Voters to pick 1 of 7 for Great Neck school board seat


Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide which of seven candidates will replace former Trustee Monique Bloom on the Great Neck Board of Education.
Nine candidates initially stepped forward to run for the chance to serve the remainder of Bloom’s term until 2019, but two, Mariana Ristea and Michael Darvish, withdrew their candidacies on Nov. 10 and Nov. 29, respectively.
The seven candidates for the seat include Donald Panetta, Josh Ratner, Nikolas Kron, Nicholas Toumbekis, Lori Beth Schwartz, Donna Peirez and Grant Toch. Bloom resigned in September because of her corporate travel commitments.
School district officials said since Darvish withdrew after the Nov. 28 deadline to file nominating petitions, the district did not need to further extend the deadline. His name will still be on the ballot, however, as ballots have already gone to print.
Panetta, a 30-year New Hyde Park resident, said he is running because he loves being involved in the community and saw an opportunity with the open seat.
He said that although he does not have education experience, his wife and son are both teachers in New York City and he often speaks with them about the problems they are facing as teachers and problems with the education system.
“I can bring fresh ideas. As a total outsider, if somebody were to say ‘hey, let’s do something,’ my first impulse is ‘let’s look into it,’” he said. “Whereas someone who may have more time on the board, their first impression might be ‘no, we can’t.’”
Panetta is a member of the Lakeville Civic Association, an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 10 of Great Neck, treasurer of the Brotherhood of Temple Tikvah of New Hyde Park, a member of the Clinton G. Martin Pool Advisory Committee and a member of the Great Neck Library Nominating Committee.
He is also a member of the Great Neck Memorial Day Parade committee, and an Eagle Scout adviser in the Shelter Rock District Boy Scouts of America.
Ratner is a lifelong Great Neck resident who attended Saddle Rock Elementary School, Great Neck South Middle School and Great Neck South High School.
He graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park with a degree in government and politics. He also minored in leadership studies.
As well as serving in the college’s student government and its executive committee, Ratner said, he served as a student representative to the College Park City Council.
He said the board would benefit from having a member who is “recently connected” to the issues facing students.
“Although I’m young, you have to remember I’m one part of the collective board,” said Ratner, who is 23 years old. “There is 102 years of experience that I will work with and will make sure we do the best for our community moving forward.
“However, I’m the voice that this community needs to bring to that board to round it out and make sure our students’ perspectives and their futures and the needs of their futures are discussed,” Ratner added.
Toch moved to Great Neck with his wife in 2006. They have three daughters who attend schools in the district in first, third and seventh grade.
He said that it “doesn’t matter” how many candidates are vying for the seat, as he is a “unique” candidate because of his work in the community and in the school district.
Toch said that as well as serving as a parent coordinator for Great Neck travel soccer teams, on which all three of his daughters play, he has worked with the Great Neck United Parent-Teacher Council, or UPTC, since 2009.
In 2009, he joined the budget committee and in 2012 began chairing the committee, he said.
Toch said he became a member of the UPTC executive board in 2012, first serving as a treasurer and now serving as a recording secretary.
He said that his experiences for 14 years as an analyst at various hedge funds, and the fact he specializes in the financial services sector and in government bonds, are relevant to the district’s endeavors.
“I am talking about an issue that goes across the different ethnicities in our community in a way that is not opportunistic, it is sincere and demonstrated over a long period of time,” Toch said. “My candidacy is about the promotion of financial stability, providing transparency and ensuring that our students and our teachers are provided the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.”
Peirez, a 28-year first-grade teacher at Lakeville Elementary School who retired in June, said what makes her different from the other candidates is her knowledge of what goes on inside the classroom.
“I think the main thing … is my experience from working in the classroom with the children,” she said. “That one extra piece is my knowledge of the intricate workings of the district.”
Before teaching in the district, Peirez said, she was very involved in the district by serving on the Parent Teacher Associations of the former Kensington-Johnson Elementary School, E.M. Baker Elementary School, North Middle School and North High School.
She said that she is a “consensus builder” and that one of her biggest achievements was when Kensington-Johnson closed around 1980 and she helped facilitate the move of students to E.M. Baker.
Peirez, who also taught at the Great Neck Community School, a cooperative nursery school, for 11 years, said her expertise on what works best in the classroom would be an asset to the board.
“I feel that I can bring a current knowledge of curriculum that is successful and some that is not,” she said. “Everybody has great ideas about what they want in the budget, but what really affects the teaching in the district, the students, facilities, technology? What are we bringing that’s meaningful and what isn’t?”
Peirez said that in addition to maintaining the district’s high academic standards, she wanted to see increased efforts in developing students’ social skills and understanding of other cultures.
Kron, who was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and moved to Great Neck with his wife in 1999, worked as a strategy consultant for Ernst & Young and Cap Gemini S.A., advising health-care, pharmaceutical, energy and consumer clients on how to best take advantage of new technologies.
He decided to run for the Great Neck Board of Education, he said, because he felt it was time to “bring new blood to the board.”
Kron said he wanted to bring his business and entrepreneurial experience to the board.
“I have a strong experience in understanding new technologies and techniques from the business world and academic research world and wanted to share that with the board,” he said. “It is already an amazing school district but it needs the newest ideas to continue to grow into the 21st century needs of our children.”
Kron said that higher education is one way for students to progress after high school, but it is not the only path.
He added that getting students prepared for the next level of their lives is important and that he would work to make them aware of all the options available.
“What I want people to do is to think carefully about the election, about the right mix of skills and experience on the board,” Kron said. “I think that I fit nicely in the middle of the right age demographic with a vested interest because of my children in the school system and a strong understanding of how the real world works and keeping abreast with the latest technologies and techniques.”
Schwartz, a former United Parent-Teacher Council president, said that it was important to have a member on the board with children in the district.
Starting with volunteering at the Great Neck Community School, she said, she went on to serve on various boards and committees for the schools her children attended: Saddle Rock Elementary School, John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Great Neck North Middle School and Great Neck North High School.
Schwartz said she was elected to be a delegate to the UPTC and served as co-chair of the Health Education Committee.
From 2012 to 2014, she served as UPTC president and served for a year on the board after her presidency as a member-at-large.
Schwartz currently serves as chair of the Total Community Involvement Committee and PTO co-president at North Middle School.
She said that her “motivating factor” to get involved in the school system was for more parental input and that one of her goals is to get more involvement from parents in the district.
Schwartz said that through her community involvement, she has been able to meet people of different cultures and ethnicities and worked to “build bridges” connecting different groups.
“I think I have a depth and breadth of understanding of the programs that the schools offer and the understanding of love for your teachers, love for your schools, wanting to support them in the deepest of ways,” she said. “And also trying to look to the future to make sure you protect that for the future.”
Efforts to reach Toumbekis for comment were unavailing.
The election will take place on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the E.M. Baker School and Great Neck South High School.
Donald Panetta
Grant Toch
Donna Peirez
Josh Ratner
Nikolas Kron

By Joe Nikic


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