April 15, 2024
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Teach NYS Hosts New York State Assemblyman at Westchester Day Schools

(Courtesy of Teach NYS) Leaders representing Teach NYS, a division of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition that advocates for government funding and resources for nonpublic schools, recently hosted New York State Assemblyman Steven Otis at a visit to Westchester Day School and Westchester Hebrew High School.

Otis was accompanied by Teach NYS Directors Sydney Altfield and Davida Fried, WDS Head of School Rabbi Dani Rockoff, WHHS Head of School Rabbi Jeffrey Beer, and WDS parents Rebecca Chubak, Jessica Katz and David Knee. As part of its advocacy efforts, Teach NYS coordinates visits by local legislators to Jewish schools so they can learn, in person, about the unique needs of both the students enrolled there and their families.

Otis represents Assembly District 91 in Westchester County along the Sound Shore Region which includes Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Port Chester, Rye and Rye Brook.

Otis served as mayor of Rye from 1998-2009 and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 2012. Otis, who serves on the Assembly’s education committee, has been a strong advocate for increased state funding to school districts. Otis has an extensive record of legislative accomplishments and works tirelessly to ensure that his constituents benefit from the very best possible opportunities and quality of life.

Following a sit-down discussion and school tour, school parent and Teach NYS board member David Knee and Otis sat down for a Q&A. They discussed the legislator’s impression of the elementary school and high school and his upcoming legislative priorities. The following is a transcript of their conversation, edited for brevity:

Why did you run for office?

I am a career public servant. I was mayor for 12 years but also worked for State Sen. Oppenheimer. I was her counsel chief of staff for 28 years. Coming out of college, I got a master’s degree in public administration. I’ve been very fortunate that this is what I have been able to do.

What is your relationship with the Jewish community in your district?

Strong. I know the rabbis and point people in the communities I represent. I was just at Temple Israel Center in New Rochelle for the Israel solidarity event on Oct. 10.

What do you think is important to the Jewish community in your district?

I think right now we are in a moment where a rise in antisemitism and safety are certainly issues. The issue of increased funding toward security is something that is going to be a priority for the state and certainly a priority for me.

What are your takeaways from this Jewish school visit?

I enjoyed the STEM education aspect because that is an area that I’m very focused on. Also, meeting Jolanta Goldstein, the elementary school (WDS) art teacher. The kids are very lucky to have her.

Why do you believe that a strong and affordable nonpublic school education system is important for New York?

Generally, the primary job of the state is to pay for the public schools. But there are certain aspects of non-religious education for which the state has historically had a role to help pay for things like special education. Security is now a growing issue. So now this is part of the shared responsibility for private schools that are primarily paid for privately but there are aspects for which there is eligibility for state funds. I have supported and will continue to support these funding streams.

What are your legislative priorities this session?

Working on a wide variety of issues. I work on many educational, environmental, science and technology issues. I am currently working on issues of cybersecurity, AI, and data privacy. I am also very interested in climate change issues. I do a lot of environmental work related to water and clean water as well.

At the conclusion of the visit, Westchester Hebrew High School students Eden David and Logan Finkelstein, accompanied by WHHS science teacher David Merel, were excited to present a bobblehead figure to Otis that they created using 3D printers in their school’s newly upgraded science lab.

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