Sunday, October 17, 2010

Questionnaire: Ms. Alexandra Streznewski

Ms. Alexandra Streznewski's completed questionnaire.  More information is found for her campaign at:

Montessori Community Council
Meet the Candidate Questionnaire
1.     Why did you decide to run for Albany City School Board?
As the mother of two children in the Albany Public Schools, I have been active in our schools for many years and am concerned that we continue to improve the education provided to all our children.  At this point in time, our District stands at a crossroads – we need to hire a new Superintendent to guide the District to a new level of achievement; we need to negotiate a new teacher contract beginning with the 2011-2012 school year; our high school is in the beginning of a mandated restructuring; and all of this during an historic economic recession.  As an educated and concerned taxpayer who has a personal stake in the education we are providing to our children, I believe I can make a difference and help raise the achievement of all our children.

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?
First, as a mother of two children in the Albany Public Schools, I am vested in ensuring that we provide a quality education to all our children.  We are educating the future citizens of our City and the well being of our society depends upon how well we do that job. 
Second, my past experience as an advocate for the restoration of the facilities plan funding for TOAST, Arbor Hill and Giffen Elementary Schools; and as past president of the Albany City Council PTA working to increase parental involvement in all our schools; demonstrates that I am committed to ensuring that quality education is provided to all our children and that the parent voices are heard at all levels of the District.
Third, as an attorney for CDPHP for over 14 years, I have demonstrated the ability to help guide a highly complex not-for-profit organization through challenging economic times without compromising its core mission.  

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?
-        Ensure an atmosphere of academic excellence.  The best defense is a good offense – if the District offers a demonstrably superior product, families will be incentivized to enroll their children in Albany’s Public Schools.  Although we do a very good job educating some of our students, the unacceptably low graduation rate at Albany High School tells us we can do a better job with a lot of our students.  By emphasizing academic excellence at every level we will be able to increase the graduation rate and take away the biggest obstacle to retaining families in the Albany Public Schools. 
-        Ensure that adequate resources are provided for a robust recruitment program for the Albany Public Schools.  The variety of options for all parents – public, private, religious, and charter schools - requires the District to compete for students.  In order to do so effectively, the District needs to dedicate resources to effectively publicizing the benefits of Albany Public Schools. 
-        Ensure that appropriate training on the District’s mission and training in “people skills” are provided at all levels for District employees.  Although our teachers and principals may be working hard to ensure a quality education, all employees, including receptionists, lunch aides, and custodians, are integral to providing a District-wide atmosphere of excellence.  Not only do these individuals interact with our students on a daily basis and provide another opportunity for emphasizing character development for our children, they also interact with prospective families and need to represent a welcoming face for our District.  

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?
Successfully performing schools are key to attracting families to put down roots in our City.    In order for the City of Albany to thrive, the District needs to partner with the City and other community stakeholders to ensure that all our children are provided with a quality education.  The Superintendent of the District needs to ensure a functioning working relationship with the Mayor of the City.  We need to partner with programs, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone which is working to end the generational cycle of poverty in urban neighborhoods, that have a demonstrated track record of success.  We need to identify areas of need and partner with city agencies to support services that wrap around the District’s core mission (such as affordable high quality daycare for all children up to the age of 4 and meaningful afterschool programming opportunities for all school age children).  

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?
We need to use the resources we have more efficiently.  Given the recession we are in and the uncertainty of state and federal aid, we do not have the luxury of additional funds coming in to the District. 
When budget cuts are proposed, in addition to the dollar amount of the budget cut, an explanation should be provided as to how the services are going to continue to be maintained in compliance with the District’s Strategic Plan, notwithstanding the loss of funds.
A greater emphasis needs to be placed on recognizing that the arts, music, gym, and foreign language are not add-ons, but an integral part of educating the whole child and instilling a lifelong love of learning.   These subjects should be integrated into the core curriculum and used to emphasize and reinforce the skills that are being taught in English, math, science, and social studies.
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?
Given that the District must compete with private, religious and charter schools for its students, involving stakeholders in key budget decisions is imperative.   Those who are impacted by the decisions should be actively involved in providing input into those decisions.  Long-term impacts of budgetary cuts need to be considered and addressed prior to the cuts being approved.  By providing more avenues for input prior to the crunch of budget season, greater transparency can be provided while complying with the various required deadlines in the budget process.

7.     What will you do to ensure children’s safety not only at school but getting to and from school?
-                  Transportation needs to institute new policies regarding “never events” such as children being left on busses, or dropped off at wrong stops.  Airlines cannot operate on a “close enough” standard and neither should our school busses.  Nothing less than the safety of our children is at stake.
-                  In school programs such as gang prevention, positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), and anti-bullying  programs need to be emphasized for our students. 
-                  All District employees, from the custodial staff to the principal, need to be provided training and held accountable for providing a positive role model for our children.  Each interaction a child has with a District employee can be an opportunity for positive character development.

8.     Parent involvement is an important part of every child’s education.  How will you encourage parents to be more involved?
-                  Communication between the District and parents is key.  The District needs to provide a variety of ways for parents to receive information and to provide feedback.  The District’s School News Notifier (SNN) is a great start, but all teachers need to be using Power School (or whatever subsequent system is adopted by the District) to communicate frequently with parents about student progress.  Parents need to be canvassed, including at student registration, as to how they would like to receive communications from the District.  Texting and other electronic means of communication need to be adopted.
-                  In addition to the traditional parent groups such as individual school PTAs, and the Albany City Council PTA, the District needs to reach out to non-school-affiliated groups – churches, health centers, community gatherings – in non-traditional ways such as radio advertising, door-to-door canvassing, and cell phone texting – to ensure that a wider variety of voices are heard.  This would include holding outreach forums during non-working hours – evenings and weekends – and in non-school facilities – churches, community centers, and shopping centers.
-                  We need to include parents in all key decisions.  As demonstrated by the middle school enrollment task force, and the pre-kindergarten lottery focus groups, parents are more than willing to provide feedback if asked.  Rather than assume what parents would like, the District needs to ensure it reaches out to all parents for their opinions prior to making major decisions. 

9.     What are your thoughts on the high school restructuring?
The high school restructuring presents an opportunity for the District to accelerate much needed improvements in the quality of education provided at the high school level.  Smaller learning communities, when combined with a focus on rigorous and meaningful instruction, can be successful.  Rather than putting the focus on the administration of the four smaller ‘schools within a school,’ however, the focus needs to be on giving our children the tools they need to succeed.  The emphasis in each one of these smaller schools needs to be on improving instruction and raising our expectations.  Achievement will not improve until we recognize that all of our children can do better, and we hold all stakeholders - parents, teachers, students and administrators - accountable for reaching higher standards. 

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?
Having attended virtually every Board of Education meeting for the last four years, I am familiar with the breadth of topics covered by the Board and have a realistic idea of the time commitment required for the position.  While I am not in a position to judge any other individual’s decision to leave the Board prior to the expiration of a full term, I have ensured that I have the supports needed in my personal and professional life to fulfill a full four-year term if elected.  In addition, I have two children attending the Albany Public Schools in 4th and 6th grade, and am committed to being involved in our schools in some capacity until they graduate from high school - at least 8 more years.  

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