EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates were asked to complete a questionnaire and in some cases did not respond to all questions.
By Sarah Trafton
CAIRO — The stakes are high in this year’s board of education election in the Cairo-Durham Central School District with 11 candidates running for four seats Tuesday.
The terms held by Dr. Peter Byrne, Dennis Burke and Gary Warner expire in 2022. The term held by Robert MacGiffert, who is completing Dean Pectal’s unexpired term, expires in 2020. Polls will be open from 1-9 p.m. in the middle school cafeteria. The candidates appear in this article in the order they will appear on the ballot.
Name: Dennis Burke
Occupation: Verizon employee
Education: Master’s degree in cybersecurity from Utica College.
Incumbent Dennis Burke is seeking his third term on the board.
Burke is proud of the decisions he has made during his six years on the board and plans to continue to keep the students, stakeholders and taxpayers’ best interest in the forefront of his mind. Ensuring all students receive the best education while being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers are his main concerns.
Burke and his wife have two children, Ethan and Andrew.
Name: Robert Conti
Robert Conti is seeking his first term on the board.
Conti has lived in the Hudson Valley and Catskill mountain region for 24 years, where he’s worked as a carpenter, chef, part-time for the town of Durham as a data collector and for a local luthier restoring, repairing and building stringed instruments.
Conti has three children.
Name: Dale Handel
Occupation: Resort owner
Education: Cairo-Durham High School
Dale Handel is seeking his first term on the board.
“If elected, I would do my best to listen to all involved and bring them together for the better good of the entire Cairo-Durham community,” Handel said. “I feel that all groups of people should be able to express their thoughts to the school board and should be heard. I do not feel that the job of the board is to micromanage the faculty or administration.”
Handel has four children, Morgan, Ethan, Connor and Wyatt.
Name: Brock Juusola
Occupation: Civil engineer
Education: University of Minnesota
Brock Juusola is seeking his first term on the board.
“As a BOE member, I will work tirelessly to promote stability, leadership and ownership within the administration,” Juusola said. “As an experienced engineer and a father, I’m determined to develop solutions that provide the best education possible while also considering the economic impacts within the entire Cairo-Durham community.”
Juusola and his wife Dulce have four children, Alany, Eduardo, Aurora and Cataleya.
Name: Robert Poelstra
Occupation: Owner of Country Campsites at Michael Dees Motel
Education: Bergen Community College
Robert Poelstra is seeking his first term on the board.
“I feel with my knowledge, understanding and appreciation for this community I will serve the district well,” Poelstra said. “I have been actively involved in serving the community since I moved here in 1997. Prior to that, I volunteered and coached basketball for incarcerated juveniles. I volunteered and umpired Little League games, coached Little League and was the safety director to ensure the safety of our children. I am a past president of the Cairo-Durham Youth Basketball League.”
Poelstra and his wife Michele have one son, who attends Cairo-Durham Middle School.
Name: Gary Warner
Occupation: Senior investigator for the state Department of Corrections and Community Services
Gary Warner is seeking re-election to the board.
Warner is a fourth generation Cairo resident and Cairo-Durham graduate who is always looking for ways to keep the community and schools safe and productive.
He feels strongly about creating safe school environments that provide security to those entering Cairo-Durham facilities. Warner listens carefully to the concerns of the community regarding school safety, school budgets and taxes so that he can bring the information to the board for discussion. He supports respectful classroom environments that promote fairness and accountability for all.
Warner and his wife Marianne have three children, Sophie, Gavin and Drew.
Name: Nicole Maggio
Occupation: Senior Human Resource and Civil Service Aide
Education: Wells College
Nicole Maggio is seeking her first term on the board.
“One of the biggest issues for the Cairo-Durham school district is the high turnover rate of administrators,” Maggio said. “Without consistent leadership, there is a lack of continuity for students, faculty, and staff. The district currently has vacancies for both high school principal and superintendent. As a board of education member, I would like to make sure that we find candidates who are the right fit for our district and who will stay with our district, rather than using us as a stepping stone. Additionally, I’d like to foster a good working relationship amongst the board of education, the administrators, the faculty and staff in order to provide a positive environment that will benefit the students of the district.”
Maggio and her partner Albert have three children, Steven, Jenna and Rachel.
Name: Steven LaFever
Occupation: Operations Manager, XPO Logistics
Education: Russell Sage College 1990
Steven LaFever is seeking his first term on the board.
If elected, LaFever’s goals include working to select a new superintendent, implementing the budget, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, enhancing the infrastructure of the buildings and grounds, improving math and English SAT scores and other standardized/state mandated testing scores, encouraging better communication between administration and staff and a culture of mutual trust and respect, developing shared resources to maintain or enhance student opportunities and improving student achievement by developing health and wellness through physical education, music, art and interscholastic athletics instruction.
LaFever and his wife Nancy have three sons, Neil, Eric and Brandon.
Name: Claudia Zucker
Occupation: Real estate broker
Education: Hunter College
Claudia Zucker is seeking her first term on the board.
“Finding a new superintendent to head up the district is the first order of business,” Zucker said.
As a long-term goal, Zucker said she believes the district needs to be “preparing our children to navigate making a living, being good citizens and lifelong learners.”
Zucker has two children, Amanda and Jonathan.
Name: Bernadette Gavin-Palmieri
Education: Siena College
Bernadette Gavin-Palmieri is seeking her first term on the board.
“We need leadership from the top down to unify the entire community,” Gavin-Palmieri said. “There needs to be more awareness for all students from special ed, mental health, college ready, trade ready in an environment that is together as a family for the good of all. We need to have more diversity on the school board where both the town of Durham and the town of Cairo are equitably represented.”
Gavin-Palmieri and her husband Brian have four children, Gavin, Anna, Maggie and Patrick.
Name: Todd Hilgendorff
Occupation: Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment, Greenville Central School District
Education: Master’s degree in Education and a Certificate in Advanced Study in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Rose
Todd Hilgendorff is seeking his first term on the board.
“Education is not just my profession, but also my passion,” Hilgendorff said. “I value creating relationships between school and community and developing programs to serve the varying needs and interests of our youth. The Cairo-Durham Central School District faces complex challenges on a daily basis and as such requires a board of education that is diverse, collaborative, and willing to put students first. As a Round Top resident, I am interested in becoming a board of education member for the Cairo-Durham Central School District so that I can use my expertise and knowledge of education to serve as a member of a team dedicated to continually improving our school for all students and faculty members.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In Friday’s edition we will cover the contested board of education races in Coxsackie-Athens and Hunter-Tannersville. We will not cover districts with uncontested races. Uncontested districts and unopposed candidates in Greene County include: Greenville — David Finch and S. Jay Goodman; Windham-Ashland-Jewett — Melissa Maldonado; and Catskill — Allan Couser and two to be decided by write-in vote.