My Why: Growing Up in Wantagh
I am a lifelong resident of Wantagh, and have spent the last 24 years of my life calling it home. All 13 years of my primary and secondary education were spent in the Wantagh Schools - first at Beech Street, all the way until I graduated from our high school in 2012. I grew up with three siblings - Katina, Nikoleta and Christopher - all of whom also benefited from the education they received in the Wantagh Schools.
My mother, Debra, grew up in Queens, and my father George, immigrated to the United States from Greece when he was a teen. Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled two important values that have guided my life so far - the importance of being dedicated to one’s education and to give back to one’s community.
My dedication to the Wantagh School District started when I was just a teen. During my freshman year at Wantagh High School, I faced the harsh realities of an austerity budget day in and day out. Even from a young age, I began to notice a few recurring themes in our district - a revolving door of administrators, a loss of a morale in our teachers and educators, and budgets that favored the bottom line over educational initiatives. As I got older I began to question what was happening to the Wantagh that I knew and loved.
The Beginning: What Inspired Me To Run
In 2012, I left the warm beaches of Wantagh for harsh winters in Ithaca, NY while I studied computer science at Cornell University. Something interesting happened once I got there. As I started college at an Ivy League university I began to realize how lucky I was to be there. Unlike many of my peers, I wasn’t offered the same courses and research opportunities as they had, making it that much more difficult to get accepted to a rigorous university. I realized that the hardworking and talented educators in our schools were not being given all of the resources they needed to help our students succeed at the highest levels.
In the spring of 2013 after I transferred from Cornell to New York University, I was closer to my roots and I decided that I wanted to help make a longer-lasting change in Wantagh. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how. But I knew that one of my biggest passions, computer science, wasn’t being taught in our schools. So, two of my close friends and I decided to do something about it. We launched Wantagh TechDay, and over the past 5 years we’ve taught hundreds of Wantagh students to code. Most importantly, this annual, one-day event led to the creation of computer science classes across K-12.
It showed me that with hard work, dedication and empathy, real change can happen.
While working on TechDay, I also began to see what the inner workings of school district administration was all about. At some point that spring, I began to get this idea that my recent experience as a student in Wantagh could actually provide some value to our district on the Board of Education.
So, I made a seemingly crazy decision. In March 2013, as an eighteen-year-old, I chose to run for a trustee position on our Board of Education. I centered my campaign around the premise that having a student’s voice on the board was essential for the other trustees to truly understand the day-to-day dynamics of our education system.
Life as a Trustee: My First Two Terms
Alongside my extremely talented and dedicated colleague, Kera McLoughlin, I was lucky enough to be elected to the board and to begin serving our community. Throughout my time on the board, I have worked on the audit committee and the policy committee and have had the honor of serving as both the vice president and president of the board.
During the time that I was serving on the board, I also obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Machine Learning from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, with a minor in mathematics from the NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Science.
Prior to graduation, I received the opportunity to work as a software engineer at Google in their Mountain View, CA office. Although this is a dream opportunity for a college student aiming to enter the software engineering field, I knew that I was dedicated to my trustee position, and did not want to give that up. I did not accept the offer until six months later, only after I was able to secure a position in the NYC office so that I could continue to serve my community.
Since February 2017, I have been able to effectively balance my time between my full-time job at Google and my volunteer position on our Board of Education. In January of 2018, I decided to rent an apartment close to Google’s office in the city in order to help alleviate some late night commutes. While I do spend nights there in order to avoid spending hours each day on the LIRR and more effectively manage my time between work and the board, there is no doubt in my mind that Wantagh is my home.
While sometimes work requires long hours or travel, I have always been dedicated to our community, and there have been many instances where I have missed important work conferences to be available in person at our board meetings and community events.
I even started the practice of video conferencing into meetings when I am unable to be in New York, something that other board members have also begun to take up. This has given me the ability to stay connected to our district, even when away from home.
Alongside our recent transition to electronic board documents and communication, I feel more connected than ever to the rest of the board, the administration and our community.
Looking Ahead: My Re-election 2019
In each position I have taken and vote that I have made during my time on the Board of Education - I have centered my decisions on what is in the best interest of our students. If re-elected, I promise to continue this pattern, and I am committed to re-engaging with our new population of students to better understand the day-to-day challenges that they face, and how to make their school a better place.
I’ve found that since graduating from college and entering the workforce, I have become a better board member. I now better understand what it takes for our students to be successful in college and the workforce. It is not uncommon to have working professionals serving on boards; in fact, in many communities, it is a desirable quality to have well-educated working professionals who dedicate their time to improving their communities.
Additionally, my expertise in the area of technology offers a unique perspective that no other board member, or candidate in this election can provide. As we continue to move further into the 21st century, it only becomes more of a necessity to be fluent in this domain, especially in the world of education where technology is being integrated into instruction at a faster rate than ever.
I am grateful that I have been able to utilize my perspective, educational background and professional expertise for the betterment of our students over the past couple of years, and I am hopeful to be able to continue providing my accumulated experience to the Wantagh community.
While my responsibilities outside of the board may have grown since 2013, my dedication to Wantagh has only gotten stronger and my perspective more informed and broadened. I know that I love Wantagh, and only have one agenda as a Board of Education Trustee - to help transform Wantagh Schools into a better place than when I was a student.
It is for these reasons that I am asking the Wantagh community to elect me for a third time to serve you and your children. Let’s continue making change, together.