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Katonah Lewisboro Election Coverage: Q & A With Marjorie Schiff

Schiff is one of four candidates vying for two seats on the board of education.

On May 15, Katonah-Lewisboro voters will vote on a , a and

Below is a brief bio of Marjorie Schiff and her replies to a set of questions sent to all of the K-L candidates.

Schiff is a Pound Ridge resident of seven years with a son at and a daughter in nursery school. Schiff holds a bachelor's degree from Duke University and a master's degree from the University of Michigan and has 14 years of college administrative and strategic planning experience. Most recently she served as the strategic planning manager at the University of Virginia. 

You can find profiles of the three other school board candidates on Patch: is also posted today, and Mindy Yanish and Rich Delin will be posted Wednesday. On Monday, May 14, we'll post our voter's guide summarizing the issues including when and where to vote.

Patch: What prompted you to run for the Katonah Lewisboro Board of Education?

Schiff: I am running for school board to help preserve high quality educational experiences for Katonah Lewisboro students and to help the district and our community prepare for changes associated with the continued economic downturn, additional state mandates, and declining enrollment projections.  I believe KL is entering a period of significant change due to these factors and that I can help the district mitigate the effect of change to ensure that we preserve the educational priorities and community values that brought us to KL in the first place.

Patch: What strengths will you bring to the board?

Schiff: I will bring relevant professional experience to the board.  As an undergraduate admission dean for Duke and the University of Virginia, I evaluated applications from Westchester County high school students. I have broad knowledge of the environment in which students flourish and the issues that face our district at this time.  As a strategic planner for the University of Virginia I successfully managed expectations and priorities of various, sometimes conflicting constituencies.  I can facilitate productive discussion that leads to good decisions that reflect the priorities and values of our community.

Patch: What issues facing the district do you feel most strongly about?

Schiff: The primary challenge facing the district is to align its goals and educational priorities with the constraints of the tax levy and other significant budgetary commitments.  This is the backdrop against which other issues must be evaluated. 

Declining enrollment also raises additional issues. While aspects of the district’s physical infrastructure such as roofs and boilers require immediate attention, a projected decline in enrollment will require the district to consider reallocation of space.  This undertaking must involve the affected members of the KL community.

And I am concerned about the magnitude and multitude of state mandates the district is required to implement at this time.  Whether the mandates will strengthen and enhance teaching and learning remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the impact on our classrooms is enormous.  If mandates do not return educational benefits consistent with implementation costs, I will push the board to seek reform or relief.

Patch: Describe the quality of education you think students are getting in the district.  Are there measures you would take to improve it?

Schiff: By most standards, the quality of education at KL is excellent.  Students benefit from a strong curriculum and extra-curricular activities and are well-positioned for success when they apply to college. But like many high performing districts, KL has to expand opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving and transform certain aspects of the curriculum and methods of instructional delivery in order to prepare students to succeed in college and today’s world.

I would support a comprehensive review of the curriculum with an eye toward transformative measures that can realistically be implemented in our current economic environment.  A review of this sort provides two ancillary benefits: an opportunity to ensure parity (for example, similarity of experience across elementary schools and teams within the middle school) and an opportunity to improve vertical integration of curriculum so that students progress from elementary to middle or middle to high school in a seamless manner.

Patch: All three collective bargaining agreements are up next year.  Describe how you see the current state of labor relations in the district.

Schiff: The district experienced a collective, if brief, sigh of relief when it negotiated the support staff contract in January. But the current budget includes staff reductions of 24 FTEs.  Whether these cuts are necessary to offset salary increases negotiated in this contract and/or the current teachers’ union contract, they certainly give pause and are a harbinger of some difficult times for KL. 

Another complicating factor is that some aspects of new mandates have created uncertainty and eroded trust, e.g. the Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers, 40% of which will be based on student performance on local and state test scores. 

Sometimes mutual recognition of very challenging circumstances that are the backdrop of a negotiation can serve as an impetus for changing ingrained ways of thinking about problems and can motivate individuals to act more magnanimously—outside of their own self-interest. I believe and hope we may experience this.

Patch: What strategies would you be willing to promote for increased open and honest communication and transparency between the board, the collective bargaining groups, and the community?

Schiff: In college admission interviews, applicants would ask, “What should I write about in my essay?” I suggested that as a starting point, the extent to which they cared about the subject was the extent to which the reader would care. I’m reminded of this because I believe that effective communication strategies are predicated on actually caring about the issue and the other person’s perspective—not on the illusion of caring.  They also are predicated on the impulse to share rather than covet information and the ability to use appropriate discretion when sharing it.

These are the guiding principles that would inform my strategies for increased transparency and that might manifest themselves in various ways— ensuring that everyone has access to the same set of unchanging facts at the same time, pushing important meeting agenda items to the public rather than require that the public pull from online, etc.

Patch: Is there anything we haven’t asked about you or your candidacy that you would like the public to know?

Schiff: If entrusted to serve on the board of education, I will conduct myself in the same manner that I conducted myself during this campaign.  If I am not already informed about an issue or matter that is important to you, I’ll raise the issue with the administration and cabinet and educate myself on the topic.  I will suggest the possibility of talking with colleagues at other districts to learn what their schools are doing about this matter, and I will research what the state has to say, if anything, about the issue.  This is what I’ve been up to the past couple of months and hope to do for our district over the next few years.


Lisa Burke May 08, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Marjorie Schiff is uniquely qualified to help guide and govern our district, while doing the very best for all of the KLSD students, during this challenging environment. Lisa Burke

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