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Friday, June 21, 2024

Three contenders battle for two positions on Schenectady school board


SCHENECTADY ⁢— The upcoming Tuesday election for the Schenectady school board‍ is heating up with three ‍candidates, including ⁢incumbent Jamaica Miles, ‌battling for two available seats. Miles is hoping to secure a second three-year term, while newcomers Alexandria Carver and Claudia Cavanagh are‌ eager⁤ to make‌ their debut on the ⁢board.

Carver, currently serving as the city’s director ⁤of development, and Cavanagh, a former employee ‌of ​GE‍ and⁢ the New York State Court of Claims, are set ⁣to ‍challenge ​Miles, the co-founder and executive director of the All Of Us Community​ Action Group, in the⁢ May 21 election.

Miles, who ‌was elected to ​her first term ‌in 2021 after playing a key role in a⁣ state lawsuit that led to full funding of Foundation Aid for ⁤school districts⁣ statewide, expressed⁣ her desire ⁣to continue the‍ work of⁤ the current school board into another term.‍ She highlighted the district’s first grading policy approved by the board in October, ⁣which aims to reduce bias in grading practices.

Miles emphasized her intention to apply the insights gained from her first term to a potential second term⁤ on the​ council.

“The key⁣ is to always ‍provide the time ⁢and space to ⁤listen,” she said.⁤ “This is a lesson I’ve learned over time. Our board is incredibly ‌diverse, ⁣and it’s crucial that we take the time‌ to listen to ‍each other. We all bring different levels of knowledge, understanding, skills, and advice, which makes ⁣us a strong team. It’s ⁢this ‌diversity that ⁣makes us unique.”

Carver expressed confidence in her ability to ‍balance her responsibilities ⁢as director ‌of development with a potential role ‍on the school​ board.

“Our city has so​ much to‌ offer and I’m fully committed here,”⁣ she said. “I understand that my role as the director of development is interconnected with the success ‍of our scholars. ⁢If‍ they succeed, ‌we all succeed.”

Carver, a former ‌Democratic⁤ ward⁤ leader‌ in Albany, revealed that ⁢her decision to run for public⁢ office for the first time was driven by her desire to positively influence⁤ the district where‌ two of her three children are enrolled.

“Their educational trajectory is ⁤my‌ top priority,” Carver said. ⁤“My goals are to stand with our teachers and​ educators to ensure that preventive and supportive services ⁣are​ available. I aim‌ to strengthen the‌ relationship between⁤ academics and the community, enhance partnerships with our community organizations, and foster⁤ a collaborative environment.”

Cavanagh, who retired ⁢as the Principal Office Assistant with the ⁤New York​ State Court of Claims, was ⁤motivated to run after learning about the district’s chronic absenteeism issues.

The district’s second quarter ​academic​ report released this spring ⁣revealed that each of its elementary schools saw⁤ drops in attendance between the first‌ and second‌ quarters of the 2023-2024 school year.​ Over half of​ district first and second‌ graders were deemed chronically absent in the second‍ quarter.

Cavanagh expressed⁤ her desire ‍to see the district offer civil service exam classes ‍for 11th grade students to secure jobs after graduation.

She also highlighted the⁣ district’s struggles with state test scores as a priority⁣ if she were ⁤elected. Despite making ‌incremental progress over the previous year, more than 83% of district students‍ in​ grades 3-8 were not proficient in 2023 state ⁤math scores.

“I’m deeply concerned ‍that these kids aren’t learning,” Cavanagh ⁤said on​ Thursday. “They’re not thriving.‍ Not all, but most. Regardless of what the​ district does, or what buildings they ​buy, you can invest in anything you want. But until we have⁤ more kids‌ passing than not, they can ⁣come up ⁤with ⁤all sorts of ideas for buildings or more social⁤ workers. We need to understand why these kids aren’t learning. I believe they’re being distracted. They’re‌ learning ⁣a lot‍ in school, except for‌ reading,‍ writing, and arithmetic.”

At a candidate⁣ forum Thursday night hosted⁢ by⁢ the League of Women Voters held‌ at the district’s Liberty Street offices, the three ⁣candidates shared their visions for the‌ district and offered differing viewpoints on issues such as school resource officers (SRO), charter⁢ schools, and book banning in Schenectady schools. Cavanagh often expressed conservative viewpoints during the forum, while the ⁢progressive Miles frequently took opposing ⁣stances.

Following unrelated incidents at Oneida Middle School in January and Mont Pleasant Middle School in April, the district launched an online safety survey ​asking students, staff, and residents how ​the district could improve its safety practices.

During the Thursday forum, the ⁣candidates ⁢responded to a question about⁢ the effectiveness of the district’s SRO program that ‍places Schenectady‌ police officers in city schools.

The district initiated ⁣a pilot program in 2021 to bring a pair of community engagement officers into the district, with the⁢ school⁤ board subsequently approving a plan⁢ in 2022 to expand the program to six officers.

“I ⁢believe that having officers in our‍ schools will also foster a⁣ connection within our community,” Carver⁢ said on Thursday. “We are aware of the negative narrative associated with ⁣our ​low-to-moderate-income families in our​ urban areas when it comes to our‌ police officers. Based on the studies I’ve read,⁢ our officers are building connections⁣ with the young people in⁤ our schools.”

Miles expressed her​ concerns⁢ about the effectiveness of the SRO program.

“The research clearly‍ shows that more police does not increase ⁤safety or foster an overall positive climate in our schools,” she said during⁣ the forum.

Miles added that she supports the district’s school safety team of local residents who work within⁢ the buildings,⁤ wearing ⁢red shirts and guiding students throughout the day.

Cavanagh strongly endorsed the district’s SRO​ program.

“The SROs⁢ are great,” she⁣ said after the forum. “They have to be there because of the situation across the country and in‍ the ⁣area. We’re finding kids with ​knives and guns and things like that. That’s unacceptable.”

In response to an audience question about the candidate’s‌ stances on charter schools, Miles argued that charter schools drain funds ‍from public​ schools.

“I see them as a drain on public schools,” Miles said⁤ during the⁣ forum. “While they‍ are praised as a choice ⁣for ⁤parents, they actually take resources away ‍from our buildings.”

Carver, whose children attended a charter school before the family moved to Schenectady, expressed ⁢a ⁢different view.

“We should have options,” Carver said during the forum. ​“I’m not ⁤against charter schools.⁤ I understand they may drain some of ⁣the resources, but I believe there’s enough resources for our city to have options.”

Cavanagh supported ‍the idea of charter schools during the forum.

“I’m for school choice,” ‍Cavanagh said ⁢on Thursday. “I believe in any ⁤school, whether ‌it’s private, public,‍ or a charter school,⁣ as ‍long​ as the value of the children’s education is upheld.”

An audience question about the candidate’s ⁣stances on banning books in Schenectady schools saw Miles ⁢and Carver both opposed to the‌ idea.

“Our goal within our district is‌ to foster ⁣lifelong learning ⁢for⁣ these individuals ⁤and to help​ them become critical⁣ thinkers⁤ capable⁤ of making objective decisions,”‌ Miles said.

Cavanagh stated that she would support⁤ banning books under certain circumstances.

“I have‍ no ⁢problem banning books that are inappropriate⁣ for age groups‍ that are too young to understand the information in the books,” Cavanagh said during the ⁢forum. “There are certain⁤ things you⁣ don’t understand until you’re older and you need a solid foundation of education and⁤ critical ⁣thinking‌ skills before you ​tackle different ⁢subjects.”

The seven-member Schenectady school board is composed entirely ‍of female ⁢members, with all three ⁤of ‍this year’s ⁤candidates being women ⁢of color.

“We may‌ all be women, but we are very different women,” Miles ​said of ​the current board.‍ “The current structure is majority women of color and after the election, we’ll still be majority women​ of color ‌no‍ matter who wins, but ⁤we⁣ still have that diversity of views.”

The school board election and voting ⁢for the district’s proposed $277.7 million 2024-2025 ‍school budget will take place on ⁢Tuesday from noon to ‍9:00 p.m. at district polling locations.

Kiara Thomas
Kiara Thomas
I uncover quirky and compelling stories. Always on the lookout for the 'why' behind the 'what'.
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