Beacon School Board Candidates: What I Will Do

Election is Tuesday for three open seats

By Jeff Simms

Beacon City School District voters will choose on Tuesday, May 15, from six candidates to fill three seats on the Board of Education being vacated by incumbents Kenya Gadsden, Georgia Patchen, and Bill Zopf. Voters will also decide on the district’s proposed $70.5 million budget for 2018-19.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. City residents vote at Beacon High School while district residents who live in Fishkill and Wappinger vote at Glenham Elementary School.

The Current asked the candidates — Elissa Betterbid, James Case-Leal, Joshua Galarza, Christine Galbo, Ali Muhammad and Flora Stadler — to describe their qualifications and what they would hope to accomplish if elected. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Betterbid: I have a unique perspective, given my experience as a parent to three very different learners — one in the high school, one in the middle school and one in elementary school. I know the needs and challenges kids face from kindergarten up to high school because of my experiences not only with my kids but my relationships with other parents at all levels.

Elissa Betterbid

Case-Leal: I have two children in the district, am a college educator and have a progressive vision of education that serves the diversity of needs every student brings to the classroom. As a Latino from Texas, I am sensitive to the importance of expanding our cultural horizons to ensure that our schools are spaces of inclusion that celebrate difference. I do not presume to know everything, but if elected I will always listen to our community of teachers, parents, students and administrators to help deliver the absolute best education possible.

Galarza: I have deep roots and strong family ties. My family moved here from Puerto Rico in the late 1960s and have always been active members of the community. With that longevity comes hardened relationships and a familiarity with the changes in our culture.

Galbo: My 17 years as a Beacon resident and parent have allowed me to watch the city and its schools change and grow. As a special education teacher for 22 years, I bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in public education. I have been fortunate to meld these roles of parent, teacher and board member, which gives me a perspective that will serve the board well.

James Case-Leal

Muhammad: I grew through Beacon’s elementary, middle and high school. My mother taught in the district and established a cultural club called Leaders by Choice. Now I mentor students here, as well as graduates and student-athletes who have left the district.

Stadler: I’ll bring a combination of experience and fresh energy. I got involved as part of a grassroots group of parents who were educating themselves by attending Board of Education meetings, researching policy, and having conversations about issues our schools faced. Once my sons entered elementary school, I volunteered with the PTA and in separate building-level meetings, in addition to sitting in on meetings of the Wellness Committee as it drafted policies. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know, and the more I wanted to be a part of positive change in the district.

What would be your priority as a board member?

Betterbid: I would like to nurture a vision for the Beacon schools as a district on the rise. We have made great strides in the last two years to overcome nearly 10 years of turnover and dysfunction. We are headed down a better path and I believe we have the people and the will to build on our successes to make Beacon a great school district.

Case-Leal: My priority is stability in leadership and well-managed growth toward innovative educational programming. The Board of Education from 2008 to 2016 was characterized by inconsistency and troubling dysfunction. Beacon has had nine superintendents in nine years! Our most recent board and superintendent have built a stable base, and I wish to maintain that stability, move forward and build Beacon into the high-performing school district it should be.

Joshua Galarza

Galarza: My priority is unity throughout all schools and preparing the 52 percent of students who are minorities in our district for a bright future outside of our education system. That’s not to take away from the growth of our system and its students, but we have heard countless stories of talented and bright children, whether it be in the arts, classroom or athletics, who leave and pursue their education elsewhere. I believe in what our community has to offer, and I believe our children can grow here.

Galbo: There are many initiatives I would like to see implemented, ranging from an increase in vocational programs and technology education to a comprehensive approach to safety planning. However, before new ideas can be put into place, the district should develop a multi-year strategic plan that would provide a blueprint for how we would like our schools to look in three or five years.

Muhammad: My initial focus will be strengthening our community and youth development through civic engagement and volunteerism. If our young people are educated and actively engaged on important issues that they will face as they mature, they will have a better chance to seize the opportunities our growing neighborhoods have to offer.

Christine Galbo

Stadler: My priority is to make sure we build on the gains we’ve made in the last couple of years and continue to strengthen the district. The best way to accomplish this is to stay focused on the board’s goals: a sound budget; staffing that reflects the diversity of our students and ensures an equitable education; maintaining students’ physical and emotional safety; and fostering communication between stakeholders. I want to help move us from a district that’s stabilizing after years of administrative upheaval to a model of success. We have the building blocks to do this: great teachers and staff, strong leadership in our new superintendent and engaged parents.

What skills would you bring to the board?

Betterbid: As a marketing professional, my greatest strengths are the ability to identify areas for improvement, develop objectives and communicate working strategies to achieve constructive, creative solutions. I have been both a student and parent in highly ranked districts before moving to the area, so I have seen firsthand what a blue-ribbon district looks like. I believe the Beacon district is poised for a period of amazing progress that will be the culmination of the city’s transformation over the last 20 years.

Ali Muhammad

Case-Leal: I have taught art and design to a diverse body of students at Columbia, CUNY and SUNY New Paltz, giving me great experience in understanding the many kinds of learning students can present. My creative work as a visual artist and producer informs not only my vision for the value of cultivating innovation, creativity and free thinking, but equips me with extensive experience managing budgets and bringing abstract ideas into reality. I come from a family of teachers and am married to a teacher, which gives me an understanding of the importance of supporting educators.

Galarza: I will bring the positive energy that defines our community to the policy decision-making table. I’m a mental health and wellness champion and have been active with this in our community since my graduation from Beacon High School in 2008.

Galbo: My previous six years as a board member included serving as policy committee chair and a member of the district safety committee. Throughout my life, I have been active in the schools and community organizations. I have served in leadership positions such as president of the South Avenue PTA, vice president of the Lions Club, a proud Girl Scout leader and co-organizer of the Beacon Youth Police Academy. These skills, along with departmental and curriculum leadership in my teaching career, will be an asset to the board.

Flora Stadler

Muhammad: Throughout my tenured dedication to our public, I have served on varying governmental and nonprofit boards, as well as two terms on the Beacon City Council. My resiliency, energy and comprehensive understanding of Beacon’s culture and history will be an asset to our forward-moving board.

Stadler: As a former journalist, I bring solid research and communication skills — both useful qualities in a board member. As a parent, I have insight into day-to-day life at our schools: how parents, teachers and students relate, what they need and where we can fill in gaps. As a PTA board member and part of the building-level team at South Avenue, I have collaborated with parents and staff to get buy-in and build community. I’ll bring this experience and a willingness to listen and learn to the board.

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