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The largest suburban school district in the region has attracted the biggest field of Board of Education candidates this year as 12 hopefuls are jockeying for four available seats in Lakeland on Tuesday, May 17.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Van Cortlandtville Elementary School on Route 6 in Mohegan Lake. The three highest vote-getters will earn three-year terms, while the fourth-place finisher will serve the final two years of former Trustee Angela Conti’s unexpired term.
District students live in six different towns: Yorktown, Cortlandt, and Somers in Westchester County; Carmel, Philipstown, and Putnam Valley in Putnam County.
The candidates in the race are campaigning as three separate factions. Three incumbents — board President Adam Kaufman and trustees Becky Burfeind and Marianne DiSalvo Kolesar — are running with newcomer Michael Marchese.
A grassroots advocacy group called Lakeland Rise (Residents in Support of Education), one of the co-founders of which, Karen Haines Pressman, is a former trustee, is supporting the slate of Paul Edwards, Laura Perozo, Joe Ascanio and Chuck Monsanto.
Meanwhile, a third group, United4Lakeland, described as a grassroots group of concerned mothers, features Beth Dee, Genie Muller, Erin O’Grady and Maggie Perlman.
Kaufman, a high school assistant principal in the Yonkers Public Schools, has lived in the district in Yorktown since 2006. He has been the Director of the Shrub Oak football program since 2017. He is running for a second term.
“There are so many candidates that are single-issue candidates, focusing on the one item that they are passionate about. Being a board trustee encompasses so much more,” he stated. “In addition to guiding policy and being responsible for the fiscal health of the district, we must maintain a strong, positive working relationship with all the stakeholders of the district. This not only requires an aptitude for management, but a strong sense of community, and what the community needs. We must be able to hear all sides of an issue and reach consensus on what is best for our children. Over the past three years as a trustee, I believe that I have done that.”
Burfeind, an office manager for a financial planning/retirement planning firm, has resided in Cortlandt for 19 years and is seeking a second term.
“I am running for re-election to the Board of Education to continue the work we have started,” she stated. “Our community has become divided during these COVID years. Communication can always improve, and we need to continue intentionally bringing people together to find common ground; it is integral to the best outcomes for our students. This board has, and will continue to, work with district leadership to achieve that.”
Marianne DiSalvo Kolesar
Kolesar, an elementary school teacher for 27 years, has lived in the district for 49 years. She was appointed to the board in December 2021.
“I am a strong advocate for community service, having begun volunteering at a young age,” she stated. “
As an educator with a Masters in Curriculum Design, I will use my experience and skills to help further our curriculum team. There has been a decline in civic engagement across the nation and in our community. Civic education allows our youth to gain an appreciation for civil discourse and free speech and to learn how to engage respectfully with those whose perspectives differ from their own. As an experienced educator, I understand the policies and procedures involved in building and strengthening our entire curriculum. I am eager for the opportunity to continue serving the Lakeland community.”
Marchese, Director of Inpatient Endocrinology Services at a community hospital, has lived in Yorktown for five years.
“I am running for the Lakeland Central School District Board of Education because I care deeply for the education and care our children receive. I will contribute by leveraging my expertise as a physician who thinks critically and evaluates areas of strengths and improvement,” he stated. “I am a firm believer, in practice and life, in collecting and interpreting data carefully, from various sources, prior to rendering a decision. I understand the impact that my decisions have on my patients and our community. Open dialogue and a collaborative treatment plan are the key to a patient’s success and are the same principles I will uphold on the board. Lastly, at work, I am a large advocate for my patient’s health, and on the board, I will be a strong advocate for our children, their future, and our community.”
Edwards, a Master Instructor at United Martial Arts Centers (UMAC) and the Director of the After School Martial Arts Program and YES (Youth Empowerment System) youth fitness program. has been a resident of Cortlandt for 21 years.
“When I am asked what my WHY is for running for BOE trustee, I said it is for my children. They inspire me on the daily,” he stated. “I have learned over my life that it is the policies that are the biggest challenges. And although working with people is gratifying and very important…changing the policies that hurt people is the real goal.”
Perozo, who has worked in finance and operations in the non-profit sector for more than 22 years, has lived in Yorktown since 2006. She grew up in the Dominican Republic and speaks English and Spanish fluently.
“We decided to move to Lakeland because we read that it was a good district in an affordable area. I am glad that we chose this district to raise our kids. The teachers, support staff and administrators have been more than caring, helpful and when needed, very patient with us. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to help my kids on their educational journey,” she stated.
“Because I believe in this district, I want it be even better. I am running for the Board of Education to bring to Lakeland strong leadership that communicates effectively with its constituents, introduces innovation in education and supports equity and inclusion.”
Ascanio, Vice President of Digital Strategy for a technology firm in Westchester, has lived in Yorktown for 25 years.
“As leaders, there are opportunities to be built upon as well as problems and barriers to overcome, and I truly believe we can achieve that – together with our educators – as a cohesive movement toward positive change,” he stated.
Monsanto, a resident of Yorktown, has been an investigator for New York City since 1995. He spent 18 years in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 with the 69th Infantry Battalion.
“The conversations start and end with our children, Anything else is an insult to our community,” he stated. “The issues are our children, and their education.”
Dee, a 1982 district graduate, has owned a business with her husband for 23 years and drove a school bus for a neighboring district.
“What we all need to remember at the end of the day it’s about the children, you never know what positive impact you can have until you try,” she stated. “Running for a school board may be about budgets and spending, but at the end of the day it’s about the impact we as adults have for the future of the children. And we as adults must also remember to greet each other with and open mind and a smile.”
Muller, who works in youth services in the non-profit sector, has lived in Cortlandt for 24 years.
“Early in my career, I served schools within the Hudson Valley working directly with administration teams and education boards, to introduce quality enrichment programming. This experience coupled with my time volunteering for the PTA, has given me the insights on how school systems function, and how to work with both parents and school officials in a collaborative capacity,” she stated.
“It is for this reason I am running for the Lakeland BOE. I know that my skillset, experience, and knowledge can be utilized to create an environment where our students thrive. From academic excellence, to expanding communication and parental partnerships, I want my daughters to feel the same pride their father and I do when we think about this district.”
O’Grady, who is a VP Business Banking Lender, graduated from Yorktown High School.
“The inspiration for running for the board didn’t happen overnight. At first, I was just like you, a concerned parent that needed to be heard. Parental partnership with our schools is the foundation that fosters academic excellence and allows our communities to thrive.,” she stated. “If elected I would restore the mission statement of Lakeland Central School District. Our schools should be teaching kindness and preserving the innocence of childhood. The other priority would be to reinvest in educating our kids with a traditional civic education not justice-oriented citizenship.”
Perlman, who is an attorney, has lived in Yorktown since 2014.
“Living in this wonderful district has taught me that everything of value must be nurtured, preserved, and when necessary, fought for,” she stated. “Lakeland deserves a board it can trust to put the children first, make tough decisions, and respect parents as equal partners, not to hide their heads in the sand and sell out our children and this community to activists and special interest groups. I can bring my leadership and advocacy skills to the Lakeland Board of Education as a trustee to unite and build on the strong foundations of this community.”
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/