The Port Washington Board of Education appointed members Emily Beys as president and Julie Epstein as vice president during its annual reorganizational meeting on July 6.
Beys, who has served two terms as a board member, was first elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2019, beating opposition in both races. Newly elected board member Adam Smith nominated Beys to serve as president, with the rest of the board unanimously agreeing to appoint her to the position.
Epstein, who was first elected to the board last year, was nominated by another newly-elected member, Adam Block, and unanimously approved as vice president. A mother of two, Epstein has volunteered in Port Washington as the co-president of both the Salem Elementary School Home School Association and the Parents’ Council and as a member of the Weber Middle School’s Executive Board.
Beys pledged to make changes to the board — and they started with her first meeting as president. For one, the members used a new seating arrangement in which they were spaced out along a rectangular table, facing each other. The board also began a new practice of addressing, reviewing or answering community comments from previous board meetings.
“We are committed as a board of seven to try new things and make all our systems a little better,” Beys said. “We’re asking, though, that everybody be patient… as we try new things we may have to reevaluate and see if they are working or not.”
During the meeting, the board discussed what to do with the about 6,600 desk shields that the district obtained because of the coronavirus pandemic. Smith wanted to ensure the district had done due diligence on the cost-benefit analysis for discarding the shields safely compared to keeping them, in case another wave of the pandemic were to hit or if any teachers and students had any desire to keep them.
“I think it’s a big deal that people in the community may have thoughts about that we just spent tremendous money on those and now we’re just essentially throwing them away,” Smith said.
“There was absolutely no evidence that the desk shields were actually protective [against COVID-19], and I think the science is relatively clear on that,” Block said. “So even if there is a slide next year because of the seasonality of COVID, I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll need them again.”
Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan said the desk shields are currently scattered throughout the various district buildings, but could be stored in the containers that held furniture from the pandemic, which the district currently rents out. District Superintendent Michael Hynes said art teachers were contacted, and some graduating seniors even took some shields with them.
“There were a few art teachers that took us up on this offer, which was great, and some of our students who graduated wanted to keep them as keepsakes, so they certainly have that as well,” Hynes said.
“I think 10 cents a pound, as it seems a desk shield probably doesn’t weigh more than 10 pounds, so we’re talking a very small amount of money,” board member Rachel Gilliar said. “It’s about getting rid of it so we don’t have to deal with it and not having us cost anything.”
Smith said he was pleased to see that district officials reached out to teachers and students and the board moved forward with a vote to discard the desk shields, with a caveat that a second round of notifications to teachers and students would occur before they are discarded.