Two longtime Floral Park-Bellerose Board of Education trustees are facing challenges in this month’s school district election from two candidates seeking changes in classroom curriculum.
David Fowler, 59, an 18-year veteran of the Floral Park-Bellerose board and current president of the Sewanhaka school board, and Laura Ferone, 50, an eight-year veteran of the Floral Park and Sewanhaka boards, are running together, seeking re-election to three-year terms.
Elizabeth Rossi, 40, is challenging Fowler for his seat, running with
Roni Kropf, 42, who is seeking to unseat Ferone. Kropf, a science department head and teacher at Valley Stream’s Memorial Junior High School, and Rossi, director of operations for the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, are focused on reform of the curriculum that has developed in support of the state mandated Common Core standards. Both women have grade school children enrolled in district schools.
“I want the curriculum to be altered. I want the teachers to have academic freedom. They should not be teaching from a script,” Kropf said. “I believe [students] will learn best that way, when teachers are teaching meaningful lessons. I’m not against high standards, but they need to be age-appropriate and attainable and they have to be individual.”
Kropf said classroom focus has put too much emphasis on English Language Arts and mathematics because of state assessments tests. Other academic disciplines, including science, social studies and cursive writing skills, are “falling by the wayside” in the process, Kropf said.
“We need to focus on everything to give kids a rounded education. We don’t need to teach to tests,” she said.
She said the new state education standards “are fine,” but implementation of the Common Core curriculum must be amended to give more classroom time to other subjects.
“Arts, physical education and socialization are key to thriving during childhood and have been pushed out of school life,” Rossi wrote in a public statement on her school board candidacy.
Kropf favors a creation of a STEM program for Floral Park grade schoolers, comprising science, technology, engineering and mathematics to give students “a solid background in multi-discipline concepts” in preparation for higher education and the workplace.
Fowler proudly points to the Sewanhaka school district maintaining the lowest in per pupil expenditures among all school districts in Nassau County, while sustaining academic standards.
“I’m running on my record of service and achievement on the school board for the last 18 years,” Fowler said.
He said he also wanted to see through the work resulting from the passage of an $86.6 million bond last spring to renovate and upgrade the five Sewanhaka district high school buildings and sports fields. The first phase of the bond work has been completed with the makeover of the Alva T. Stanforth athletic fields in Franklin Square.
Fowler said he also feels his experience on both district boards makes him well qualified to continue the job.
“To me, these are very difficult times in public education and I think I have experience that’s very valuable in helping to move our districts forward,” Fowler said.
Fowler, a Floral Park resident, is a principal in the Carle Place law firm of McCabe, Collins, McGeough & Fowler. He was firmly committed to having the district make the repairs and upgrades recommended for the central high school district by Hauppauge-based Wiedersum Associates Architects, the firm commissioned to evaluate the district’s facilities.
Ferone was also among the Sewanhaka trustees who were unified in a perceived need for essential changes to the district’s buildings and playing fields. They successfully presented an amended bond issue proposal after a defeat of a $100 million bond proposal in December 2014. She said she also wants to see the bond project through.
“It is the accomplishment I’m most proud of, particularly since we were able to work together with the community. It was monumental because we lost the bond vote in December,” Ferone, a 26-year district resident, said.
A registered nurse for 29 years who has worked primarily in pediatrics, she has one son at Floral Park Memorial High School and a second attending the John Lewis Childs School.
Ferone has been a member of the Floral Park elementary PTA for 13 years and has also taught religious education classes at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church for just as long.
“I have a strong belief in community service. It has been an important part of my adult life,” Ferone said.
Kropf was a social worker before working as a teacher for the past 17 years, and views her working life as one of community service.
“I’ve always been trained to fight for the underdog,” Kropf said. “I try to give people to the tools to be successful.”
Rossi, a 40-year resident of the district and a Sewanhaka High School graduate, said working directly with teachers to correct what she describes as the currently “unbalanced curriculum” of ELA and math, would be the “highlight” of her service if she is elected to the school board.
While Fowler and Ferone are running on their records, they also expressed concerns about mistakes made in implementing the Common Core, including the testing regimen that is prompting an increasing number of parents to opt out of taking state assessment tests.
“I believe that testing when done appropriately can be useful. However, I think the state has done a very bad job and created a lot of anxiety. I understand people’s concerns,” Ferone said.
Fowler suggested the Common Core had gotten a bad rap partly because of the controversy over current testing practices.
“What I think is sad is that Common Core, which is intended to elevate the education level for everyone, has been tied into the problems with testing,” Fowler said. “I like the Common Core in and of itself.”
Voting for the school board candidates and the 2015-16 Floral Park and Sewanhaka district budgets will take place on May 19, between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in Floral Park at the John Lewis Childs School on Elizabeth Street and Floral Park-Bellerose School on Larch Avenue.