Your School Board Candidates

Your School Board Candidates
Photo by Cyrus Crossan / Unsplash

On May 21st, the Putnam Valley Central School District (PVCSD) will hold an election for two trustees to the board that governs the district's three schools. Four people are competing for those two seats: Barbara Parmly, Maranda Zocchi, Alexandra (Sasha) Hayes, and Zayd Eljamal. The district's PTA is expected to hold a "Meet the Candidates" night in mid-May, but here is some information about the candidates in the meantime:

Barbara Parmly

Parmly was an elementary school teacher in the district for many years and has been on the board since 2018. She is currently the board president. She says she considers it her obligation to "represent students first" and makes a point of attending as many student events, such as school concerts and plays, as she can, though she admits she's less drawn to sports games. During periods when some parents have pushed for limits on subjects they consider controversial, such as gender identity, Parmly has maintained a centrist position. "I'm a mom and I do believe in liberty," Parmly says. But she dislikes the Moms for Liberty organization's use of "parental rights" as a litmus test. "When they say they're supportive of parental rights, it implies that we're not, and that's not true. I'm just not supportive of one group of parents over all parents." Parmly is generally enthusiastic about the district's evolving curriculum, which she feels has done a good job, in particular, of embracing technology. "I strongly believe we need to move forward, times have changed," says Parmly. As a member of the current board, Parmly has already voted in favor of the proposed budget and the two propositions that are on the ballot in May.

Maranda Zocchi

Zocchi is a registered nurse with one child in the elementary school and another in the high school. She ran for the school board in 2022 and came in third out of four candidates that year. Zocchi says she is running again because she thinks it's important to have parents on the board who are unaffiliated with the school administration or the teachers' union. Because of her lack of affiliation, she says she has "a non-biased outlook". That said, Zocchi is a member of Moms for Liberty (though says she would leave the group if elected), and holds views commonly associated with that organization. For instance, she does not think it's appropriate for issues she considers "controversial and sensitive", like gender identity, to be included in classroom conversation or represented in books that can be checked out of the library without parental approval. "People say, 'let's teach accepting differences'. No! How about we not identify those differences, how about we focus on similarities," she said. Zocchi opposes all vaccine requirements for children attending public schools, including for Covid, believing that decision should rest solely with parents and their doctors. In her campaign statement, she says she wants to see the curriculum focus more on what she calls "True American History" and "True Science". She is disappointed, for instance, that the school's science curriculum focuses as much as it does on environmental and "green" issues, preferring instead that students spend more time using microscopes. "That's true science, things that you can see," she says. As for the budget items on the ballot, she advocates for fiscal accountability and wants to restructure the budget to provide more relief to homeowners and seniors, but says she hasn't yet decided if she supports the budget or the two propositions. Pressed for details on what she would do to restructure the budget, Zocchi says she strongly objects to the school district having any debt. (It is common practice for school districts to issue bonds to build and maintain facilities, paying level amounts of debt service each year to avoid uneven surges in spending.)

Alexandra (Sasha) Hayes

Hayes has spent this past year serving as a vice president of the PTA and has a son in the fourth grade. Like Zocchi, she is a registered nurse, working primarily with homebound veterans. She and her husband moved to Putnam Valley in 2020 and she says she has quickly come to love the school and the town; she is active with scouts, 4H and sports groups. Hayes' experience with educational issues on the PTA led her to want to seek a seat on the school board. She says she is running because she believes it's important for parents to have representation on the board and for trustees to be unaffiliated with the school administration and the teachers' union. She supports the proposed budget and the two propositions on this year's ballot, but going forward, she wants to scrutinize the district's finances to see if cuts can be made that would not hurt students. "To keep the increase under inflation is pretty remarkable, but there is always room to improve things," Hayes said. Among the areas she wants to probe are administrative salaries and programs that have been started but may not be successful. "Everything should be looked at and data should be used," she said. Hayes supports the district's commitment to small class sizes and is pleased that the middle school is about to be certified to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. She is comfortable with the district's efforts to help students navigate the issue of gender identity. "I think the school needs to be a safe space for all students," Hayes said.

Zayd Eljamal

Eljamal grew up in Putnam Valley and attended district schools right through his 2019 graduation from high school. After obtaining an associates degree from Westchester Community College, he began working with his father's wholesale distribution company. Five months ago, he and his brother opened the Brook & West Smoke Shop in Cortlandt. Eljamal says he submitted his candidate's petition as a way to honor the memory of an uncle who died a few days before the deadline and who always stressed to him the importance of giving back to the community. "I had no thought of doing this, no current desire, until I got the call Thursday morning" he said. Another uncle is on the board of SUNY New Paltz, so that connection also convinced him this was a natural next step. Eljamal says that when he was in the high school he was an active volunteer, helping to broadcast basketball games and supporting a mentoring program for freshmen, though he never sought a role in student government. Eljamal says he hasn't had time to study the district's proposed budget or propositions yet, and that his main goal is to help make Putnam Valley's school district known as the best in the area. If elected, Eljamal, who is younger than the other candidates and of Palestinian descent, would add diversity to the board. "Being of Middle Eastern descent in a community that is predominantly Caucasian, I've experienced racism," he said. "But I still have love for this community."

For those able to vote in person on May 21st, polls will be open at the elementary school at 171 Oscawana Lake Rd. from 6am until 9pm. Obtaining absentee and early mail-in ballots requires two steps and is restricted by certain deadlines. Details can be found here.

Only Putnam Valley residents who live in the school district are eligible to vote in this election. Those who are unsure of their eligibility can contact District Clerk Maureen Bellino and, if they are homeowners, their school district is identified on their tax bill.

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