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Pelham School Board Candidates Debate Top Issues

PELHAM, N.Y. – The topics swung from opinions on the guidance department to the search for a new superintendent as the four Pelham Board of Education candidates fielded questions from residents in a debate Wednesday night.

The event, hosted by the Pelham Memorial High School and Middle School PTAs, featured candidates Paul Prencis , Michael Recca , Christine Rosskopf and Madeline Smith , who also all took part in an April 26 debate .

When asked for their views on Pelham’s guidance department, Prencis, Recca and Smith each voiced support for not cutting any guidance counselor positions. But Rosskopf was less approving.

She said counselors serve as a “huge value for students,” but “when you’re looking at a difficult budget year and you’re cutting teachers, you need to look very hard at your priorities.”

“Everything is on the chopping block,” said the mother of two at Siwanoy Elementary School. “Everyone needs to justify their numbers. When I was at the line-by-line meeting, the guidance department along with everyone else had the opportunity to get up and make a case for the work that they do. Honestly, they were a little thin.”

Smith, who had a daughter go through the college application process and has a son at Colonial Elementary School, said the counselors' “jobs are pretty complex” and she is “not a proponent of cutting from guidance to save money.”

“We need our guidance counselors, and they’re critical to the whole process,” she said. “I’d like to see them have more connections with more colleges so that we are better known in admissions of colleges.”

Recca relied on his experience as a 2006 graduate of Pelham Memorial High and said the ideal guidance counselor “will understand the child’s academic ability, push them to the best grades they can and the best performance they can” and advise students on their college options.

Prencis, a father of twin boys at Prospect Hill Elementary School and a third son who will be entering the school in September, believes the guidance department should “push students a little bit beyond their comfort zone” because academic challenges are good.

When it came to the search for a new superintendent , they all agreed the community must be involved in the process.

Smith said in an evaluation system should be set up for the new superintendent to hold him or her accountable in addition to setting guidelines for how the board will select the new superintendent. Prencis said the superintendent must have an educational background.

“If you don’t have that kind of a background, really understanding what’s going on in the classroom, how can you be expected to guide a district,” said the Eastchester High and Middle School mathematics teacher.

Recca said hiring the superintendent “will be the most important thing the board of education will do next year” and said a student committee should be involved in the process. Rosskopf said, “The board is supposed to be reflective of community values,” and the village must select someone who believes in the Pelham educational philosophy as well.

The Board of Education elections will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 15 along with the vote on the 2012-13 school year budget. Voting will be in the Pelham Memorial gymnasium.

The four candidates are running for two seats. Board President Robert Eicher and member Doug Hearle are not seeking re-election. Smith , Prencis , Rosskopf and Recca are seeking seats on the school board for the first time.

The Pelham Memorial and Middle School PTAs also endorsed the budget before the start of the debate.

More of the candidates’ views will be discussed in an upcoming article.

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