Friday, October 22, 2010

Questionnaire: Mr. Barry Walston

Mr. Barry Walston's completed questionnaire.
Further information about Barry is available at:

Montessori Community Council
1.                  Meet the Candidate Questionnaire
Why did you decide to run for Albany City School Board?

I am running for a seat on the ACSB because I believe in quality public education, I am a tax payer of twenty-one plus years and I was brought up in a family of educators, I have had positive relationships with the school district and have been a citizen in the Albany community for than twenty-five years, I believe in giving back and being part of the solution. 

2.      What qualifies you to be on the Albany City School Board?  Do you have any unique qualifications that set you apart from other candidates?

 What qualifies me to be on ACSB is my commitment to quality public education, my investment in the Albany community, my ongoing support for District students/families, and last but not least, my willingness to serve the public. 

What sets me aside from the other candidates is that I am a member of the population segment that is most adversely impacted by educational deficits/disparities. In addition, I am a product of public education and a social worker. Consequently, I will bring a unique perspective to the Board that sets me apart in that I have a culturally competent understanding of the students in the District's system and I am proficient in using macroanalysis as well as a microanalysis in finding solutions to problems.

3.                  Parents in each Albany city school watch as their neighbors and children’s friends leave the schools for Charter Schools, Private Schools, and other districts.  What concrete steps can be taken to prevent the loss of students and resources from the ACSD to these competitors?

It is simple. We must IMPROVE the public education system and provide QUALITY education for ALL students. In so doing, we will attract and maintain students in the district. Parents want quality education for their children. Private schools do not have a monopoly on "quality education." Parents will buy into quality education whether it resides in public or private schools.  I will promote partnering with significant stakeholders in the community willing to reinvest, revitalize, and restructure the way the District does business in order to effect a quality school system. We have to align our curriculum with NY State standards, hold teachers/administrators accountable, continue to enhance professional development of teachers, hold parents/adult caregivers accountable and expect the BEST from all students. Finally, we must create learning environments that promote academic/social achievement.

4.                  How would you work with City government and other community stakeholders to make Albany more attractive to homeowners and parents as a permanent option for their families?

Partnership with the City is important. The City, community and school benefit from a quality educational system. Businesses and industries expect schools to graduate students with the appropriate skills, knowledge, and abilities to meet their employment demands; they also provide jobs for parents and family members. Cities are evaluated on the basis of the quality of life they afford---including their schools as well as social and recreational amenities. City governments strive to attract businesses and industries to enhance employment and social opportunities for their citizenry.  Schools are an integral part of the attraction equation. Providing tax incentives for teachers/homeowners as the City already does with other professions, while simultaneously improving the quality of the educational program provided by the public school district, will benefit all stakeholders. When stakeholders perceive the mutual benefits that accrue to them relative to improving the educational system and are engaged in the decision-making and solutions process in meaningful ways, Albany will become more attractive to homeowners and parents as a permanent option for their families.

5.                  While publicly, there is a perception of failures for the ACSD, there are many successful programs and schools that families look forward to sending their children to.  While everyone values these programs, they are often targeted for cuts, making them less effective.  During a time of budget reductions, how do you intend to support existing successful programs in schools, and continue to bring in new programs in schools that need them?  When you do need to cut programs, what will be done to fill the voids that follow?

The biggest challenge facing the Albany City School District (ACSD) is improving school performance by doing more with less. Reducing the tax burden for taxpayers will further reduce needed fiscal resources to effect programs and changes that will improve school performance. The school board alone cannot solve this problem; it is a problem whose solution must come from the community and the Board.  Consequently, it will be necessary to work with various groups and stakeholders that make up the community in order to find solutions. For example, if it means cutting programs to solve the problem, the community (families, businesses, industries, and other stakeholders) need to be engaged in the process of determining what the community is willing to give up. If programs must be cut, the District should first evaluate the effectiveness of all of its programs and propose cutting those that are least effective. To fill the voids precipitated by budget cuts, the District will need to look to leverage resources of local community groups, business, industry, and colleges and universities to support successful programs, attract new programs and fill voids created by budget cuts. In addition, the District should redouble its efforts to secure discretionary grant funding from public and private resources to support new programs and expand successful programs. I

6.                  The budget process in the ACSD has been a particularly painful one in recent years.  Often, to streamline the process, items are lumped together in budget lines.  While this makes sense for some items, for others, this has the effect of drastically changing a program without involving the school stakeholders.  How will you balance the need for a streamlined process with transparency?

I would encourage an open process and would make every effort as a board member to involve stakeholders through town hall meetings, meetings at community centers, churches, etc.  I have observed that current superintendent and current Board make concerted efforts to be inclusive and transparent and accessible.

7.                  What will you do to ensure children’s safety not only at school but getting to and from school?

School safety is an important issue that starts at home. Parents and families need to be engaged as stakeholders in order to ensure safety in schools and in the community. Parental education and parental support groups focused on safety and reducing violence should be promoted through community and faith based organizations.  At the same time, it will be important for the City to provide safe social, recreational outlets and work opportunities for youths in the community. First, I would reinforce the policies that already exist within the district and would act proactively to promote violence prevention and remain vigilant and responsive to issues and concerns that might arise in the schools and in the community. Additionally, I would keep the community involved on every level and leverage community/civic organizations that are already involved in reducing violence and disruptive behaviors in the district.

8.                  Parent involvement is an important part of every child’s education.  How will you encourage parents to be more involved? 

Critical and Key!  This is a significant issue and is an important plank in my platform. I maintain that parent/adult involvement is ESSENTIAL to the academic success of all children. I would want to develop and implement a strategic long-range plan to create a system of traditional and non-traditional engagement of parents in the schooling process because research has shown that greater parental involvement significantly enhances learning for students.
We know that increasing parental (adult)/family (PAF) involvement is key to student achievement. Also, parental involvement has been touted for years as a very important predictor of student achievement in schools. In recent surveys, also, teachers focus on the need to increase parental involvement. Strengthening parents' roles in the learning of their children has been identified by teachers as an issue that should receive the highest public education policy priority.
Moreover, a 1993 Metropolitan Life survey of teachers found that a large majority believed that the nation's schools could be improved by the federal government if they encouraged parents to be more involved in their children's education (Richardson, 1993).
It still is difficult for effective PAF involvement and not easily accomplished without understanding obstacles and how to overcome them. It is important to redefine parental involvement, to identify types of effective involvement and to identify barriers to PAF involvement. Only then can we succeed in overcoming those barriers and increasing the quality of PAF.
There has to be a new paradigm in defining “parental involvement” by re-examining characteristics such as: parent focus, family, school, eager parents, teacher/administrators, agendas, and the deficit view of urban families –

to family focus, community support/home/neighborhood settings, hard-to-reach families, family priorities and emphasis on inherent strengths of families.

New beliefs about parents and families support the notion that all families have strengths; parents/adults/families (PAF) can learn new techniques; PAF can be empowered, and have important perspectives about their children; in addition, PAF care about their children and lastly cultural differences are both valuable and valid and should be honored.

9.                  What are your thoughts on the high school restructuring?

AHS is too large. I think creating smaller learning environments using existing space with the input of all stakeholders will be important in restructuring for school improvement.

10.              Being on the School Board is a large, unpaid time commitment.  There is often a high turn over for School Board members because of this, are you aware of this and what have you done to ensure against it for you? 

I am aware of the time commitment and I am committed to the students, to the families, to the communities and to the improving education for students. Being on the Board will afford me an opportunity to be part of the solution. My employment history and long history of service on several community boards speaks to my commitment.

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