13 candidates vie for six Newburgh school board seats

By Alberto Gilman
Posted 5/15/24

Thirteen candidates, including incumbents, previous candidates, and newcomers, are vying for six seats on the Newburgh Board of Education in the election on May 21.

In February, four board …

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13 candidates vie for six Newburgh school board seats


Thirteen candidates, including incumbents, previous candidates, and newcomers, are vying for six seats on the Newburgh Board of Education in the election on May 21.

In February, four board members resigned abruptly, necessitating their replacement. To maintain a functional nine-member board, remaining members referred to the results of the last election cycle and contacted former candidates to gauge their interest in serving again.

Former board members Ray Harvey and Dennis Grant have returned to the fray, while current board members Philip Howard and Mark Levinstein are up for re-election.

The candidates for the school board this year include Christine Bello, Philip Howard, Nabil Khan, Ray Harvey, Mackenzie Bousche, Tanika McCullough, Victoria Bousche, Shadé Burks, Bob Capano, Fred Stewart, Thomasina Bello, Mark Levinstein, and Dennis Grant.

The Newburgh Highland Falls NAACP Chapter, in collaboration with the City of Newburgh Democratic Committee, will co-host a meeting of the board of education candidates at Calvary Presbyterian Church from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at 120 South Street.

Among the candidates is Christine M. Bello, a lifelong Newburgh resident and graduate of Newburgh Free Academy. Bello, owner of Chris-Dian Florist on Broadway, has served on the Newburgh City Council and various civic committees. She advocates for school building safety, district transparency, balanced budgeting, and improved graduation and literacy rates.

“We need new voices and perspectives on the school board,” Bello stated. “My goal is to ensure that every student receives a quality education and the resources they need to provide them with a strong foundation, enabling them to thrive in their future endeavors.”

Incumbent Philip Howard, seeking a fifth term, prioritizes school safety, equitable resource distribution, and early student literacy. He aims for a 90 to 100 percent graduation rate and emphasizes community engagement.

“I’ve always been about students, I’ve always been about children, I’ve always been about making sure our children have [a] safe learning environment, I’ve always been about ensuring that our kids can get across Academy Field to become productive citizens,” said Howard. “I don’t feel the work is done. I really feel that the work needs to continue, we still have growth to look forward to. I feel that where we’re at right now is a good place, and hoping that after May 21, it will be a better place.”

Nabil Khan, an immigrant and local business owner, focuses on transparency, student well-being, educational excellence, cultural integration, and innovation in education.

A father of three young children with one child already in the district, Khan said he feels ready to take this next step but he also sees this as an opportunity to serve as a representative for the Pakistani/Muslim community in the area. Khan’s platform focuses on five points: transparency and accountability; focus on student well-being; commitment to educational excellence; enhanced integration across multiple cultures and innovation in education.

“It’s time for me to connect with the community. I want to connect with people, get my voice out there, get my ideas out there,” said Khan. “It’s time to bring a little change and give other people [an] opportunity to see what they can do.”

Ray Harvey, a military veteran and community activist, highlights fiscal responsibility, school safety, and community involvement.

In the community, Harvey is recognized as the acting president of the NAACP President of the Newburgh/Highland Falls Chapter, a member of Congressman Pat Ryan’s Veterans Affairs Committee, a member of Community Voices Heard, a member of the Executive Order 203 Committee (Police Reform) and a member of the Newburgh Parents Alliance.

Mackenzie Bousche, a project manager and community volunteer, emphasizes graduation rates, literacy, and transparency, spurred by dissatisfaction with the district’s response to safety incidents. This will be her first pursuit for a board seat.

For Boushe, the board of education’s top priorities should be student literacy; adherence to special education laws; good fiscal responsibility and reduction of expenses; success beyond compliance and English language learner (ELL) advocacy.

“It’s time for, I think, a fresh set of eyes. I think that it’s time for some changes but it’s also time to just be heard and to listen and I don’t think that currently happens,” said Bousche. “I think a lot of people are ready for change.”

Tanika McCullough, a Bronx native who moved to the area seven years ago, is a social worker and advocate who prioritizes students’ mental health, English language learners, and community collaboration. Other items she would like to work towards are addressing school bus safety for students and improving student literacy.

“When people see me, I want them to see me as that person that’s advocating for all children, not just my children, or children that look like me, but I’m advocating for all children, because all children deserve an equitable education,” McCullough said. “I think it’s a new season, a new day and if you want to see something different, then have faith in me and believe that I can do it and vote for me.

Victoria Bousche, a healthcare administrator and parent, advocates for transparency, safety, literacy, and equitable education, particularly for English language learners and exceptional learners. A New Windsor resident, she is making her first bid for a board seat.

“It is time that the board be composed of individuals who have the students, parents, faculty and staff, and taxpayers best interest. It is time for all policies and procedures to be looked at by 6 fresh sets of eyes,” Bousche said. “I want all of our students to thrive while enrolled in our district as well as way beyond Academy Field. The children of this district deserve the best education, and right now they are not being provided that. These children are our future.”

Shadé Burks, a teaching assistant and community advocate, focuses on student disabilities, mental health, safety, and diversity. This will be her second pursuit of a board seat, following an unsuccessful bid in 2023. Burks is also an advocate for district transparency though she does recognize that not all information can be immediately disclosed.

“I am a voice. My job is to advocate for anyone that I feel needs support. Everything that I say, you may not always agree with,” Burks said. “I feel that I am ready. I know that I am ready.”

Bob Capano, a supermarket manager and adjunct professor, emphasizes special education services, fiscal responsibility, and school safety.

Capano grew up in Brooklyn but stayed in the New Windsor area with family while attending Orange County Community College and SUNY New Paltz. Now decades later, Capano is a resident of New Windsor with his wife and young son.

Capano works currently as a supermarket manager in Manhattan but for over 15 years, he served as an adjunct professor of political science in the City University of New York system.

“We need some new, independent, passionate and non-political voices on the board and someone who’s going to advocate for all our kids,” said Capano. “I’m running with and for the people of New Windsor Newburgh and those kids and families.”

Fred Stewart, an independent business owner, prioritizes safety, attendance, literacy, and accountability, aiming to be a voice for all district stakeholders.

In order to address district concerns, Stewart believes that hearing and listening from the students, the teachers and the district administration can help fix what may be going on. A suggestion for more input and feedback would be for district stakeholders to fill out surveys and provide feedback on what needs to be improved.

“What’d I like to do is wake up the public, to let them know what’s going on with their tax money, making them aware of what’s going on,” said Stewart. “We’re always going to try to do what’s best for our kids in the school district. We want to see the Newburgh School District succeed.”

Thomasina A. Bello, a businesswoman and community advocate, stresses transparency, policy review, and stakeholder engagement for improved district outcomes.

If elected, she wants to keep the public informed of the goings on in the district by being a proponent for open communication and the flow of information to the public. She also feels that working closely and encouraging staff and teachers to share their views and opinions on what works or does not work to improve programs and curriculum is beneficial to the district.

“If elected, I look forward to applying my approach of common sense and integrity to the issues before me,” she said. “I will consult with experts, vote my conscience on resolutions and make sure the public is informed of my decisions and the motivation behind them.”

Incumbent Mark Levinstein, a district parent and community leader, focuses on safety, graduation readiness, and transparency, drawing from his experience on various district committees. A school board member since 2011, Levinstein currently serves as the board of education vice president after the position became vacant following board member resignations.

Like many in the community, he awaits the completion of the CTE building. Levinstein also said he will continue to fight for a more transparent, public committee system.

As a candidate once again, Levinstein is ready and feels that his experience and service along with being a district parent and advocate contribute to his pursuit of a seat. “I would hope that they [the public] find me to be the right candidate for them and that I will always do what the roles and responsibilities are for board members,” said Levinstein.

Dennis W. Grant, a corrections officer and community leader, advocates for student productivity, teacher support, fiscal responsibility, and community engagement.

“I’m an advocate for anybody that wants to reach out to me, I’ll listen. I’ll listen and not just listen, I will ask questions and act on that. I just want to get the work done.”

Grant and his wife have raised three children who have since graduated from Newburgh schools. Grant’s background includes his work as a current New York City Corrections Officer and a graduate from North Carolina Central University with an accounting degree in 1994.