Five candidates are seeking to fill three openings on the Bridgehampton School Board this year.
Board president Ron White, 39, a real estate agent with Saunders and Associates, is seeking his fifth three-year term. He is the sole incumbent running, with board members Douglas DeGroot and Lillian Tyree Johnson having chosen to step down at the end of their terms this year.
He is joined in the race by Angela Chmielewski, 41, who is a real estate agent with Corcoran Real Estate; Jo Ann Comfort, 50, owner of Comfort Farm; Michael Gomberg, 48, a financial advisor with Edward Jones, and Dwight Singleton, 59, the athletic director and a special education teacher’s aide for the Wyandanch School District.
Both Ms. Comfort, who served from 2010 to 2013, and Mr. Gomberg, who served from 2016 to 2019, are former board members.
Voting takes place in the school gymnasium from 2 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18.
Mr. White, a lifelong resident of Bridgehampton, is the father of two sons who have attended the school. Although his older son, Elijah, is now attending St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, on an athletic scholarship, Mr. White said the decision to send him away does not reflect poorly on Bridgehampton, which, he said, gave his son a solid education that put him in the sights of a number of selective colleges.
“Anyone who knows the Bridgehampton School District should know we are on to something,” said Mr. White. “We have a great core and a great understanding of what it takes to become a thriving, strong school district.”
Now that the district is putting the finishing touches on a $29 million expansion project, Mr. White said it is time to continue to improve academics and attract more families to send their children to the school, where the prekindergarten through 12th grade enrollment has rarely exceeded 230 students in recent years.
Part of that job will be to better educate the public about the accomplishments of Bridgehampton graduates, who Mr. White said, are gaining admittance to a number of top-flight schools from Stanford to Duke. At the same time, he stressed the need for the district to continue to expand its academic offerings, perhaps offering an AP Capstone or International Baccalaureate program, while keeping a sharp eye on spending.
Mr. White has long been active in the school and community and said he loved “coming early to set up and staying late to help break down” for winter concerts, cookouts, and other events at the school.
Ms. Chmielewski moved with her family to Bridgehampton 10 years ago and entered the real estate profession with her husband, Jeff, after a career in financial services in the city. A native of Queens, she said her parents instilled in her an appreciation for learning. She graduated with honors from Wesleyan University with a degree in English literature.
“I’m passionate about education and really grateful to be a parent in this community,” she said.
Ms. Chmielewski said she has always been involved in the community, having served on the board of the Children’s Museum of the East End and on the business council of the Parrish Art Museum. She has a son in fourth grade and a daughter in kindergarten and has served on the Parent Teacher Organization, of which she is currently vice president, since her children entered school. She ran for the board in 2019, but did not win a seat.
She said Bridgehampton offers children the opportunity to get the same type of private school education that friends of hers in the city pay $50,000 a year for their children. “Every parent has a voice here,” she said. “Every parent has power.”
With 55 percent of the student population now Latino, Ms. Chmielewski said it was essential for the community to continue its outreach to the Latino community, many of whom do not speak English.
Like Mr. White, she said now that the district’s renovation project is done, it is time to focus on “tightening the curriculum” and offering more advanced classes while keeping a sharp eye on spending.
Ms. Comfort owns the Comfort Farm on Lumber Lane with her husband, Robert Comfort. Besides selling flowers, eggs, vegetables, and fruits, the farm boards horses and provides riding lessons for children.
With a daughter who is high school junior, Ms. Comfort said she sees a need to get students more involved in their education and the operation of the school, so they will be better prepared to become good citizens after graduation.
“I’d like to see more clubs, and the secondary student council should work with the younger kids to help build morale,” she said.
While Ms. Comfort said she is happy with the school, she said she would like to see improved academic offerings while maintaining a solid curriculum for those students who don’t plan to attend college.
The biggest issue facing Bridgehampton, she said, “is getting our students back into school,” noting that many high school students chose not come back for in-person classes when they were made available this year. “I think our school did a great job,” she said, “but I think kids really need the face time.”
Longer term, Ms. Comfort said she would like to see the district encourage parents who chose to send their children to other schools, including Sag Harbor, to return to Bridgehampton.
“It’s a great school, and we have to get it out there,” she said.
Mr. Gomberg, 48, has had a long career in financial markets and currently serves as an advisor with Edward Jones in Bridgehampton. He has a son and daughter in the school and has served on the board’s budget and audit committees.
A native of Great Neck who attended Washington University in St. Louis, Mr. Gomberg said he took a leadership role in launching robotics and other STEAM classes at Bridgehampton during his previous term on the board and would like to expand on those offerings.
“I want us to be known as an academic powerhouse, where we pull kids in from other schools who want to come to us,” he said.
Technology is key, he said, because that’s where the jobs of the future will be. “It used to be when you looked at a resume, you’d look to see how many languages somebody spoke,” he said. “Now it’s how many languages you can code.”
Still, he said, the school needs to offer basics, such as financial literacy. “I think kids should learn how to balance a checkbook and understand credit cards,” he said.
Although Bridgehampton’s budget would pierce the state 2-percent tax levy cap, Mr. Gomberg said he believed the district had put forth the best budget it could during a particularly stressful period. “I don’t think they could bring it under the cap,” he said. “And if they have to go to contingency the first things that cut are the extracurricular activities. And that just hurts the kids.”
Mr. Singleton, 59, a native of Washington, D.C., who attended the University of Tennessee on a football scholarship before moving onto Virginia Union, has also entered the race. A former member of the school board in Washington, D.C., he has held a number of positions as a coach, athletic director, and teacher’s aide. Although he does not have children in the school, Mr. Singleton is married to Sandra Roberts, a former board member, and has two grandchildren at the school.
Mr. Singleton has said his experience on the school board in Washington, D.C., would be a plus in Bridgehampton, where as many as three seats will be filled this year and a new superintendent hired. He also is certified as a school business official, although he has never held that position.
If elected, rather than micromanage, Mr. Singleton said he would remind his fellow board members that their focus “should be on writing policy, approving budgets, and evaluating superintendents.”
At a recent candidates night, Mr. Singleton called on the board to suspend its search for a replacement for Superintendent Robert Hauser, who is leaving the district at the end of the fiscal year on June 30, arguing it would be better to hire an interim superintendent until new board members get acclimated to the job. The current board says it plans to hire a new superintendent before the changeover, saying hiring an interim would set the district back a full year.
While other prospective candidates touted their involvement with the school, Mr. Singleton said he was active in the school community behind the scenes, mentoring young people and helping guide them through the college entrance process.