Charles Leo: Board of Education Candidate Responds to KPAE Survey

By | May 9, 2015
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Charles Leo

The following survey was sent to each Kings park BOE candidate.   Once each survey has been posted, the KPAE steering committee will endorse 2 candidates.

Briefly state any experience you bring to your School District Board of Education.

I have been a trustee and now Vice President of the school board for the last 3 years and I currently sit on the District Audit Committee. Prior to that I was the President of KPY and Commissioner for  many years.  I have served on several community based boards both inside and outside the district.  With both my experience on the school board and being a union member myself, I have extensive experience negotiating contracts and settling conflicts.  During my tenure with KPY I learned to listen to the needs of our many community members and my ability to make positive changes soon got me elected as President of the Organization.  As a project manager in the electrical industry I have been responsible for the labor, material, quality and execution of major construction projects which provides me with the unique qualifications needed to run a multi million dollar business like our school district

Do you support parents’ right to refuse NYS grade 3-8 exams? Please explain.

I completely support and respect the parents’ right and decision to choose the option that best suits the needs of their child.  As we learn to navigate the changes happening in our education system, I have put forth suggestions to the board for alternative constructs for assessment practices so that our children are not losing valuable learning time.  For my 7th grade son we decided he would take part in the assessment, he is on a track for advanced placement and we believed it was in his best interest.  I would support the same for all students and families.

What is your position on the 2% tax cap?

As a member of the Kings Park School District’s audit committee I realize the significance of fiscal awareness and responsibility like few others.  The presence of a tax cap engages the district in forensic-like practices for budget planning, balancing and reflection.  I believe it helps the district keep the financial responsibility it owes to the community in line.

What is your position on the Gap Elimination Adjustment?

Long Island has 17% of the school age population in the State, the wealth ratio has really hurt our funding and ultimately our students.  Receiving only  12 %  in aid in my opinion is no way acceptable.  This year we were restored 36% of the money owed, that is a step in the right direction.  With the monies we recovered, we were able to hire a Social worker to support our students and families in need and bring back librarians, purchase musical instruments and more.  We are far from done and by holding our local officials to task we expect to be fully restored in time.

What is the best way to evaluate teachers? Principals?

We have long had a system in place to evaluate our teachers and administrative staff.  As in any business or organization reflecting on our strengths and weaknesses is the only way to promote growth.  However, if that system creates a negative and stressful working environment where teachers are in fear of persecution we lose the intent and outcome of the process.  I believe a system that includes multiple variables and sources of information would better serve our teachers and our students.  Teacher portfolios could help monitor growth over time as well as peer coaching and modelling.  The role of high stakes testing should take a less prominent role and we can utilize progress monitoring tools that are less intrusive to learning.

Describe your view on the Common Core Learning Standards.

When it comes to Common Core I think the intent was to not only raise standards but to have a common set of goals set out at every grade level so that our students and teachers could have instructional focus.  In its current condition, with too abrupt a roll out and with it being tied to a controversial test CC has unfortunately fallen far short of acceptable.  If we can promote standards as a goal as opposed to modules that must be followed we may be able to support learning in a more effective and meaningful way.

Describe your view on the amount of testing in our schools and how those test results are used.

I feel that as a board member I have a responsibility to ensure that each and every assessment that we have our students take part in has an added value to our system either for the child, the teacher, the school building or the district.  I am not an educator, I cannot say which test or test question is better or worse or even necessary.  I cannot determine why a student may have answered a question right or wrong.  What we can do is control what we do with the results and how we reflect and use  data to inform instruction.  We must allocate time for reviewing data and after celebrating our successes, determine, at least at the District Level, where our resources are best allocated.  That is what I feel the role of the board member has in the testing arena.

As a board of education member, how will you engage the community to make certain that its needs are heard and acted upon?

My time on both the school board and as KPY president has given me a great deal of experience in community engagement. I believe we have a tremendous amount of local expertise, whose views should be shared and represented at our meetings. Both my wife and I have attended and/or work hard to connect with our many community associations, including Council of Schools, KP Civic Association, Chamber of Commerce, SEPTA and PFA, Kings Park in the Know, KPY and other sports groups, to name several. I think it is one of the key aspects of this position to be present at as many of our community functions as possible so that we keep our ear close to the ground and speak for and with our residents.

Commitment to the promise of public education for all children requires Board of Education members to work outside of and across community boundaries. How will you advocate for our school and students outside of our school district (ie: regional, state and federal government) so that all students’ needs are met?

One of my most valuable resources when it comes to engagement outside the community is my wife. A former Kings Park teacher, she ventured out to the global education community and has been a strong voice in advocating for students in public education, especially those with special needs. She works in districts across the island and has often shared practical and innovative ideas that are happening in other districts. She was a member of the former Governor’s Student Engagement council and she has many valuable connections in the field of education. I’ve learned from her how to negotiate and petition for changes in legislation as when she was the president of the International Dyslexia Association and fought to change wording in diagnoses and educational policy. My connections with local and regional politicians gives me the unique position to get their singular attention for issues we need to be heard.

Describe your views on the New York State Regents Reform Agenda.

Folks like Diane Ravitch and Shoreham Superintendent Steve Cohen have often spoken of the fact that the general crisis in NY education does not particularly reflect the state of education on Long Island. While I am not against achieving and maintaining high standards of education I do not believe that our students aren’t for the most part already there. It concerns me that our students with special needs may be unable to acquire a high school diploma in order to be gainfully employed and/or continue on to higher education. I believe the Reform agenda in its current form takes valuable resources away from more needy and worthy causes such as whole child and family development and professional development for teachers. It concerns me that students may be able to show proficiency in certain academic areas and struggle in others, thus making them unable to pass a Regents exam. I am not in favor of charter schools and believe that our students are best served by using our tax dollars to provide a complete and comprehensive education.

Define the role of a parent in a child’s education.

Parents are a child’s first teacher. They have all the work in the first few years of life and stay on board to promote their child’s growth long after the teachers or school districts are through. For the most part parents are the decision makers and the driving force guiding their child’s education. Starting from which day care or preschool they will attend, identifying any special needs they may have and alerting the school district to changes that may need to be made to their program, determining whether an accelerated program would suit their goals and helping them decide on post secondary options; there is a parent behind every decision.

How do you define the success of a school district?

A school district can best be defined by the productive, independent and successful individuals it puts forth into the world. The more we mold the better we are!

How can our school district improve?

I believe our school district is in fantastic shape. We are in a position now with a strong and mindful leader to move safely forward in whatever direction we made need to head. I would like to continue our work in three particular areas technology development and implementation, ongoing and sustainable professional development for our teachers and capital improvements in our facilities (including fields, roofs badly in need of repair, security upgrades and more)

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