Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht, 50, of Riverhead, is seeking her first term on the board. She has been a district resident for 23 years and is the mother of two children: one who is a graduating senior and one who is a freshman at Riverhead High School. She has a bachelor of arts in environmental science and public policy from Harvard College and a master of science in conservation biology and sustainable development from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the co-owner of Garden of Eve Organic Farm on Sound Avenue, and has previously worked as a municipal planner for Southampton Town and as the director of the North Fork Environmental Council.

Why are you seeking election for the Board of Education?

Do you feel the RCSD administration can become more responsive and helpful to parents and their kids? I do. Through our business Garden of Eve, I’ve had 20 years of experience in customer service, as well as management, human resources, budgeting, and so much more. I taught outside the classroom before entering agriculture, so understand firsthand what that is like. I am a team player and consensus builder, looking for solutions that work here, for our Riverhead community. I hope you will give me your vote on May 16!

If elected, what will be your top three goals as a board member?

Making sure that parents and taxpayers are listened to and really heard. No “yes… but.” Open dialogue – in a medium, time and place that is convenient – so that parents and taxpayers can get the answers they deserve, and ask the questions they need answered! And finally, get their problems solved.

Violence inside and outside the school is absolutely a top issue. How to address the threat of gun violence at school will be controversial, but we need to start having some open, transparent conversations that include parents, teachers, and administrators. Kids need to be safe, and need to feel safe. Are we acknowledging how the lockdown drills make kids feel? Are we doing enough to discuss these issues with them and hear their suggestions?

The budget must stay with as close to a 0% increase as possible. Riverhead taxpayers can’t support additional increases. How can we stretch a $200 million dollar budget? $200 million is a huge amount of money. What isn’t working that we can give up? I’m sure there are some creative ways if we take a close and critical look at everything.

What needs the most improvement in Riverhead schools? How would you work as a board member to improve it?

Do we want good kids to fail? That’s sadly what happens when teachers are spread thin. Kids who need more structure fall through the cracks. People talk a lot about the “culture” of Riverhead schools. What they mean by that is that as the kids get older, the schools get bigger, and the school environment becomes more and more impersonal. Many policies are driven by bureaucracy, not by kids’ needs. Is there a way we can shrink down that experience in the larger schools, so kids have more in-depth relationships with both adults and each other? I believe we can. Riverhead already has quite a few programs for special-needs students of various kinds – what are we doing for the average student with no “special needs”, just “normal” needs? Have they been forgotten?

Do you think there is a district policy that should change? If so, what is it, why should it be changed, and how would you work on the board to change it?

Kids need to have access to outdoor recess every day of the year, in all grades. This may seem like a small thing, but it is not. Everyone knows about the effects of screens on our kids, and the effects of lack of physical activity, which is what they get when kept inside. Many behavioral issues are also helped by outdoor time for kids. A little – or just predicted – rain or wind should not keep our kids indoors. In generations past, kids went out in all weather and survived, we are here to prove it.

Do you favor the district asking voters to approve a capital construction plan to increase classroom capacity in the high school? If not, how should the district deal with overcrowded classrooms?

I do not favor additional, multi-hundred-million dollar bonds for the school district. Riverhead taxpayers already bear an unbelievable tax burden, with one of the highest tax rates on Long Island in our working class community. Clearly the district needs to think outside the box. Are there existing facilities, perhaps owned by other public entities, that can be used or acquired? Can we stagger or shorten the class day? What did they do during the baby boom? We are not the first school district to face this problem.

What skills or abilities would you bring to the school board and how would you put these to work to improve how the board functions?

I have more than 20 years of experience in working with and educating the public. People want frank conversations in terms they can understand, they want transparency. I know how to explain complex things in simple terms. If something is a problem, I believe in being direct and frank, not glossing it over or sweeping it under the rug. Parents know what their kids are experiencing and what they need – let’s listen to them! Even if tempers run high and there is conflict and differing opinions, I feel confident I can help people feel heard and help initiate hard conversations that lead to solutions.

Have you accepted contributions, either financial or in-kind (such as accepting the donation of literature, signs, phone bank staffing, social media services, advertising, etc.) from any source? If so please identify source, type and amount.

I have not received any contributions.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com