By Kristin Schultz
The race is on. There are two spots on the Niskayuna Central School District’s Board of Education, and three candidates filed the proper paperwork to run.
We caught up with each of the candidates and asked them the same few questions.
The three — David Apkarian, Rosemarie Perez Jaquith and Jennifer Zhao — will also participate in a “Meet the Candidates” forum hosted by the Niskayuna PTO on Tuesday, May 2.
Elections will be held on May 16.
Why are you running?
Apkarian: I felt like the first three years I was getting my feet wet and I learned so much. I’d like to have another three years to really develop things in the district. Niskayuna should be proud of the board we have right now for its professionalism and diversity. I want to work with this group.
Perez Jaquith: I love the kids. I’m inspired by them. I love what I’m doing for the kids and the community; it’s pure joy for me. Being an attorney for the state, public service is a big part of our lives and I see this position as an arm of that.
Zhao: I want to be more involved in my son’s school and plugged into the community. Niskayuna has a very good school system academically, but I hear about a lot of areas we can improve. The world is changing fast and our kids need skills and need to be learners and critical thinkers. I want to see movement toward that in all grades.
What skills or unique perspective to you bring to the board?
Apkarian: As a business owner, I look at things differently. I consider the return on investment — is what we’re doing yielding a good return for our kids and for the community? I have managerial experience dealing with employees. I like to cut through the junk and focus on the goal: focusing on our kids and doing right by them.
Perez Jaquith: I’m good at taking a broad view of things. In my job I deal with policy and analysis. We, as the board, have done more policy work in the last three years than anyone can remember. The time is right to update our policies. Things have settled down over the last few years.
Zhao: Having worked for a corporation, I know what corporations are looking for when they hire. It’s important to have problem-solving skills for example. I could use my corporate perspective to help inform curriculum. I also bring the perspective of a parent of kids who are younger and my friends have young children. I could bring those concerns to the board.
Name one issue you’d like the board to address next year:
Apkarian: I’d like to make sure that, at the high school level, there is the right mix of programs that serve the students. We should be proud when our kids are accepted to Harvard and Yale, but we can’t forget the kids that pursue a trade or the military or something else and are successful and happy in life. We need to provide the correct education for kids and prepare them for what’s next.
Perez Jaquith: I’m only one of seven and together we set priorities. I am pleased that the focus has been on the implementation of the strategic plan. I’m most excited about the Environment and Culture prong of the plan. As part of that we have held student forums, brought in the Anti-Defamation League and talked a lot about diversity and cultural respect. I’m excited to see where this goes.
Zhao: We need to address the stress level in schools. The N-CAP report is stunning and scary. Why are we accepting these results of 50 percent of our children report drinking regularly? We’re talking about it, but need to be doing things differently. We can learn from other districts that have successfully addressed the problem.
Stress and anxiety has been a topic in the news recently. What is the board’s role in addressing mental health concerns?
Apkarian: It’s a tough topic. Everybody deals with stress throughout their life. We need to identify the students who are high risk and harming themselves and get them the professional help they need.
Then, we can provide resources and teach students how to deal with stress on a basic level. And if they need more than that, we can work with families to identify and take advantage of community resources.
Perez Jaquith: The district’s role in general is to set policy and administrate. We need to make sure our policies support good outcomes in terms of stress and anxiety.
I’m encouraged because we’re talking about it. Lots of schools struggle with it, but we’re creating a culture where it’s OK to talk about it. We’re listening to them, we’re not hiding and pretending these issues don’t exist.
Zhao: We need to work with the community and build real relationships and create space for our kids to experience real community and connect on a human level.
As a school board, we should work with the town, the library and non-profits and take the lead. We need to be held accountable for what happens in our schools and raise adults that are healthy and responsible.