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, 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, 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 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, 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, 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.