Five candidates, including two incumbents, are in the running for three seats on the school board this year.

Voters on May 21 will have a choice between incumbent trustees Jennifer Binette and Deborah D’Agostino and newcomers Brandy Keenan, Jaime Roche and Jeffrey Smith. 

We’ve asked them each to weigh in on why they want to serve and their vision for the district:

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Jennifer Binette
Who are you? Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience.
I sit as the vice president of the NSCSD Board of Education and I am seeking re-election for my third term. My husband Jim and I have been married for 21 years and lived in the district for 16. We have three children, all of whom attend North Salem Schools. Our son, Camden, is a senior graduating in June; Ashley is a sophomore and Rosie is in eighth grade.  
I started my international business career with a Japanese trading company and later worked with a Canadian paper manufacturer. I have since turned my attention to our local community. Before joining the BOE six years ago, I held numerous volunteer positions to enhance the educational experience of our children, including PQ PTO President, PQ Principal Selection Committee and Tri-State Consortium. I have been a North Salem Girl Scout leader for two troops for the last 11 years and volunteered as a soccer coach. 
 

Why do you want to be a member of the North Salem Central School District Board of Education? 
I continue to bring an interesting perspective to the BOE. After 13 years in North Salem, our son is well prepared for the next chapter in his life. I wish to continue on the board to ensure our schools inspire children with strong district leadership. I currently sit on the following board committees: communication, policy, and audit. Other board committees I have participated in include mission and facilities. I also engage in the Booster Club, PTO meetings and other district events/ presentations. 
 

What is a top priority for the North Salem School District going forward?
Going forward I will strive to support the district’s mental health priority and the development of the whole student with a fiscally responsible and thoughtful budget within the tax cap. 
I remain dedicated to the students and residents of NSCSD. I am approachable and can be found at almost any school event or sport sideline. I am looking forward to making NSCSD even better.  
 

Deborah D’Agostino
Who are you? Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience.
My husband Angelo and I have lived in North Salem for more than 30 years. I have served on the Board of Education since the 2010. During that time I have been vice president (2011-2012) and President (2012-2015) and I have participated in almost all the various board committees. 
I am President of P4H Inc.: a firm which specializes in planning and delivering facilities for health, science and government. One of the projects that I am most proud of is the new Fire Station 1 on Sun Valley Road. We were able to complete this project on-time and slightly below budget. More importantly, we were able to convert an eyesore into a very functional municipal building that our community can be proud of. I received a Bachelor of Science from Fordham University and a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. 
 

Why do you want to be a member of the North Salem Central School District Board of Education?
Both my son Paul (class of ‘08) and my daughter Sabrina (class of ‘11) are North Salem graduates. Both have finished college and are pursuing careers that suit their interests. I believe my children were well served by our school district and I wish to ensure that excellence in education continues to be available for the young people in our community.  
Our size and small-town character are important assets. Yet, in spite of our size, our mission-based approach to education has been recognized by both the NYS Department of Education (Schools to Watch) and national educational leaders (Tri-state, Ed Leaders 21).
As a board member, I have worked to foster a culture of quality.  I believe there is more work to be done and I would like to continue to participate.
 

What is a top priority for the North Salem School District going forward?
I am concerned about the tax (levy) cap. The low CPI has delivered caps that are below 2 percent and which are insufficient to fund the New York State mandates and mandatory increases in items such as health insurance and retirement contributions. 
To date, we have been able to stay within the cap without negatively affecting students.  In fact, I am proud to have helped bring some exciting new programs to our schools. As a board member, I voted to fund the FLES (foreign language) program at PQ.  As a member of the technology committee, I authored the Technology Plan which lead to the implementation of our CSA (computer science) program.  As a member of the Mental Health Committee, I have assisted in bringing the Yale Ruler (social and emotional learning) and Mental Health First Aid programs to our schools. As a member of the Facilities Committee, I have used my professional skills to prepare a Facilities Master Plan and then to monitor the ongoing work to repair and improve our physical plant. 
But, I am not sure that this is sustainable. How do we preserve excellence in education, meet the social and emotional needs of students, maintain our buildings, fields and grounds, operate a safe fleet of buses and stay within the levy cap? This complex problem is our greatest challenge and requires the experience which I can bring to the task.   
 

Brandy Keenan
Who are you? Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience.
I have lived in North Salem for 11 years. I have four children: a freshman in North Salem High School, a 7th Grader in North Salem Middle School, a 2nd Grader in PQ, and a future kindergartener. 
I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii as my Father, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was stationed there. I studied at Vassar College. After college I worked for the Journal of Cell Biology and later a set design company before settling in as director of an art gallery in SoHo. Years later I made the decision to be a stay at home parent to my children. 
Since my eldest started school at North Salem I have been very active in the school district as a class mom, a library volunteer, chairing the Book Fair Committee, and coordinating the library volunteers. My husband has coached baseball and soccer at PQ. Our children play soccer, baseball, and field hockey, are part of the HS Robotics team, girl scouts, and 4H. My past academic and athletic career and my children’s present experience give me an understanding of the importance and benefit of balancing sports, science, and the humanities within a public school education. 
Presently I am the president of a non-profit that supports the educational and agricultural programming at Muscoot Farm. Over the years we have put over $1.4 million dollars into the farm and it’s programming. This year I established, with Jaime Roche, a Farm to School PTO committee at PQ that will be connecting farmer workshops and new field trips with the present K-5 Science Curriculum. I look forward to growing that committee and its mission going forward.

Why do you want to be a member of the North Salem Central School District Board of Education?
To be honest, I have asked myself why I wanted to take on this kind of responsibility and the answer is simply that I think I could do good. My experience with leading the Friends of Muscoot has given me an insight into construction projects, grant seeking, educational programming, advocacy, working with county government, and maintaining a connection with the public by building a membership program from scratch. This last part is important as I would seek to improve the communication between the board, parents, and the district community should I be elected. I have learned that as a leader one of the most important things you can do is to not only communicate your agenda but to also listen to your community about their ideas and concerns. 
I also believe that having children in the high school, middle school, and PQ at the present gives me an active perspective and interest in what is going on in the District as a whole. My children are invested in athletics, science, and the arts which means I would seek to support initiatives that benefit all these kinds of activities and not weigh one more than the other. 
 

What is a top priority for the North Salem School District going forward?
I believe improved communication with parents and the community should be a top priority for the School District. I also would concentrate on finding the right balance between supporting athletics and supporting academics through better facilities. I think Wellness and Nutrition are also things school districts nationwide are beginning to focus on, which I believe is a good thing. My experience and interest in agriculture and our food system fits in nicely with this kind of initiative.

Jaime Roche
Who are you? Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience.

I began my career in the field of mental health soon after graduating from the University of Delaware with a BA in psychology. I worked for a year at a non-profit organization serving mentally ill adults in NYC before resuming my education at Hunter College School of Social Work. After graduating with my MSW I went on to work in schools as a school social worker and eventually in therapeutic schools as a therapist for children and teens with major mental health disorders. After obtaining my clinical license, I began my own private psychotherapy practice specializing in the treatment of children, teens and young adults.  
In pursuit of more integrative and holistic treatments for my clients, in 2009 while pregnant with my first child, I became a registered yoga and meditation teacher through OM Yoga. Recently I became a certified parent and educator coach through Tournesol Kids and currently I work privately as a family coach, facilitating social skills groups and seeing individual clients. In addition, I teach two yoga classes a week for the Town of North Salem for adults and seniors.
 

Why do you want to be a member of the North Salem Central School District Board of Education?
I believe that in order to best meet the diverse needs of our student body it is essential that our board of education be comprised of individuals with various backgrounds. I believe my professional experience as a social worker and my personal experience as a mother of a child with special needs allow me to offer a unique set of skills and perspective to the current board of education. The recent mental health mandates in New York state require schools to shift their focus toward the social/emotional wellbeing of their students.  For our district this means implementing new programming and initiatives aimed at the social, emotional and behavioral health of our students. I believe that someone with my educational background and experience can be of great assistance in supporting these efforts. And as an individual trained in the field of community service, I feel I can be helpful to the district in identifying the needs of our students and pinpointing ways to meet those needs, ensuring every child has the opportunity for success in the most holistic sense. 
 

What is a top priority for the North Salem School District going forward?
I see the top priority for our district, and for every school district nationwide, as being mental health education and awareness. Our country is in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. The most recent reports indicate that as many as one in six U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 17 has a treatable mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety problems or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. And sadly the newest study on youth suicide found that the number of children and teens being hospitalized for suicide attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015. These statistics affect all of us and with this in mind, I feel that is crucial that we as a district continue to devote our energy towards the social/emotional health and wellbeing of our students.  I strongly believe that our schools are in the unique position to act as early identifiers as well as to deliver evidence-based, multi-layer programming that will decrease stigma and help create a supportive environment for those struggling. 

Jeffrey Smith
Who are you?  Provide a brief overview of your background, education and experience.

I was born and raised in Maine attending high school at Thornton Academy, following in my grandfather and father’s footsteps. I received my Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts and Bachelor’s degree in Foodservice Education from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. My wife and I moved to Brewster in 2009 and quickly learned although we live in Brewster we were going to be part of the North Salem School district and community. 
 

Why do you want to be a member of the North Salem Central School District Board of Education?
First and foremost I have a daughter that attends PQ and she is very active in their sports and other extracurricular activities.  Another big reason I have chosen to do this is because education and volunteering have always been a big part of my family.  My grandfather was a member of the school board and grandmother was on the PTO both being elected as president. My father was an educator for 43 years; 35+ years as an elementary school teacher and the rest in special education. I have multiple members in the family tree that were or are currently teachers. From a volunteering perspective I am an assistant coach for the 10U softball team (Go Outhouse Orchards!) and am hoping to help coach the Brewster Bruins 9U football team where my daughter will play. As a teenager I remember doing Meals on Wheels with my father on Saturday mornings.  I’ve also enjoyed spending some time volunteering at Camp Hole in the Wall which was founded by Paul Newman.  

What is a top priority for the North Salem School District going forward?
That is a tough question as I feel that a board member should represent ALL members of the North Salem Central School District and not be biased by a certain agenda or a single issue. That is why I would like to hear from more folks on what is the hot topic for them and why I created the email jcsnorthsalemboecandidate@gmail.com. Issues I have heard from more than one person are 1) Lapse in communication 2) Safety and security 3) Aging Schools and Buses 4) Athletic field conditions and turf 5) How our schools are handling bullying cases 6) Administrator payroll 7) Declining number of students 8) Reputation “If your kid want to be athletes don’t go to North Salem Schools.”