By Claire Walla
There are two open seats on the Sag Harbor School Board this year, and current board members Walter Wilcoxen and Gregg Schiavoni are vying to keep them. However, a third contender has stepped in, making this election much more of a race.
Sag Harbor resident Tom Gleeson has been part of the Sag Harbor School District for the past five years. And this year, with his youngest daughter about to graduate from Pierson High School, he’s decided to make a run for the school board.
“Some people had asked me about running,” he said. “I come at things from a different perspective than some of the people on the school board now.”
Gleeson has a long history with the public school system, having been involved with every grade from kindergarten to 12th during his 33-year career, teaching history and philosophy, as well as physical education.
“For me, the most important part of education was always the kids,” he said.
While he’s not inclined to focus on any one issue just yet, saying that if he joins the board his first priority will be to learn the process, one issue Gleeson’s paid attention to in the past year is curriculum development.
It’s no secret that Gleeson was staunchly opposed to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program this year and last, when the board was still discussing the idea of bringing it into the district. Instead, he believed the district should have focused on developing a school-wide curriculum for all grade levels.
This is where he, Wilcoxen and Schiavoni differ.
“I basically want to continue supporting IB, make sure it gets instituted and gets a lot of support,” said Wilcoxen, former school board president who is running for his third term on the board.
Though the school board formally approved the district’s IB application this winter, Wilcoxen said implementing the program in the fall will require a lot of effort school-wide.
“I feel like the job’s not done,” he added.
The other issue Wilcoxen said he’d like to focus on is negotiating new teacher contracts.
“We need to come up with a new dynamic with the community,” he said. “I’d like everybody to be educated [on teachers’ salaries and benefits] so that we can discuss this from a place of knowledge, not this argumentative dynamic.”
Schiavoni, who was elected in the heat of teacher negotiations, agreed that the teachers’ contract discussions were crippling for the board.
“That took up an enormous amount of time,” he said. “It was a big stumbling block in terms of what we’ve been able to offer students.”
Schiavoni continued to say that his main impetus for running for his second term stems from the fact that the board has gained a lot of momentum since teachers’ contracts were finally settled.
Both he and Wilcoxen pointed to the board’s resolution to allow Pierson to move ahead with the IB program, as well as the implementation of a Pre-K program as very positive steps for the district.
“I feel like I owe it to the district to stay on,” said Schiavoni who currently has two kids in the district, both of them at Sag Harbor Elementary School.
Wilcoxen sent two children through the district, the younger of the two is just now finishing up college.
Gleeson retired from the public school system before moving to Sag Harbor and now works in the college admissions office at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in East Elmhurst, N.Y. He also consults with students here in Sag Harbor on the college admissions process.
“I think Gregg [Schiavoni] and Walter [Wilcoxen] have done a very nice job,” Gleeson said of his opponents. “But, sometimes there’s a need for a new voice.”