Hours after the 2021 Scarsdale School Board Nominating Committee (SBNC) March 23 named its two school board candidates — Jessica Resnick-Ault, a journalist, and Jim Dugan, an attorney — Alison Tepper Singer, current board of education vice president, announced she is planning an independent run for reelection to the board.
Singer, who will complete her first three-year term on the board at the end of June, told the Inquirer she applied to the SBNC, but was not selected. On Tuesday, March 23, she issued a statement saying she is seeking a second term “with the urging and support of many community members” and she looks forward to having her “experience and qualifications evaluated by the full village in the May 18th election.”
Current school board president Pam Fuehrer ran as an independent in 2018, won a second term during which she served as vice president and then president. She will complete six years on the board at the end of June.
SBNC chair Nikki Hahn and vice chair Kerry Hayes in a press release said Resnick-Ault and Dugan “will bring different backgrounds and experiences to serve our community and share a deep commitment to maintaining the excellence of the Scarsdale schools and serving different constituents.”
“Scarsdale benefits when so many talented citizens are willing to present themselves to the SBNC each year, as well as from the efforts of an engaged SBNC,” the release said. “Our community created the SBNC to nominate school board candidates who will work to maintain and enhance the quality of education provided by the Scarsdale schools.”
This year the SBNC was composed of 28 voting members (elected from each of the five elementary school areas) and one nonvoting member. Pursuant to its governing resolution, the SBNC judges and selects candidates “solely on their qualifications to serve the community.”
Each candidate must submit nominating petitions with at least 25 eligible voters’ signatures to the school district by April 19. The SBNC will sign petitions for Resnick-Ault and Dugan. Singer will collect signatures independently. The two candidates elected to the school board in May will assume their roles for three-year terms effective July 1.
The SBNC candidates
Jessica Resnick-Ault, a journalist, has been a resident of Scarsdale for six years, along with her daughter, who attends Edgewood Elementary School. For the past seven years, she has written about public policy and finance with a focus on energy markets, companies and climate for Reuters News. According to the SBNC press release, Resnick-Ault has “built and led teams of increasing size, emphasizing diversity and inclusion with high-quality co-working relationships” during her career as a reporter and editor. She has worked both as a unionized reporter and a manager of unionized journalists, developing “a unique appreciation for the balance between unions and administrations.” As a team leader, she has “demonstrated an aptitude with complex data, financial documents and cross-team collaboration.”
Resnick-Ault founded the Grant a Wish program for local charity Bake Back America (BBA), which has helped expand the organization’s reach from addressing food insecurity to broader community service. She has piloted programs that are a key to BBA’s substantial educational component. BBA has obtained and distributed laptops and other electronic learning devices for students living in low-income local school districts and volunteers now provide about 250 hours per week of tutoring to community children in need.
Resnick-Ault has also served as a PTA class parent, co-chaired Edgewood’s Community Service Committee, and volunteered as a workshop leader at Scarsdale’s Young Writer’s Workshop. A graduate of Brown University, she has been active in the school's alumni interviewing network.
“Our community must come together after an incredibly divisive year,” Resnick-Ault wrote in an email to the Inquirer. “I want to serve on the Board of Education because I care deeply about the future of Scarsdale Schools. I'm not just concerned this school year and next, not only the recovery from COVID, but the health and growth of the schools over the next decade, and the ones after that. I am compelled to serve at a time when reopening in the wake of the pandemic is a critical mission, but it is not my sole focus. I believe that it is crucial to have a board that can simultaneously manage short-term objectives and still consider big-picture vision and mission so that we have a system that is resilient and continues to evolve. Scarsdale deserves a district that stays at the forefront pedagogically and technologically and is prepared for ever-changing new challenges.”
She continued, “I believe that the long-term quality of life in Scarsdale depends upon our district continuing to grow and advance, and goes beyond simply resuming more in-person educational hours. The board must make sure we have learned from this crisis and are prepared for whatever educational shifts lie ahead … Beyond responding to the COVID crisis, we should examine the best practices of school districts not just in New York, but nationally, for innovations that we would like to see the administration implement here.”
She said board members must be “custodians of this system, who are prepared to imagine the best possible vision for the district” and who will “ask questions about how the district’s $167 million dollar budget is spent.”
She noted that some stakeholders have “felt their voices were heard this year, while others lost trust in the board and administration due to concerns over the restart efforts or the communications surrounding those efforts.” Still others, she said, had concerns that “predated the virus, over special education opportunities or decisions around how to best invest in our schools,” such as the renovations and expansion of Greenacres School.
“I believe that my professional track record, volunteer service and strong sense of civic duty demonstrate that I could help begin to rebuild that trust,” she said.
Jim Dugan has been a resident of Scarsdale for 15 years. He and his wife, Shirley, have three daughters who attend Scarsdale Middle School and Fox Meadow Elementary School.
Dugan is currently a partner in the litigation department at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP focusing on complex commercial litigation. He has more than 25 years of experience representing Fortune 500 companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, C-level executives, and accounting and financial services firms in securities class actions, shareholder derivative litigation, bankruptcy litigation, contract disputes, employment disputes, and restrictive covenant and noncompete litigation. He is a member of Willkie’s Pro Bono Committee, dedicating his time to work on cases for the Innocence Project. He served on the Cornell Law School Alumni Board for three years and is currently a member of the New York City Bar Association.
Shortly after moving to Scarsdale, Dugan became an active member of the Overhill Neighborhood Association, joining the board and eventually becoming president of the association for two years, and was “instrumental in fostering a sense of community for that corner of Scarsdale and keeping neighbors apprised of key issues around the village,” according to the SBNC statement.
Dugan was also a founding member of the Coalition for Scarsdale Schools, which focused on the issue of elementary school class sizes. “This was a natural role for him as he was passionate about maintaining the excellence of our school system,” the SBNC said. He has also served on the Citizens Nominating Committee (CNC), the CNC Procedures Committee, and has served in numerous roles at St. James the Less Episcopal Church. In each of these community roles, he was a “tireless volunteer, giving of his time and expertise to work collaboratively to make Scarsdale a great place to live,” the SBNC statement said, adding, “Jim is vested in Scarsdale and will serve the School Board and community well with his valuable skills and perspective.”
Having lived 15 years in Scarsdale with three children in the schools, Dugan said he feels strongly about “how good the school district is” and appreciates the teachers’ efforts to “educate all students as best they can.”
“I want to do what I can to strengthen the schools,” Dugan told the Inquirer.
He said he would bring his professional and volunteer experience to bear, while listening to residents to hear all sides and “strive for consensus.”
“One of the things that I hope to bring into this is an open mind … I don’t come with an agenda or a set of things I think I’m going to do,” he said. “I want to assess the issues before the board, consider facts, listen to the community and make decisions based on the best outcomes.”
He continued, “This has been a challenging year, a somewhat divisive year with COVID. It would be my desire as a board member to foster as much transparency and communication as I can. It’s good to be open and transparent with the community and provide everyone with the opportunity to be heard ... Transparency is communicating openly — you do it through committee processes and open meetings” with time for public comment.
Noting the pandemic has presented the current school board with unprecedented challenges, Dugan said he’s aware that it’s been “very difficult for all the parents in the community and the board to deal with [the challenges] and we will continue to have challenges.”
He said there should have been better communication concerning opening up schools and a “clearer line of sight.”
“A lot of people were unhappy and wanted a measure toward the goal. I could imagine there would have been ways to set guidelines or expectations.” But overall he said it’s a “great success story because people were able to get it done. It’s both a challenge and a success story.”
The independent candidate
Alison Tepper Singer, the mother of an adult daughter with autism, founded Autism Science Foundation (ASF) in 2009. She has served on the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) since 2007 and also serves on the executive boards of the Marcus Autism Center at Emory, the Yale Child Study Center, the executive board of the Seaver Autism Center at the Icahn School of Medicine and the executive board of the Autism Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also serves on the external advisory board of the CDC’s Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and on the board of directors of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR).
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics named her an “autism champion.” In 2017 she received the INSAR “Outstanding Research Advocate” award and in 2018 she received the New York Families for Autistic Children Research Advocacy Award.
Prior to founding ASF, Singer served as executive vice president of Autism Speaks and as a vice president at NBC. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a BA in economics and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. In 2018 she was elected to serve on the board of education in Scarsdale.
Singer said it was the “wonderful education” both of her daughters received in Scarsdale schools that first prompted her to serve on the board of education.
“For the past three years, I have worked to uphold and expand the very best tenets of a Scarsdale education — academic excellence, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), student voice, physical & emotional safety, wellness, and personalized learning.”
Singer continued, “I understand the frustration that has pervaded our community over the past year. We all lost control over our own lives and our children’s lives because of COVID-19. As the mom of a special needs child, I understand firsthand how scary it is to feel like you have little control over the decisions affecting your children and the pain that comes when they are suffering. It has been a challenging year on every front, and the decisions we have made to balance the health and safety of our community with students’ educational needs have been no exception. While people may disagree with decisions that have been made along the way, our goal was always to protect our students and families, even as we tried to incorporate all the very diverse and divergent perspectives of our school community.”
Noting the current school board members are all in their first term, Singer said having people with “experience and seniority” on the board is critical — she and Fuehrer are the only ones, as senior board members, who have completed board leadership training. “There is a steep learning curve,” she told the Inquirer. “It really takes the first couple years to understand the breadth and depth of the board's work.”
Although the board this year has focused on reopening schools, Singer said, “There's going to be a point when COVID-19 will be over but the board's work will continue,” focusing on DEI and budgeting and facilities plans and ensuring the physical, social and emotional safety of our students. It also has to negotiate seven contracts with district unions and pursue advocacy with Albany for state aid and education policy, Singer said.
“It has been a true honor to serve the community in this role, and I hope to have the opportunity to spend the next three years building on Scarsdale’s legacy of achievement, benefiting and meeting the needs of all Scarsdale students,” Singer said. “I hope the community will support my candidacy to make this happen.”