A lawyer, a budget director and an investment adviser — all with a passion for their children’s education — will join the Mohonasen Central School District Board of Education after topping three incumbents with a combined 18 years of experience Tuesday night.
They all say they’re concerned about the impact of the Common Core curriculum on children and teachers and the way the district and current board members have handled parents’ objections to the state-imposed standards.
“That kind of bound us together,” said Patrick Ryan, director of budget and accounting services for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, who received the most votes, 866, to take one of three open seats on the board.
“I think it’s good that the three of us got elected because we’re new, we’ve got fresh minds, we each have our different types of backgrounds,” said Pamela Young, an adviser for Purshe Kaplan Sterling Investments who drew 800 votes. “I think we’re an asset.”
Chad McFarland, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve who practices military law for the Tully Rinckey law firm in Colonie, earned 776 votes to take the third seat. The three political newcomers defeated incumbents Gary Spadaro (738), Stacey MacTurk (565) and Tom Andriola (561), as well as newcomer Dan Garrow (461).
Ryan attributed the win to three weeks of hard campaigning as a team and said they had the support of the teachers “and obviously a lot of the community.” They were endorsed by the Mohonasen Teachers Association.
“Although we made the decision to jump in together at the last minute, we pounded the pavement, went door to door, used social media,” said Ryan, who has four children in the district. “We didn’t stop until Monday night.”
McFarland, who will have three daughters at Mohonasen when his youngest enters kindergarten next year, said they campaigned on change and “believing that the status quo within our district was causing some stagnation.”
He said he was humbled by the win after having never run for public office before.
“I’m encouraged that we can bring about some positive change,” McFarland said.
Young said “high stakes testing” has taken away from important instructional time, and teachers shouldn’t be evaluated on the results as they are now. She said the current school board members have been less than receptive to parents who spoke against the Common Core at meetings, and “we want to be a positive voice for the board to go and put some pressure on some of our local legislators in Albany.
“They more or less were referred to as troublemakers, instead of voicing their concerns.”
She pointed to a letter by board President Dom Cafarelli published May 7 in The Gazette in which he said the New York State United Teachers union has mobilized parents to advocate for them in their fight against the Common Core, controversial standards that have sent state English and math exam scores for students in grades 3-8 plummeting.
Young said she had her seventh-grade son refuse to take the state exams this year, “and next year, I’ll refuse him again,” but not because teachers told her to.
“I pull my own strings,” she said. “I think that was a wrong statement to make.”
Young also said board members should let parents know their kids have a right to refuse the exams, especially in a district where 61 percent of students chose not to take the state math tests given in April.
Cafarelli said he took an oath to uphold the rules and laws of the state public education system, “and when state ed tells us that we’re going to administer tests, we don’t have a choice.”
“I am absolutely against the teachers’ evaluations being tied to this,” he added, “but unfortunately I cannot say in public that I am against it, because that’s not what I took an oath to do.”
He said he supports reforming the standards and thinks they were implemented hastily, “but it’s not up to a board member to change that.”
Cafarelli said it’s tough to lose three experienced board members all at once, but he is looking forward to working with the new three.
“I believe they all will be good members, regardless of who backed them,” he said.
In his nine years on the board, Cafarelli said he’s never seen three fresh candidates unseat three incumbents. Ryan, McFarland and Young will be sworn in around July 1 and also help the seven-member board elect its president.
“There’s nothing wrong with change,” Cafarelli said, “and I can accept change.”
“It’s definitely going to be interesting,” he added.