The Port Jefferson Board of Education will hold its vote on May 18 to elect three members to the board for a three-year term — commencing July 1 of this year, expiring on June 30, 2024. Four local residents are looking to take those spots.
Shannon Handley has lived with her family in Port Jefferson for 22 years.
With two children currently attending school in the district ¬— Port Jefferson Middle and Edna Louise Spear Elementary schools — she has become determined to maintain the success of the local schools.
An educator herself, Handley has been a high school English teacher at Bay Shore High School for the last two decades, previously working for three years in New York City’s public schools.
“I have a passion for education,” she said in an email. “My unique position — as both a parent and a lifelong educator — would enable me to bring valuable input and insight to the board, as I will bring my parenting experience and high school teaching experience to the complex decisions necessary for continued educational excellence in Port Jefferson schools.”
Handley said that if she is elected, she plans to help maintain a strong organizational structure for the district while working closely with the public.
“I believe I can help to contribute to a climate in keeping with our district’s mission, one that will promote integrity and mutual respect, allow our district administrators to manage the schools, that will allow the teachers to effectively teach, and will foster an environment in which the students can be supported and develop into responsible, independent, adaptable, lifelong learners,” she said.
“Because of my background, I understand how essential it is to serve the diverse values and needs of our community during these unprecedented times while promoting equity and inclusivity for our students,” she said. “My passion for improving public schools, my knowledge of public schools, my commitment to public education and to serving the students of Port Jefferson makes me an excellent candidate for our board of education.”
Rene Tidwell has been a Port Jefferson resident for 20 years.
A mom to a high schooler, and a special education aide in another local district, she said her husband has been a big volunteer within the district.
The incumbent candidate said she is seeking reelection for her second term because the last three years had been “fulfilling.”
“I want to utilize my first term’s experience to help us move forward as we face some challenges,” she said.
Her concerns, she said, are the declining enrollment and shifting demographics and how those could impact the district’s instructional programs.
Secondly, Tidwell mentioned the LIPA glide path.
“From a budget perspective, ensuring that we maintain a conservative approach as our revenue from LIPA decreases over the nine-year glide path that we have with them,” she said.
While these two issues are large and concerning, COVID-19 is also thrown into the mix. Moving forward, she said, she wants to continue to face the mandated safety and security protocols for students.
“There’s so much uncertainty around it,” she said. “There are so many different changing guidelines coming quickly.”
She said she wants to make sure the district stays on top of everything and makes sure there is a safe and secure environment for students, teachers and staff.
Tidwell also has been pushing since before the pandemic for more resources to meet the social and emotional needs of students.
“I want to make sure we have enough psychologists to support the students in our schools, making sure we have sufficient professional development for our teachers and, again, just making sure that we’ve got programs in place in all three of our schools to make sure that we are identifying and addressing any social emotional needs our students have, particularly now that we’re hopefully moving into more of a recovery period from COVID,” she said. “I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now. I think the impact is going to continue to play out over many years to come.”
Ryan Walker is running for reelection with the board.
A father of two, one who graduated from the high school in 2018 and another who is graduating this year, he and his wife moved to Port Jefferson in 2010.
“My wife actually grew up in Port Jeff, and graduated in 1986,” he said. “So, we live in the house she grew up in.”
Originally from Syracuse, Walker is a retired New York State trooper, who is currently working as a physical therapist assistant at Peconic Bay Medical Center.
Three years ago, he was elected to the school board and he said this run is to continue his unfinished business.
“We’ve done so much,” he said. “We hired a new superintendent, we mitigated the COVID crisis we had the LIPA glide path in our way. The past three years, we’re managing all that, and we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.”
Walker said he wants to tackle the LIPA glide path issue and its impact on local residents and businesses. He also is concerned about declining enrollment, and its impact on the schools’ staffing.
“We have an award-winning [high] school,” he said. “So, we want to make sure we maintain that.”
He added that in continuation with the COVID-19 crisis, he wants to see it through the 2021-22 school year and keep families safe.
“The last three years while I’ve been there, I’ve been really pleased with how we’ve been able to get through the tough times so far and I’m confident moving forward we’ll be able to get through all of our challenges ahead,” he said. “I’ve been very active in the community and I’ve really grown to embrace Port Jeff as my home.”
Walker added he’d like to address the district’s aging infrastructure and find funding for repairs that can no longer be ignored.
“I like to think our board is made up of a community with diversity,” he said. “So, what I bring is my background in law enforcement and security, along with health care. Everyone on the board, they bring in a little something else to it. And that’s the way boards were meant to be — sort of a cross section of our community.”
Tracy Zamek is seeking a third term as a trustee on the Port Jefferson school board.
A mom of two Port Jeff high school students — a senior and sophomore — she has been a resident for 25 years. Her husband grew up in the district.
For the past 22 years, Tracy Zamek has been an elementary school teacher in the Hauppauge school district.
“My experience as a classroom teacher is paramount when it comes to making decisions about what’s best for a student’s education,” she said in an email.
Zamek has been a school board member for six years — two years as vice president — where she said she has gained significant knowledge about the district’s students, curriculum, facilities and finances.
“I am running for the school board for the same reasons I ran six years ago,” she said. “The first reason being to stand up for the students of Port Jefferson, and the second reason being we need to make smart, responsible decisions when creating our annual budget, especially with the LIPA challenges we are currently faced with.”
Zamek said she has always been an advocate for public education.
“At community forums I have spoken out against the privatization of public education,” she said. “I don’t believe big corporations should be making the decisions about what’s best for our students. Local school boards should be making these decisions. There is no one size fits all in education.”
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, Zamek said she believes the school board should stay focused during these turbulent times, and that all students should be in-person full time next year.
“We need to do what’s best for the students in Port Jefferson,” she said. “We need to preserve our programs and continue to provide a stellar education.”