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Board of Education candidates share their viewpoints at candidates' night

Sat, May 18th 2024 07:00 am

By Alice Gerard

Senior Contributing Writer

Candidates for the Grand Island Board of Education discussed their personal motivations to serve as trustees, as well as challenges they believe the school district faces, at a candidates’ forum held May 8. Four candidates are running for three open seats: Roger Broeker, Jennifer Chin, Danielle Bruno and Joy LaMarca. Both Bruno and LaMarca are incumbents. Trustee Glenn Bobeck is not running for reelection.

When asked why they want to serve as trustees, each talked about their own qualifications.

•Chin, who works as a creative director for a health care advertising firm, is a graduate of the Grand Island school system.

“I want to give back to the community,” she said. “I feel inspired to serve on the school board to support our teachers in continuing to advance our students’ education and to play a role in fostering Grand Island students’ excellence and personal growth.”

•Broeker is a former principal of Grand Island High School. He currently works as principal for the Orleans-Niagara BOCES. His son is a sophomore at the high school.

“I’ve coached multiple sports at different levels throughout the community,” Broeker said. “Through those experiences, I’ve gotten to build some relationships with many of the residents here on Grand Island and have gotten to understand what they value and what is important to them. I have been looking at a way that I could start giving back to the community. I have a vested interest in watching out for our students, our teachers and our community members. Watching my son go through the school district and taking all the experiences we have had, both good and bad. I want to take these experiences and work with the board and district leaders and the community, and continue the high excellence that the Island has been known for.”

•LaMarca, an attorney, said her daughter motivates her to serve on the school board.

“I am the parent of a 9-year-old. She goes to Kaegebein. She loves to play violin. She’s in dance class. Just a joy. We love this school district,” LaMarca said. “I also have a vested interest in our schools. Also, I enjoy volunteering my time and experiences as a lawyer and participating in the decisions that affect our children.

“As an experienced board member, it has been truly rewarding to be part of board decisions. One of my favorite aspects of being a board member is when you (students) come before us. Whether you’re excelling in sports or music or anything. We get to see your accolades and the reports and the pictures and how excited you are, and your parents. It’s so rewarding to be able to be part of that and to watch you guys just flourish and then go off and do what you seek to do after school.”

•Bruno, an attorney, is a graduate of Grand Island High School.

“When I was an undergraduate, one day, I would wake up and say, ‘I want to be a teacher,’ and the next day I would wake up and say, ‘I want to be a lawyer.’ I could not make up my mind. Although I chose the lawyer path and I’m very happy in my profession as a civil attorney, litigating, I still wanted to get back into the educational system and support my community,” Bruno said. “That’s why I’m here. I also volunteer at Grand Island High School on the mock trial team. I’ve been doing that for several years now. At least six, I believe. That is a rewarding experience with the students, watching them grow. I think that public speaking is one of the hardest things to do, and I’m still working on it myself. I think that starting as young as they are and learning how to problem solve, thinking on their feet and teamwork. It’s all very important to their growth. I enjoyed that experience, enjoyed giving back to their community, to the district.”

The candidates were then asked to discuss some of their personal qualities that would help them be effective members of the Grand Island Board of Trustees.

•Broeker cited his 24 years as an educator, explaining he has “experience at all levels of education.” He said he has served as a teacher, an administrator, a coach and an adviser.

“I always felt like I’m really good at building relationships,” Broeker said. “One of the resources that I can bring to the school board is the ability to communicate very openly with other districts around Western New York about ideas that they’ve tried, successes they’ve had, failures that they’ve had, and being able to bring some of those ideas to Grand Island, to help use that information that’s been gathered about the whole area to try to push the district forward. Along with the relationship building, I really feel that I am a good moderator to find common ground and work between people, no matter what their differences are.”

•LaMarca said, “I’m a full-time practicing attorney. I am a mom. That’s the most important part. I will bring my perspective of a parent and be able to utilize my legal background to analyze the situations and continue making decisions that support our district and our children.”

•Bruno said, “I think it’s important to be informed, to take the information and articulate a solution to that. I believe that I possess those qualities that are necessary for a board member.”

•Chin cited skills she has gained from her experience in the advertising field.

“I’m an active listener, a strong communicator, with well-honed writing and speaking skills,” she said. “In my professional career, I’ve learned to listen to inputs from many different people, clients and colleagues alike, and use that input to create solutions that are going to address business needs. …

“Advertising requires a lot of consensus and collaboration building, just like the school board. I’ve become proficient at guiding teams to make decisions that everyone can support. These skills of active listening, information processing, effective communication and a collaborative, consensus-driven approach are necessary skills for a board member, and also skills that I’ve honed over the years of working as a communications professional.”

The candidates were asked to discuss some of the issues that they saw as challenges in the Grand Island Central School District.

•LaMarca talked about the “need to work on scaling down some of our administrative costs. Recently, some districts had to lay off teachers to close the gap with their budget.” She said that was an area of concern for her and for other board members.

“The other challenge is going to be New York’s deadline for school districts for rolling out these electric buses,” LaMarca said. “Our challenge is going to be navigating through the roll out, the funding, the cost, the time frame, implementing the infrastructure. Right now, we’re getting limited information coming down. Once we get what we need, we have to figure out how we’re going to do this. Is the state going to stick to a firm deadline?”

•Bruno mentioned the no-emissions buses.

“It’s not sustainable,” she said. “There is not enough funding in aid from the state. It would severely impact and devastate the taxpayers. This board has actually taken a position in resolution in asking the state to provide the substantial funding that would be needed or to provide us with the flexibility of a timeline to make those changes. That is my biggest concern for what is ahead.”

She added, “In terms of mental health, which is also one of my big concerns, it’s going to continue to rise within the student population. Having an awareness, as well.”

•Chin mentioned a number of issues, including the bullying epidemic, teacher burnout, pandemic-related knowledge gaps, maintenance of “an optimal student-teacher ratio, problems with the rollout of electric buses, the shortage of bus drivers and safety issues caused by drivers passing stopped school buses.

About the bullying epidemic, Chin said, “It’s probably actually getting worse with all the additional social media outlets. We need to continue to address this issue in our schools, to help ensure that all students feel safe because students can’t focus on learning unless they feel safe in the classroom. This is a topic that I’m prepared to address. I did do some bullying prevention training while I was serving as a volunteer in the Montclair schools as a health and wellness liaison. And I’m prepared to help bring that education that I received there to put it to good use to help the students here on Grand Island.”

•Broeker said students are changing. He said they are more technologically advanced, but that they needed support to understand how to navigate social media and how to determine whether information is accurate or not.

“How do we regulate their rights and teach them how to be citizens that want to voice their opinions and still do that in a constructive way in an educational setting?” he said.

Broeker also mentioned “the constant, unsure funding and future requirements without clear guidelines from state education.”

He discussed “the computerized testing now being rolled out for grades 3-8, making sure that the right tools and equipment and training is in place for that. The changing Regents exams and the pathways for graduation. And there’s the electric bus issue coming down the line.”

Broeker also mentioned staffing.

“We’ve been seeing districts that have been making cuts,” he said. “Not only is it really important to focus on retention, but also finding new staff has become an increasingly difficult problem. Colleges are not putting out as many teachers in the profession as they used to.”

To watch the candidates’ forum, which is available on YouTube, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txzBi0UJ2KY.

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