I cannot say with great confidence what the most critical issues will be during that 4 year term. I predict that there will be action called for on reconciling projected budget challenges, and I expect there will be continued emphasis on addressing inequities, especially those strained even further by the COVID-19 pandemic. I do plan to share my thoughts on specific items through the course of this campaign over the coming months. But I do want to be transparent about my priorities, and my decision-making process that will guide my thinking.
I will have 3 lodestars as a member of the school board. Opportunity. Community. Vision. These will be the lens through which I will evaluate every new decision, and they will be the rubric I will use to determine when a change in course is called for.
Ours is the land of opportunity, and our public schools should be the means of aggressively conveying that opportunity to every single student. Every single student should be met where they are at in their learning journey, and provided with the best resources to help them achieve the highest-performing version of themselves that will allow them to chase their passions. Aggressively providing Opportunity to every single student means aggressively identifying and breaking down barriers that prevent ANY students from learning at their best. It means addressing discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, orientation, or any other characteristic; it means addressing food insecurity needs, special education needs, and any other barrier to ANY of our students learning at their best. It means identifying and aggressively identifying root causes and remediation tactics for ANY systemic discrepancies in discipline, in academic performance, or in curriculum planning. One specific priority will be to undertake to determine why RPS has been unable to attract an educator workforce that better reflects the diversity of the district.
Ensuring that our schools zealously convey opportunity to each and every student will be my single greatest priority for two equally compelling reasons. In my heart, when I think about the urgent need for equity in education I can’t help but hear the echoes of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous letter from a Birmingham Jail that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And in my head, I know that our community simply does best over the long term when we are able to harness the collective brilliance of every single student. Zealously and aggressively ensuring ALL students are afforded every Opportunity to attain the best version of themselves is truly the economic tide that lifts all boats. This will be my highest priority as a member of the school board.
Public education is not just for students, and it is not just for parents of students. The benefits of public education accrue to the entire community. I think there is room for more to be done at the board level to engage the broader Rochester community, through listening posts, through engagement with existing professional groups and councils, and with other elected leaders in the city and county. There is a need to connect the dots here so that our public schools are better understood as a resource that benefits the broader community and not merely as a service for those families with students that attend.
Rochester is regularly listed amongst the best cities to live in. Public education is the single best thing that any community can do to enhance quality of life. For increasingly mobile workers (made even more so due to the coronavirus pandemic), many young families deliberately select where to live based on the educational opportunities available for their children. For Rochester’s employers, high quality public schools are absolutely essential to attracting and retaining a high caliber workforce. For Rochester’s growing entrepreneurial sector, a steady stream of dynamic contributors (and new founders) from the public schools will ensure their ability to compete without relocating to one of the tech centers. For Rochester’s families just looking for a better future for their children, there is no better means to provide that future than an outstanding education. And yes, for students that aspire to be creators, and entrepreneurs, and professionals, and citizens, a first rate public education is the best gateway to any of those dreams.
Our public schools forge the ties that bind neighborhoods together. These bonds begin with schoolyard friendships, or sitting next to one another at PTSA meetings, but they develop and mature over years and expand to include entire families, forming bonds that last well after the students have graduated. The great value of community bonds build on public schools is that these are the bonds that cut across boundaries of income, and religion, and other artificial social boundaries to extend empathy across those boundaries and truly stitch together a community.
As a school board member, I will conduct outreach with the broader community and I will be keenly focused on boundary adjustments and infrastructure decisions and weigh them in view of their tendency to enhance or diminish the community bonds that are grounded in our public schools.
As a community, we are in need of a shared vision of our future, so that we know what we are striving for. My vision is for Rochester Public Schools to be a center of excellence in public education, one that serves as a force to attract families to locate in our community. My vision is a public education system that emphasizes proficiency in reading by grade 3 and proves to the rest of our state that progress can be made by following the science of reading, focus on phonemic awareness, and through deliberate attention on screening for characteristics of dyslexia and providing appropriate resources.
Ours is a community that understands well the virtues of excellence, just imagine how our community could be transformed if it were our public schools that were the envy of the nation! I attended quite a few school board meetings and task force reviews during the 2018-19 academic year over facilities improvements that eventually resulted in the voter-approved referendum to build an additional middle school, make improvements at the high schools, and reconstruct several elementary schools. I volunteered for the Economic Engine task force this past year to help guide the development of the district's current 3-year strategic plan. In general, while I well-appreciate the financial challenges that so many districts face in the current climate, I firmly believe there must be room to empower our community to voice its support for options that might be otherwise set aside as cost-prohibitive.
While I am acutely aware of the need for fiscal responsibility, and I am no stranger to the diligence involved and transparency required in managing a budget in a corporate setting, I plan to take every opportunity to present my vision of RPS’s future as a model of educational excellence. I will work hard to communicate the virtues of that vision to the community while being completely transparent on the costs involved, and find a way to give the community an opportunity to decide.