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Four Candidates Vying for Three Seats in Bridgehampton

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 20:41
From left, Jo Ann Comfort, Nicole DeCastri Zabala, Angela Chmielewski, and Merritt Thomas are the candidates for this year's Bridgehampton School Board race.

This year’s Bridgehampton school ballot features two incumbent school board members and two new challengers vying for three seats on the board.

The candidates are Merritt Thomas and Nicole DeCastri Zabala, who are both seeking an elected office for the first time, along with Jo Ann Comfort and Angela Chmielewski, who are seeking their third and second terms on the board, respectively.

Ms. Comfort served from 2010 to 2013, returned to the board in 2021, and is now its vice president. She works as a farmer in the family business, located on Lumber Lane; is a parent of a “thriving” Bridgehampton School graduate, and is the wife of Bob Comfort, the chairman of the board of fire commissioners in Bridgehampton.

“We like to give back to the community,” Ms. Comfort said. “The past two years I’ve sat on the board, after my daughter graduated, I feel my objective over all was much broader. It wasn’t just about my daughter — it is about all children and all stakeholders.”

She said she is running for the board to maintain consistency in the district. “I’d like to keep everything on track,” she said. “The past three years I’ve seen such progress that I don’t want to get off the bandwagon yet. When you have something that’s working so well, it’s sort of exciting and invigorating to be there.”

Her colleague on the board, Ms. Chmielewski, was elected in 2021. Ms. Chmielewski has lived in Bridgehampton for 13 years, has two children attending the school, and works as a real estate agent with Corcoran. She is active in the school’s Parent Teacher Organization and has also served on the board of the Children’s Museum of the East End.

“Serving on the board has been very rewarding for me, and a great honor,” she said in an email to The Star. She added that she is “excited for the possibility to continue serving the district.”

In March, she was honored by SCOPE Education Services, a nonprofit organization, for distinguished service to Bridgehampton. “Ms. Chmielewski’s insightful and collaborative approach has played a crucial role in shaping policies that enhance the overall educational experience for students,” SCOPE wrote. “Her advocacy for inclusivity and student success is evident in every decision she makes, and her leadership has not only positively impacted the board of education, but has also fostered a sense of community engagement and trust among stakeholders.”

Ms. DeCastri Zabala has roots in Bridgehampton and returned to the hamlet 15 years ago. She has two children attending the school and manages the office of her husband’s masonry business. She was a substitute teacher at the Bridgehampton School for a few years, which she said has allowed her to view the school district from several different points of view. She has since stepped down from her substitute role, as employees are not allowed to serve on the school board.

“Bridgehampton is known for that sense of family and community in our school because it’s so small,” she said. “It’s been that way since my grandmother went to school here. I want to continue to maintain that and to implement programs that are developmentally appropriate. I would like to be able to work with some of the committees and implement programs and services that make sense.”

Ms. DeCastri Zabala helped to establish the district’s Little Bees baseball program. “I volunteer for everything and anything I possibly can that involves children — it’s just what I do,” she said.

With a bachelor’s degree in economics from Rice University and a master’s degree in business from the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Thomas has worked in the banking, commodities, and energy industries. She is currently taking time away from work to raise her son, who is 2 years old.

Her family moved to Bridgehampton in 2019 after having visited many times. “We wanted to find someplace that was a welcoming small town, and we had friends who lived out here. They said, ‘Come here, it’s a great place.’ “

Originally from Chicago and Washington, D.C., Ms. Thomas said she has seen the value of a public-school education. “Schools are the lifeblood of a community,” she said. “I’m looking to make Bridgehampton as great a school as we possibly can. I want to listen to what people are passionate about — I just want to help.”

The top two vote-getters will be elected to full three-year terms, while the third-highest will be elected to fill the vacancy created when Ron White, a longtime board member, stepped down late last year with two years remaining on his term. Voting is on Tuesday from 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gym.


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