On Tuesday May 16 at RSS between 7 am and 9 pm Blind Brook residents will hopefully come to the polls and vote for two individuals to fill the soon to be open seats on the Blind Brook school board. The candidates running are Jennifer Schlactus, Steven Kaplan and Jeff Diamond. I have reached out to all three individuals running, with a series of questions aimed at helping you, the reader, get to know them better. Yesterday I posted Jennifer Schlactus' responses and tomorrow will post Jeff Diamond's. Today, let's get to know Steven Kaplan:
SK: A resident since 1996 together with my wife, Fern, and my two sons, Blake, a junior in college, and Spencer, a Blind Brook senior, in two months I will no longer be a parent of a student enrolled at Blind Brook. With Spencer’s coming graduation I look back with appreciation on the quality education both of my sons have received, and am a strong believer of paying it forward. Education is a core value in our family, which led to my prior six years of service on the BOE, including three as its president. Fern has a similar education focus, working in the early childhood program at Congregation KTI, where you or your children may also know of her as the garden lady. In my professional work as a CPA, I have an accounting practice in White Plains dedicated to dispute resolution, primarily in the areas of divorce and shareholder disputes, with particular expertise in forensic accounting, business valuation and taxation.
HH: Why are you running for school board?
SK: You may be asking, why now, and why pursue BOE service once again? As an “empty nester” come this fall, I will have fresh perspective and knowledge of the Blind Brook experience, but be free of any conflicts or self-interest concerning my own child. I also sit on the Parents Advisory Council at the university both my sons will be enrolled this fall, and will be continuing on it through Spencer’s graduation. Working with college level administrators affords me the opportunity to appreciate issues and concerns at the next level of education for our graduates, and apply that knowledge to inform policy at Blind Brook. At the other end of the spectrum, I have insight and understanding as to the changing needs and profile of incoming kindergarten students, owing to what I regularly learn from my wife about goings on at her early childhood program. Taken together, I have a unique set of perches from which to observe, learn and share, which when melded with knowledge from my prior service as well as my continuing involvement with the district thereafter, will help me work with BOE peers, Dr. Ross and his administrative team to craft policies and direction to keep a Blind Brook education relevant and appropriate in meeting student needs.
I am running not to find fault with the district or its board, indeed we should all be proud as a community of a school district that outsiders wish they had, or their children could attend. That said, there is a never ending need to reassess and refine educational programs, policies and priorities to keep up with the evolving world around us, and the needs of our graduates. I believe I have the right perspective and background to be an integral part of the policy making leadership team.
I am also driven by a concern for the tenor and attitudes displayed at some of the BOE meetings of the past year, not all of which have painted our school centric community in a shining light. I would like to think that some of what we have all observed, experienced or participated in is an unfortunate spillover from last year’s political campaigns, and does not reflect who we are or aspire to be. One of my goals therefore is to restore decorum to our discussions, by highlighting civil discourse, preparation and accountability. At the same time, I would advocate for a more productive mechanism for those with opposing views to bring them to the fore.
HH: What skills do you think you bring to the board?
SK: Often my work uses forms of alternative dispute resolution to keep parties out of court, such as mediation and collaborative law, and is frequently in the capacity of a neutral working on behalf of multiple parties. The most important skills I use in my work, and would bring to my board service, are objectivity, listening, reflection and collaboration. As a CPA, forensic accountant and business valuator, my financial acumen will of course be valuable.
HH: What sets you apart from the other candidates?
SK: First, I have to say that while I obviously know quite a bit about Jeff Diamond, having seen him in action for six years and I having served alongside him for a year during my earlier BOE service, I know little at this point about Jen Schlactus the school board candidate, including what she stands for and brings to the table. So it is not a question I could respond to if I wanted to. And that is the larger point - I don't want to. I think part of the problem with elections of recent past, both national and local, is that candidates spend time talking about and critiquing each other, rather than spending time talking about and answering questions about themselves, including their background, ideas, beliefs and principles, experiences, and skills. I am happy to speak about who I am and what I bring to the table, however I leave distinguishing among the candidates and deciding what sets me apart to the voters. Along with the right to vote comes the responsibility of the electorate to become informed about the issues and the candidates.
HH: What in your past experiences qualifies you?
SK: For starters, I have six years of prior service on the BOE from 7/08 to 6/12, which included three years in a row as BOE President, a first in Blind Brook history. My years of service were marked by the depths of the great financial crisis, and reflect able and respected stewardship in balancing financial realities with educational needs. Those who resided in the community during my years of service have first-hand experience with my efforts. For those new to the community, I encourage them to ask a friend or neighbor to get a community member perspective.
In the time since I served on the BOE, I have remained involved in a variety of capacities. I currently serve as Chair of the district’s audit committee, comprised of community member volunteers and two board members. During the recent superintendent search, at the request of the Board of Education, I was proud to serve as nonvoting Chair of the committee which interviewed and evaluated the three superintendent finalists. This past January I spoke at a BOE meeting dedicated to a discussion of the proposed construction project, asking questions and offering suggestions for improvement. I was pleased to note that a follow-up construction meeting addressed and reflected many of my prior comments. Lastly, I had the opportunity to be on a parent panel in Westchester Magazine’s March, 2017 issue featuring a discussion of public high schools, which included conversations about getting into college, diversity, bullying, homework and many other topics (http://tinyurl.com/mekdl9c). The panel was a great opportunity to not only share my thoughts, but to learn from parents around the county about shared and different experiences, and to pick up some beneficial ideas for Blind Brook.
HH: Do you have particular education-related goals for the coming three years?
SK: As in my prior BOE service, my ultimate focus is on the whole student experience and their preparation for life beyond Blind Brook. This time around, I have a particular interest in making the learning student experience relevant and appropriate. To ensure that occurs, it is abundantly clear to me that the time has come to add a central office administrator focused on education. While many would refer to such a person as a director of curriculum and instruction, my vision is more comprehensive, since there are many aspects of an educational program that go beyond curriculum and instruction.
Also, I have learned from studying the work of thought leader Seth Godin that discussions have different components, the “what”; the “how; and the “why”. All too often our discussions ignore one or more of those factors, and our evaluative process district-wide needs to change to be more effective. Some examples are in order. With respect to the student learning experience, I believe there are conversations to be had about how classes (AP in particular) are taught and scheduled. To a degree components of this discussion have come up, most recently about homework policy and also requirements to have a scheduled lunch. Other pieces can include by way of example, more consideration of collaboration and teamwork (very big on the collegiate level), as well as flipped classrooms. However, I think these discussions have been of a singular focus, when in reality there are many issues that are complementary and should be discussed in a comprehensive manner. How for instance can homework be discussed without considering what is an appropriate student class load? These types of issues exist at all levels K-12. I would, therefore, be advocating for a change in the way we evaluate some elements of education. I would also advocate for a mandatory revisiting of new initiatives after the passing of an appropriate period of time, to ensure intentions are met with effectiveness. As an example, are IPADs and Chromebooks being used effectively as envisioned, and are their useful lives as long as expected? These examples only serve to highlight the need for a district level administrator who can synthesize the "what", the "how" and the "why".
HH: And lastly, can you tell me something most people don't know about you?
SK: I am the product of public education, having attended SUNY-Albany, and then Baruch College to obtain my MBA-Taxx. I am also the child of a family of educators. Travel is a favorite activity, appreciating the beauty of nature, varying cultures and different people. Also, I enjoy reading, and have particular interests in science and technology. Online my favorite reading source is Flipboard, with an interesting portfolio of articles curated 24/7 based upon my interests. Sports wise, having grown up in Queens before moving to Rockland, I am a Mets and Jets fan, which has its ups and downs.
Tomorrow stay tuned for another candidate's responses.
Editor's note: While the same questions were provided to all the candidates, I did offer them the opportunity to tweak, delete or add their own questions so some may differ.