Four candidates are vying for three open seats on the Shenedehowa Central School District's Board of Education, with a mix of longtime members and first-time term seekers in the race.
Specifically, there are three incumbents running for reelection, and one newcomer. Each seat carries a three-year term.
While commenting on their goals for the upcoming term, if elected, candidates touched on issues from dealing with school safety for a district of close to 10,000 total students, how to more quickly and effectively integrate technology into all classrooms, and how to raise awareness for specific programs, such as special education programs.
Here are the four candidates who will be on on the May 21 ballot:
Lalukota, a resident of Clifton Park, is seeking his first term on the board.
He is employed at Shruthisoft, LLC as an IT consultant and holds a bachelor of engineering degree in civil engineering from CBIT Hyderabad INDIA. He and his wife have two children attending Shenendehowa, one at Koda Middle School, and one at the high school. He has been a resident of the district since 2005.
If elected, Lalukota said one of his main priorities will be helping teachers work closely with the technology that will be implemented into classrooms. He believes that providing training opportunities for teachers to show them how to best utilize technology in the classroom is crucial to preparing students for success.
“As global markets are changing quickly, we need to prepare students with new skills. We should use the available technologies in our school system to improve the quality of our education: Review existing reading, writing, computer and mathematics skill courses for high school students to achieve better college readiness,” he said.
He is also in favor of establishing a full-day kindergarten program, and addressing a looming redistricting issue that the district is preparing to tackle. The redistricting discussion, he said, should unquestionably include how to best implement a full day kindergarten program.
“Rebalancing enrollment or redistricting can help with crowded classrooms and could position the district to determine what is needed to move to full day kindergarten. As a board member, I would like to work through these issues and budget numbers to make recommendations,” he said.
Lalukota also has a resume filled with volunteer leadership positions, both inside and outside of the district. He was elected president of the Tri-City India Association, a leading Indian community organization in 2016 and 2017 and has served as a board member of the Albany Hindu Cultural Center. He has been a board member of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs' (APAPA) Albany Chapter since 2016, and has volunteered in classrooms as well.
Gilbert, a resident of Mechanicville, is seeking his third term on the board. He is employed at Spectrum Enterprise and has a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Plattsburgh in business management and a master's in business administration from the University of Dallas. He lives with his wife and his two children attend Shenendehowa.
Gilbert also emphasized the importance of integrating technology into classrooms, and said one of his priorities, if reelected, would be continued guidance in that field. He cited the district’s 1:1 Chromebook initiative as one area in which the district has already been successful in bringing technology into classrooms.
“For my next term, if elected, I will continue to ensure that we 'smartly' integrate technology into our teaching system. Our students learn best in a system that is interesting to them. Technology is a big part. Our teachers are very critical to this process and an integral part. Without professional development for them, then anything we do with technology will be a futile process. We need the teachers on board and comfortable with that,” he said.
Gilbert also cited the upcoming ongoing issue of purchasing land in Halfmoon for a potential new school and continuing efforts to focus on school safety as other focus points that he believes will be important during the coming term.
Gilbert also lauded the current status of the board of education, describing the members as a strong team that effectively tackle issues in front of them.
“We have a very highly functioning board that has been getting the business of the district done in a very collaborative and efficient way. All seven of us bring a strong skill set and we each complement each other very well. I feel together, the seven of us will continue to drive our district forward in the 21st century. Our students, staff and community all benefit from a strong, well run school district.”
Stephenson, of Halfmoon, is seeking her second term on the board. She is employed at Fidelis Healthcare as Director of Provider Relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and forensic science from SUNY Oswego and is in the process of earning a master’s degree in health care administration from Union College.
She and her husband have two children attending Shenendehowa, one at the high school and one at Arongen Elementary School.
A major issue that needs to be addressed, and one that Stephenson plans to focus on if reelected, is the matter of community engagement. Everything, Stephenson said, stems from community engagement, from making sure the public understands the ins and outs of the district’s budget, from getting them out to the polls.
“It’s getting that information out and how do we better do that as a district? How are we presenting this information to the public?” she said.
She also acknowledged that the board needs to keep an eye on the rapid growth occurring in the town of Halfmoon. While statistics don't show a large surge in enrollment over the next few years due to its growth, the board will still need to be prepared to make decisions such as buying land for a new school building or implementing a full-day kindergarten program.
Though the district probably won’t be looking at redistricting on the scale that it did in 2008, Stephenson said, the issue still requires thoughtfulness and good planning.
Those issues in particular, she said, are wide open at this point, and require board members who have experience in not only managing district affairs, but also being completely committed to finding an answer that works for all students.
“I’m humbled and I’m honored to be able to sit on this board to begin with. I love what I do. I’m all in,” she said.
DiLallo, of Clifton Park, is the longest serving candidate running for the board. The former high school social studies teacher, who retired from Mechanicville City Schools, is seeking his seventh term. He holds a bachelor’s degree from McNesse State University (located in Lake Charles, La.) and a master’s degree in educational administration, sociology and psychology from Louisiana State University. He and his wife have three children who have graduated from Shenendehowa.
DiLallo highlighted his many years of service as an important strength. He feels that his experience will not only bring continuity to the board but help guide its newer members.
“Our board currently has four people in their first term and no one other than me has served three full terms. This is a major concern and is one reason for seeking to serve another term,” DiLallo said. “I wish to remain on the board at least until the majority of the members have gained sufficient experience to be fully effective. Serving on a school board involves much more than meets the eye. Virtually everyone is surprised by what they need to learn to serve effectively,” he said.
Other issues that, if reelected, DiLallo intends to focus on are how to most effectively protect students while they are in school, while also creating an environment in which students are comfortable and empowered to learn and engage in to the best of each of their own specific abilities.
“We as the adults must remain mindful that each child is unique and deserves to be recognized and treated as unique. The ideal is not that each child be treated equally but equitably; provided with what they need to reach their potential. We must remember that school is about the children, not the adults. Each student should have every chance to live a worthwhile and meaningful life and it is our obligation that they have the opportunity to live life to the fullest,” he said.
The public vote on the 2019-2020 budget and school board seats will be held in the Gowana Middle School gymnasium on May 21 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Qualified voters must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of the Shenendehowa district for at least 30 days prior to the vote. Shen has estimated that there are 50,000 to 55,000 qualified voters in the district.