Five candidates — Doreen Bucher, Alex Dal Piaz, Steven Goldfinger, Matthew Gordon, and Damaris-Lois Yamoah Lang — are running for the three open seats on the Hastings Board of Education.
All would be newcomers. Current president Lauren Berman is leaving the board after one term, as is Jeremy Arnon. Jodie Meyer is leaving the board after 13 years.
The election is May 18. The League of Women Voters of the Rivertowns and the Hastings PTSA will host a candidates forum on Thursday, May 6, from 7-8:30 p.m. To register and submit questions, visit www.lwv-rivertowns.org. A recording of the forum will be posted on the school district’s website.
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Doreen Bucher moved to Hastings from Brooklyn seven years ago. She and her husband, journalist David Zweig, have two children, one in sixth grade and the other in fourth.
Bucher, 52, is global vice president of marketing at Symrise, a supplier of flavors and fragrances. She views hiring a new district superintendent as one of the most important responsibilities for the next board.
“There is an art and a science to hiring people,” she said, noting her decades of hiring experience. Referring to previous superintendents’ recruitment, she said, “We can’t be asking the right questions. If you ask the right questions, you get the people who want to be in this district.”
In March, the current superintendent, Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, announced she will retire at the end of June, two years into her three-year contract. Her replacement will be the fourth superintendent in five years.
Bucher also wants the district to look at the curriculum, especially in math and science, and at issues relating to climate change.
“We have to think about how we’re protecting our children and our world,” she said “This is where the jobs are going to be.”
She also wants the board to discuss how much technology students should be required to use. “I think it’s confusing for kids when what they use for school is the same thing they use for entertainment,” she said.
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Alex Dal Piaz has lived in Hastings since 2006. He and his wife, Juliana, a teacher’s aide at Hillside Elementary School, have children in sixth and ninth grades.
Dal Piaz, 49, is a software developer. He coaches Hastings Recreation League basketball and Little League, and volunteers to drive the elderly to appointments and doctor visits.
He sees the school board as a “stewardship,” and that its members should be more responsive to the community they serve. “It should be easier for parents to know what’s going on,” he said. “They’re underserved by a lack of general dialogue.”
Dal Piaz said the board has to recognize that the majority of Hastings households don’t have school-age children. “That’s sort of a shock to some people,” he said.
He also predicts it will become harder to maintain excellence in education going forward, amid all the constraints from New York State. In addition, he’s concerned about the amount of technology being used in classrooms, and believes the district should step back from what he regards as its current “consultancy mindset.”
He concluded, “I think it’s backward and top-down, the way it’s been going.”
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Steven Goldfinger, 69, has been a resident of Hastings since 1997, moving from Dobbs Ferry. He is a clinical psychologist at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. His wife, Hillary Raynes, is a pediatric neurologist. They have a son, who is now a senior at Hastings High School, and a daughter, who graduated in 2018.
Goldfinger was one of the original members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee a decade ago. “I certainly enjoyed it,” he said. “It was very interesting. It brought together members of the school board, members of the administration, and residents.”
Lately, Goldfinger found the board less open to input from the community. “In previous years, you could go to a committee meeting and it was OK to ask questions. But in this board, there’s no public comment,” he said. “If you have interested, active community members, use them.”
Goldfinger is concerned about keeping the budget under control for the sake of all residents, “whether they’ve lived here for 60 years or four years,” and he has mixed feelings about the district’s hiring of consultants. “Some of them, I think, are good things,” he said. “But when I see some of the bills, it’s shocking. Do members of the board think they can’t say no? It’s OK if we don’t all agree in the end.”
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Matthew Gordon is a 19-year resident of Hastings. An attorney by profession, he has also worked in management consulting and investment banking. Gordon, 48, and his wife, Kay, also an attorney, have children in fourth, sixth, and 11th grades in district schools.
Gordon said he and his wife were attracted to Hastings by “the educational experience,” but that lately “the district has become focused on single issues.” He wants the district to operate “on a framework of common sense,” and thinks it’s important to take “a centrist position — not take too extreme a position without taking into account the data.”
Gordon’s undergraduate degree from Cornell was in policy analysis, and he decided that it was time for him to “get off the sidelines” when it comes to how district policies are affected by limited resources.
“It’s a dangerous thing to criticize that topic, but diversity — nobody on the board can make us a more diverse district,” he said. “We want to create empathetic adults... but the check-the-box approach to diversity issues, it’s done nothing of the sort.”
He is hoping the board will hire a superintendent with whom they can have a “symbiotic relationship.” “Their goals must be aligned,” he said. “They need to articulate... a vision of education K-12." The superintendent needs to empower the educators to do their jobs... you don’t want every issue to be thermonuclear war.”
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Damaris-Lois Yamoah Lang has been a resident of Hastings since 2012, relocating from Yonkers. A neurobiologist and professor at CUNY/Hostos Community College in the Bronx, she and her husband, jazz musician John Lang, have one son, who attends Hillside Elementary School.
Lang, 46, balances her academic research and teaching with community service and activism. She is a member of the Hastings Youth Council and last year founded P-CoC (Parenting Children of Color), a Hastings-based organization that helps parents cope with the needs of children of color attending predominantly white schools.
Lang believes she can help the board become more productive and equitable. She said that watching school board discussions, she noticed that although members voiced worthwhile opinions, “there was a lack in the deliberations that occurred, to create collaborative solutions... there wasn’t an established norm in defining the problem at hand, being able to integrate the values being shared. I saw a place where dominant voices were carrying the day, and silent voices were not being considered in the whole collaborative effort.”
She wants to help restore a healthy dynamic to the board. “I think I have been very good at mobilizing conversations in several committees that I chair,” she said. “It is about giving all voices equal weight — silent voices, and dominant voices.”
She said several people asked her to run for the school board “because I come with this objective approach, and problem solving is something I do effectively. I chose to do this because I was asked to do it, and knew it would add value to our community.”
Correction: Steven Goldfinger's daughter graduated from Hastings High School in 2018, not 2008, as was reported in the April 30 issue of the Enterprise.