On May 15, School District 14 residents will vote on a $105 million budget, as well as choose three school board candidates in an at-large election. Melissa Gates is one of four people seeking a seat. The following is the questionnaire put to all candidates by the Hewlett-Woodmere Central Council PTA.
How long have you lived in the district and are/were you a parent of a child in the public schools?
I have lived here 11 years with my husband and children but I grew up here in District 14. I have three children. I have one in college, an eighth grader at WMS, and an 11th grader at HHS. They all attended Ogden, but only my girls attended FECC since we moved here when my son was in third grade.
What particular experiences or skills qualify you to serve as a school board member?
I have been involved in education in one form or another for over twenty years. Although I have a bachelor of science in business administration I had continued on to get my masters in education but then married and moved out of that state I was living in and never completed it. Still, over the years, I have worked at an after school program, taught music, piano, and drama and taught pre-school and Mommy and Me. I have worked as a parent advocate for CPSE and CSE committees in another school district and I have advocated for all children in my various PTA roles for 17 years.
I already have a good understanding of our district and a good working relationship with everyone here having been on many district committees including Site Based, Professional Development, and Wellness, to name a few. I am currently in my third year as co-chairperson of the district PTA Curriculum Committee and co-president of Central Council. I believe that I am very approachable and keep an open ear and an open mind while always having the best interests of the children at heart. I work hard for the children and the community without any personal agenda.
What do you see as the major issue(s) facing our school district?
I think that the most important issue facing our district is one that faces all school districts at the moment, which is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to educate children properly because of legislation and mandates passed by politicians whose first priority may not be the education of our children. It is the duty of a board of education to give our children the tools to reach their potential, achieve their goals, and go out into the world confident enough to define their own meaning of success while keeping our taxpayers’ pocketbooks in mind.
Long Island as a whole is a very high achieving geographical area and the one-size-fits-all demands that are placed on districts now are detrimental to the quality of education here. That is not to say that there isn’t room for improvement or that everything is perfect. Districts should be allowed to build on what they feel works for their students without the intervention of politicians focused on short term perceived “fixes” to problems that may or may not exist in a particular district. At this point, Nassau County has shifted the burden of their financial woes onto the backs of our children without any real savings to the taxpayers and this is not acceptable.
What do you see as the greatest strength of Hewlett-Woodmere schools?
We truly have a caring and supportive community of parents, teachers, administrators and residents who want what’s best for our children. I have seen our community in action first hand when there is an issue that needs to be raised or a family in need that needs our support and kindness.
One particular strength which speaks to the current budget being presented is the current board and administration’s ability to look ahead and do some long range planning in order to preserve the programs for our students that our community values. Due to unfunded mandates and because of the economy many schools have had to get rid of many programs that directly affect their students. There are districts that are closing some of their schools and getting rid of music and sports. Due to long range planning we are in a much better position than a lot of our neighbors in Long Island.
What do you see as the greatest weakness in our district and what would you do to change it?
I believe that our district needs to improve their communication with parents and the community. Rumors often abound. People often feel the need to demand transparency. This year, a board of education page has been added to the district website but I think we can still do more. In this day and age, mostly everyone is connected to the World Wide Web. We need to utilize emails more in an effort to go green and in order to inform the community of anything of note … I’m not talking about PTA e-mails but communications from the teachers, schools, board of education, and superintendency alike.
The district already pays for an automated phone tree message system … we need to use it more. I don’t think there is any such thing as too much information. If someone gets a call or an email they are not interested in they can hang up or delete it. It is as simple as that.
What changes, if any, should be made in the district’s budget?
At the moment, I have not heard of any cuts that should be reversed nor could I make any suggestions for cuts. There is so much in the district’s budget that the district has no control over due to unfunded mandates, increase of living costs, and previously negotiated contracts. The budget that is being presented includes two administrative positions that are being cut. There are additional staffing cuts that do not translate into loss of programs for the students.
There are some changes to the special ed programs which will allow for some students to return to the district which can be a positive thing. A new co-teaching model for one team in every grade at the Woodmere Middle School is a change for next year. The elementary level special ed students are being moved from Ogden to Hewlett Elementary. These can all be positive changes if the district is able to service these students properly and can provide a solid transition plan. There needs to be a watchful eye on all of these changes but I would not necessarily say they shouldn’t be done.
The bottom line is that this is a responsible budget. We must always be mindful of what our taxpayers can bare while always continuing to look for ways to improve the education of ALL of our students.
Is there any other information you would like to share about yourself or your goals? What would you like the community to know about you?
I have been an advocate for children for many years. I have always hoped that people saw me that way as opposed to a party platter toting PTA mom or as the president of that organization that is constantly fundraising and asking for money because I have done so much more than that! I am not afraid to ask questions and I am certainly not afraid to speak my mind.
I have several goals. The most important one being preserving what is good here but always looking to improving the quality of education that our students receive to restore our reputation as a high performing school district. I also would like to help foster a better relationship between our community and the board. I would like the community to feel that their input is welcome and desired and would like for everyone to feel that their concerns are being heard.
I believe the board needs to take more responsibility for what goes on in the district and although a board of education does not get in to the minutiae of the everyday I plan to be involved and well informed. The board needs to do some leading instead of following at both the local and state level. I believe I can do that.
Note: One of Central Council Presidents’ responsibilities is to help publicize information on the board of education candidates either through a Candidate’s Night or a questionnaire. All information coming out of Central Council this year regarding the candidates and budget has been handled by Central Council Co-President, Mitchell A. Greebel only. There will be no Candidate’s Night due to scheduling restraints. The questionnaire used this year is the same one that was used in the last two (2) contested elections with a few minor changes developed in consultation with all the unit presidents. The responses were written by the candidates first hand with no editing or changes other than to consolidate and format the information here. The answers are provided here in the order that the candidates will be on the ballot. The order was chosen by lottery pick, which was conducted by the district clerk and witnessed by a district security guard. By law, the lottery is held the day after the petitions are submitted.