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Mamaroneck School Board Candidate: Melany Gray

MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The Daily Mamaroneck and The Daily Larchmont will run candidate profiles on all four candidates running for three seats on the seven-member Mamaroneck School Board of Education before the May 15 election. Each candidate was asked the same questions.

Melany Gray is in a four-way race with Victor Gatti, Robin Nichinsky and Roger Martin to fill the two seats left vacant by outgoing board members Linnet Tse and Anant Nambiar, and the seat for which Nichinksy is seeking is her third three-year term. Gray, Martin and Nichinksy have been endorsed by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees, while Gatti is running as an Independent.

Gray, 52, has lived in Larchmont for 21 years, has been active in the PTA for more than a decade and used to report on school board meetings for a now-shuttered local publication.

Tell us about yourself and your family.

I have two children, Matthew, who is now in college, and Ian, a senior at Mamaroneck High School. My husband, William, is better known as “Dusty,” a childhood name related to a once-famous baseball player. I am a mother and part-time attorney, working at labor and employment boutique firm Collazo, Florentino and Keil LLP. We have been very fortunate that our kids have had an excellent experience in this school system.

Why are you running for the Mamaroneck School Board?

Because of my flexible schedule and the excellent education our kids were getting, I got involved in the PTA and other school activities. Soon after I started attending school board meetings and wrote about the meetings for the now-defunct Larchmont Gazette as a volunteer for three years, around the time the budgets began to get harder to balance. It was a wonderful experience, to learn and share with the community. I have learned a lot and can bring that to the table. My goal is to make fair decisions. There are no perfect solutions, but I will listen, research and roll up my sleeves to do the work to see how we can bring solutions together.

What qualifies you to be a school board member?

The experience I just mentioned and other, broader experience in our community. I’ve been a member of the Committee on the Special Education for several years and involved in the theater arts in the elementary school. I have served on the board of directors of St. John’s Episcopal Church and though on a smaller scale, have the experience with budgets and personnel issues. I also volunteer with Furniture Share House and the community counseling center.

What are the three biggest issues facing the schools today?

The biggest issue facing all public schools, especially in New York, is the budget. How do we maintain an excellent education while facing budget constraints is the big question. We have a socio-economically diverse community and a very good special education program, so how we successfully support all the needs of the community is important. Diversity is a real plus for the community and we handle that with excellent teachers who can reach all the students. Then add in all the mandates, especially two new testing mandates from the federal and state governments, plus student and teacher evaluations. I worry about the pressure being put by the government. I don’t believe the tests lead to better teaching. I am interested in the kids receiving an excellent education and not just how to take tests.

If elected, what would you do to address them?

On financial matters, I don’t have a silver bullet, or can simply say cut this or that. I think the board has done a good job of efficiency with cuts and it’s going to be tough in the coming years to continue managing the budget. We need to get a new teacher’s contract, which is currently in mediation. I think there are changes that need to be made on the state level and the school board can be part of that discussion. To manage the needs of the diverse community, we need to support excellence in our teachers through professional development, and teacher assessment will be part of that. Obviously our schools will have to continue to perform well, but how we teach our kids to think versus filling in boxes should be the focus. And educating the community in the efforts of the school administration and school board is also important to me.

If something had to be cut from the budget to meet the state tax cap, what would you cut?

I can’t tell you one specific thing. We have done a great job as a district with efficiencies – in insurance contracts and outsourcing transportation, for example. I will continue to see what we can protect, including class size, extracurricular activities and school offerings. I don’t have a magic answer. Your trim, you trim, you trim, but at some point we need a structural change for public education, especially with mandates. It’s a complicated issue and it’s not going to be easy in the coming years.

Is there anything else you would like to accomplish if elected?

I have been watching the school board and attending their meetings for about 10 years. It’s a transparent process. I want to continue to inform the community and communicate to everyone as to why we do things and how so they understand that the superintendent, the school board and the administration is keeping a good eye on things. Improving communication is important to me.

Does the endorsement from by the Committee for the Selection of School Board Nominees help your candidacy?

They have been very supportive of us in getting the word out. They put us through a fairly rigorous process, a question and answer session with the 24 committee members. We’ll see how it comes out. But I never think it’s a bad thing for a community to have people stepping up to run for things. The selection committee did a very thorough job vetting the candidates. Having multiple people serving in the community is a very nice thing.

Related Experience:

-  Gray has held several leadership positions in the PTA, including currently as member of the PT Council Budget Communications Committee; PT Council Co-President (2009-2011); MHS PTSA Co-

President (2007-2009); Hommocks PTA Co-President (2005-2007); and Central PTA Co-President (2003-2005).

- Gray has been a parent member of the Committees on Special Education since 2007.

- Since 2008, Gray has served on the board of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center

- She has volunteered for numerous jobs in the schools, including the PACE Parents Committee and MHS Planning Council, as well as serving as a grant writer and student mentor.

-  An active member of St. John's Episcopal Church, Gray has served as Junior Warden (2002-2005);

Vestry Member (1997-1999); chair, Pastoral Care Committee; President, St. Margaret's Guild; and Sunday school teacher.

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