Safety. Leadership. Communication.
When children feel safe and respected, they can focus on learning. This year, the BOE adopted Mental Health and the Continuum of Well-being as a District focus, a welcome New York State mandate that builds on the District’s efforts to expand success for all. Mental health challenges among students is a documented critical concern in our District. The National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that one-half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by age 14. As a college educator, I see first-hand the mental health struggles an increasing number of “successful” students carry once they leave high school. Supporting the well-being of our students must include equipping them with the social and emotional tools and connections to keep them safe and thriving at every age.
I support a prevention-based approach to physical safety, an approach which is resolutely shared by our local law enforcement and District administration. We must find informed approaches to safety that protect all of our students in all four buildings, while doing more to communicate a cohesive vision of how the District is following through on what these safety recommendations are.
To support the social, emotional and physical well-being of our students, I am committed to solutions that increase lunch and recess, provide compassionate and ample support for mental health stress and substance abuse challenges, practice equitable and restorative discipline. I strongly supported a substance abuse counselor and a bilingual social worker in this year’s budget, as well as a line item dedicated to anti-vaping technology. I have called for future stand-alone forums focused on student mental health, as well as establishing a standing annual District Safety Forum. In addition to meeting the needs of our students, the District must include addressing the mental health needs of our staff and faculty. I will continue to work towards an environment where all children truly feel they belong and can succeed.
As a theater artist, I am a professional collaborator. I come prepared to listen, engage in evidence-based discussion, and help make decisions informed by our District Guiding Principles: learning, inclusion, and growth and success for all. I believe strongly that the community deserves the diligence and effort it takes to reach and respect informed consensus in public. I understand that my behavior and conduct as a public servant can model for our community—especially our children—how to manage and resolve disagreements with respect and dignity.
We must name and understand how our students face specific systemic obstacles to safety and success – the 25% of those on free and reduced lunch, our families who experience homelessness, children with disabilities, our English as a New Language families, children of color, immigrant children, gender non-conforming and trans children — if we hope to support them and all of our children effectively. Current federal guidelines protecting the civil rights and welfare of our most vulnerable students are being rolled back. These concerns are local; our District faces family separations and we have seen an uptick of anti-Semitic graffiti on school property. Board service demands strong policy analysis and advocacy to meet these challenges. My understanding of these policy concerns and their impacts on our families are reflected in my central role in many of our BOE resolutions and District policies. I will continue to keep an eye on policy changes as a way to help protect the welfare of all our students.
This vigilance includes ensuring that our policies, like the Code of Conduct, are putting our District values in actual practice. When there is a conflict, or violation of the Code of Conduct, student needs and well-being must come first. I serve as the BOE liaison on the Health Advisory Committee, where I collaborate with parents, students, administration and community members. I want to build on these relationships and strong group processes, applying them to improving the District’s bias incident reporting procedures. Similarly, I look forward to continuing the powerful work ahead on one of the District’s key responsibilities in protecting students: New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA). DASA seeks to resolve and repair not only individual acts of harm, but also to help strengthen an overall climate and culture of safety and respect. The BOE’s Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee (REIAC), of which I am the Board Liaison, works to fill gaps in how the District communicates and implements procedures to protect all children, including providing age-appropriate language for what is often an intimidating and complex reporting process. I also led the support to create a District Culture and Climate Coordinator in this year’s budget—an expert role that can assist District personnel, organize effective communications, and coordinate DASA-related concerns.
The District faces unprecedented and immediate changes in leadership at three of our four buildings: Duzine, Lenape, and the high school. These administrative changes will affect decades of children and families to come. I understand where and how the District can better realize equity in our hiring protocols and improve community engagement and communication. In partnership with the REIAC, I have pressed for a wider cross-section of stakeholders to participate in recent searches. These administrative changes are once-in-a generation opportunities. I can help ensure that the District searches for and supports transformational leaders who can meet the dynamic needs of all our students.
With my skills as a theater collaborator, I am trained not only to listen but to seek out which voices are missing. I know we must do much more to engage the community effectively – to earn and keep the trust of families as partners. Families and the general public deserve accessible, informative, and prompt updates with what the District has done, is doing, will do, and why. The District must provide ample and equitable opportunities to invite feedback, acknowledge concerns, and follow up with information and results. With the BOE, I have called for a district-wide communications audit that will address and improve how the District connects and is accountable to the community—from how, when, and what we learn about a bias incident to ensuring building orientations inform and update any new policy changes. I have also proposed creating Board responses to public comments to open up how we hear and process community concerns at the Board table.
I am committed to understanding and addressing the root causes of our District’s challenges. That commitment includes building trust and relationships to make effective board service possible and sustainable. I will continue working to identify best practices and advocate for effective and equitable solutions, responsible and informed budget decisions, and policies aligned with our District Core Intelligence. I want to keep working for all families by putting District Mission and Principles in practice for all students, in all four buildings. I hope to earn your vote in May.