By Marianna Levine
Seven Bridgehampton community members have filed petitions to run for the Bridgehampton School Board. With elections set for May 19 and three school board seats up for grabs, the candidates, Joe Conti, Doug DeGroot, Laurie Gordon, Nathan Ludlow, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, Ron White, and current board president James Walker (the only incumbent running) agree they want the best education for the district’s children and would like all members of the community to be involved with the school and its progress. However there are clearly defined differences in the way in which candidates want to realize these goals.
Already within the first week of campaigning the debate about class sizes and whether to close the high school that has dominated previous Bridgehampton School Board elections has surfaced. Conti, a former board member, Gordon, and Ludlow are running together on the premise that the school needs to fulfill its potential, through improving test scores, and focusing its efforts on a pre-K through 8 program. In order to do this, they note, the school would need to look at the possibility of tuitioning out high school students to neighboring districts. This was an idea that Conti has proposed in the past, and which he explains has been misrepresented.
“We’ve never said we want to close the school down. We want to improve the school,” said Conti who believes the best way to better the school is by focusing on the lower grades.
Ludlow, who grew up in Bridgehampton but graduated from Southampton High School explained, “We want to provide more opportunities for students — not just educationally but socially and extra-curricularly as well.”
Conti, Gordon, and Ludlow agree that to this end, size matters and that the small size of the high school classes in their opinion negatively impacts the students’ experience.
“Kids here should be able to get the same educational opportunities other districts have, and size matters,” said Gordon, a former lawyer with two children at Ross. “I want to see the kids be competitive, successful, and thrive beyond school.”
Gordon said currently there are 62 high school students in Bridgehampton, of which there are just seven in the tenth grade class. “So we’re not talking about tuitioning out a lot of students.”
The other candidates, DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, White, and Walker believe in continuing the school as a pre-K though 12 institution. As a matter of fact DeGroot and Tyree-Johnson said they felt compelled to run for school board once they heard there would be a team of candidates once again running on the idea of eliminating the high school.
“We’re forced to deal with people who want to do this too often, and who believe they know how best to run the school, but they don’t know the kids or the parents here,” said Tyree-Johnson, a bookkeeper whose husband is the coach of the Bridgehampton Killer Bee’s basketball team. “Bridgehampton [School] has a problem of perception with people who’ve never set foot in the school, and often they have the money to opt out of it. But the school is a little gem really.”
DeGroot, an entrepreneur who has four children attending the Bridgehampton School agreed by saying the school, “has some characteristics that people pay for at private schools such as smaller class sizes.”
He finds the average class size of about 10 students is an advantage not a disadvantage, although there are classes that are larger such as the ninth and eleventh grades, which have about 20 students.
“There are people running who say bigger is better, but I don’t know of any parents who would agree,” said DeGroot. “Large schools such as East Hampton have social problems such as bullying which we just don’t have because of our size.”
Current School Board President Walker also agrees, and adds “We also recognize the needÂ for things we cannot provide so we haveÂ arranged for our students to share with other districts without giving up their own home school.”
DeGroot points to the fact that the school has a mixture of ethnic and socio-economic groups that more realistically represent the America the students will live in as adults.
“I have breakfast at the school every day and it’s so great to see all the kids getting along so well together,” says DeGroot who also agrees that Bridgehampton suffers from a less than favorable past reputation and hopes people will actually come in and see it’s changed. “There’s been a big focus on test scores recently and we have seen the scores rise in the past few years.”
Walker concurred by saying, “I have seen some excellent progress going on at the school, and want it to continue.”
White, a real estate broker and graduate of Bridgehampton School, also agrees and hopes people will actually take a look at the school.
“When people come to the school and visit, they leave so happy with big smiles on their faces once they see what we do,” said White, who has a son at the school. He would like to see the community come together and rally around the school instead of continually debate whether the high school should be closed or not.
“There needs to be less distinction between north and south of the highway,” he said. The benefit of a small school is that it becomes like family. We should be able to knock on our neighbors’ doors and talk with each other. And we shouldn’t have to prove constantly that the school needs to exist.”
There are a few more things all the candidates have in common. All of them attended public schools, and they all say they are big supporters of the public school system. Even Gordon who has children currently at private school says she is running for the school board because “I would like nothing better than to send my children to public school.”
All candidates agreed the school was doing some things right. Gordon who has toured the school said, “I think the school is physically beautiful, and I support Jack Pryor and what he’s trying to do. We all support Jack.”
Conti and Ludlow feel the school has tremendous potential, and that the lower grades are improving.
DeGroot, Tyree-Johnson, Walker, and White feel the school is improving academically with the help of individualized teaching. They also hope the community can put the arguments about class and school size behind them and come together in support of the school whatever the outcome of this spring’s election.
“At the end of the day, when things get tough, all any of us have is our education and our family,” said Gordon.