HALF HOLLOW HILLS, New York, May 7
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
Transparency, the handling of Common Core standards and standardized testing and, community involvement – on Monday night at Candlewood Middle School, these were a few of the topics discussed by the 2015 candidates for Half Hollow Hills school board a little more than two weeks prior to the May 19 election.
All four of this year’s candidates – Scott McElhiney, Adam Kleinberg, Stephanie Gurin and Adrian Montalvo, who are vying for two seats on the board – attended the panel, which was hosted by the Half Hollow Hills PTA Council, moderated by the Huntington League of Women Voters and drew more than 100 audience members.
From the get-go, it became apparent that there is a cry for transparency among residents; the very first question asked the candidates their opinion on the way district officials communicate to parents and residents.
McElhiney, a former teacher for Half Hollow Hills and current building principal with the Locust Valley School District, said he understands the importance of being transparent, getting in front of issues and informing the community; “it’s critical,” he said. But McElhney added that he believes the district does an excellent job of informing residents through services like email notifications.
However, Kleinberg, an attorney who works closely with school districts, disagreed and said that he believes the district could be better when it comes to informing residents. The 12-year resident said should he be elected, he’d push for the live streaming and archiving of meetings so that all residents could have the opportunity to be involved.
“Our district is seeking millions of dollars to upgrade technology this year,” he said. “This should be a part of the plan; we need better transparency with our residents.”
Gurin, a 14-year resident with a track record of community involvement spanning the PTA, youth sports leagues and more, said she would advocate for a monthly district newsletter with the hopes of better including residents in the dealings of the district.
“[The newsletter] would be the hub that keeps everybody united and together,” she said.
Montalvo also said he believed the district plays a vital role in informing the community of events, emergencies and other pieces of information, but also warned that the nature of some issues could affect how and when such information is dispersed.
With that transparency, the conversation eventually shifted into the recent debate over Common Core standards and standardized testing, which recently saw record numbers of parents opting their children out of the tests.
“The biggest issue facing our community is Common Core and state assessments and what to do with them,” Kleinberg, who said he is against such testing and has opted his children out of them in the past, said.
Should he be elected, however, Kleingberg said he wouldn’t let his own personal stance affect his decisions and the decisions of the school board.
“My goal is to make sure the community gets the information they want, they deserve and they need so that they’re making an informed decision,” he said.
Gurin echoed Kleingberg’s sentiments on the “inappropriate” nature of the testing and said she would push for school curricula to better involve subject areas like the arts, social studies and music.
Montalvo, who has a son that attends High School East, said the Half Hollow Hills School District has never typically backed down from raising academic standards, but said that he disagrees with the way that the Common Core had been rolled out statewide.
McElhiney, who has two daughters – one in the third grade and another in the fifth – maintains a similar viewpoint to Montalvo’s in terms of how Common Core was applied, but said that he chose not to opt his children out of testing in part because a low participation rate could affect school aid.
“I believe in high standards,” he said. “I support formal and informal assessments; assessing students is how we know they’re learning. I’m against opting out. I think students should take the state tests. I can’t support anything that takes money away from the school community.”
From this conversation, another based on increased community involvement with school board members arose.
Gurin said she believes social media could play a major part in how the school board interacts with the community in providing an avenue for discussion on issues such as Common Core and standardized testing.
Kleinberg agreed and said that keeping an open conversation between residents and himself, should he be elected, would be key.
But while Gurin and Kleinberg had used social media and technology as a potential avenue for that open communication with the community, Montalvo and McElhiney said they believe there are other ways to do it.
While he has been an active Twitter user during his time as principal for Bayville Intermediate in Locust Valley, McElhiney said that he stays involved with the community in other ways.
Similarly, Montalvo agreed.
“I’m more of a face-to-face type of person,” Montalvo said. “I ask that you don’t judge me on what I say, or what I don’t say, on social media; I ask that you judge me on my actions.”
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, May 7, 2015; A2)