Even before her official seating on the School Committee next month, community activist Jamaica Miles pledges to be a sounding board for people with concerns about how the schools are run.
The 46-year-old recent school board member-elect hosted a forum to discuss what priorities the district should set as it receives an infusion of $40 million in additional state aid over the next three years.
Seven people attended in person. Others participated via Zoom.
Going forward, Miles indicated she would meet with constituents one to two times a month on Sunday afternoons, in advance of School Committee meetings, to give residents a level of access it hadn’t enjoyed previously.
Cynthia Farmer, a member of the Schenectady branch of the NAACP’s education committee, said she also works for New York State Higher Education, dealing with student loans and grants and scholarships.
Farmer expressed concern that Schenectady might not be taking full advantage of all the available federal grants to support programs she said the district needs.
Mentioning a specific federal program that provides tutoring, mentoring, college tours, college readiness, with summer camps, Farmer asserted: “I don’t know who makes the choice to write for grants. Is it the grant writer, or is it the people that the grant writer works for, who are making these choices?”
Farmer also called for pipeline programs from the high school to Schenectady Community College and Union College in the city.
“How many of our graduates go to Union College?” she asked.
Another attendee who didn’t want to be identified called for Schenectady to join Niskayuna in completing an equity audit.
Thearse McCalmon, whose daughter in the high school is the last of her four children who have enrolled in the district, said she was availing herself to the group to help and because she didn’t want the additional state money spent on what she said were nonsensical items. She called for a better way of vetting superintendents, because the most recent process was not inclusive.
Attendee Brianne Briaker asked Miles how the district was going to feel about her having public meetings outside of the public board meetings.
Miles said individual board members have one-on-one conversations with teachers and attend different meetings that they have like anti-racism workshops for which they aren’t required to notify the public.
“I will say this,” Miles continued. “That is my job. Like my job as co-founder of All of Us community action group is literally to talk to people and to hear from them. What are their questions, their comments, their concerns, and what are the solutions we come up with as a community to fix those questions, comments and concerns?”
Miles said that if her activism prevented her from doing her job as a school board member, somebody should have flagged that a long time ago.
Farmer said she felt Miles was on solid ground, with her activities no different than a city council member holding a town hall with constituents and bringing the feedback to the board.
“I believe that what you’re doing, should be influencing the other members of the board to do the same thing,” Farmer said.
Miles said she wanted to provide the public access to meeting agendas that better prepares them for meetings.
She expressed displeasure that the committee receives agendas the Friday prior to meetings, well before the general public can view them.
Miles and others also said they wanted to change what they said was the district’s unresponsiveness to people who address the board during meetings.
Other districts in the county and elsewhere at the very least designate an employee to track down the speaker to say that their comment was acknowledged and would be researched.
Miles said it’s been “the rare occasion” that she’s ever spoken at a school board meeting and gotten a response.