” said Gische, 74.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth and improvements in our programs and in our schools over
the years.”

A Three Village resident for 47 years, she’s proud of the district’s ability to prepare its students for the world and points to honors classes, strong academic teams and student acceptance at top colleges as examples of the district’s success. She doesn’t want any of these things to “fall by the wayside” in any situation, but especially not as a result of the pandemic, said Gische, who was the head teacher at University Preschool for 25 years.

Gische also highlighted the board’s successful budgeting. Even while “keeping a pretty tight budget, we have been able to maintain the programs that prepare our kids to move on, and that’s very important to me,” she said.

Gische and her husband have two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville and five grandchildren. Three have gone through district schools. Gische noted, though, that she counts among her honorary grandchildren the many junior high and high school theater kids she’s sewn costumes for over the years.

Jeff Kerman

Jeff Kerman. Photo from candidate

A dentist with practices in Miller Place and New York City, Kerman and his wife have lived in Three Village for 47 years.

“It is a wonderful community, and I want to keep it that way,” he said during a phone interview.

Elected in 2011 after serving from 1999 to 2005, the former board president acknowledged the challenges the district faces with remote learning, possible budget cuts and reopening schools safely. However, he said, the district has had “lots of issues that are very difficult to deal with, and we’ve managed to deal with them in our district very well.”

“We have excellent administrators,” he added, and they present the board with good advice to make good decisions.

“Whether school starts in September, our primary concern is the health of the kids and the staff,” he said. Also, paramount, is providing them with a good education, the former captain in the U.S. Army said.

Kerman, 75, said he first ran for the board to ensure that his two sons, Ward Melville graduates, received an “excellent” education. In his current bid, he said he wants to maintain the district’s reputation, while continuing to help it improve.

One way would be to introduce foreign language education in the elementary schools, he said. Kerman also spoke of his respect for the scientific support for a later secondary school start time, which is why he thinks it was important to form a task force to look into whether a change would be feasible for the whole community.

Kerman has been treasurer for 20 years of the nonprofit NYACAO Corporation, an organization that helps dental students, is a member of the American Dental Association and a founding member of the Suffolk County Dental Society and the Bronx County Dental Society.

Shaorui Li

Sharui Li. Photo from candidate

Li, 45, points to her research projects, funded by the Department of Energy and NASA, and work in the private sector and for national laboratories as experiences that will make her an effective board member. Her background has required her to work with budgets, operations and personnel management.

“I would strongly support initiatives that allow our students to explore our local professional landscape, to learn more about available career opportunities and be able to shape their own,” Li said in an email.

She suggested career workshops from the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, art programs through local art galleries and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and technology and research programs through Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Stony Brook University Small Business Development Center. Through such collaborations, she hopes to enrich the curriculum and provide opportunities for all students to explore careers suited to their unique talents.

Li also has suggested taking advantage of district parents’ diverse talents and expertise as a resource, especially amid looming budget concerns.

Students should be the driving force of budget decisions, Li said. Teachers, whom she recognized as “excellent experts of traditional teaching methods,” are also critical, and investing in them will benefit students, she said. Li advocates for providing teachers with professional development to help them with the abundant and sometimes overwhelming online resources and programs that are available.

The six-year Three Village resident and mother of two district students has been active in professional organizations and the local community. She serves as the local society chair of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, has mentored the Gelinas Science Olympiad team, and has volunteered for local PTAs, the Long Island Chinese American Association, Three Village Civic Association and the Three Village Parents Alliance.

David McKinnon

David McKinnon. Photo from candidate

McKinnon, 62, is a 30-year resident and father of a current district student and two other children who attended Three Village schools.”

As a board member, the Stony Brook University professor said he would like to reform the elementary math curriculum, increase technology education and serve all students, especially those in the “middle” — kids who “have a lot of potential, but they are largely dependent on the school system to develop that potential.”

McKinnon proposes an “opt-in” program for elementary math learning that would “use specialist math teachers and would build on the success of the SchoolNova program,” which introduces basic algebra concepts at an early stage. SchoolNova is a local enrichment program at Stony Brook University that offers math, science, world language and art classes. Following this model would help prepare students for the math they encounter in junior high and would also enable them to learn computer languages at an earlier age, he said. It also could improve employment options for students, he added.

“Given how central computers are to our lives, I don’t think anyone should leave school without having at least a basic understanding of how a computer is controlled by a program they have written,” he said in an email.

Aware of the budget challenges that the pandemic poses to the district, McKinnon said he would work to make sure that the core mission of educating students in the fundamentals and providing them with practical skills is not “degraded” with budget cuts.

In addition to the curriculum reforms, McKinnon, who is married to Barbara Rosati, the founder of the most recent later-start-time movement in the district, is a supporter of the cause. Both he and Rosati are members of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which formed as an advocacy group to address various issues that affect the schools, including a later school start.

McKinnon said he is running in part to see a board that is more “responsive to parent or teacher-initiated proposals that can improve the learning environment and academic outcomes.”

Vinny Menten

Vinny Menten

In addition to helping the district provide an “excellent level of education that our students deserve,” Menten, 62, said he would like to help balance the budget to reduce waste, lower taxes and increase transparency.

A 50-year Three Village resident and 1975 Ward Melville graduate, Menten points to business degrees, certification in human resource management and experience working with budgets larger than $100 million as preparations for a seat on the board.

His ties to the community run deep. He owned an auto-repair shop in the district for 15 years, is the former commissioner of the Three Village Basketball League and was a substitute teacher at BOCES in automotive technology. In addition to having two daughters who graduated from Ward Melville High School, his wife of 35 years has been a special education aide in the district for 20 years. His father was a district carpenter.

“Cutbacks are inevitable,” he said in an email, alluding to the brewing budget storm, but he believes they can be achieved by “trimming the fat” first. “And thereafter, all parties involved should be willing to put a small level of skin in the game for the good of the school and the community, just like the private sector is doing,” he said.

Since enrollment has been declining for many years, Menten said that “with some innovative analysis and some persevering execution,” the district could use the savings to “limit the increase to the taxpayers far below the tax cap, while protecting the educational excellence that our students expect and deserve.”