by Dave Warner
The Annual School District Vote of the Little Falls City School District will be held on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, from 12 o’clock noon to 9:00 pm in the High School Gymnasium. Details about the budget are contained in the school district’s newsletter at the bottom of the article.
Voting will be on the budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020. It will also be about electing three members of the Board of Education, to two (3) three-year terms to commence July 1, 2019. The individuals who win will be filling the vacancies created by the expiration on June 30, 2019, of the terms of Tracy Coulson, Christine Shepardson, and Bernard Jodway.
All three incumbents are running once again for those positions, as is newcomer Jessica Kelly. My Little Falls made several attempts to reach Bernard Jodway so that he could answer the same questions, and we were unable to connect by press time.
Each one of the four individuals was asked to answer the following questions. They were asked for headshots and were given the same amount of time to answer.
1. Tell me a little bit about your background:
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “I grew up in Little Falls and graduated from LFHS in 1990. From there I went on to SUNY Cortland and got a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and a minor in French. I was hired by SUNY Cortland after graduation and I’ve worked in higher education pretty much since. We moved back to the valley when my daughter was in second grade, eleven years ago. I stayed home with the kids a couple of years and then was fortunate enough to get a position at Mohawk Valley Community College. I’m a community advisor. My role is to work with all new incoming students, students who are at risk, students who aren’t sure of their career path, and in particular, those going into health programs and helping them map out their educational plan for the years after MVCC as well.”
Jessica Kelly – “I was born in Little Falls and went through the school district education system from K-12 and I then went off to college and studied theoretical math and environmental biology. From there I moved down to Westchester New York and taught in the Bronx. I taught math and science curriculum that was both place-based and active learning. The curriculum was designed for high-risk kids to help them meet state standards. After that, I returned to school and received a Masters of Science in Engineering. Following that, I worked as a consultant cleaning up Brownfield and doing environmental remediation projects across the state. I did that for several years. My husband and I are both from Little Falls and we decided that we really wanted to return to the area and so we purchased a small farm property in Little Falls about eight years ago and we had our first daughter and really settled back into the area at that point. After my first child, I was on leave for a year and then Herkimer Community College approached me and asked if I’d be interested in teaching for them in their STEM area. So, for the past six years, I’ve been doing that. I’m now a full-time tenured professor at the college.”
Christine Shepardson – “I was born and brought up in Little Falls as were my children. My husband and I both graduated from Little Falls High School and so did both of my children.”
2. How long have you served on the Board of Education (if applicable)?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “I won last year in May, so I’ve been on the board not quite a year.”
Jessica Kelly – “I’ve never served on the school board and I’ve never served in any political position.”
Christine Shepardson – “I’ve been on the school board since 2012.”
3. Why are you running?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “My job at MVCC is to speak for students who are maybe first-generation students to college who maybe don’t have someone to speak for them and I fell like that’s part of my role on the school board too. I can bring the higher education experience to the board and take into account the students that might not have a voice – a person who’s coming to the board to voice those kinds of concerns that they may have. So, hopefully, I’m representing students who might not have a voice.”
Jessica Kelly – “I’m really passionate about the community and Little Falls. I’ve worked with Think Local Little Falls for the past five years developing community events that I think serve our community best and attract other people to our community. I think Little Falls – to survive and thrive – needs to attract new residents and we need to show off our communities best assets. I’ve had a lot of fun planning things like the Pizza Challenge, the Art Walk, Midsummer Nights Picnic and other events that have happened throughout the year. Now I am more connected to the school as my children get older and I think its another area where there are great things happening and there is lots of potential for growth within our school district to help us to attract more families and young residents to our community.”
Christine Shepardson – “Just being on the board…I just feel like it was my way to give back to the community. I actually think it’s a great way to serve the entire educational community of Little Falls. My goal of being on the board is to support the community, the students, the faculty and staff. I guess my vision for being a commissioner on the board is for success for the school system and accountability for the school itself and the people that are involved in running it.”
4. What are some of the challenges facing today’s educators?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “There are many things. I think we have students who come from difficult or challenging backgrounds and it’s harder for them in the classrooms, so the playing field isn’t necessarily the same for all students in the classroom and teachers really need to figure out where their students are at and figure out what some of the other challenges are that they might need to take into consideration when they’re trying to teach a student. Students who are hungry, students who are stressed, students who are aren’t sleeping aren’t going to learn as well or as easily as students who have all of those needs met. When it comes to standardized testing and those kinds of things, we definitely have students at many levels and teachers have a hard job of trying to get everybody to the same level. We focus a lot in higher ed about equity and it’s pretty important to take all of that into consideration and I think in the classroom, teachers really have to work hard to make sure it’s equitable and teach to where every student is at.”
Jessica Kelly – “I think educators have a really heavy load now. The primary challenges are from the system that they work within. There are a lot of new standards and regulations being placed upon school districts and being pushed down upon educators and I think that’s a challenge. I also think that there are changing social issues which can be a challenge for teachers to handle in their classrooms because kids come in with baggage every day and teachers and educators are challenged to not just do the everyday work of teaching, but to also help kids to navigate the world they exist in.”
Christine Shepardson – “I actually believe that education starts from the beginning and it’s important to be surrounded by good education and families, which would include parents and the community. Some of the things that I think that the schools face are school budgets, and as a taxpayer, our school systems face accountable for academics. The educators try to meet the social and emotional needs of our students too and it isn’t just about educating the students anymore. It’s different than when I went to school 30 years ago. We look at the whole picture now and I think those are some challenges without getting too deep into the social aspects.”
5. What are some of the specific problems we are facing in Little Falls?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “I think Little Falls is doing a great job, to be honest. I think we have incorporated technology in such a way and I actually feel that we’re leading the pack in terms of technology in the ways that we have branched out. I think we’re working really hard to be ahead of the pack.”
Jessica Kelly – “I think school culture is a big issue and it’s a reflection of community culture. How students behave is certainly a challenge for many educators. They don’t necessarily come in prepared to learn. They don’t necessarily know what appropriate behavior in a classroom should look like and I think that’s a real challenge for educators. It’s very challenging to come up with methods that work…that produce good long-term results. I think sometimes it’s tempting to kind of put a bandaid on a problem as opposed to trying to find the root problem. Little Falls has a poverty rate of about 25% which is a true urban population problem and children that exist in poverty come with a whole host of issues and baggage that they bring to school with them every day. And that’s something that the district can’t ignore.”
Christine Shepardson – “If anyone ever has concerns about the school system, I always try to remain positive and if anyone has any issues or concerns about the Little Falls School District, I’m always available to listen and if I can’t answer the questions when people or family call me, I give them to the appropriate faculty member or administrator. I once again believe that the economy probably and especially in Little Falls is a challenge because we’re such a small community.”
6. What are some of the positive things happening in the Little Falls School District?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “I think there are many things we’re doing really, really well. We have a strong budget, a beautiful capital project that’s going on. I think we have a very strong team of professionals working in the district that work very well together and are interested in moving the needle forward for our students.”
Jessica Kelly – “I think Little Falls has great facilities. They have a lot of passionate educators that are working to try and do the best that they can with the resources that they have to meet their student’s needs. I think it’s impressive that the school district is trying to meet the needs of sort of the STEM education areas with programming there and I think everyone is doing the best that they can in a very difficult situation.”
Christine Shepardson – “Since I’ve been on the board since 2012, I’ve seen some wonderful improvements in technology, academics and actually the last couple of years it has been very exciting being on the board and planning the capital project that we’ve been working on. I’m excited about seeing that not only for our students now but for our future generations. I believe that Little Falls and our school system – they work very hard on budgeting and I actually as a commissioner rely on the superintendent and the business manager to provide our community and school district with fair and appropriate school budgets and I just want everyone to know that being a commissioner on the board – I’m also a taxpayer. It’s just very important to me…taxpayer, parent…I don’t want to say that I’m just like everyone else that lives in Little Falls, but as a whole, I am. I truly believe that education is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
7. If elected, what are you going to champion/change during your term?
Tracy (Pawluk) Coulson – “What was hard for me in the first year…what you think a school board does and what you do when you get on there are different. I feel that the first year you are kind of figuring everything out…like what does it mean to have an oversight board and how does that interplay with everything. This year we’ve spent a lot of time updating policies, so I’ve not had a lot of time to think about what I would champion. I think many of us think we can change this or that, but when you’re on the board, it’s very different. It’s much more oversight and a 40,000-foot view. Maybe it was just me thinking that it would be more in the weeds than it is.”
Jessica Kelly – “I think that the school district has a very good sort of philosophy that they share with the community. I don’t necessarily think that they always have the policy and procedures in place that supports that philosophy and I think that there is significant room for improvement in those areas and also in the area of creating a district-wide curriculum to help try to promote a positive school culture that in the long term would prevent disciplinary issues.”
Christine Shepardson – “No. I’m looking forward to the capital project and the changes we will see in the next couple of years. I don’t go with an agenda. I’ve never done that. I’ve just felt that it was more about volunteering and giving back to the community and putting our kids best interests first. That’s acutally how I look at it when I run for the school board.”
Little Falls City School District – Budget NewsletterLF Budget Newsletter 2019-20