Crowded Field As Six Newcomers Seek Seats On Remsenburg-Speonk School Board


Making it one of the most crowded fields in recent history, six newcomers are vying for just two open seats on the Remsenburg-Speonk Board of Education this Tuesday, May 19.

Current President Cecilia Spellman-Frey and fellow board member Kevin Federico have opted not to seek reelection, a decision that prompted six candidates—Heather Carriero, Scott Heptig, Kevin Toolan, Jennifer Pratt Ashley, Joshua Berger and Paul Giere—to make a run for the five-member board. Mr. Giere, an employee of the Suffolk County Water Authority, missed the deadline for petitions and is running a write-in campaign.

Three of the candidates—Ms. Carriero, Mr. Heptig and Mr. Toolan—are teachers by trade while Ms. Ashley serves as vice president of the Remsenburg-Speonk Parent Teacher Organization and Mr. Berger is a stay-at-home father.

Polls will be open at the Mill Road elementary school from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. on Tuesday. All terms are for three years.

Heather Carriero

Ms. Carriero, 41, said her two biggest passions are children and community service. An elementary school teacher in the William Floyd School District, Ms. Carriero said she wants to tap her experience as an educator to benefit her hometown school board. She has helped organize various community activities, including those organized by the Friends of the 106th Rescue Wing; recently, she and her husband, Rocco, helped local students prepare care packages to send to troops serving overseas.

The Carrieros have lived in Remsenburg with their two children—Ella, 9, and Luca, 5—for the past decade. Both children attend the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School.

“I want to go in with an open mind and a willingness to serve the community,” Ms. Carriero said. “I’d like to encourage staff, teachers, parents and the community to come together to see how to make the school a real community spot, not just for the kids.”

She wants to encourage more people to get involved with the school and get children signed up for service projects as well.

“I’d also like to really look to enhance the learning environment on the elementary level,” she said. “I feel it would be an asset to be a part of the board and bring in my perspective.”

Scott Heptig

Mr. Heptig has lived in Remsenburg for six years and sees the open board seats as an opportunity to become more involved in the community.

The 40-year-old has been teaching physical education in the Eastport South Manor School District for the past 17 years, and said his experience as an teacher, class advisor and coach provides him a unique perspective that will benefit the board.

“I think the board is doing a great job,” he said. “I’d like to be a part of the team. We seem to be financially responsible, but I’d like to look into programs and see how they’re working, how much they cost and if we could squeeze a few more in for the kids without costing the taxpayer.”

Mr. Heptig has been a coach at Eastport South Manor for as long as he has been teaching and has led the junior varsity golf, boys and girls soccer, basketball and baseball teams.

He and his wife, Dawn, have two children—Hailey, 4, and Michael, 3—and both will eventually attend the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School.

“I see what the future of education could be and I want to be a part of it,” he said.

Kevin Toolan

Mr. Toolan said that, if elected, he would work to maintain the same quality of education now enjoyed by Remsenburg students while keeping tax rates stable and property values high.

Mr. Toolan, 35, an elementary teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District, moved to Remsenburg with his wife, Kathryn, six years ago. Since then, he has spoken with many government officials about the current problems being faced by Long Island schools.

“I have been and will continue to advocate for our students with our elected officials as well as with members of the Board of Regents,” Mr. Toolan wrote in an email. “With all the new challenges, I believe and recognize the role of informed parents and community to stand up and speak out against any policy change that adversely affects our children or puts an undue burden on our district.”

Mr. Toolan has two sons; Rowan, 5, will enter kindergarten next year and Patrick is 1.

As a teacher, Mr. Toolan has sat on committees and helped with technology curriculum development, student evaluations, report cards, as well as reviewing financial statements for his district. He is also a former Trustee of Patchogue Village’s Community Development Agency.

“I believe having a well-rounded experience … will enable me to do my due diligence and to be an effective member on the board.”

Jennifer Pratt Ashley

Ms. Ashley, who has served as the vice president of the Remsenburg-Speonk Parent Teacher Organization for the past year, would like to bring the perspective of parents to the board.

“I’ve gotten behind the scenes in the school and helped put together some great programs,” Ms. Ashley, 49, said. “I’d like to use that experience to foster relationships between parents and the board.”

Ms. Ashley and her husband, John, have a 6-year-old girl, Tess, who is in the first grade.

“I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of this community and I’d like to bring that to the board,” Ms. Ashley said.

She noted that her parents, Cathleen and Daniel Pratt, still live in the district so, if elected, she will be well aware of the feelings of those taxpayers who no longer have children attending the district.

Ms. Ashley now works as a project manager for Jen Going Interiors in Westhampton Beach and also has prior experience at UBS Wealth Management, an investment firm, so she is familiar with corporate finances.

“I would like to maintain the excellent school system that we have,” she said. “I think it’s in everyone’s interest for the sake of property values and doing the best for our students.”

Joshua Berger

Mr. Berger moved to the district nine years ago and said he wants to join the board so that he can help keep the school the “shining star that it is.”

The 43-year-old stay-at-home father and his wife, Kath, have two sons—Zach, 7, and Dash, 5—who attend the school district.

Mr. Berger said the elementary school was one of the main reasons why he and his wife decided to raise their family in Remsenburg.

“It comes down to educating the future and respecting the taxpayer’s money,” Mr. Berger said. “I think I have a good sense of the community’s needs.”

A former chef who worked in East Hampton, Mr. Berger is a member of the Remsenburg-Speonk Civic Association and a governor of the Remsenburg Association. He said his experience in those community groups will help him if he’s elected to the school board. “I’d like to bring the school into the community and the community into the school as well,” he said.

He also noted that he would like to get the community more involved in the school by bringing local professionals to present to students, and would consider adding night classes for adults.

“I’ve got a lot to give,” he said, “and I think I would be a great addition to the board.”

Paul Giere

Though he missed the filing deadline, Mr. Giere is actively campaigning as a write-in candidate.

The 44-year-old, who now works for the Suffolk County Water Authority, said he recently changed jobs and decided to make a run after freeing up ample time to serve. However, he still missed the deadline for petitions.

Mr. Giere and his wife, Kim, have three children—Shannon, 18, Ryan, 16 and Matthew, 10. Matthew is a fifth-grader at the elementary school.

“I’d like to bring a parental point of view to the board,” Mr. Giere said when asked why he is running. “I consider myself a fiscal conservative. There’s a balance and kids are always first.”

Mr. Giere is a retired master sergeant with the New York Air National Guard and has been an East End Little League coach for the past decade.

“I hold the community in a very high regard and I’d like to do my part to serve,” he added.

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