Board Candidates Information
The South Orangetown Central School District is providing this page as a community service to inform voters and does not endorse any candidates for Board of Education elections. Information provided below was submitted by candidates who will appear on the May 16, 2023 ballot. All candidates were invited to submit responses to a set of five questions along with a headshot. Statements are the candidates’ own and have not been verified by the District.
Board of Education Responsibilities
The communities of the South Orangetown Central School District are served by a five-member Board of Education. Each Board member is elected by a public vote and serves a three-year term without pay. There are no term limits for Board members.
As a legal arm of the government of the State of New York, our Board of Education is responsible for:
- Affirming a shared vision for the school district
- Establishing district goals and setting priorities
- Overseeing the general operation of the district (including educational programs, public relations, facilities and contracts)
- Setting educational policy
- Adopting and maintaining current policies in written format
- Approving and adopting the annual budget
- Hiring and evaluating the Superintendent
- Approving the appointment of all personnel and related collective bargaining agreements/contracts
- Deciding on the best utilization of resources
- Setting high standards of governance
- Meeting all requirements of New York State law
New Board of Education members are required to participate in mandatory training courses through the New York State School Boards Association and attend Board of Education meetings and workshops, which are typically held on Thursday evenings twice monthly. Additional meetings may be added to the schedule, as needed, to carry out time-sensitive Board duties. Board members also serve on committees which may meet during the day or evening.
On May 16, 2023, an election will be held for two (2) Board of Education seats. The full, three-year term for each seat is July 1, 2023-June 30, 2026. Following are the candidates for the two vacancies in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Seat 1: Katie Gravino and Leon Jacobs
Seat 2: Dawn Kitz and Diana Korabel
How many years have you lived in the South Orangetown Central School District? My family moved from Staten Island to South Orangetown about 5 years ago. One of the main reasons we chose this community is the quality of the schools. My husband and I both believe that education is the foundation for success. When looking for our family home, we researched school districts, and found that South Orangetown District provided great opportunities for learning and development. To us, this would ensure that our children would be in the best position to succeed. I have two young children who are currently in the district. We believe that our district will provide that strong primary and secondary foundation to allow them to explore college and/or work opportunities. We love and are invested in this community. I am seeking to contribute by running for the school board with the mission of improving our school district.
What is your post-secondary educational and employment/professional background? I graduated Rider University in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, which gives me a unique perspective on the importance of focusing on mental health following the pandemic.
The majority of my professional career has been spent working in the financial sector. I currently work as an Executive Assistant in Finance, which is a high-pressure environment requiring composure and focus to meet demands. To excel in my career, I must remain sharp, productive and have a good work ethic. I am able to multitask a variety of equally critical tasks without delay. I am incredibly driven and exceptionally focused at all times. This relentless approach and personal passion for our community, the teachers, the school board and especially our children will be front and center should I be elected to this position.
My background in finance supports my ability to effectively analyze a budget, reduce unnecessary spending and make informed and prudent recommendations on proposed changes in expenditures for the benefit of our children and staff. In addition, I believe our current school taxes should provide for not only a safe environment but one that will breed academic excellence. The goal would be to eliminate wasteful spending which will continue to drive up costs to our residents. We all want our children to succeed in life. As concerned taxpayers and parents, we recognize that an excellent school district should not just reflect in our property values but also in the education of our children which should always be our top priority. If given this opportunity, I will work to find prudent ways to cut unnecessary spending while finding innovative solutions to help our schools save money without sacrificing the high quality of education that our children deserve.
What is your vision for public education in our community? My vision for public education in our community is a district where every child receives a quality education and the opportunity for success in their futures. Given that children are different and have different ways of learning and understanding things, it is critical that the district provides the proper resources and assistance so each child is in the best possible position to succeed. This is especially the case in light of the recent pandemic and school lockdowns and the unfortunate setbacks our children have suffered in that timeframe and the years to come. Every child in our district deserves a district that supports their learning style and provides special assistance as required. Our teachers need the tools to make this happen!
My vision also includes having a safe district for our children and our teachers especially in light of the growing threat of school violence, bullying and vaping nationwide. There can be no quality education in an unsafe environment. As a school board member, I will work with our security team, our community members, and our local elected officials to explore and secure the necessary safety measures so our children, teachers and parents feel confident that they will feel safe at school.
What are your priorities in terms of policy and governance? My two main priorities are school security and fiscal responsibility. Our school board has been discussing school security for several months. The time to act is now. The time to be proactive is now. We should not respond reactively and make changes after something terrible happens. We must be proactive and decisive and as a board member, I will do so. In addition, one of the main concerns of our residents is the growing tax burden they face. It is expensive to live in our area, and the school budget is part of the reason. As a board member elected by the community, I will advocate on their behalf and seek to cut any/all waste from the budget where possible while maintaining the needs of the students and teachers.
What experiences and expertise have prepared you to serve as a Board of Education member? My experience as a mother of two young children in the district along with my educational and professional background prepares me well to serve as a Board of Education member. As a mom, I see and hear firsthand the challenges my children as well as other children face at school each day. I care about all the needs of our community and know how to have an effective dialogue with parents and residents on their most important concerns. Needless to say, being intimately involved with the lives of children and parents who are presently in the school district provides me with valuable insight that one who may not have children in the district any longer will not have. I have served as a head coach for children in the OMM soccer program and have volunteered for many school events such as class trips. In addition, I have held class parties for the children and have seen firsthand the needs and challenges in the classroom. I am a member of the PTA and have been class mom the last two years my son has attended school. I have the willingness, experience and passion to do great things for this district. I know the importance of having direct contact with students, parents and teachers and will bring their questions, concerns and solutions to the board to address and hopefully solve them. I will govern with the motto that if I believe something is not good enough for my child, it is not good enough for any child and needs to be examined, debated and changed if possible.
Furthermore, my expertise in the field of Psychology, where I obtained a bachelor’s degree, and my professional career in finance uniquely prepares me for service on the school board. I know firsthand the mental health challenges our kids face every day. I understand the importance of ensuring that we have the proper support for those who need it. That support should be in place before a crisis or emergency occurs and not in response to it. I also believe that my finance background in high pressure/high stakes finance roles provides me with not only the composure but the skill set to make those difficult budget decisions when necessary.
How many years have you lived in the South Orangetown Central School District? I have lived in the South Orangetown Central School District for over 27 years. My three children are Tappan Zee High School graduates, and my wife is an alumna and teaches math at TZHS. My view of the district through the eyes of a parent, spouse of an educator, taxpayer and board member allows me to see what the district does well and areas needing improvement. I am a dedicated community member with family members still in the district.
What is your post-secondary educational and employment/professional background? I earned a Bachelor of Science cum laude in Civil Engineering from Northeastern University in Boston in 1985 and a Master of Science in Management from Brooklyn Polytechnic University in 1988. I am a Licensed Professional Engineer in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia and am a Certified Safety Professional. I manage the northeast operations of an international construction company and manage large public works projects in the New York metropolitan area heavy construction industry. As a Certified Safety Professional, I am responsible for providing a safe work environment, safety training, developing safety policies and compliance with regulatory standards. My peers have recognized my leadership skills and have elected me to several positions such as 1st Vice President of the General Contractors Association of New York, President-elect and Executive Committee member of the Underground Construction Association and Trustee and Committee Chair of The Moles, a distinguished organization of the top 550 heavy construction industry leaders. My involvement in these organizations includes promotion of industry recognition, development of industry members as well as student outreach and education.
What is your vision for public education in our community? Our district should provide the best free and appropriate education for all students. All students should have access to the resources, support and services necessary for them to succeed. The curriculum should be structured to expose students to diverse opportunities inside and outside the classroom. We need to prepare our students for a successful future. Our students need to understand the importance to think for themselves and be lifelong learners.
What are your priorities in terms of policy and governance? My priority is to provide the best education in a safe, secure and welcoming environment for all students within the fiscal constraints and regulatory requirements. Parents, Community Members and Staff will always have the opportunity to review and comment on new or revised policies during their development.
The Board of Education needs to remain a body of governance and hold the Superintendent responsible and accountable for the district operations including curriculum, instruction, safety and mental wellbeing of students and district personnel. The Board of Education will work with the Superintendent to establish both short and long term goals for the Superintendent, the District and the Board of Education that will continue to improve the student experience, success and opportunities in line with educational research and advancements.
What experiences and expertise have prepared you to serve as a Board of Education member? My education and professional experience have developed my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. More importantly my managerial experience of public works projects in excess of $300M and executive role on many industry associations provides me tremendous budgeting, fiscal planning, policy, human resources, legal and contractual experience that is applicable to Board of Education governance. I also have successfully negotiated several union contracts and resolved many labor grievances without any work stoppages. Additionally, as an executive within my company, I have experience coordinating with public owners who are administered by governance boards in a similar manner the Board of Education governs the South Orangetown Central School District.
As a Certified Safety Professional, I provide a safe work environment, safety training, develop safety policies, analyze hazards and ensure compliance with regulatory standards on a daily basis. I also serve on the General Contractors Association of New York’s Safety Committee that works with regional jurisdictions that develop new regulations and improve existing regulations to improve safety throughout the region.
I have also served on the SOCSD Board of Education since July 2006 and the SOCSD Audit Committee, Finance Council, District-Wide Safety Committee and District (Facilities) Planning Team. As a board member, I served terms as president and vice president.
How many years have you lived in the South Orangetown Central School District? I have lived in the South Orangetown Central School District for 58 years. I am also the mother of two TZHS graduates.
What is your post-secondary educational and employment/professional background? I received my B.A. in Psychology from SUNY Binghamton, and my Masters in Special Education from Lehman College, CUNY. I also hold a certificate in Work-Based Learning. I have taught at a residential school, where students from other areas lived and learned, as well as a private school, and was employed at Rockland BOCES from 1998-2022. As a Transition Coordinator for Rockland BOCES, I assisted hundreds of students with special needs and their families, as they transitioned from school to work, and/or post-secondary programs.
What is your vision for public education in our community? My vision for public education is one in which the needs of all learners are met, as well as being able to provide social and emotional supports in a safe environment. Transparency and communication are key in ensuring our schools remain inclusive and strong. It is also imperative to help children fulfill their diverse potentials. Students need to feel safe, welcomed, and accepted, regardless of race, identity, culture, or level of ability. This leads to a culture of kindness, and helps prevent bullying, which can lead to unsafe situations in the school.
What are your priorities in terms of policy and governance? Spending appropriately, while ensuring educational excellence is a priority. Collaboration with all stakeholders (teachers, staff, students, parents, taxpayers) is key.
What experiences and expertise have prepared you to serve as a Board of Education member? I have been in the education field for close to 40 years, focusing on Special Education. I served as the Co-Chairperson of the Rockland Transition Consortium for 15 years, offering workshops for families, as well as a yearly Resource and Transition Fair for students with an IEP or 504 Plan, and their families, as well as professionals. I also served on the Executive Board of the Rockland BOCES Staff Association (Union). In these roles, I have worked closely with students, families, and professionals in the education field. My semi-retired status has now afforded me the time and energy to commit to this community. This school district also helped prepare my children to be successful adults. I want this to continue for all the children in our community!
How many years have you lived in the South Orangetown Central School District? I was born and raised in Rockland County and have lived in the SOCSD district for about five years.
What is your post-secondary educational and employment/professional background? I’ve been serving my community as a first responder in a significant NYC agency for almost 20 years, and have just completed a ten-year detail in Emergency management. I have extensive training in emergency management and have attended numerous training in mass casualty incidents and public messaging during emergencies. More importantly, I have two daughters in the school district.
What is your vision for public education in our community? My vision for public education in our community is an environment that fosters academic excellence for all children in a safe environment, including allocating the appropriate amount of resources towards assisting children with special needs and those who suffered setbacks due to the pandemic. Our primary focus must remain on college preparedness and job readiness to put our children in the best possible position to succeed. We must ensure we have adequate security measures in place to keep our children and educators safe while they learn.
What are your priorities in terms of policy and governance? My priority in terms of policy is ensuring our schools have the necessary security to prevent violence, providing our special education students and those harmed by the pandemic the resources they need to excel, and combing the budget to cut any/all waste to ease the tax burden on our residents. As it pertains to governance, my priority is to work together with parents and members of our community to ensure their voice is heard on our board and they are up to speed with all developments of the district. Community engagement is always a net positive, and I will never lose sight of the fact that I am elected by and a servant of the community members.
What experiences and expertise have prepared you to serve as a Board of Education member? My personal and professional background put me in a position to excel as a Board of Education member. First and foremost, I am the parent of two children in the district who will be in the neighborhood for many years. As a young parent to school-aged children, I am uniquely suited to have my finger on the community’s pulse. I experienced firsthand the damage the pandemic has caused to children, including my own. I hear from parents daily about their feelings about the school district. It will be easy for me to serve as a liaison between the parents and the board as a current parent who has relationships with many parents in the same situation. On top of this, I’ve dedicated my life to public service and volunteering, where I’ve served on the Board of Directors for an organization, supervising volunteers, establishing policies and procedures, developing financial outlooks and plans, etc. My lifelong dedication to serving others, and my personal experiences as a mother in the district with relationships with many others, will lead to my success on this board.
I operate professionally as an Emergency Medical Technician, providing pre-hospital care to communities in the New York City 911 system. I work in high-pressure situations having to make the right decision quickly. I was detailed to Emergency Management for ten years, coordinating major incidents in NYC and coordinating agencies and organizations during Mass casualty incidents, creating procedures and preparedness plans, and supervising significant incidents. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that planning is preparing, and preparing is planning. I will take this approach with me and apply it to all issues on the board.