Two candidates, Erin Ballard and Joe McCoy, are on the ballot in Tuesday’s race for the Pleasantville School Board of Education. Board President Shane McGaffey has decided not to run again for the board after serving for 12 years.
Ballard has been a Pleasantville resident since 2016. Her 10-year-old son attends Pleasantville Middle School and her three-year-old daughter attends a local preschool. She is the wife of a special education teacher.
Ballard holds a master’s degree in public administration from NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service with a focus on nonprofit management and policy.
Currently she serves as chief operating officer for a national social justice nonprofit where she oversees finance, operations, human resources and programmatic functions. Her community involvement has included a former PTA school liaison for Bedford Road Elementary School, serving on a village committee for police reform and co-founding the Pleasantville Community Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative.
“I deeply believe in public service work, civic engagement and being active in our local community,” Ballard said. “I have experience working with boards and have strong consensus-building skills, all of which I think are critically important skills for a board member.”
In the aftermath of COVID-19, Ballard said she recognized the impact the pandemic had on students.
“We need to make up for what was lost,” she said. “I feel I can contribute to that effort. Strengthening and enhancing the pre-COVID curriculum was on the right track but we will need to revisit that to make sure the curriculum is meaningful to students and to the diversity of the faculty and staff. ”
Ballard said she supports the district’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion but more can be done, especially in hiring a diverse teaching staff.
“It can be hard to attract teachers and staff of color in a district that’s predominantly white,” Ballard said. “A potential teacher wants to make sure the community will embrace them and that they’re not going to end up swimming upstream or dealing with prejudices. The district needs to look outside the normal applicant pool for a bigger selection to choose from. It would be a program that would build gradually over time. ”
Reaching out to working parents unable to connect regularly with other parents and teachers is a top priority for Ballard.
“Parents of younger kids in a two-income household feel disconnected and don’t have the opportunity to connect with teachers, administrators and the rest of the community,” she said. “They don’t get to drop their kids off or pick them up from the Panther Club. We need to make more of an effort in building trust with those parents. ”
How the district addresses younger gifted and talented students is a process Ballard would like to address if she wins a seat on the board.
“Right now, it’s up to an individual teacher to determine if a child is gifted or talented and that can be a challenge,” Ballard said. “We do well in offering special classes at the high school but more work needs to be done at the middle and elementary schools. Perhaps we need a district-wide coordinator to provide options for teachers so they don’t have to recreate the wheel. ”
For parents raising concerns or issues, Ballard said she found the board very approachable and open to feedback.
“The middle school staff where my son has also been very responsive and communicative,” she said. “They are very focused on educating the whole child, academically, socially and emotionally, and the sports community here is really active.”
Ballard, who has 20 years of financial management experience specializing in union contracts, is impressed with how the district has managed the budget.
“They’re doing long-term planning for big capital expenditures and maintaining the infrastructure so we’re not going to get any big surprises,” Ballard said.
McCoy has lived in Pleasantville for more than 10 years and all three of his children are attending district schools. His eldest son is a sixth-grader, his daughter is in fourth grade and his youngest son is a second-grader.
McCoy is a commercial banker and runs a commercial lending team for Valley National Bank. He has coached his sons’ local baseball, basketball and soccer teams. For the last eight years he has been a volunteer board member for Yonkers Partners for Education, which mentors high school students on social and academic issues. For the last four years he has been board treasurer for ArtsWestchester and is also a member of the Pleasantville Rotary Club.
“I’m someone who doesn’t sit on the sidelines and being on the Pleasantville school board will mean having a stronger hand helping all the kids get the best education they can,” McCoy said. “That’s what being on the school board is all about.”
McCoy credits the school administration with crafting a sound budget.
“The administration was able to stay under the tax cap while getting state and federal money to go towards the much-needed HVAC system at the middle school. They did this without burdening the taxpayer, which was very prudent and wise. ”
The issue of students’ mental health related to COVID-19 is a concern for McCoy. “For kindergartners and first-graders we are seeing challenges in socialization,” he said. “They were home for two years and now they are having some growing pains related to that. The schools have provided a lot of resources and we have to continue to keep our focus and address those issues when they come up. ”
Gifted and talented students in the lower grades are important to McCoy, but he said the district only has so much time and resources.
“My younger son showed a high proficiency in math and there was online learning that continued to pique his interest,” McCoy said. “I don’t know how necessary it is to have an additional program for gifted and talented students, but if more people are concerned then the board can move forward with an informed decision.”
Creating a more diverse teaching staff is an important consideration, especially as the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee becomes more active.
“I support hiring teachers and expanding the candidate base,” McCoy said.
“But I’m not for filling quotas; I’m for hiring the best teachers for the job. ”
Parents of elementary school-age children differ in their views on mask-wearing for youngsters to protect them from COVID-19 McCoy said he trusts the New York State and CDC guidelines for schools that say students don’t have to wear masks.
“For me personally I follow what the state says, they do the research, and if they say it’s safe for kids not to wear masks, that’s what I’m going by,” he said.
McCoy said he and his wife both work and are lucky to have the help of his mother-in-law who reads all three children for school in the morning, but he is concerned for other working parents who can’t drop their young children at school. “Mornings are stressful enough,” McCoy said. “There should be an earlier time for parents to drop off their kids. The district would be justified in exploring a possible program for an earlier drop-off time. ”