By Christine Sampson
From among five candidates running for the Sag Harbor School Board this year, voters will choose up to three to represent the community when they cast their ballots on Tuesday, May 16.
The candidates include two newcomers in January Kerr and Alex Kriegsman, as well as three incumbents who want to continue to volunteer their time on the board, Sandi Kruel and Diana Kolhoff and Theresa Samot.
Ms. Kerr is a former private attorney who took on cases of securities litigation on behalf of unions and aggrieved shareholders nationally and internationally. Ms. Kerr said she left the practice in 2009 to have a family, and is now a writer and full-time mother, with two children. Her family previously lived in East Hampton, but moved to Sag Harbor three years ago in order to be a part of the Sag Harbor School District, she said.
“We really love this town,” she said during a recent community meeting. “When I quit practicing law I made a promise to myself that I would continue to advocate for my children and for the community as well.”
Ms. Kerr is running on a platform that emphasizes economic balance and community involvement. She said she hopes to maintain administrative stability to reduce the need for expensive administrator searches by outside entities and emphasize finding extra sources of revenue through tuition and shared services. She also wants to encourage community involvement by addressing the public comment structure at board meetings and shortening the length of meetings, she said.
Mr. Kriegsman is a former federal prosecutor who now has a private practice in Sag Harbor. He became involved in the school district during the debate over the use of natural grass versus the installation of a synthetic turf field at Pierson Middle-High School. He has three children and serves on the North Haven Planning Board and Southampton Town Ethics Board.
“I think those skills I have developed, and that experience, I can put to use on the school board for the benefit of the community,” Mr. Kriegsman said during a recent community meeting. “I spend a lot of my day negotiating contracts, bringing together sides that have very different opinions on things. To move forward is something I do on a daily basis. That’s what I hope to bring to the table.”
Mr. Kriegsman has said he believes the school district has enormous potential that it is not yet harnessing. He said he supports later school start times, but done in a way that makes sense for sports programs and school busing. He said he also supports bringing in more vocational and technical programs and the expansion of the International Baccalaureate program at Pierson.
Ms. Kruel, who was born and raised in Sag Harbor and has raised her three sons here, is completing her fourth term on the school board. She said she has served on almost every board committee, whether as a board member or as a community member, and has been a PTA and PTSA volunteer and officer in between her terms on the board. She also is involved with the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League and has served as a foster parent to six children.
Ms. Kruel has been a part of three different building projects, and said she hopes to see the Stella Maris project through to fruition.
“I am proud to say I was able to work with a cohesive group, increase our programs and activities and not have to lay off one employee,” Ms. Kruel said at a recent community meeting. “I think it’s important to keep experience and tradition in the upcoming years. We have six contracts up for negotiation. … That’s where I come in. I bring knowledge and experience.”
Ms. Kruel said her goals include “keeping the bar high, keeping the taxes low and improving our facilities. …We’ve got to take care of the kids.”
Ms. Kolhoff is a former high school math teacher who is now a consultant who travels to schools in New York and beyond teaching teachers best practices in math instruction. A mother of two and a co-owner of Black Swan Antiques in Sag Harbor, Ms. Kolhoff is completing her first term on the school board, and is the current board president. She and her family have lived in Sag Harbor for nine years.
She said she is very passionate about student wellness of all forms, from physical wellness to emotional and environmental wellbeing. “The wellness committee was sort of working on a policy focusing on the whole child, and I thought that was great, so I rolled up my sleeves and worked on that,” she said at a recent community meeting.
Ms. Kolhoff also says she wants to improve efficiency on the board and thinks stability in leadership can benefit the district. “I think given the right support and the right tools, from a philosophical standpoint, I think sometimes things take time and that’s how we get long-term success,” she said.
Ms. Samot, a Pierson High School alumna and mother of three, is finishing her fourth term on the school board. During those 12 years she served as board president four times and vice president four times. She is a healthcare professional who has held positions ranging from staff nurse to vice president of patient services.
She said she is running to retain her board seat to continue bringing her historical perspective and skills in benchmarking, long-range planning, collaborating and managing large budgets, she said.
“I think the work with the board is just so, so important … but we need to do that in a balanced fashion,” Ms. Samot said during a recent community meeting. “We need to maintain the excellent educational programs we have under the tax cap so it’s fair to everyone in the community.”
She also said she is looking forward to expanding programs through the completion of renovations to the former Stella Maris facility, and said she is proud to have been a part of developing school budgets that have come in at or under the tax cap for the last six years.