Written by Geoffrey Walter Thursday, 15 May 2014 00:00
There are two open seats on the Mineola Board of Education for the 2014 ballot, with two candidates waiting to fill them. On Monday May 5, current board member Nicole Matzer and newcomer Margaret Ballantyne-Mannion presented themselves to the community during a sparsely attended Meet the Candidates Night at Mineola High School. The annual budget and school board vote will take place on Tuesday, May 20 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Meadow Drive and Jackson Avenue schools.
Matzer was selected last year to fill the remaining term of former board member Terence Hale, who resigned from the board in 2013. She has previously volunteered in the district, serving as the PTO president of the Willis Avenue School for two years.
Matzer also served as district council co-president. She resides in Mineola, having moved to the district in 1999 with her husband, Eric. Matzer has two children and teaches catechism at St. Aidan’s.
“As a parent of young children, I am in a unique position,” Matzer said. “I am especially interested in us continuing to offer the students opportunities to pursue excellence. I not only want to help our children prepare for the future, but ensure a positive, safe, enriching environment for them now.”
Ballantyne-Mannion, a resident of Mineola since 1972, announced her candidacy last month, preceded by trustee William Hornberger confirming that he would not seek a new term on the board. She currently holds a Ph.D in Hispanic studies from Brown University and is a Spanish professor at CUNY York College.
Ballantyne-Mannion and her husband, Luke, have two sons, Thomas, 24, and William, a junior at Mineola High School. She is current co-president of the Mineola SEPTA and has also served as an adult catechist at St. Aidan’s since 2003, a member of the pastoral council and a Spanish interpreter at CSE meetings in Mineola.
“I’m excited about the recent accomplishments of the district,” Ballantyne-Mannion said, “and I’m eager to help the teachers and administrators continue to offer the very best educational experiences to all our students.”
In response to a question about the district’s strengths and weaknesses, Matzer cited progress, student and parent support with the new common core curriculum.
“The math in the beginning, we were all scratching our heads, but the district took it upon themselves; our teachers put together ‘watch and learns’ and were able to help; they heard the parents asking for help and they were able to help us,” she said.
Technology and the music department were areas which Ballantyne-Mannion considered “second to none” as “we haven’t let any of those things go for our students” in the face of the state tax-cap.
“The fact that our teachers are working so hard to create engaging and challenging curriculum for our students and not relying on buying some pre-canned curriculum from some big textbook company,” she said. “I think is a tremendous benefit for our students.”
Ballantyne-Mannion said that she would like to increase public relations efforts as the district “is not perceived as being as strong a district as we are” as well as “parent apathy.”
Regarding that last point, Matzer only said that “we need to get the word out there” about district programs and initiatives, but did not offer specifics other than suggesting that “a campaign is needed to get the information out to the parents and... perhaps the more seasoned parents could help with the incoming parents who are a little hesitant to become involved.”
Though the reconfiguration (two schools were closed) of the school district occurred two years ago, it continues to be a litmus test for board candidates as to whether they think it was beneficial to Mineola or not.
“I am able to compare two children who have gone through two different makeups of this district, I remember feeling frustrated when I had a third-grader who was doing things very different than his friends in other buildings and now I have a third-grader who they’re all working together, they’re all learning at the relatively same rate, they’re all working on things the same and I like that; I feel like it’s become more consistent,” Matzer said.
Ballantyne-Mannion believed that the more “cohesiveness” amongst the grades was a positive action, saying that since, “the students are merging together in the third grade and getting to know each other and staying pretty much together for the rest of their [academic] career, I think that helps with the socialization.”
However, Ballantyne-Mannion believes that the district “is at a tipping point,” but did not elaborate on what she meant by that remark in her opening statement. She cited preparing students coming out of high school for challenges faced in college as one of her main reasons for choosing to run for a position on the board.
“I understand the academic rigors and the skills they need to possess when they leave here. Every student must graduate from Mineola prepared to meet the challenges of his or her chosen career or educational path,” she said.
“Our district is in solid financial shape thanks to our administration and past board members for their hard work and dedication and we’re looking forward to being part of and maintaining that stability,” Matzer summed up.