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Four Candidates Seek Three Seats on East Hampton School Board

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 16:40
Clockwise from top left, J.P. Foster, Wendy Geehreng, Sandra Vorpahl, and Jeffrey Erickson.

Four people are running for three seats on the East Hampton School Board. Two incumbents, J.P. Foster, the board president, and Wendy Geehreng, are both seeking re-election, while Sandra Vorpahl, who previously served six years on the board, and Jeff Erickson, who ran last year, are also looking for a seat. 

The school board has been operating with six members since the death of Richard Wilson in October. The board decided to forgo appointing a replacement since Mr. Wilson’s term was up in June. 

Mr. Foster, whose name appears on the ballot as James Foster, has served as the board president for the past two years. He was first elected in 2013. Since then he has been part of the negotiation of five-year contracts with East Hampton’s sending districts, the institution of bilingual board meetings, and the decision to purchase town land for the construction of a transportation depot for the district.

He said on Tuesday that he wants to continue the good work the board has been doing and see a few projects through, including the bus depot — the district expects to close on the land deal next month. He is also particularly passionate about the robust in-house vocational education program the district has been developing. “The goal is to be college and career ready,” he said, adding that for a while careers straight out of high school were on the back burner. 

Culinary, welding, marine mechanics, small engine repair, and heating ventilation and air-conditioning careers are possible avenues for those who do not go on to college, and certifications earned in high school would make these students ready for employment immediately. While attending classes at the Suffolk County Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Riverhead has always been an option, the sheer distance makes it difficult. “I always joke, Riverhead has gotten farther away. The mileage hasn’t changed, but it takes longer to get there now,” Mr. Foster said. Classroom or workspace is being planned at the new bus depot.

Mr. Foster said he has made good on promises in 2013 to make the board more transparent, which he feels is key for a board in charge of a $70 million budget. The board meetings are televised on LTV and he said he is still amazed at how many people mention something that happened at the meeting when he knows they were not in the audience. 

Mr. Foster is a chief East Hampton Village dispatcher who serves in an administrative role. He is also a real estate agent with Town and Country. He has lived in East Hampton for 30 years and has two children, the youngest of whom is graduating from the high school next month. 

Ms. Geehreng, an East Hampton na tive who is Mr. Foster’s sister-in-law, is also seeking a third term on the board. She has been a pediatric nurse-practitioner at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital for the last five years and previously worked for Southampton Pediatrics for about 10 years. She has four children, one of whom is a sixth grader in the East Hampton Middle School. 

Ms. Geehreng said there are many things to be proud of over the past six years she has been on the board. “One of the finest, though, is the overall improvement of academic achievement in our district. This is evidenced by the impressive current list of acceptances to colleges by our seniors,” she said, while giving a nod to the administration, teachers, and staff. 

Like Mr. Foster, she is proud of the district’s vocational education. “These programs will provide so many opportunities for our students who want to work after graduation. We have so many great resources and mentors who love their community and want to help the kids.” 

She and Mr. Foster are also looking forward to seeing the dual language programs starting in the elementary school. “Every child that graduates from East Hampton School District should be bilingual. It just makes sense and will better serve their futures,” she said. 

Mr. Erickson, an East Hampton Village police sergeant and the parent of a 10th grader at East Hampton High School, is also hoping to win a seat. He ran for the post last year. “I was disappointed I didn’t win last time. I really want to get involved in the school and the community,” he said. 

He grew up in Stony Brook and graduated from Ward Melville High School before going on to the State University at Oswego, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in technology education. He left teaching to take a job with the East Hampton Village Police Department 28 years ago. He was promoted to sergeant in 2006.

He has served as Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor at the John M. Marshall Elementary School and the East Hampton Middle School. He is a supervisor on the emergency services team, and one of the department’s active shooter instructors. He was the union president for the East Hampton Village Police Benevolent Association for 13 years. 

Because of his career in law enforcement, he said he understands the importance of safety in the schools. He said the district has invested a lot of money in security cameras that are used after the fact instead of during the commission of crimes. He is happy that there is a safety resource officer in each of the buildings, but he would like to see more security in the parking lots, something he has seen at other schools. He would prefer to see a proactive, rather than reactive approach, he said.

Mr. Erickson also wants to look into strengthening the athletic program, and mentioned a booster club as a way to bring the community together.

He agreed with Ms. Vorpahl that the current board does a good job. “I just want to get involved in the schools instead of sitting back on the sidelines,” he said. Mr. Erickson’s wife, Trisha Erickson, has been a physical education teacher in the elementary school since 2001.

Ms. Vorpahl, a lifelong East Hampton resident who was first elected in 2004 and served for six years before she lost re-election, is looking to rejoin the board.

“Several people have approached me and asked me to run,” Ms. Vorpahl said, adding she had also been considering it. “I think they could use another set of eyes and ears since Mr. Wilson passed away,” she said. 

“The board could use a little bit of diversity to make sure all students and all staff are represented,” she said. “I could work well with them.” She said she is excited about the vocational education and bilingual programs. 

Ms. Vorpahl is a former employee of the district, having worked as a secretary for 32 years, 18 of which were spent in the athletic office. She retired from the position in 2002, but worked part time for the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter for 14 years until retiring two years ago. 

Despite her retirement, she remains involved in the school. Her 9-year-old great-granddaughter is a student and 

a 3-year-old grandchild is going into prekindergarten. She is also involved at the Calvary Baptist Church, serves on East Hampton Town’s Fowler House committee, and is a driver with the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, having formerly been an emergency medical technician. 

The school board election and budget vote will take place on May 21 at the district office on Long Lane.

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