Eight candidates vie for four seats
The 8 candidates

Courtesy photos

Eight candidates vie for four seats


The South Country School District’s budget and election vote will take place on Tuesday, May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Bellport Middle School. The board of education has four open seats with eight candidates running; none are incumbents. The candidates submitted the following:


Cameron Trent

I decided to run for the South Country Board of Ed because the district needs to put the students and faculty first. There are many issues that have been around for years and it’s about time we take care of them. The district needs transparent and honest trustees that are not afraid to stand up for our students. I know with the right leadership we can make South Country the No. 1 district on the island.


E. Anne Hayes

Drawing on my experience as an attorney and advocate, I look forward to helping create a vision for the future of education in our district; to overseeing implementation of a plan to achieve that vision; to recognizing and building upon positive aspects and programs in our district; to identifying inadequacies and providing alternatives so there can be improvement in work and learning environment which translates to increased achievement and pride in performance, and to incorporating community input into the process.

My husband and I have lived in the South Country Central School District since 1979 and together we raised our two sons, who both graduated from Bellport High School. Recently, I retired from my private practice as an attorney, where I concentrated in elder law, helping my clients plan for themselves, their children and their aging parents. I am a fact-based decision-maker, avid questioner, advocate and volunteer in my community. 

More than seven years ago, I was a founding member of Concerned Residents of South Country in an effort to restore integrity, fiscal accountability and child-centered decision-making in our school district. Next month, I will retire as chairman of the Weekday Education Committee, which oversees operation of the Bellport Methodist Preschool, a position I have held since 2005. Prior to that, I served on the board of trustees of Bellport United Methodist Church for several terms. I am a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for South Country Central School District and a community representative in the South Country Community Leadership Network. The network is an initiative led by Dr. Giani, drawing together local organizations within the district to assist the community and its residents.


Christine Rignola

I was born and raised in the South Country School District, and am an award-winning school board trustee and board officer. I have a master’s degree in education, NYS real estate license, and work as a community development analyst. 

I was appointed as the BOE chairwoman of the Patchogue-Medford superintendent’s Positive Culture and Identity Committee, and will apply these leadership skills for success in South Country, giving back to my hometown roots. I am a member of the Great South Bay Lions Club, and a founding board member of Our Community Salutes, acting as the liaison to local veterans and new enlistees including graduating seniors from Bellport High School.

I will challenge every aspect of the district to reach for higher standards, increase morale, and support the whole-child approach to education. Additionally, I want to focus on health and safety within the schools and also implement a plan to address the need for collaboration between community stakeholders and school leaders. This type of collaboration will build educational opportunities and change lives. I am familiar with the community and the schools as a student and as a former district employee. Choosing board members wisely really makes a huge difference on such a broad spectrum. From providing a world-class, well-rounded education for our children, to increasing home values when a district is flourishing, it all makes a difference. Providing quality makes people want to stay. 

I am hopeful and trust that the residents of South Country will vote for an experienced, qualified board member to protect the education of our children, the integrity of the position, and the best interests of the community. I am running because I know I can make a difference. 

Once a Clipper, always a Clipper. I love my hometown district!


Melissa Aruta

I am 42 and have lived in the district for 14 years, and am married to my husband, Joe. I have a child in Bellport Middle School and another in Frank P. Long Intermediate School. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at LIU Post and have been a teacher in the Brentwood School District for 18 years. I have served as the second vice president for the Verne W. Critz PTA and on the district’s Literacy Task Force and Teaching and Learning Committee. I’m a member of the Miramar Beach Civic Association, and the social events coordinator for LI Lightning youth hockey organization.

As an educator and parent, I have dedicated my life to advocating for children. I understand how children learn best and the needs within the district to assist all students in meeting social, emotional and academic success. I wholeheartedly believe that collaboration is essential in order to move South Country School District forward. “It takes a village to raise a child” and collaboratively we can meet success. 


James Ford 

I am a parent, PAL coach, South Country committee team member, business owner and a taxpayer. I am running for a trustee seat on the South Country Board of Education.

I served our country in the U.S. Air Force. I have coached sports with the Police Athletic League. I have been a class parent in Bellport Methodist Pre-K, Brookhaven Elementary and Frank P. Long and was a leader and cub master for the Boy Scouts of America.

In my professional experience, I am an Air Force veteran. I have worked in executive level positions for major corporations and have built successful businesses from the ground up. I have in-depth experience across all core operations and business functions. Through my work and life experiences, I have developed strong leadership, communication, negotiation, analytical and problem-solving skills. I have developed and executed corporate level national training programs. As a business owner and a business partner I am responsible for preparing and implementing annual and project budgets. I have excellent vendor, contractor and project management skills.

I am looking to help our district to the best of my ability to be the best it can be. I want to volunteer my time to help our hardworking board and contribute what I can to make it stronger. I want to see more transparency to the community and continue to be an advocate for children. They are our future and deserve representation. My focus will be on our children, our community and our future. I would like to thank you for your consideration.


Karen Johnson

I have been a parent in the South Country Central School District for the past 13 years. My son, Christian, graduated from Bellport High School in 2014, and my daughter Lily is a fifth-grader at Frank P. Long Intermediate School. I’ve been an advocate and activist for children and animal rights. I’m a compassionate, motivated and passionate person who hopes to see this district elevated to be the best it can be. I believe in the potential of all students and the community, and will work hard to improve student success, safety and happiness. 

My primary goals include improving district-to-community communications, increasing safety preparedness initiatives, developing a healthy eating program for the district and students, and finding safe and healthy solutions for students, teachers and staff in the district’s school buildings. I will prioritize identifying current issues, and work with the other board members to implement solutions that are effective and comfortable for everyone.

Shawn Patrick-Reese

I am a Branch Manager AVP for People’s United Bank and I am running for the South Country Central School District School Board because I want to serve the community that I have been a part of for the past 12 years. I have been actively involved with the Boys & Girls Club, schools and libraries teaching Financial Literacy. I would bring a unique perspective to the board in that I am a parent and a business professional in the community for 12 years. I feel that our kids need a voice; we need to band together to ensure that our children have access to resources and educational programs to better their lives and to assist the teachers and parents with financial literacy for our children. I’m a freshman at politics but my heart isn’t. I love our children and community.

Clyde Parker

I am an army veteran, a businessman, a community volunteer, husband, father and an active board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport, Long Island Community Hospital, and President of Rosa Parks Democratic Association. I was born and raised in Oklahoma where faith and family shaped my values.

I am a caring family man and a businessman who understands and will advocate for South Country school community, an experienced manager who knows how to work as a part of a team to effect change. My personality, heart, and family background, and the influences that shaped me will make me effective board member