Five Up For Two BOE Seats In Westbury

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On Tuesday, May 15, Westbury voters will decide who fills two open seats on the Westbury Board of Education. Incumbents John Simpkins and Pless Dickerson are running against former board member Karin Campbell and newcomers Mateo Flores and Michelle Wilson. The Westbury Times asked the candidates to fill out a questionnaire describing their experience and goals for the district. Residents can also learn more about the candidates on Thursday, May 3, during a Meet The Candidates Night at Westbury Middle School at 7 p.m.

Karin Campbell

I am a Westbury High School alumni Class of 1978 who has served the Westbury community for more than 30 years. Fifteen years of my service has been as a Westbury School Board Trustee. As a former trustee I understand board roles and responsibilities. I am an active community resident serving a diverse community. As an experienced board member, I know what to expect. I am committed to quality education, I am a hardworking, selfless person who is committed to raising standards and the fight for funding.

1. What qualifies you for the trustee position?
I am fully aware and understand the inequalities in education. I know why our ranking among school districts on Long Island and New York State falls at or below neighboring school districts. My work to understand the equity questions is what led me to continue the fight for minority school children. My plan is to represent all of the people of Westbury. I am committed to supporting all of the needs of all of the children in our school district. I have knowledge of New York State Education Law, Policy, procedures, school administration, curriculum, staffing, day to day instruction, budgeting, athletics, scheduling, negotiations and much more. I would love to be able to continue to serve the community as an advocate for the children and everyone who has a vested interested in our school districts success.

2. What is the biggest challenge facing the school district and how would you solve it?
Most pressing is the overcrowding of our schools and community. I want to work to relieve the stress; not only on our schools but our neighborhoods as well. People need to understand the contractual demands on our school budget. We must continue to lobby. I’ve been to Albany and Washington, D.C. to lobby with success. I was very proud of our students for their recent trip to Albany to speak with our representatives. I fully support R.E.F.I.T. and their long hard fight for funding equality. We must push for the formula for funding public education to change.

3. What changes would you like to implement in the district?
We do need to raise the academic standing in Westbury. This calls for an investment in our schools. As I stated in 2014, “we must consider extended day, extended year, weekends, reduction of class size, new construction, leasing/rented space or split scheduling.” Here we are four years later discussing these very same options. I fully supported and stressed the need to establish parent centers in all of the schools. Parents need to be educated and they need a place to have their questions answered and concerns addressed. I served when the board approved the Parent Centers and would love to have the opportunity to return, to see the centers are opened. I’m concerned that a zero increase budget on the surface sounds good. Does not paying a tax increase now mean we will have to pay higher taxes later? Paying school taxes is part of funding schools. The district has saved for a rainy day and the rain has come. I’m committing to serve the community through this storm.

Pless Dickerson

Born and educated in Atlanta, GA. Upon completion of an undergraduate degree from Clark College (now known as Clark-Atlanta University), I began my teaching career in the Atlanta public schools. In 1975, I relocated to Westbury. I secured a position as a social studies teacher and remained in that position until 1983. I received a Masters of Science in Educational Administration in 1978 and a Masters of Science in School Guidance and Counseling in 1981. In 1983, I was appointed High School Guidance Counselor. I worked with students in college and career preparation until I was appointed to the position of Interim Principal of Westbury Senior High School. In 1986, I was appointed to the position of High School Principal in which I continued to serve until retirement in 2003. I was awarded the degree of Doctorate of Education in 1998 from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. In 2009, I was appointed to the position of Assistant to the Superintendent for Educational Services for which I was responsible for Curriculum, Human Resources and Oversight for Grants. I was appointed as Interim Superintendent and Superintendent of the Wyandanch Union Free School District until retirement in 2014.
I was elected to the Westbury Board of Education in 2006. I have been re-elected for 3 terms and have worked in conjunction with six other trustees to provide the most comprehensive education while maintaining a reasonable budget for the tax payers of the community.

1. What qualifies you for the trustee position?
My 45 years in the field of Education has given me myriad experiences on all different levels. In addition, my commitment and willingness to serve the Westbury children and community are all attributes which qualify me for the position of trustee.

2. What is the biggest challenge facing the school district and how would you solve it?
The most challenging issue facing the Westbury School District is adequate funding. This exacerbated by the ever-increasing growth of the student population. The delicate balancing of providing a comprehensive educational experience for all students, while maintaining a budget under the 2 percent cap for the residents of the Westbury Community, has been a difficult task to maintain. The state budget allocation for our district has been underfunded for numerous years and over that period of time is due $39,000,000. Despite myriad attempts by students, PTAs, school personnel and board members to increase the appropriation within the State’s budget, there has been little success. Although there has been an increase in state aid from last year, it still does not adequately fund the school budget for the upcoming year. As a board trustee, my charge is to be fiscally responsible. First and foremost, in order to address this challenge, I will continue to scrutinize the budget to make certain that we maximize resources. In addition, I will encourage more community involvement; continue the positive relationship our legislative advocates, Assemblyman Charles Lavine and State Senator Elaine Phillips and others; continue to sustain and support the efforts of our lobbyist; and continue to seek and participate with outside organizations advocating for equitable funding for our School District.

3. What changes would you like to implement in the district?
In the future, I would initiate a process for the Board of Education to spend more time dedicated to reviewing and revising board policies for the district.

Mateo Flores

I graduated from Westbury High School in 1987. I have resided in Westbury for the past 38 years. I’m the Hempstead-EOC Executive Program Director, where I work with low-income and disenfranchised youth and families. I attained a family development credential from Cornell University in Human Services. I’m the president of the Hempstead-EOC Youth Soccer Club, founder of the Westbury Hispanic United Association, and co-founder of the Westbury Youth Soccer Club. I have been recognized with various awards and accolades. I received the Youth Development Award and the Service Award from the Town of Hempstead. My EOC family has recognized me with the prestigious Chief Executive Officer Above and Beyond Annual Award.

1. What qualifies you for the trustee position?
I feel that I’m qualified for the trustee position because I am a parent of children attending the Westbury district, I hold leadership positions such as: president of the Hempstead EOC Soccer Club, Hempstead EOC Community Action Program, Chairman of the Hispanic American Advisory Board of Nassau County, and president of the Westbury Hispanic United Association for 20 years. I have run the Westbury-EOC Summer Youth Programs for various years, and have employed students within the district. I am a strong believer in higher education and have assisted low-income youth graduate from college.

2. What is the biggest challenge facing the school district and how would you solve it?
I believe the biggest challenge facing the district right now is overcrowding. Classrooms have between 25-35 students, hallways are congested and students are not able to get to classes on time, there is not enough room in the lunchroom to accommodate students forcing them to find alternatives to eat their lunch, and ninth graders had to be placed at the Annex at Nassau Community College. This makes it difficult for them to participate in extracurricular activities. I’m in support of the bond and encourage the community to vote in favor of the bond. This would give us the opportunity to bring back the 9th graders to the high school and alleviate the above concerns.

3. What changes would you like to implement in the district?
The changes that I would like to implement in the district are: high student achievement by building a partnership with parents and teachers, engage the community in decision making and provide more educational workshops for parents, create an environment conducive to learning, and work collaboratively with teachers for the betterment of the students. In order for us to fulfill the needs of our students, we must be one community, one voice, for the success of our students in the Westbury School District.

John Simpkins

John Simpkins is a 25-year Westbury resident with six years (two terms) as a school board member. John is currently executive vice president and global chief human resources for Drive Medical, based in Port Washington. Prior to joining Drive, John held various executive level position at Henry Schein Inc., where he was an executive for more than 22 years. John is married to his college sweetheart, Cerrone and has three children; Brianna, Gabrielle and Pierce. John brings a wealth of board experience. He has served on several corporate boards including: global compensation, diversity and inclusion and strategic planning. It is this experience that uniquely prepares John for continued board service.

1. What qualifies you for the trustee position?
First, I am a resident of Westbury. Second, I am a parent who understands and fosters an environment at home of education and accountability. Finally, and most importantly, I care deeply about the community in which I live, shop and worship. Westbury affords me a unique and diverse experience unlike any community on Long Island. I have seen the improvements in our school and within our community, yet I recognize there is still work to be done. I bring almost 25 years of executive level leadership and extensive public and private board experience. Experience that helps to drive effective governance for our schools.

2. What is the biggest challenge facing the school district and how would you solve it?
Overcrowding and academic performance. We need to provide an environment to encourage and inspire our children. The conditions of our schools have placed enormous challenges on our administrators,, faculty, staff and students. However we must be mindful of our community needs too we have a number of over burdened taxpayers, many of which are on a fixed income. We have to deploy better budgeting practices to ensure we are getting the maximum return on our hard earned dollars. As a taxpayer, parent or business owner you should know the experience the school board trustee brings to this community. I bring that broad experience to this board.

3. What changes would you like to implement in the district?
We need increased academic rigor. Westbury has some of the most talented, creative and gifted students. I have seen our graduation rates rise, Regents eligible students and score increase in key areas. But we are not where we need to be, nor could be. I have impressed upon the administration the importance of stronger academic rigor at the elementary level to ensure the student are prepared for more advanced learning at higher levels. I have pushed for more critical thinking curriculums/programs to ensure our students can compete with global student achievement levels. Finally, we need accountability across the board to ensure that all stakeholders drive results.

Michelle Wilson

Michelle Wilson, 30-year Westbury resident, was born in New York and is a Westbury High School graduate. She holds a Bachelor of Science in mathematics with a concentration in computer science from Temple University where she was also a teaching assistant in the mathematics department. After college, Michelle started her career in New York City as an engineer and met her husband (also a WHS alum). They later moved back to Westbury and are now proud parents of three beautiful children. Michelle’s 25-year career spans from startup to Fortune 50 companies, such as Time Inc. and IBM. Michelle has held multiple management positions and earned an executive project management certification from IBM. She is also project management certified (PMP) and is a member of the Project Management Institute. Michelle has been active in several service organizations, such as Samaritan’s Purse, Stop Hunger Now and World Vision.

1. What qualifies you for the trustee position?
I believe the management roles I held at both IBM and Time Inc. can help bring about a new vision, strategy and solutions. I am trained in complex environments that thrive on process, structure and accountability. I have a proven record of successful delivery against established goals, managing resources, and financial budgets with competing priorities. These types of skills should lend itself well to support the needs of the school district and bring about change.

2. What is the biggest challenge facing the school district and how would you solve it?
I believe the biggest challenge facing the district is creating a new vision and strategy focused on high expectations for student achievement. Some will say that overcrowding and the number of students per classroom is the largest issue. Others will say it is fiscal responsibility. While still others say it is improving performance and driving accountability. All of which are true and significant issues. The reality is that they are all interconnected. In order to improve the school district and raise student achievement, it requires a fresh perspective which incorporates setting goals and high standards, which I would push for to improve performance and the fiscal state of the district.

3. What changes would you like to implement in the district?
I would like to implement a goal driven school district where we have an understanding of where we are going and how we are going to get there. I want to ensure that the school organization that encompasses the board, administration, faculty and parents are working towards common goals and that decisions are made in the best interest of the students. One top goal is to implement fiscally sound practices that will optimize dollars for student education and lessen the burden on taxpayers. I would also like to implement a culture and environment conducive for learning that translates into higher performance.

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Since 1907, The Westbury Times has faithfully served the areas of Westbury, Carle Place, Salisbury and Old Westbury as a source for local news and community events.

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