- Qualifications: Please state your name and your district. How would you best describe the current state of your district and why should voters elect you to lead its future?
My name is Pooja Kotecha. I have lived in Rye for the last 4 years with my husband and our son, who is attending Midland School. I have served on Midland’s Exec PTO Board as ‘Midland Express Editor’ and also served on the District’s Technology Committee. I have ~20 years of software engineering experience, currently working at ‘Medidata Solutions’ as Senior Director of Engineering leading a global team of engineers and testers to develop a cloud-based mobile platform for clinical trials.
In general, I think RCSD has a strong administration in the leadership of Dr. Byrne as well as a community of like-minded and actively involved parents/guardians who are invested in their children’s education. I have a strong background in technology and software engineering, with industry experience in skills that we want our future graduates to be experts in, in order to have a level playing field in an increasingly global economy. In the midst of the worst public health crisis of a generation, and with talks at New York State level for reimagining and revolutionizing education with technology at the forefront, I can be an asset to our district helping navigate these very important issues at a critical time, and help bring forward our teacher’s experiences who have been at the front lines delivering remote instruction in the last few months.
- Student Issues: How have and/or would you improve the quality of teachers, the curriculum, and school facilities in your district?
With respect to teachers, we can make the teacher training sessions be increased in capacity, so that uniform professional development is feasible for all teachers for a grade level. For programs such as Project-Based Learning, cumulatively over the couple years since launch, we have seen a healthy but limited adoption. Since mastering these improved teaching techniques takes time, we need more parallelized training sessions to enable more teachers simultaneously.
With regards to curriculum, for example, for elementary schools, our district has adopted new programs such as ‘Math in Focus’ as well as the word study programs that are indeed a step in the right direction, but since our neighboring districts have already embraced and implemented these ahead of us, perhaps we can take advantage of the prior research and implementation results to jump-start our efforts as there is a lot of alignment within our neighboring school districts needs and ours, in order to bring these curriculum changes from inception to execution in an efficient manner.
With regards to the facilities, the district and the board have already done the tough work of identifying needs, proposing the capital improvements project, getting the community’s buy-in, and getting the bond passed. The next step is the timely and efficient execution of the work, meeting the design goals that were laid out.
- Financial Issues: Property taxes remain the most important issue to voters. How can you provide relief to the taxpayers and ensure a balance between property values and the quality of education?
We have a very low cost per student ratio for education, and yet very high-quality public education which is great. Large contributors to the school budget are salary and benefits for staff, debt service, and BOCES services, leaving fewer areas to contain costs such as,
- Optimize how we spend our resources and do trade-offs analysis.
- Advocate for more state aid wherever possible.
- Negotiate technology contracts that provide hardware refreshments.
- Challenges: What do you feel are the major decisions the Board has made in the last year and will make in the coming year, and what is your position on those decisions?
The major decisions in the recent past have been around the facilities bond approval last year. I supported that because I believed our school buildings badly needed the upgrades from health, accessibility, and safety codes perspective, as well as replacing the end-of-life portable trailers at Midland and Osborn, along with several other improvements to upgrade the classrooms as well as most importantly secure vestibule entrances that are needed to keep our schools safe.
Since then, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought in an unpredictable crisis for our schools to adapt to a constantly changing climate of new findings, new data, and new directives from various health agencies as well as from the State Health and Education departments. We have learned a lot and gained a lot of valuable experience from remote learning that can guide us as we head into another school year. We need the Board to be an even stronger advocate of our community’s education needs with state and local representatives and help the district navigate these challenges with data-driven focus.
- What do you propose the District should do to address the new normal in delivering quality education post the COVID-19 crisis? This includes, lost schooling, new learning alternatives, and a healthy and safe environment.
From the remote learning experience we’ve had so far, we can compile our teachers’ collective observations as a guide to what will be effective and efficient going forward if full or partial remote learning is to continue in September. In the case of a hybrid model, the district has invested in technology hardware and software that will assist in delivering live classes, that the community has asked for. We need to fill in the gaps in our children’s learning, assess each child independently, and see how we can aid them to gain more ground from lost in-person schooling.
Besides preparing for what New York State asks for in a plan, we need to make sure we communicate as much detail as possible to the community, in order for parents/families to see the data that went into the decision making, as well as gain their confidence and support in properly executing the changes for ensuring a safe and healthy environment for everyone in the school buildings.