SEEN Community Update: It’s School Board Campaign Season!

Dear SEEN Community,

With a month left until the Board of Education elections and budget vote on May 17, campaign issues and tactics are beginning to surface. Whether raising concerns about school safety, about content or language in readings and assignments, curricular oversight, performance on state testing, or even now the national Youth Risk Behavior Assessment Survey, opposition voices have been attempting to tie each issue to the District’s commitment to equity, claiming the direction of resources and funds toward equity initiatives are diverting funds and commitments to school safety, discipline, social and emotional welfare, academic excellence, and student health.

In response, we remind everyone that in our district, equity can look like many different things, including:

  • Requiring no prerequisites to enroll in Advanced Placement courses
  • Providing bus transportation for PSAT exams
  • The Best Buddies program
  • Toga Unified Sports team
  • Diverse and inclusive curricular materials
  • Culturally-responsive and sustaining teaching
  • School climate surveys to identify problem areas
  • The SNACpack program
  • Co-taught classrooms that allow for better integration of students with special needs.

Last week’s BOE meeting was a testament to the “unofficial” start to campaign season. Coupled with the return of provocative and unsolicited emails from Moving Saratoga Forward, the meeting provided a troubling view of the Board of Education’s roles and responsibilities and portends a future in which data is routinely undervalued over emotion. Public comment at the Board meeting saw a handful of community members speaking out against the Youth Risk Behavior Assessment Survey – an anonymized survey tool administered annually for over 20 years – as invading student privacy or “data harvesting.” And yet, responses to this survey are valuable for assessing the other issues raised in public comments – sometimes by the very same people. Concerned about vaping? Questions 34-36 in the 2021 survey address vaping. Concerned about teen alcohol and drug use?  That’s addressed in questions 9, 10, and 39 through 54. Violence? Questions 12-24 (2021 Survey).

How does the District or Board address an issue if they aren’t allowed to measure the scope? And what does it say about how the Board values data when Trustees opt their children out of such surveys?

Similarly, Trustees and community members expressed concerns about violence based on the circulation of videos by Moving Saratoga Forward. These Trustees could not recall that they had already received information about school violence through the DASA and VADIR reports and through school climate presentations. And while they framed the questions as seeking information for budgetary concerns – something that is under Board oversight – they approved the 2022-23 budget for vote by the general public at the same meeting (Consent Agenda, page 7, C.1).

Without budgetary considerations coming up again for another full year, even these expressions of concern read false and instead seem like attempts to build outrage, politicize elections, and drive voters to polls on emotion and sensation alone.


Actions

  • Write Postcards. SEEN Steering Committee is hosting a postcard-writing party on Thursday, April 28, at The Palette Community, 6-9 p.m., and we’d love you to join. The Steering Committee doesn’t speak for SEEN, but for ourselves as individuals, and as such cordially invites you to take action alongside us, writing postcards to SSCSD voters in support of John Brueggemann, Martha Devaney, and Natalya Lakhtakia, While others have copied some of the language around equity (i.e. “each and every”), their campaign messages blur lines (“equality of opportunity” instead of District’s “equity of opportunity” pathway) and already conflict with their actions and other positions. More details on the party: Postcards and pens provided, addresses too if you need them, and we will be streaming the school board meeting for those who wish to watch. There will also be opportunity to sign up for additional volunteer opportunities, or just converse with members of our community. This is an open house format with indoor and outdoor seating options.
  • BOE. Not ready to write? Attend the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. in the Teaching Auditorium of the High School.
  • Submit. The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County will host their annual “Meet the Candidates” forum at the High School Teaching Auditorium on Wednesday, May 4 at 7 p.m. To capture the interests and concerns of the electorate, LOWV is soliciting questions to pose to candidates. Have something you want each candidate to speak to? Submit questions via email by May 1st.
  • Read, Talk, Make Art. SEEN & C.R.E.A.T.E. continue to collaborate on #BaldwinSaratoga, a reading, discussion, and art-making group. With the Board of Education elections on our minds, the session on May 2 will focus on Baldwin’s “Color” and “A Talk to Teachers.” Join us at C.R.E.A.T.E.’s Saratoga Studio on Beekman, 5:30-6:45 p.m.
  • Stay tuned! Last year, we produced a voter guide following the League of Women Voters’ forum. In addition to doing that again this year, we’re sending out our own survey to candidates, answers to which will be posted to our website. Are you a candidate who needs the survey? Please reach out to us at saratogaeen@gmail.com and we’ll send it to you!

Resources

  • Don’t Blame the Kids. In a recent essay for We Are Teachers, teacher Seth Hogan explores the source of changes in student academics and behavior. Tl;dr: we’re living in a period of trauma that exacerbates long-standing issues in our schools, including the lack of social and emotional supports and learning. First on his list of things to do: address belonging. “Without sufficient resources, all the support we try to provide for the students who are acting in these more visible and disruptive ways will be useless. Removing them from class isn’t helping them. Suspending them isn’t helping, either, and neither is making kids sit in classes with endless substitute teachers and schedule disruptions.” Belonging takes on many forms, but the first is establishing trusting relationships within the school that recognize students for who they are, and then equipping them to share and work through their experiences and challenges.
  • Schools as Sites for Continuing Culture Wars. Tired of culture wars and want kids to be able to…learn and grow? Historian Jill Lepore shares the history of “culture wars,” or efforts by conservatives to make schools into battlegrounds against progress. Read Lepore’s work “Why The School Wars Still Rage” in The New Yorker, or listen to her discussion with David Remnick on The New Yorker Radio Hour.
  • VADIR AND DASA REPORTS. You can see data on violence on school grounds, or at school-sponsored events, on the New York State Department of Education website. The combined “School Safety and Educational Climate” reports encompass both the VADIR and DASA (Dignity for All Students Act) reports. To be recorded, violent incidents must occur on school grounds and within school hours, and in the case of violence, that they result in personal injury and could have led to criminal charges. The reports do not address teen violence in the community, which Saratoga Springs has continued to grapple with in the last year. More than violence, our schools have struggled with identity-based bullying and harassment, another way that equity initiatives, social and emotional learning (SEL), comprehensive school safety, and whole student wellbeing are not in opposition to one another, but work in concert toward the same objectives. Data is submitted between the end of June and end of July each year.

~ The SEEN Team

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