Q&A with 2019 Rome Board of Education candidates

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Five candidates are vying for three available Board of Education seats for three-year term

Felicia James-Williams, 56, of 7869 W. Thomas St., is a Program Administrator for Central New York OPWDD (Office for People With Developmental Disabilities). She has a bachelor’s degree in social science from the College of New Rochelle. She is married, with a child who is a student in the Rome school district.

Tanya Davis, 45, of 906 Franklyn St., is a licensed Real Estate Salesperson with Coldwell Banker Faith Properties. She has an associate’s degree from SUNY Morrisville. She is divorced, with three children including two who are students in the school district.

Paul Hagerty, 79, of 5 Selden Drive in Lee, is a board incumbent who is in his sixth term. A retired engineer from the Rome Air Force Research Laboratory, he has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology. He is married and has three grown children.

Larry Posselt, 50, of 8691 Zircon Lane in Lee, is a board incumbent who is in his first full term. He is President of LCS Janitorial Service and Supply, and has an associate’s degree in accounting from Utica School of Commerce. He is divorced, with one child who is a student in the school district.

Lisa Herbowy, 52, of 407 Elm St., is an Oneida County Probation Department Probation Officer in the Juvenile unit in Utica and has worked as a Juvenile Probation Officer in Rome including working with the school district. She is married with two children, including one who is a student in the school district.

Candidates’ responses to questions are listed in the order that their names will appear on Tuesday’s election ballot.

The school board election and voting on the school district’s 2019-20 budget will be from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday.

 

1. What motivated you to run for the school board, and what do you hope to accomplish if elected?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — My hope is that RCSD (Rome City School District) makes educating all students a high priority. Every child is entitled to a quality education. Laying off teachers can possibly reduce the quality of education.

DAVIS — I have been actively involved in the district since 2004, from classroom parent participation to parent group leader and committee member for several Board of Education projects and in that time, the district has been in a constant state of transition. Due to the many changes, a sense of apathy and frustration has grown within the community, and we’ve seen morale suffering within the schools. It is time for us to create a long-range plan that makes Rome a district where families are excited to send their children, and educators are eager to work and can feel appreciated. We need to foster a sense of collaboration, cooperation, and open communication; I want Rome to be the district of choice for anyone raising a family in the Mohawk Valley.

HAGERTY — I am a current board member seeking a new term and believe I can make a positive contribution to the school district based on my interest in education and my experience serving as a board member.

POSSELT — The public perception that the RCSD will never get better is my greatest motivating factor for seeking re-election. Countless Romans believe our system is not fixable and Rome’s educational system will never change. I believe my knowledge and experience in business can continue to have a very positive impact on district operations. Specific areas I would like to see improved: K-6 rebalanced throughout the district, reducing the amount of bullying, creating committees in our seven bargaining units to reduce district costs, better safety and security throughout the district, getting more revenue for the district, and continuous improvement of the district’s reputation across the board.

HERBOWY — I have watched over the years as the district has made many questionable decisions which have negatively impacted our children and the community. As a lifelong Roman I feel a certain responsibility to make our district and the community a place where our children will be proud to live and raise their families.

 

2. What is your vision to improve Rome’s schools so more people want to live here?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Start by building an academic program that responds to diverse needs and prepares all students for college and careers. Education is the key to opening the possibilities of a better future for our youths.

DAVIS — People first need to be aware of the exceptional education a Rome graduate can receive; despite the negativity that so many subscribe to, there are many amazing things happening in our buildings every day. Our schools offer opportunities that our neighboring districts do not, including college preparatory and credit-bearing courses, award-winning art and music programs, diverse clubs and athletics, and a strong network of community organizations partnering with the schools to enhance day-to-day learning. But we do have a lot of work to do; as priority actions, we need to increase morale, foster relationships, properly align our elementary buildings after so many years of upheaval, and determine our far-reaching goals. We also need to be more creative in our budgeting and cost-savings initiatives.

HAGERTY — The Rome area and school district is a diversified community that offers families the opportunity to raise their children in a 21st century environment while allowing them to experience a combination of urban and suburban living and the out-of-doors in an area rich in the history that defined our country.

POSSELT — I believe we have made measurable progress in the district over the past few years. We still have a long way to go. Our reputation still has many shortcomings which need to be improved; my vision is to push our district forward with better collaboration and communication across the board. Getting young educators to bring their talents to our district is very important to future success; continued partnerships with local colleges and hi-tech institutions remains a top priority.

HERBOWY — I would like to see more academic and extra-curricular opportunities offered to our children in order to enhance their educational experience. I am not sure how to get more people to want to live in Rome but I do know that raising our taxes is probably going to be a deterrent.

 

3. How are school board responsibilities different from superintendent responsibilities, and how do you keep board members from burdening staff with micro-management?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — The school board establishes and approves the policies that govern RCSD. They also hire and evaluate the superintendent. The day-to-day administration of the school district is the responsibility of the superintendent. The superintendent is the face of the district and communication with the board is essential.

DAVIS — There is the oft quoted cliché that “it takes a village;” I believe that it takes everyone working together to keep us on track. I think it is crucial that we find a balance in allowing our educators and administrators to do their best work, while also keeping lines of communication open and encouraging collaboration. While the board is primarily focused on policy, procedure, and finance and the superintendent is charged with day-to-day operations, neither can forget why we’re here, or that we are on the same team with the same goals – giving every child in Rome an opportunity for an outstanding education. The more we can create an environment of trust, respect, and teamwork, the more effective everyone will be in their respective roles.

HAGERTY — The school board is responsible for the overall functioning of the school district and it accomplishes this through the hiring of a superintendent that reports to the board and is responsible for the overall operation of the district. The board functions as a voting body of nine members. Members are individuals like anyone else and are expected to follow the rules of the district when accessing school buildings or contacting district employees. The members gain knowledge of the district and its educational mission through outside study and organizational participation, and through board meetings and service on specific committees that provide access to district educational and organizational practices and the educators and other staff employed by the district.

POSSELT — The school board governs through educational laws, and also creating and administering district policies. The superintendent and administration oversee day-to-day district operations; there is a very distinct line where the governing power of the school board ends. There is a misconception that school board members have the authority to direct the day-to-day operations of the district. One of the biggest issues facing Rome currently comes from boards of the past having direct influence over district operations.

HERBOWY — I believe the job of a school board member is to be the “checks and balances” of the school district and not to micro-manage personnel.

 

4. What is your opinion of the school district’s direction under Superintendent Peter Blake as he nears the end of his third year in the position, and how should his success be measured?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Peter Blake is an effective superintendent who communicates with the community. I think he is a great asset to the district.

DAVIS — There will never be a superintendent who fulfills all of the wants or needs of the district they serve; they’re tasked with the impossible: doing the best they can with ever-increasing demands and decreasing revenue. It seems we are caught in the same rut we were under prior leadership – we’re constantly trying to put out the next fire instead of creating a long-range plan for excellence; we need more equity, stability, and transparency. There are undoubtedly good things happening here, but we need to do more to show that the superintendent and upper administration, along with the board, truly care about the people in our community. It is easy in a high-level position to be immersed in the minutiae of staying on course, but it is even easier to become so caught up in getting the day-to-day tasks done that we become disconnected from those in our charge.

HAGERTY — Mr. Blake is an active leader and has implemented many changes during his tenure; some, like redistricting and grade reconfiguration, I was not in favor of. The board, based on established goals and other criteria, evaluates the superintendent and measures the success of the district and its students.

POSSELT — I feel Mr. Blake has done a good job overall in moving the district forward in many areas; the district has achieved measurable success over the past three years. The public should be able to see a very distinct difference in all forms of communication between our current and former superintendent. We as board members have to ask the hard questions on a continuous basis, and Mr. Blake never shies away from giving direct answers to some very tough questions and situations. The superintendent is evaluated by the board yearly utilizing the SuperEval System.

HERBOWY — I commend Peter Blake for recognizing the need to make major changes throughout the district. He has shown that he is willing to make difficult and usually not popular changes both as Principal at RFA and as Superintendent of our district. However, I question several of his current decisions in regards to the budget and wonder how this district became so financially unstable.

 

5. What needs to be improved about what students are studying, and how should that be accomplished?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Education is not about poking around in the dark hoping you find something that works. Student success and school grades will improve only if schools, teachers, staff and administrators have the resources and the support they need to provide a quality education.

DAVIS — We absolutely need to allow students experiences beyond the desk at a much earlier age; BOCES Career and Technical Programs are outstanding, but are not available to students until their junior year of high school. Not every child learns in the same way, so providing more opportunities for hands-on learning, exposure to trades and craftsmanship, and field trips for real-life experiences are crucial.

We’re also missing out on opportunities to teach students real life skills; subjects like “old-school” home economics, technology, and health need to be updated for the 21st century, so that kids have the ability to cook a meal, change a tire, perform a basic home repair, and care for their overall well-being. I also think we need to implement a volunteer requirement for students, beyond that of specific clubs.

HAGERTY – The district’s educational process is evolving at many levels to meet the needs of the students and the community; currently there is an emphasis on various types of literacy especially at the early grade levels and on equipping the students to function as independent learners as they advance. Of equal emphasis is assisting them to become good citizens and persons of character in all areas of their lives.

POSSELT — A school board member has very little influence in the advancement of curriculum. This is more a function of the administration along with New York State. My personal opinion would be to add additional language arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) at an earlier age. I would also further evaluate how the curriculum is being taught.

HERBOWY — The district currently has four administrative staff who are in charge of the curriculum along with five instructional coaches who assist staff. These staff members are responsible for continuous improvement of student learning through ongoing curriculum and staff development.

 

6. Should teachers applying to the district teach sample classes to show their positive classroom effectiveness prior to being hired?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Yes. But I think they should come in as student interns under the supervision of an experienced teacher to train the intern in classroom management, lesson planning and communication with parents. Also tips on creating a positive and supportive learning environment.

DAVIS — This is a tough question to answer; as with any job, anyone can put their best foot forward in a controlled environment, like a job interview or observed exercise. That being said, some of the best hires we have ever had in my experience have been those who have served as long-term substitutes in the district. There must be a balance somewhere, and I honestly think that begins with revisiting our substitute recruitment requirements. Offering more ways for potential hires to “test the waters” and be observed, while not having their day or lesson entirely scripted would be the ideal balance, as a good educator is much more than a good interviewee

HAGERTY — The acquisition and demonstration of teaching skills is important in the hiring of personnel. While sample teaching during the hiring process has been attempted to limited degrees, a better approach may be what is advocated currently at the college level, namely requiring more student teaching prior to graduation.

POSSELT — Our educators are hired based upon the recommendation of the superintendent of schools. I don’t feel requiring teachers to teach a sample class would be beneficial. I believe candidates submitting a video in a prior teaching position or internship in a natural setting would be much more beneficial. A video of actual class time and not a created scenario would give a much truer picture of an applicant’s personality and abilities.

HERBOWY — I don’t believe that teaching sample classes will assist our ability to assess a teacher’s individual classroom skills.

I would think that these individuals would be under an enormous amount of pressure which will not give anyone an accurate depiction of their teaching ability. Most public service employers usually have a probationary period for all new staff whether it be six months or a year; this probationary period helps determine whether the new hire will be a good fit. Constant monitoring and evaluations are crucial during this probationary period.

 

7. What is your opinion on the school district’s current safety/security measures in schools, and how if at all should they be modified?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — The safety and security of our students should be of the utmost importance to RCSD. Along with school security, qualified personnel should discuss with students about listening and following directions at all times and especially during an emergency.

DAVIS — I believe every school should have a double entry, and that the identification system utilized at Strough and RFA should be available in every building. I don’t think school safety is limited to being a Rome issue, and is a nationwide concern. We need to be vigilant, while also allowing families to participate in their children’s education; it is a difficult balance, and I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this problem.

The police and School Resource Officer presence in our buildings makes a tremendous difference; they build wonderful relationships with the students and the staff and enhance the school community immensely, and I’d like to see this in every building, every day.

HAGERTY — I believe the district is working hard in conjunction with organizations such as the police to keep the district safe. Much of this is visible and much is purposely not obvious for good reasons. Education in general is devoting much effort toward safety, from which we are benefitting. Involving the public is also important especially relative to expected conduct and actions around school properties.

POSSELT — Safety and security should be our number one priority. In saying this we are saddled by our economic restraints. In a perfect world I would have an SSO (School Safety Officer) and SRO coverage full-time in every school. In our upcoming capital project we are planning to rectify several security concerns. I am hopeful that we will have a secured entry point in every building.

HERBOWY — I think we have made some good security improvements throughout the years and our children’s safety should be our number-one priority. In light of all the recent school shootings, we should be looking into ways we can improve on our current safety procedures.

 

8. What is your opinion on the proposed referendum that would involve building a new athletic facility complex including a stadium at Rome Free Academy’s Griffiss Park location, plus relocating Staley school to either the Clough building or a new school building at the former Turin Street site of RFA?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Priority should be to provide quality education.

DAVIS — I am not an advocate of closing the Stadium and Support Facility; this was maintained as a source of pride in our community when the former high school was razed. It is unacceptable that we have neglected maintaining our athletic complex. While I think we could take better advantage of the property adjacent to the current high school, losing an existing, centralized field and gymnasium complex on Turin Road would not serve this city. We need to look at other ways to generate the necessary funds to restore the stadium, much like the “Think Rink” initiative that expanded Kennedy Arena; although the stadium facility is owned by the school district, it hosts the community for a myriad of events and we all need to be invested in its future.

HAGERTY — I am not in favor of relocating the athletic complex to RFA; I favor updating the existing stadium site, which is more assessable and has proven to be effective. We need to improve the situation at Staley that was designed as a secondary school but functions as a very large elementary. There are multiple approaches being considered involving Staley or another site. I favor balancing the K-6 building sizes by
adding additional classrooms at Stokes and Ridge Mills schools and downsizing
Staley or another location.

POSSELT — NYSED (New York State Education Department) will not fund athletic fields or building new classroom space at the old RFA complex, and NYSED will not fund any further rehab of Staley K-6. We are however very fortunate that NYSED will fund 96% of a large addition at our current Clough building replacing Staley K-6 with a state-of-the-art facility. NYSED will also fund new athletic facilities at the current high school location. My opinion is that we should move forward with both projects giving the district a huge boost in our overall footprint.

HERBOWY — Let me start by saying that I am not in favor of building a new school. I don’t think the taxpayers should be penalized because this district is unable to manage frequent building maintenance instead of allowing our buildings to deteriorate to where they are no longer safe. Having Clough function as an elementary school again appears to be a viable option. I am in favor of improving our athletic facilities as it is long overdue and I am happy to see that modified sports have been put back into the budget.

 

9. What would you have the school district do about curriculum implementations and teacher assessments, and how the district could influence them?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — Teachers should have accurate, cohesive, and in-depth subject matter knowledge. They should know the school district’s curriculum guides and benchmarks. Effective teachers often use the knowledge of their students. For example, knowledge of students’ learning ability, prior achievements, cultural background and personal interest, to decide what to teach and how to teach.

DAVIS — We need to listen more closely to teacher feedback, and this is especially true when we’re modifying curriculum....When we’re introducing curriculum, it’s crucial that we employ the firsthand knowledge of those who will be using the materials and strategies on a daily basis....

It would be more beneficial to test a student’s proficiency in the fall and get results to an educator by January, allowing time to introduce learning strategies to truly affect that child’s skill set. We also need to advocate at the state and federal level regarding our students with special needs; a child with an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) and working below grade level should not be subject to grade level tests with results that will impact teacher and school performance measures....

HAGERTY — Curriculum implementation and teacher/administrator assessment is an ongoing process involving a range of internal and external organizations. The board’s Instruction and Services Committee follows both of these areas closely.

POSSELT — Curriculum implementation and teacher assessments are not part of a school board member’s authority. Both of these are administrative functions. However, if you are referring to APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and teacher certification the RCSD faculty, board and community members may continue to lobby to NYS for change. I am hopeful that our community as a whole can help impact these areas going forward.

HERBOWY — I would like to think that the district already has a way to measure a teacher’s ability to maintain curriculum requirements along with tools they use to assess a teacher’s effectiveness. I would have to see what the current procedures are, evaluate their effectiveness, and determine whether additional assessment tools are needed.

 

10. What is your evaluation of the proposed 2019-20 school district budget, and do you support approving it?

JAMES-WILLIAMS — It is a proposal which is subject to change, if voters do not approve it. I’ll probably vote “yes,” in favor of it. Working together with the other school board members, as a governance team we will make decisions that will best serve all students in the community.

DAVIS — There is no question that this budget needs to pass; while I have concerns about spending and ways we could be more innovative and conservative, losing educators is never a reasonable option. Our students deserve the very best education possible, and a “no” vote means losing too many teachers. We should always be focused on growth. We all benefit from a well-educated populace, and this is not a place where we should ever consider cutting corners.

HAGERTY — I supported next year’s proposed budget but have struggled to understand the areas of expenditure acceleration and relate these to the corrective actions.

POSSELT — I have had the pleasure of sitting on the district finance committee for the last three years. I feel the most important objective is transparency, and I have stated on more occasions than I care to count that the district is going to hit the wall financially; I could write a book here. I totally object to using the fund balance to offset revenue shortfalls and expense increases. With that being said we have exhausted every option in creating this year’s budget and I support the current budget proposal.

HERBOWY — I attended a budget review recently and was happy to see that several things have been restored to the current budget: 30 teaching positions, Pre-K 3-year-old program (although transportation is still an issue), modified sports, and secondary clubs/activities. It appears that there are still some things that are uncertain due to retirements, resignations, and additional funding. I’m not happy about the tax increase especially since our taxes were increased last year at the rate of 3.46 percent and (the administration) is talking about a possible increase for the 2020-2021 school year. As it stands now, I won’t be supporting it.

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