Village at Ithaca
Board of Education Candidates Forum 2015
Written Responses to Questions
Candidates were asked to respond to three questions. There was no minimum or maximum word limit imposed. The received responses are presented here in alphabetical order. Responses have not been edited, except for font and type size for consistency.
1) What life experiences and skills would you bring to the Board of Education to support the realization of the Board of Education Priorities and to improve education for all of our children?
I was a public school teacher for 25 years. I have a Master’s Degree in Multicultural Ed. and Special Education. I have sat on countless committees, sponsored student clubs, attended many educational conferences, and was the President of a large Teachers’ union. I have taught in New York City, Tucson, Arizona, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Binghamton, and Elmira. My extensive and diverse experiences in the field of education have granted me an expertise that would benefit any board or committee formed for education-related issues.
I spent 35 years as a secondary English teacher, six at Horseheads Junior High West, 25 at Ithaca High School, and four at Robert College of Istanbul., Turkey. As a teacher, I served on numerous committees and was a participant in and leader of diverse projects, including the ICSD Secondary Language Arts Curriculum Committee (co-chair), the Ithaca Writing Project, and the IHS WISE Program and Site-based Council. I’ve been a presenter at conferences on multi-cultural education and educational technology. I come from a family full of educators, which includes my grandmother, aunts, uncle, my parents-in-law, sister and sisters-in-law and my daughter, Caitlin Moss, who is in her fourth year teaching English at LACS. Caitlin and six of my nieces attended six different schools in the district, K through 12.
Douglas L. Long
First and foremost, I am the parent of two recent graduates of the ICSD school system, one from LACS and the other from IHS. The teachers and staff of ICSD played a significant role in our children’s lives. Second, I am the parent of both a neuro-typical child and a child with a disability and have been actively involved in their education, and dealing with the unique challenges presented by each. Third, I have almost 20 years teaching experience in higher education. I would like to put this experience to work supporting teachers and students in the district. For example, I would like to continue the work that I have been doing this past year 2
with SEPTA and the Advisory Committee on Special Education advocating for special education as well as to make ICSD more inconclusive.
I have always been told by my family that education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from you. It was this motto that took me through school — from elementary through high school, through college, and now through a Ph.D. program in Higher Education. My grandparents were migrant workers who came to the United States to work in the sugar cane fields for $1.00 a day — only 50 years ago. The hard work of my grandparents and parents are the driving factors for my success as a first generation U.S. citizen. Their belief in an education is a value that is beyond a description in words.
My commitment to education based on my family and personal values will support the realization of the Board of Education priorities to improve education. My formal training and education will help to inform my critical lens to which I look through to make evidence based decisions. I believe that all children, regardless of any status, deserve access and support to succeed in school and in life.
I am a parent, artist, educator, education advocate, community member and homeowner. As a parent I have long been involved with my children’s education in Ithaca. My son graduated from Ithaca High School and is now in college, and my daughter is currently in ninth grade at IHS. They have received an excellent education from outstanding teachers and they have had opportunities to participate in enriching extracurricular activities. I would like to help our district remain strong well into the future. This is one of the main reasons that I am running for school board.
I will use my skills as a problem-solver, innovative thinker and communicator to help the district continue to address important issues pertaining to equity. I believe that my abilities as a careful listener and consensus builder will help support the district’s goal of improving education for all children. I am committed to learning, researching and hearing multiple points of view in order seek out new solutions and to make informed decisions. I have more than a decade of experience teaching sculpture and drawing full time at the college level and many years teaching art on a freelance basis to young children. Having spent time in the classroom I am aware of its joys and its challenges. I will bring this understanding to my service on the Board of Education.
As an education advocate, I care deeply about state educational policies that are impacting our schools. The Ithaca City School District continues to face fiscal challenges from state policies such as the Gap Elimination Adjustment, the Property Tax Cap, unfunded mandates such as the new requirement for outside evaluators and flat foundation aid. I strongly oppose the new state policy that links a significant proportion of a teacher’s annual evaluation performance to students’ standardized test scores. I do not believe that the tests are a fair or adequate measure of what truly goes on in a classroom. I am a founding member of SOS Election Boosters, a parent-3
based group focused on education issues. I will continue this advocacy on behalf of our schools with the tools available to me as a member of the Board of Education.
2) The district wants educators to be culturally competent. What does this mean to you? Why is it important for a BoE member to be culturally competent? Why is it important for teachers and administrators?
Cultural competency means you are fully aware of the impact one’s culture can have on their perspectives and behaviors. In order to understand an individual, and interact with them in a respectful and productive way, one needs to understand their cultural background. Culture is such a vast concept it is difficult to encompass its entire dynamic in a paragraph. Communication, familial structure, religion, socio-economic status, race, language, country of origin, dress, food, geography, music, gender issues, are all great importance to culture. In order to work effectively with a community as diverse as Ithaca, it is imperative teachers, administrators and BOE members are culturally competent.
Being culturally competent requires broad and thoughtful experience in diverse communities. The ICSD is a very culturally diverse community- in race, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economics- and as an English teacher at IHS, I engaged with the full range of that diversity and in conversations that probed the challenges and implications of our diversity. Cultural competence requires an understanding of and a concern about institutional and historical racism, of white privilege, and of other longstanding biases which continue to impact our students. Teachers and administrators need this understanding and sensitivity in order to provide an environment and education that will meet the needs of all our students and strengthen our community. BoE members, who make crucial decisions about programs, curricula, and budget, cannot do so without this understanding.
Douglas L. Long
At an early age, I learned about the importance of experiencing and appreciating cultures other than one’s own, without judgment and without approaching different cultures insensitively or from a viewpoint of superiority. As a young person, I was very lucky to have mentors and teachers who were themselves culturally competent and cared enough about me to share those values and lessons with me. Those early experiences have proved extremely useful to me throughout my life and gave me tools useful to successfully engage in many new situations and experiences in ways that I would not otherwise have been able to. This is why it is so important for BoE members, teachers and administrators to be culturally competent. ICSD is a very diverse district and everyone involved in the education of our children, from the BoE to teachers, 4
cafeteria workers, custodians, etc., has the opportunity to act as mentors, educate and set the tone for a district that celebrates diversity and difference.
In a community with much diversity in race, culture, and socioeconomic status, cultural competence is required to make good decisions for our youth. Cultural competence to me is the ability to understand, interact, and work with a variety of people from various backgrounds. Cultural competence is very important for a Board of Education member based on the authority to make important decisions that will affect a wide range of communities — and the understanding of the implications of such decisions. It is important for teachers and administrators to have cultural competence in order for them to allow the “other” (be it student, parent, or other constituent) to share their views – to share their story. Allowing this shared interaction has the potential to create strong and rich relationships that would never be possible if judgment preceded the interaction.
My rule of thumb with cultural competence is to always know that every person has their own story. And my responsibility is to recognize them and their story, and recognize myself and what I do with their story in the context of our district.
It is essential for members of the Board of Education, teachers and administrators to be culturally competent. Our school district is a diverse community consisting of families from a variety of economic, racial, religious, ethnic and international backgrounds. Because of the broad geographic range of the Ithaca City School District, we encompass families from both rural and urban areas. ICSD students have a broad range of abilities and disabilities. To me, cultural competency means acknowledging, respecting and embracing our differences and finding ways to bridge them. Cultural competency also means listening and not presuming that one already understands someone from another background. It is an ongoing learning process that includes becoming aware of one’s own cultural filters.
I believe it is important for members of the Board of Education and the administration to be culturally competent in order for them to be able to shape ICSD policy and set priorities that enable the district to accomplish its mission of helping every child reach his or her full potential. Additionally, members of the BOE must be able to communicate with the entire ICSD community in order to hear their perspectives when shaping policy and priorities.
Teachers must be culturally competent in order for them to connect with a variety of students who may see the world through a different lens. Cultural competency influences how a teacher deals with classroom dynamics, leads discussions, articulates assignments, and interacts with students and their caregivers. Lack of cultural competency in teachers or principals can lead to misunderstandings that then become obstacles to a student’s learning. Teachers and administrators with cultural competency can better help families become involved in their children’s education. 5
3) Is there a book you can recommend that would be beneficial during Professional Learning Community day or to other board/community members? Please explain why.
A Long Walk to Water-provides a compelling human and young perspective on the plight of refugees. It is a wonderful book for cultural learning as well.
Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit is a touchstone text for people who care about improving education for all our children. Delpit discusses ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, in order to combat the prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions which hamper effective education.
Douglas L. Long
I recommend “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time”, by Mark Haddon. This is a novel about a young man named Christopher, who is autistic, and how he copes with a series of traumatic incidents in his life. Written from Christopher’s viewpoint, the reader is drawn into the working of Christopher’s mind, a mind that is quite different from most of ours. This exploration of the autistic mind provides great insight in to why being different is just that, different, without value judgment or devaluation due to that difference. (I am reminded of my favorite line from the Temple Grandin movie, “different, not less”.) The lesson I take from this is that we can be different from each other, physically, mentally, culturally, or in whatever other way we are different, and this does not need to come with judgment, comparison, or feelings of superiority, but instead can come with acceptance, celebration, and enhanced shared experiences.
Ithaca City School District faces many issues today. It is an opportune time for us to advocate together and take a stand to push back on legislation that we do not agree with. More importantly, legislation that could hurt both our teachers and our students. Based on the least popular legislation introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, of linking student test scores to teacher evaluation, I would recommend the book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the midst of anger and possible confusion about what will happen next, it is important for both Board of Education and Ithaca community members to know that their voice and their actions can make a difference, regardless of how small the voice or action. Gladwell talks about the realism of a hierarchy and that some people have more authority or matter more than others. In this case, we know that there is much power in Albany. Gladwell talks about how one idea through small changes can reach a small group of key people who can make a change that affects society. This book may provide the momentum that we need as a community to create a message that will help to reverse legislation. 6
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri is a wonderful collection of short stories that explore the experiences of first generation Bengali families who have made their homes in the United States. The stories explore the tensions between parents’ high expectations for their children’s success and the children’s challenges in meeting them. They highlight the difficulties of adjusting to the United States—the tensions between the parents who wish to honor and retain their cultural traditions and their children who are growing up in America, removed from those traditions. The children in many of the stories, in spite of growing up in America, never truly feel accepted. Traditional family foods and marriage arrangements as well as strong social connections to the other Bengali families give the children a sense of being different from their peers. The young people in these stories are torn between loyalty to their families’ traditions and desire to be more like their friends.
The short stories in Unaccustomed Earth are beautifully crafted, engaging and evocative. They enable readers to empathize and gain insight into what it means to struggle and experience cultural difference and dislocation. Acceptance and understanding of diverse backgrounds and points of view is one of the goals of our district. Literature can give us a vicarious avenue inside the mind of someone else, enabling us to imagine what it would be like be someone else or to live another life. Unaccustomed Earth does a particularly good job of providing us with this kind of insight. For this reason I would highly recommend it for a Professional Learning Community Day and the broader Ithaca community.