Newcomers win pair of Schenectady school board seats

Incumbent wins 3rd seat up for election
Saratoga Springs residents vote on the school budget May 16, 2017.
Saratoga Springs residents vote on the school budget May 16, 2017.

A pair of newcomers – former district teacher Bernice Rivera and Proctors education programs manager Katherine Stephens – will be joining the Schenectady school board this summer after leading a field of six candidates in Tuesday’s polls.

Incumbent Dharam Hitlall also scored another three-year term as he rounded out Tuesday’s three winners as district residents voted on the board seats and school budget.

Rivera earned the most votes – 866 – and led the field as soon as polling places started to report results. As more results trickled in, her lead continued to grow. Stephens earned 695 votes and Hitlall received 622 votes.

[School budgets approved across region]

“I’m looking forward to a new journey, working with the school district and my fellow board members to make a successful school district to work for and attend,” Rivera said Tuesday night.

Rivera spent about a decade as a middle-school teacher in the district, and she now oversees around 200 teacher-training facilitators for New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union. She said she was ready to bring her experience in education to the board, while also listening to and working with other board members.

She has also raised concerns with “social promotion” — advancing students to the next grade despite academic deficiencies – but Superintendent Larry Spring said Tuesday that is an unfair characterization of a policy that tries to strike a balance between the benefits and downsides of either holding a student back or advancing them forward. The district aims to provide the supports necessary for students who are advancing with academic gaps from the previous year.

For her part, Stephens also has experience with local schools, managing education programs for Proctors and the Capital Repertory Theater. She has lived in the district for five years.

“I’m ready to learn,” Stephens said Tuesday after the final results were reported. “I’m looking forward to doing good work for my community.”

During her bid for a board seat, Stephens repeatedly highlighted the role that arts programs can play in engaging and connecting students and giving them a strong reason to stick with school.

During a candidates’ forum and in interviews, all three of the newly-elected board members said they looked forward expanded conversation at board meetings. They also emphasized improving staff diversity and boosting early-grade programs.

“I’m excited to see more progress,” Hitlall said Tuesday. “

Board member Tanya Hull lost out on another term, trailing Hitlall by more than 160 votes. Newcomers Kanema Haynes and Janelle Hooks, both district parents, rounded out the field with 273 and 224 votes, respectively.

The new board members take their seats at the beginning of July.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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