School board candidates make their cases

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Granville Central School District
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In an opportunity to introduce the five candidates running for three Granville Board of Education seats, NYVT Media hosted a “Meet the Candidates Night” discussion panel on May 6 via livestreams on the Granville Sentinel’s Facebook page and the Granville Central School District’s YouTube page.

The candidates – Nicole Austin, Emily Jenkins, Connor Hoagland, Molly Biggs-Celani and Shirley Kunen – were tasked with answering questions posed by community members and leaders in and outside the school district, ultimately concluding with a 60-second summary statement.

Reporter Austin Crosier served as moderator for the evening, asking questions of the attending candidates in the categories of personal/qualifications, COVID-19, sports/arts/music, policy, community and student involvement, curriculum and miscellaneous.

NYVT Media editor Jared Stamm kept the candidates on track with their 90-second responses as timekeeper and Granville’s chief technology officer, Jereme Randles, worked behind the camera for the YouTube livestream.

The school board vote is May 18 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. Those who wish to request and submit an absentee ballot from the district offices may do so until May 18 at 5 p.m.

Nicole Austin

Photo provided by Granville Central School District. Candidate Nicole Austin

Austin was unable to attend the discussion panel due to a prior commitment. She prepared the following statement to be read by NYVT Media in place of answering the questions live.

“I am a mother of four, a business owner and am an alumni of Granville Central School District. I am passionate about volunteering and being active in our community serving as both the Granville PTO president and director of Backpacks for Hunger. I believe it is essential every child has the right to the services they need, and access to opportunities to expand their education in ways that interest them. I believe K-12 education are integral years to expand children’s minds and give them every opportunity to experience new avenues in course studies. I also believe teachers and support staff deserve resources and a voice in curriculum changes. As a Board of Education member, I would work to bridge the gap between the community and administrators, being available for open dialogue and honest discussion between teachers, parents and administrators. As a Board of Education member, I will be committed to the education of our students, those who teach them, and a voice for all.”

Emily Jenkins

Photo provided by Granville Central School District. Candidate Emily Jenkins

Jenkins, a mother, educator, PTO treasurer and heavily involved community member, said she will bring a “myriad of skills” to the board if elected. Her first priority is to address issues in communication and accountability.

“My number one (goal) is to bridge the gap between the community and the district,” Jenkins said.

One of the first groups Jenkins contacted when interest developed to run for an open seat was the Granville Teachers Association (GTA). She credits the lack of desire to teach in Granville to the three-year-long troubles associated with contract negotiations.

“Morale issues in this district are because of the contract issues in this district,” she said.

Jenkins openly announced her plans to have a student and teacher representative report to the board on a monthly basis, as, she said, their input is crucial.

“You cannot cohesively make decisions unless you are including the students and the teachers,” Jenkins said.

A change Jenkins is eyeing is the inclusion of “diverse and robust electives.”

“We can only do that with high quality instructors,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins is powered by her two children and her husband, a Granville alumnus, to serve on the board for taxpayers and community members in her new home.

“One of my driving forces for running for the Board of Ed is to bring us back to our heyday,” Jenkins said. “When you see a need, you fill a need.”

Connor Hoagland

Photo provided by Granville Central School District. Candidate Connor Hoagland

Hoagland, a 13-year resident of Granville, is excited to bring fresh ideas and analysis to board decisions by listening to stakeholders that make the district what it is, if elected to the board.

“Education must be viewed as an investment for our future,” Hoagland said. “We need to support the teachers and students who have lost time.”

The vice president of Skene Valley Insurance Group said he understands the questions and pressure administration and teachers have faced during COVID-19. He hopes to alleviate that stress as a potential board member.

“The governing body plays a larger role… the superintendent can only do so much,” Hoagland said. “It’s a day-to-day, survive-and-advance mentality, and with that, I think the teachers should be commended.”

Hoagland explained his perception on the difference between procedure and policy.

“Policy is something that is put in place by the school district… procedure is the way you carry those out,” Hoagland said. “How you enforce or adjudicate your policy. It’s essential that policy stay relevant and up-to-date.”

He also touched on the contract negotiations as a desire to support teachers’ efforts and convince them Granville is a “long-term stop.” He said his conversations with disgruntled teachers have reached the 20s and 30s.

“Both sides may have valid points but there are some things that are not debatable,” Hoagland said.

Hoagland said he wants to restore “Granville pride” and make the district a destination for outsiders and lifelong residents alike, as from 2009-2010, he paid to attend Granville as an out-of-district student.

“When everyone left, I stayed. I went against the tide and the grain because I saw opportunity,” he said. “There are many people who seek the pride that Granville once had.”

Molly Biggs-Celani

Photo provided by Granville Central School District. Incumbent candidate Molly Biggs-Celani.

Embracing the positive utilization of technology for the benefit of the student in an unprecedented school year, Biggs-Celani said she has been impressed over the last 15 months of the effort by students, faculty and staff to pull off a large feat.

“It’s been a very difficult and unique course of action for everyone,” Biggs-Celani said.

Biggs-Celani, with more than a decade of experience as a school board member in Granville and seeking her fourth consecutive term, spoke on introducing different avenues of preference for children at a young age when it comes to the music program.

“It’s a push of their teachers to try different voice and musical instruments they’re interested in,” Biggs-Celani said.

A question asked by Granville Mayor Paul Labas pondered if the success of virtual instruction could be long-term, and if there’s use for the school buildings because of that.

“I think it’s very important that these school buildings are still used in some way,” Biggs-Celani said.

The veteran board member quashed rumors of “private meetings” among board members in one of her responses, claiming there is a communication issue in the district that she’s aiming to fix.

“We’ve been criticized for having these ‘secret meetings’ that do not happen,” Biggs-Celani said.

Biggs-Celani emphasized crucial aspects of the position for her.

“Increased mastery of information and increased mastery of advantages that we offer to our kids are important to me,” she said.

Shirley Kunen

Photo provided by Granville Central School District. Incumbent candidate Shirley Kunen.

Kunen, seeking her second term on the board, has three daughters who are alumni and a son who is a senior in the school district after being a Granville resident for the better part of 50 years.

She said she is a huge proponent of extracurriculars, and that there is not a “want” but a “need” to focus on the dwindling band and music program in the high school, as well as other clubs.

In terms of the GTA contract issue, Kunen said she serves on the committee directly with Biggs-Celani, and both are optimistic for compromise between both sides.

“I am very willing to work with the teachers and the GTA to resolve the current situation,” Kunen said. “I want to see teachers want to teach here.”

Kunen would love to see a “course fair” established after the pandemic to introduce students to what Granville has to offer and match skills and preferences to students on an individual basis.

“We offer a lot for the kids, and I want to show that,” Kunen said. “I advocate for the kids.”

Kunen would like to see the use of teachers in the most efficient way possible that would best benefit the student.

“Give more services to the kids to make it more specialized and not one-size-fits-all,” she said.

Additionally, to celebrate the adversity and ultimate success Granville found while navigating through the pandemic and create a “friendlier and more collaborative environment,” Kunen said she would like to see a carnival or fair held.

“So people remember what fun is,” Kunen said.

To see the full livestream video, go to