On May 21, six candidates will vie for three seats on the Pine Bush Central School District Board of Education: Nancy Vinella, Erik Buckley, Jillian Caci, Matthew Watkins, and incumbents Dori Johnson and Gretchen Meier. Board President Lloyd Greer Jr. will not run again.
These are unpaid positions and carry a three-year term, running from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2022.
Polls are open on May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Residents of Gardiner and Shawangunk will vote at the Walker Valley Fire House, Crawford and Montgomery residents will vote at the Pine Bush Fire House (Station One), Mount Hope and Wallkill residents will vote at Circleville Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and Mamakating residents will vote in Town of Mamakating Park in Bloomingburg.
If elected, Vinella will support the music and the arts and advocate for the development of the Spanish and foreign language program.
A strong supporter of the arts, Vinella said she would like to bolster the music and arts programs. Her daughter, who is a graduating senior at Pine Bush High School (PBHS), is a member of the marching band.
“I’d like to take a look at what programming we currently have and see what could be more robust,” Vinella said.
She also supports the addition of Spanish as a course offering in seventh grade. The school board voted to add Spanish on a half-time basis to the 2019-20 school year and a full-time basis by 2020-21.
Vinella strongly supports the addition of an additional language as a course offering at the high school level.
Vinella earned a bachelor of arts from the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, with a major in Communications. Professionally, she has more than 24 years of administrative support experience, including 11 years inclusive of bookkeeping and accounting support.
Vinella is an active member of the Pakanasink Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and is currently serving her third year as PTA treasurer.
Vinella and her husband have two children who currently attend Pine Bush Central Schools—a graduating senior at PBHS and a third grader at Pakanasink.
If elected, Erik Buckley will bolster diversity and inclusion programs, foster programs with local trade unions, and advocate for special education programs.
Buckley said while the school has taken great strides to promote tolerance and combat racism and anti-semitism, there is still more to be done. He would advocate for the continuance and bolstering of programs such as No Place for Hate.
“I really want to focus on embracing diversity,” Buckley said. “We are one community and there seems to be a disconnect with that one community idea. I really would like to see the coming together of a community.”
Buckley wants to foster relationships with trade unions and establish programs through which students can gain apprenticeship hours. The programs would offer career tracks for students who might not be college-bound.
He would also propose Pine Bush become a partner school of Syracuse University’s Project Advance, which offers college courses to qualified high school students at their local school during their regularly scheduled school day.
A special educator himself, Buckley would advocate for the expansion of special education programs that keep students in the district.
He has worked for Rockland Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) for the past 17 years as an educator for students kindergarten through eighth grade who have emotional and behavioral disabilities, as well as students with autism and developmental disabilities. He is a graduate of State University of New York (SUNY) Orange.
Buckley and his wife have two children, one of whom attends kindergarten in the district.
If elected, incumbent Dori Johnson would continue to advocate for the expansion of foreign language, electives and after-school programs.
While serving her first term on the board, Johnson pushed for the expansion of Spanish as a course offering in seventh grade and would like to see more languages added in the future.
“Foreign language is very important to a child’s development,” Johnson said.
Johnson would also continue to push for new electives and the power of students to choose what interests them. Teachers could then teach the electives they have an interest in.
Johnson will continue to advocate for the expansion of after school programs, including the modified sports programs.
In the past three years on the board she has served as both vice president and acting president.
Johnson has been a member of the Circleville Middle School (CVMS) PTA and the district’s Audit Committee.
Johnson is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz with both a Bachelor of Science degree in geology and a Master of Science degree in education. She has been a teacher at Monroe-Woodbury for the past 25 years and is an adjunct professor at SUNY Orange.
Johnson and her husband, Eric, have two children in the district, a seventh-grade student at CVMS and a sophomore at PBHS.
If elected, Jillian Caci would push for more state funding and a decrease in high-stakes testing.
She said she would use her influence as the regional delegate for the New York State United Teachers Union to lobby on the state level for more state funding, decreasing the burden on local taxpayers. If elected, she could also appeal to the New York State School Boards Association.
Caci would lobby on a state level for less emphasis on high-stakes testing. Currently, students are tested in every grade in grades three through eight and low test scores can cause a school to be put into receivership.
“The amount of time and importance that we put on testing grades three through eight is way too much,” Caci said. “There’s a lot more those teachers could be doing to impact those childrens’ lives positively.”
Testing should be used to measure a student’s progress and identify their needs, Caci said, not dictate receivership. She advocates for grade-span testing, or testing students once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
She holds a bachelor’s degree of music from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, a Master of Arts degree in educational psychology from Marist College and a level 2B certification from the Technology Institute for Music Educators.
Caci is a music educator in the Newburgh City School District, teaching on all grade levels in a variety of music positions. She is currently the choral director at Newburgh Free Academy.
Caci has a son at Crispell Middle School and is a Pine Bush alumni.
If elected, Matthew Watkins would promote fiscal responsibility, ensure every student has access to a quality education, promote alternative options for non-college bound students, and promote a Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.
Watkins said he would ensure resident’s taxpayer money is being well spent to provide students a quality education.
He would also encourage the school to continue to create courses and programs for non-college bound students.
“My goal is to be diligent to ensure that every student has the opportunity to prepare for the career of their choice while in Pine Bush Central Schools,” Watkins said.
He would also introduce the idea of an FFA program, which provides opportunities for students to learn about agriculture and other outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, biking and more.
Watkins received an associate’s degree in marketing from SUNY Delhi and a bachelor’s degree in general business from Penn State University.
He is self-employed through GOALS Development Company.
He previously served on the Pine Bush School Board from May 2016 to June 2017.
Watkins serves as a councilman in the Town of Shawangunk and a trustee for the Pine Bush Area Public Library.
Watkins and his wife have three children in the district, two at PBHS and one in middle school.
If elected, incumbent Gretchen Meier would continue to develop the strategic plan, promote fiscal responsibility and listen to the needs of her constituents.
Meier said she would continue the board’s work of developing and implementing the strategic plan, which will foster student development and success through specific action steps.
She would also promote fiscal responsibility.
Meier said her largest concern is to listen to the concerns and needs of her constituents.
“When you’re on the school board it’s really important to listen to your constituents, whether they are students and families, or staff or community members, you want to be able to represent everyone and be available to hear and address any of the concerns that people may have,” Meier said.
Meier has served on the board for six years, including the current one as vice president and acting president.
Meier is a physical therapist and owner of Pine Bush Physical Therapy. She graduated from Quinnipiac University with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy.
Meier’s two children are graduates of PBHS, as is her husband, Fritz. She lives in Crawford and has been a district resident for 25 years.