LAKE PLACID - Three seats are up for grabs on the Lake Placid Central School District Board of Education.
Four candidates are jockeying to fill those seats: Joan Hallett Valentine, Mary Dietrich, Patti Gallagher and Martha Stahl. Valentine is running to reclaim the seat she was appointed to last year; two other seats will be vacated by current board members Cathy Johnston and Jill Cardinale Segger, who aren't running for re-election.
All four candidates say they want to heal what they see as a fractured relationship between the school board and the community. In recent months, the district has dealt with a legal battle between Superintendent Randy Richards and former middle-high school Principal Katherine Mulderig, as well as questions from the community about technology purchases and other budgetary decisions, and a general breakdown in communication between the board and the community.
The following candidate profiles are presented in alphabetical order by last name.
Dietrich and her husband, Dean, moved to Lake Placid in 1978. She taught for the Lake Placid school district for more than 30 years, and both she and her husband have been active in the community.
Dietrich has served on the Lake Placid Sinfonietta Board of Directors for more than 15 years and is also board president for the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition.
She said she's running for the board because she has a strong connection to the school system.
"Our children received excellent educations first at the elementary school and then at the middle/high school," Dietrich said. "My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students and their families, both in the classroom and in many extra-curricular activities. We always appreciated the collegial atmosphere that existed among the board, administration, faculty, staff and community."
But Dietrich said the atmosphere at the school district has "changed for the worse." She said she has the experience and the skill set to improve relations between the board and the community.
Dietrich said the biggest challenge facing the district is finding a way to support educational programs that prepare children to be lifelong learners, as well as productive and responsible members of society.
"This challenge doesn't just belong to the school board; it belongs to the entire community," she said. "It is important for us all to remember that schools are social institutions that enhance the quality of life of our community."
Deitrich said she wants to develop a five-year strategic plan for the district. She said the fiscally responsible plan would emphasize a strong education for students and be sure to make the best use of the current faculty and staff.
In developing the plan, Dietrich said the board would have input from parents, teachers and taxpayers.
Dietrich said she also wants to help the board improve the ways it interacts with the community.
"It would be very beneficial to be able to sit down with groups of community members and discuss the issues facing the district," she said. "I would like to see the board find a way to schedule a forum session each month devoted to the discussion of a specific topic. That way, the board stays in touch with what the community is thinking and the community has the opportunity to communicate their positions to the board."
Gallagher lives in Wilmington and works as a registered nurse at Lake Placid Sports Medicine. She graduated from Lake Placid High School in 1984 and has three children in the school system.
Gallagher said she's running because she wants to help make the daily decisions that affect the school district and its students.
"I want to help return the focus to our students and education," she said. "We have a great community, and our school district needs to represent the high standards that our community expects."
Gallagher said the school board needs to regain the trust of the community and restore respect to the district.
"I think this needs to be addressed soon with actions that will acknowledge what the community has been asking for," she said. "I think it will be important for the members of the board to be visible at school and community activities. The board will need to make positive decisions to lead the district in a positive direction."
If elected, Gallagher said she would try to change the structure of the board meetings, which are held twice a month. She said those meetings are important because they give the community an opportunity to watch the board in action.
She said she wants to move "For the Good of the Cause," the board's public comment period, to the beginning of the meeting. It is currently held at the end.
Gallagher said she would also keep a record of public comments and suggestions.
"Questions would be answered in some form by the next meeting," she said. "I would like to see new items on the agenda be discussed openly and not voted on until the following meeting. This would allow two weeks for additional information to be obtained for an informed decision to be made."
Gallagher said she would also incorporate student or teacher presentations into board meetings on a monthly basis.
"Ultimately, the decisions made by the board of education are for the benefit of the students," she said. "It would be nice to have the students be represented at the meetings."
Stahl lives in Wilmington and is vice president of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of the North Country. She has one daughter at the elementary school and a son who will be in the future.
Stahl said she's running because with two young children, she will be directly involved with the school district for the next 15 years. She said recent events have motivated to her to get involved.
"The biggest challenge facing the school board is restoring trust and mutual respect between all the stakeholders - administration, faculty, staff, parents, students, taxpayers - after such a difficult year for the district," she said. "I think the only way to do this is to increase communication between all involved. That doesn't just mean sharing information, but truly listening."
Stahl said the board has the "difficult job of both facilitating and participating in that process."
Like Dietrich, Stahl said she wants to help the board in creating a strategic plan for the district. She said such a plan would be like a roadmap for the next five years.
"As a community, we will need to have a conversation about what we value most and want to preserve or grow in our schools," she said. "I think we will find that we are all on the same page; we want our kids to have the best education available. Having a strategic plan that is based on that shared vision will help provide a framework for informed decisions about programs, technology, spending, curricula, shared services, etc., moving forward."
Stahl said she doesn't want the strategic planning process to drag out.
"We need to create a plan and then take action," she said.
Stahl said involving the entire community in the plan would help solve some of the "trust and respect" issues that have she believes have occurred over the last year.
Joan Hallett Valentine
Valentine lives in Lake Placid with her husband, Patrick, and has twin daughters who currently attend Norwich University. She has worked as a child care provider for more than 25 years.
Valentine is running for the seat she was appointed to last August. She said she believes she can make a difference in the community.
"I've listened to what the community says and voted accordingly, and I feel that I can move the school forward because it seems to be at a standstill right now," Valentine said. "There's so much to learn with the school board. It's all about the kids."
Valentine said it's more important now than ever for the school board to be fiscally responsible, especially in the face of mounting unfunded state mandates and the state's new 2 percent property tax cap. She said building a budget this year that stayed within the cap was difficult and involved some tough decisions.
Valentine said she wants to improve the lines of communication between the school board and the community. She also wants more contact with teachers.
"I recently went to a session with the teachers," Valentine said. "It was so beneficial; I wish it could be done on a monthly basis. They're the ones in the school every day; they know what needs to be done."
Valentine said monthly roundtable discussions with teachers and faculty would help resolve some of the problems in the district.
Valentine also said a strategic plan for the school system would be beneficial.
When it comes to the structure of board meetings, Valentine said she would be hesitant to move public comment to the beginning.
"I think moving it to the front, 90 percent of the people would walk out after they said their piece," she said.
Valentine said she takes detailed notes of public comments and tries hard to engage with community members about issues at the school. She said some of the personnel problems are tough because she's legally not allowed to address them.
She said the controversies at the school district in recent months have brought more people to board meetings. She said in the past, those meetings have been much quieter.
"Once we solve the problems, maybe it will get quieter," Valentine said, "but hopefully I'm wrong. I'd love to have more people at the meetings.
"I know I can make a difference, just like the three other candidates," she added. "It's unfortunate that there are only three seats because there's four good candidates."