Connetquot Schools

UPDATED Q&A: Connetquot's BOE candidates


Marissol Mallon 
Brian Murphy
Eileen Panico (incumbent, president)
Sarah Smith
Mark Warshaw (incumbent, vice president)

***Please note that Connetquot School District’s Board of Education is decided with at-large voting (i.e. the two out of the five candidates who receive the most votes win the two open seats)***

Q: Please provide a biography.
MALLON: I have been a Bohemia resident for 14 years. I have three children in the district. I have a child in the elementary school, one in the middle school and one in the high school.
I currently work as a supervising chemist where I have been for 22 years. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in biochemistry from Hofstra University.
I have been actively involved in my children’s education and a big part of the PTA at Sycamore Avenue Elementary. I have chaired major events and helped out with many other school related events.
As a first-generation American growing up in Brentwood, my family always placed a great emphasis on education. I continue to reiterate its importance to my children as they progress through Connetquot schools.
MURPHY: I grew up in Ronkonkoma along with my three sisters – all graduates of Connetquot schools. I reside in Bohemia with my three children who are currently attending Connetquot schools – one in CHS and two in OBMS.
I decided to raise my children in the Connetquot District because of the incredibly positive experiences my sisters and I had growing up here. I have coached Connetquot youth soccer and lacrosse, and have been heavily involved in my children’s education, having attended almost all of their in-class parent programs, field trips, concerts and school-related activities. I have great confidence in and respect for the administration, teachers, faculty and staff that work tirelessly to make the schools a place of opportunity, growth and wisdom so that our children can have a quality education.
I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in business management from Arizona State University, and have more than 20 years of professional experience in medical sales and technology. I am deeply committed to this district and its community as it continues to provide my children with the best educational experience possible.
PANICO: My husband and I chose to live here after researching school districts and found Connetquot to be where we wanted to raise our children. We moved here in 1996 when I was pregnant with my first child. We have three children who all went through the Connetquot School District. All my children have now graduated and two finished college and the youngest has two more years of college. I always supported the PTA and became a member as my children reached school-age. I became very involved when my eldest was in fifth grade. I worked full-time until my eldest up until then I as president of a sub-contracting firm for 10 years doing accounting, bookkeeping and budgeting for projects in excess of $2 million. Before that – I did accounting and bookkeeping for several firms. All in all I have over 28-plus years of experience in this field.
I went to Suffolk Community College and received my associates in accounting – I then continued to St Joseph’s College in Patchogue and matriculated into their three-year bachelor’s/master’s program in accounting. I have a few more classes to complete until I receive that degree but had to put that on hold due to my husband’s illness.
I’ve volunteered for PTA and was treasurer for elementary school, chairperson for events at the middle and high school. PTA council secretary and then president. I've also been the treasurer, vice president and then president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association. I believe in giving back to my community.
SMITH: Ronkonkoma has been my home for 21 years. I graduated from Connetquot High School in 2017. My sister is a current Ronkonkoma Middle School seventh grade student, and we are very close. I have many fond memories of my time in the district, and I am so thankful for the teachers and guidance counselors that helped to shape my personal and professional development.
I have been working with people experiencing homelessness for over five years, and currently I work with veterans experiencing homelessness. I have also worked in hotel management for two years, and food service. Seeing the struggles many Long Island families face, especially in light of the pandemic, inspires me to do what I can to improve and serve my community.
I have graduated from Suffolk Community College with my associates in human services. This May, I will graduate with my Bachelors of Social Work, and next year I will graduate with my Masters of Social Work with a specialization of Community, Policy, and Political Social Action (CPPSA).
WARSHAW: I have been a resident in Bohemia for 26 years and coached football for the school for 17 years. I have completed four years of college and played baseball for four years while in college. I have been self-employed for about 28 years. I would like to see more done for our special education program and mental health for the child especially after all the effects from COVID. I feel more transparency and accountability is needed in the district. We need to be able to discuss more with the community so they know what their tax dollar is being spent on. I feel like we need to make better financial decisions.


Q: Where do you stand on the armed guards issue?
MALLON: I am personally for them. I believe that should there be a need for them, having them in the outer perimeters would minimize casualties. Dropping my son off at the high school a few years back when there was a threat brought a lot of anxiety. Knowing there is someone in the outer perimeter and in close proximity brings a level of comfort. That said, I don’t feel as a board trustee that it is my place to push my thoughts and feelings on a subject. I feel that the community should have a voice. That my job would be to make sure your voice is heard and to fight for that. I don’t think that adding armed guards to the budget was the best way to get an accurate interpretation of the communities needs. I don’t believe in pushing my personal views as a board trustee.
MURPHY: Personally, I am for them. I also believe that it should be decided by the community whether or not they are employed at district buildings.
SMITH: The change of implementing armed guards should have been listed separate from the budget so the community could conclusively speak on the matter. Now, we have a community looking for closure. Once elected, I will do everything I can to put out a true poll to the community. Addressing the matter all together as a community, is the only way we can move forward. Let's get back to making kids educational experiences unforgettable, and lowering taxes.
WARSHAW: I listened to everyone and did my own research. You get to know more and you hear more when you are a trustee. Things we can't, by law, say in public. I voted yes after many months of listening and learning.

Q: Do you believe there should be an armed guard at each school?
MALLON: If there are armed guards in the district, they should be at every school.
MURPHY: Yes, if they are at one school, they should be at all.
SMITH: We should not have to live in a world where we station armed personnel next to our children’s space of learning. It saddens me that this is a reality. Imagine the deaths and mental health emergencies we could avoid if we addressed the root of the issue; mental health and emotional wellness. Parents, teachers, and students should be educated in mental health warning signs. Let's end the stigma.
WARSHAW:  I voted yes to all. I felt that a guard who had to cover more schools would not be as effective and could compromise the safety of the children.

Q: What background checks do you propose for armed guards?
MALLON: I would refer to the director of security.
MURPHY: That is something that should be decided by our head of security, as well as referencing guidelines from other security agencies.
SMITH: Armed guards should have gone through rigorous background checks as they are ultimately only a few yards away from our children, and tasked with carrying lethal force. The checks I would support are; criminal history check, prior employment verification, education verification, reference check, drug screening, sexual offender registry check, social media and internet check, driving record, professional license and certificate confirmation, and social security number trace.

Q: What is the extent of weaponry you advocate the armed guards have on them while school is in session?
MALLON: Extent of weaponry should be determined by our director of security and the security consultant whose responsibility it is to determine the best ways to keep our students, teachers, faculty and staff safe
MURPHY: Similar to what law enforcement currently carries.
SMITH: I do not plan on advocating for any changes to weaponry that the guards carry at this time.
WARSHAW: As I said earlier, our security team is the most knowledgeable and I'm confident they are ensuring the safety of children and staff.

Q: What do you feel is your responsibility as a board trustee to hiring practices in the district?
MALLON: I feel I would follow the recommendation of the administrators(professionals) that possess the experience and knowledge to choose the best, most qualified candidate for the position.
MURPHY: Hiring practices should be relegated to the human resource department and administration.
SMITH: I look forward to making sure the hiring processes are thorough, fair, and foster diversity. Everyone employed in our district has an important role to play in our children's development, and the hiring processes should reflect that.

Q: (From the Islip NAACP) How do you define critical race theory? How do you feel critical race theory relates to school Connetquot policy and curriculum?
: I have become aware of critical race theory in the last couple of days. Critical race theory is a complex, multi-faceted movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice. It seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US.
I feel that Critical Race Theory is a complex subject matter for a more mature audience and is best suited to be taught at a collegiate level.
MURPHY: Critical race theory is a movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice. It seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US.
It is a complex subject and is not suited for k-12 students.
SMITH: "Crenshaw—who coined the term “CRT”—notes that CRT is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice... CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation." - American Bar Association. This is my understanding of the topic.
We need to be giving students the space to realize that everyone's experiences in this world are vastly different, and there are reasons for that. I fondly remember reading some very perspective altering pieces in my senior year, including "Black Men and Public Space" by Brent Staples.

Q: (From the Islip NAACP) The 2019 Hofstra study on teacher diversity on LI’s public schools indicated that our teacher workforce on Long Island does not reflect the diversity of Long Island’s student body. What do you feel is the role of the Board of Education in fair hiring practices? Do you have a strategy to recruit and retain teachers and administrators of color?
MALLON: I feel I would follow the recommendation of the administrators(professionals) that possess the experience and knowledge to choose the best, most qualified candidate for the position.
I believe that the recruitment process is the responsibility of the superintendent and her cabinet.
MURPHY: I feel the administration and human resource department is better qualified to search for and select the most qualified candidate for the position.
Board members are not tasked to develop a strategy to recruit and retain teachers or administrators.
SMITH: If our desire is to prepare our children for the "real world," diversity is key. Our community is so diverse with rich cultures, and the district employees should reflect that.
A good place to start would be taking a look at where job listings are posted, how long they are up, and where they are advertised. A team effort should be utilized when coming up with a strategy to recruit and retain teachers and administrators of color, if possible. This is something I would happily come up with a framework for and present to the board for feedback, given the opportunity. 

Editor's Note: Warshaw could not be reached for comment as of press time and was regrettably, denied an extension. Also, a question about litigation was removed due its irrelevance to the election.
As of Monday May 17, this story has been updated to reflect additional comments from Warshaw.


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