League of Women Voters “Meet the Candidates” Forum – May 4, 2022
Watch the forum here.
Candidates in order of appearance on screen: John Brueggemann; Billie McCann, Martha Devaney, Dean Kolligian, Ed Spickler, Natalya Lakhtakia (order determined by drawing lots)
- His kids have had a good experience in the district but he recognizes that not everyone has positive experience.
- He thinks that the most important challenge facing the district is the social emotional well being of students.
- He thinks the key is good governance – best practices; good process; input from all.
- She has a passion for supporting children to learn
- Her main focus areas are student safety, mental health, and quality education. She believes in curriculum and policy transparency, open communication between board and stakeholders.
- She will think independently and collaborate.
- She believes that school should be fun and welcoming for every student. Schools are the cornerstone of community – she has spent her adult life helping build community and wants to make sure that our school board reflects the values of the community.
- She has experience with budgets and has been hired to help organizations with their budgets.
- He is tasked with the physical security of buildings and individuals and crisis management in his job.
- He is also a landlord and manages professional office space including educational facilities
- He is looking to make a difference via educational quality, health safety and security, and planning.
- He wants to work with teachers.
- He is the co-founder of NFL flag football, is a coach, and manages a HOA.
- He has worked at financial service firms in treasury and has managed diverse groups of clients.
- He wants our students to have the best education we can give and values collaboration.
- His platform focuses on programs for special needs and a continued focus on public safety and transparency
- He will not call on banning books but does believe in parental oversight
- She is a public school educator and education is everything in her family and is what brought her parents to the US.
- She is a community builder and volunteers often including with Saratoga Stronger, Code Blue, Covid-19 vaccination clinics in the district.
- She values kindness, respect, collaboration and collegiality as well as labor and justice
- She works hard at everything that she does including professional development pursuits for work and the school board.
- She asks questions and seeks truth
Question 1: Vision for the district
What is your vision for the school district in 10 years? What should be dealt with proactively?
- He thinks we have serious problems brewing now and he hopes that those can be resolved in 10 years. Specifically the shortage of positions (teachers, nurses, bus drivers . . . ). He thinks we need systemic solutions involving the state and other districts.
- He also wants to see the district get a hold on the social/emotional work by adding resources and working to get the best out of every student in the district
- Safety and mental health are at the forefront of her concerns. She thinks it’s important we refocus our effort on academics and meritocracy.
- She advocates for multi-tiered approach such as
- Assemblies to promote anti-bullying
- Increasing the number and diversity of floor monitors
- Working with parents to make them aware of solutions and resources
- Reaching out to the community to foster support of students
- Encouraging review of effectiveness of restorative justice. When persons violate the code of conduct, they need to be held accountable.
- She would like to see a fully implemented policy for DEI
- She wants to pay mindful attention to the pathways and mission of school district and assess the district plans to ensure they are successfully implemented
- She would like to see a mentoring program to engage students peer to peer
- She would also like to invest in social workers and psychologists to increase positive outcomes in our students.
- He thinks we need to focus on quality education first and foremost
- He would like us to identify areas of need and reassess the needs of the students while maintaining adaptability and flexibility
- In 10 years he would like to see Saratoga Springs be a place where we have to turn teachers away and where we have an overflow of students
- He would like to help at-risk youth through intervention, prevention, counseling, and treatment.
- He believes special needs learners should have a mentor or Dean Kolligian to go to for the entire duration of their time in the district who will advocate for them. (Notetaker’s comment – by law all special education students have a case manager assigned to them)
- Natalya Lakhtakia wants us to be truly preparing students for life, to learn the necessary and complex knowledge for engaging with society and to think about their responsibility and how to engage with others.
- She would like the district to prepare students for engaging with our democracy in an involved and equitable way
- She also wants the district (and the country) to foster creativity in our youngest learners.
Question 2: Goals of public education
What do you see as the goals of public education and the role of the board, and its limits?
- The goals are to teach core educational principles, empower students to learn, and give students functional life skills.
- The board provides oversight – of budget, policy, and curriculum
- The goals are to provide resources for every student and act as the cornerstone of a community and reflect its values
- Public education should be student centered and recognize the unique capabilities of each student. This happens in an inclusive environment where students are empowered and can grow holistically
- The board trustees function collectively to move forward the policies and to be in compliance with the state department of education.
- Education is the focus of public education – for today and for life. We should “dig deep” and learn as much as we can about every student – focus on strengths and weaknesses and provide them with tools for success
- Students will take lots of different paths. Some students will go into the military, which is a “phenomenal decision.”
- The board is here to support these folks.
- The goal is to make sure every child is striving and can meet or exceed standards. Students should develop critical thinking skills, individual responsibility and accountability, and life skills.
- The role of the board is to communicate goals effectively and to create a budget to provide for those goals.
- The goals of public education are to prepare students for life through a shared vision for education.
- The role of the board is as a governance board and includes accountability and oversight, evaluating the superintendent (and hiring a new one if needed.)
- The board is not involved in day to day operations of the district and is not responsible in turning policy into action
- He agrees with previous points made about developing life skills and academic achievement and psychological well-being.
- He wants to emphasize that the BOE has to be a functioning team and needs to have good governance and good processes – it has to be collaborative. When we are not working together, we are not fulfilling our responsibility
- He has pushed the administration to keep enhancing our communication systems and believes that the board needs to play integral role in improving these communication systems
Question 3: DEI
In your opinion, what does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean – and look like – in a public school setting? And how do you see yourself contributing to this?
- She is thrilled that the DEI policy was approved and is/will be implemented. If elected, she would like to participate in one of the DEI subcommittees.
- She does a lot of program development and has done strategic planning and wants to use that experience to focus on measuring effectiveness.
- Diversity means the opportunity for everyone to feel they are a part of this community – everyone gets resources that are student centered.
- Inclusion means that everyone feels that they are an integral part of the community and that the community embraces everyone and everyone succeeds.
- Each one of us benefits from the opportunity to take a step back and learn as much as we can about what DEI means
- Diversity is important – we shouldn’t have 9 like-minded perspectives
- Diversity is good because we can learn from other’s diverse perspectives and backgrounds – they provide others to learn from their diverse perspectives
- Equity = ability for all students to have their voices heard. Everybody understands the perspectives.
- Inclusion is very important – something done for a long time in our district (ran out of time)
- He grew up in a homogeneous town in Mechanicville and went to Northeastern University where he met people from all over the world. He has worked at big companies where people from all over came together to bring the best from their world and work towards common goals. He thinks that is what we need to do in the schools.
- She is proud to be part of the committee that crafted the district DEI policy and regulation.
- Wants each and every student in the district to be welcomed and affirmed, have their needs met, to support them in meeting their goals. She wants us to celebrate our differences.
- Equity is when each and every student is served.
- She explains educational equity in terms of special education context and meeting individual needs so students can meet their full potential.
- He thinks this is an Important topic and wants to offer full throated support to the district’s efforts.
- He thinks the most difficult topic in the discourse is equity
- Different kids have different needs
- Everyone needs the support in order to grow and add value
- Equity is not – white babies are born racist and it is not Critical Race Theory.
- He believes that there are racial and class disparities in the district and that we can learn from looking at ESSA data. He thinks we should find out what the gaps are and determine what actions can be taken to close the gaps?
- A few ways that DEI can be specifically addressed are in food acces, technology, social/emotional support, fees in the district. He notes some areas of success including that AP classes are open to all, the best buddies program, unified sports, and so on.
- DEI has to be part of what we are doing every single day and everything we do in the district.
- She believes that DEI must start at the top and that the district DEI committee is not diverse, equitable, or inclusive and has concerns about a perceived lack of transparency.
- She would like to see DEI initiatives focus more on addressing economically disadvantaged students and disabled students.
- She claims that our DEI policy supports culturally responsive sustaining education which emerged from the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings* who introduced critical race theory to education.
- Believes DEI can be successful but that the current modalities require analysis and feedback from our stakeholders
*For more on Gloria Ladson-Billings and her work in relation to culturally relevant teaching and critical race theory, here’s a helpful article and interview in which she states “Critical race theory doesn’t have anything to do with K-12 curriculum.”
Question 4: Violence in schools
Has there been a change in the level of violence in the schools? What is the board’s role in ensuring safety?
- Yes and no. Yes because social media magnifies any type of violence and the types of violence have changed over the years.
- He believes that students aren’t respecting adults within the school district and is very concerned about the impact of social media.
- The board’s role is supporting teachers and administrators so they have the tools they need to ensure that correct disciplinary actions are taken with students who commit acts of violence.
- The goal is to act as partners with administrators to support students so violence discontinues.
- Agrees with a lot of what Dean Kolligian had to say but adds that when students returned from COVID there was a lot of stress, and that a lot of policy changes have added stress
- He would like to hear from the kids – we don’t spend enough time listening to the kids to know what is stressing them out
- Students are seeing a lot of discord when seeing how adults interact
- Students are speaking about racism and homophobia that are also affecting students
- Everyone is struggling and we need to work together to support faculty and staff and folks who are working with students day by day
- Any single act of violence in the schools is too many and people involved in violence need to be held accountable
- The superintendent provided evidence that made it clear that it has not increased. But we *are* seeing an increase in disrespectful behavior, frustration, and anxiety.
- The school board needs to partner with others (e.g., SROs, psychologists, etc)
- He also thinks that social media is the source of misunderstanding and misinformation and it would be great to have parents supporting the mission of not bullying including on social media
- She thinks there is increased violence despite what reports say. In her understanding, disrespect, destruction of property, and bullying all equal violence.
- She would like to see a multi-tier approach to dealing with the problem:
- We have heard from students
- We need to Improve communication – bad communication causes suspicion
- We need to reach out to other stakeholders in the schools including SRO’s
- She believes in data, and from what she understand there is not an increase in frequency, though social media may result in an increase in awareness
- She is a data-driven and solutions-oriented person
- The US DOE says the solution is to invest in counseling and mental health services
Question 5 – Budget
What are your spending priorities? Is the proposed 2.7% increase warranted?
- He wishes the budget was more detailed
- He wants to know what curriculum and programs are being supported and what is money being spent on specifically.
- He would like to see more spending at arts and that it could help at-risk kids find confidence
- We need to keep special needs kids in class with peers rather than being on their own or being sent for services outside the district (notetaker’s comment: Per special education law, it is required that all students with IEP’s be educated in the “least restrictive environment where they can find success which means as integrated into the regular education setting as possible.)
- Every year we see that we are forced to make cuts because the cost of our programs is higher than our tax levy and she does think that the tax levy is appropriate
- Her priority is programs that support our students – for example, moving co-teaching to include 2nd and 3rd grade. She is a strong advocate for preserving our music programs, as well as art and movement classes
- She would like to see the district make our school environment better for our students and our workers with the goal of making our students prepared for the richness of life – beyond academics!
- Feels humble about the budget – he has participated in 14 training events to learn more about the budget since joining the school board.
- Much of the budgetary work is guided by state parameters and there is a very complicated equation that determines increase
- The vast majority of budget is in people and for him, this is as it should be because the most important thing that happens is the learning relationship
- He has asked for budget info to be provided to the board earlier so they can determine tradeoffs and make more informed decisions. He does think we can do a better job of communicating and more time would help with that.
- She would like to see an academic return on investment and use of a data informed practice. She feels that the board should be better aware of which programs have success.
- She would like to look at what is being federally funded in terms of what might go away and what funds can be counted on in the longer term.
- She will rely on budget office expertise and staff, special ed, arts, abd safety would be priorities
- As to the tax levy – she trusts in the process and supports it
- She would like to get information from stakeholders so that the board can understand how folks perceive the budget and believes there needs to be more communication to better explain.
- Her budget priorities include mental health; staff retention and recruitment; outreach to engage in the communities and have dialogue with constituents
- His priorities include quality education, student health and safety, facility infrastructure and related long term planning
- The board talks about budgets throughout the year – as soon as budget is approved, next year’s planning gets underway
- Tax levy is appropriate and if we stay under the tax cap it impacts the next 10+ years
Question 6: Civil Discourse
How can SSCSD encourage and enforce civil discourse on the board and with members of the public?
- Within the board she believes there needs to be a series of agreements that are created at the beginning of the year which are a code of conduct for them to follow but district codes also apply. She would like these to include coming to meetings prepared, leaving politics at the door, and entering the meeting in good faith.
- In terms of the public, she thinks it important for the public to come and share thoughts. She always takes notes during public comment and learns from the public. She wants more people to have their voices heard not just at the board but in other governance bodies as well. She wants people to be engaging so we can grow together. It’s important for us to talk about our ideas and learn from each other and together we can move toward a better world
- It’s on each of us to treat others as we want to be treated!
- What she said. (in reference to Natalya Lakhtakia’s comments)
- He feels that we have closed doors and been distanced and remote and meanwhile we are getting more frustrated and uncertain. As we emerge we need to open back up – have more open houses, more inclusive task forces, and invite folks into the schools for discourse
- He has championed an overhaul of communication and website and an updated website is coming.
- He would like to see folks stay off social media – it’s almost never helpful and we must ignore attacks of character and extend each other grace.
- We all care about children and let’s assume that of each other and build on that.
- She agrees with John Brueggemann about the effect of the pandemic and how it has created a divide with schools and parents and the parents are wondering what is being implemented
- She wants to increase transparency with curriculum and policies in particular DEI
- She would like to increase civil discourse – elect board members who will bring diversity and difference so that stakeholders will feel that their diverse opinions will be represented
- Civil discourse can be productive when civility is maintained in the process and peoples’ input and opinions are valued and processed
- She supports public comment and likes idea of task force of how to engage more community members and students as well
- We already encourage civil discourse through public comment. We don’t have to agree with them but the key is that we are listening and acting with respect and professionalism.
- He notes that “Coach John” is in the audience – his slogan is “act with respect always.” If we do that we can learn from each other and he takes that with him every time he comes to the meeting
- Treat others as you want to be treated always
- He thinks we should come and look at things objectively: the good, bad, and ugly. We can have hard conversations civilly.
- With the public, the board has to have a continuous open dialogue beyond open meetings, the board has to communicate openly with the public
- He would like the board to get parents involved in committees – you can’t have a committee full of one group or segment of the community
Question 7: Electric vehicles and Efficiency
Should the district evaluate purchasing electric only vehicles? Are there other efficiency options you would consider?
- Yes and yes! The school board has been discussing these things and he thinks it’s coming and the district is doing well.
- Being more green has to be a goal and must be a priority
- She thinks that becoming more green is important. She thinks the district should reach out to those in the know to find out if our budget can handle it. She thinks that it is never wise to do only one thing – we need to work collaboratively to help shape this.
- She would love that for the district but knows it’s not that simple but it’s a goal and a direction the school should head and there is cost savings long term.
- She knows that there are complications involving charging and other infrastructure considerations and thinks it would be prudent to study other districts who have gone this way and to move incrementally
- Yes – the district should evaluate every opportunity to be better stewards of the community and environment with the goal to understand all the pros and cons with decisions of this magnitude
- He thinks the focus should be on moving the bus route to electric
- Yes, he thinks these things should be evaluated. He thinks that batteries are a big problem and how green is that. “I’m a lover of seafood and don’t know if I want seafood full of toxic chemicals.”
- The board has requested info about these items and she was happy to listen. It’s very complicated but we must continue to evaluate as the Governor has set a date where we must have electric buses. Electric buses as of now are not quite where they need to be in order to serve the district properly
- We teach our students to take care of our planet – we have to take every opportunity to do just that
- He has met many amazing people during his time on the board including employees, neighbors, and others and he recognizes that it truly takes a village.
- He thinks that the best decisions put students first and that the board should collaborate around that singular goal. No group agrees on everything but he believes we can bring the best out of every student
- The job of a board trustee is time consuming, rigorous, and an important responsibility and she believes it is a civic responsibility to serve.
- She will work effortlessly to increase communication, the who the what the why on budget, curriculum and policy items
- She believes that stakeholders are integral part of educational system and as a board remember she would represent those views not personal views and she would not push any one view
- She believes in 100% adherence to the school’s mission and in “developmentally appropriate” instruction and curriculum while providing excellence in education in a safe and welcoming environment for all.
- She has experience in education. She is a builder and a proven professional who solves problems and delivers solutions.
- She brings a unique perspective by no longer having students in the district and it is her objective to put every student first!
- As a whole, he thinks the school district is great – one of the best in the capital district in terms of athletics, academics, and extra-curricular opportunities
- He thinks the district needs to work on class size, challenging educational opportunities, health, safety, and welfare through mental health channels
- He wishes a happy national teachers appreciation week!
- He views the school district as a sports team – winning education to all!
- He brings a financial background, communication, and collaboration skills
- He wants transparency and school safety for all and believes we need all stakeholders to work together.
- He offers thanks to all the teachers.
- She values the following:
- Positive relationships
- Love of learning
- Connections to the world
- Academic achievement
- Character development
- Providing resources
- Highly effective trustees who talk, connect, and collaborate
- Working with best practices
- Schools that serve each and every student!