Schenectady County

Schenectady school board race grows

Three more candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the Schenectady City School District

Three more candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the Schenectady City School District Board of Education.

But one immediately withdrew to throw his support behind another candidate.

The new candidates are Bernice Rivera, Thomas Hodgkins and Carlos Caraballo, who withdrew.

They are running against school board President Cathy Lewis, Vice President Ann Reilly and newcomer Ed Kosiur, the county Youth Bureau director. Kosiur is running with the incumbents; they have pooled their funds and are campaigning as a team.

On the other side are three newcomers to school politics, though only two plan to campaign. Caraballo withdrew when he learned Rivera was running for the board. He said he would work for Rivera to get her elected.

“I want to have some Hispanic representation on the board,” Caraballo said.

He feared, however, that if he ran, neither he nor Rivera would win “because I would split the vote with the Hispanics,” he said.

Rivera said she was running to provide a “realistic viewpoint of how people feel.”

Rivera, who was a teacher in Schenectady for 10 years, now works for New York State United Teachers. She is also on the Schenectady City School District’s new equity and excellence taskforce.

“Schenectady is my love and my passion,” she said. “I have had exposure to what’s happening in the schools. It’s not that I’m reading books about it. I am actually in the schools.”

If she were elected, she said, she would push to make two policy changes to improve teaching in the district. She wants to improve teacher training and hiring practices.

When she was a teacher, she said, too many professional development classes taught techniques geared toward students with upper-class experiences. She needed classes on how to reach, inspire and challenge high-poverty students.

And she said some teachers were hired after they applied to Schenectady as a last-ditch attempt at getting a job, hoping to eventually transfer to a suburban school.

“I think a rigorous hiring process would help quite a lot,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re hiring people who really want to be here.”

Rivera, who is bilingual, has two daughters who graduated from Schenectady High School.

Also running is Hodgkins, a former social studies teacher in the South Bronx who now works as a senior legislative fiscal analyst for the state Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee.

Hodgkins decided to run for office to change the district’s priorities. He wants more funding for preschool, arguing that every dollar spent on early education will save $11 later in the cost of helping students catch up. Those costs include increased special education, remedial teachers and other programs.

“It needs to be prioritized,” he said. “I think the research clearly shows there’s a declining return of investment as children age.”

He criticized the board’s decision to cut a pre-kindergarten teacher this year and reduce the number of full-day pre-K slots for next year.

“It’s myopic,” he said.

He’s willing to give up high school activities — such afterschool programs — to pay for more pre-K.

“You’re not going to reap economic benefits by funding afterschool programs for seniors, although I would love to have them,” he said.

He added that he started an afterschool ceramics program when he taught in the South Bronx.

“But I would give that up if early education wasn’t being addressed,” he said, “because the benefits of an outstanding early education program far outweigh a ceramics program.”

He has three young children, two of whom will start school in Schenectady this fall. His eldest attended kindergarten at a Montessori school but will transfer to the Schenectady district.

All five candidates will speak at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, in the Black Box Theater in Schenectady High School.

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