ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca City School District Board of Education could see quite a bit of turnover this year, as a competitive election looms next week.
This year, there are four total seats up for grabs, with seven candidates listed on the ballot. That includes three incumbents: Dr. Patricia Wasyliw, Christopher Malcolm and the board’s chair, Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell (Nicole LaFave resigned last summer, meaning her spot is open but she is not running), and four challengers: Katie Apker, Garrick Blalock, Adam Krantweiss and Joe Lonsky, though Lonsky was not present at the forum last week. Candidate bios are available here, through the Ithaca City School District.
The forum, which was organized and hosted by the Village at Ithaca and the Ithaca Teachers Association and lasted just under an hour, can be viewed in full here. There is also a hearing on the school district’s proposed 2023-2024 budget on Tuesday, May 9 at 5:30 at York Hall at Ithaca High School, though it is also accessible via Zoom. The vote on Board of Education members and the budget is scheduled for May 16, 2023 from 12-9 p.m.
The Ithaca Teachers Association has endorsed Krantweiss, Apker, Blalock and Eversley Bradwell in the race.
To start, each candidate was asked to outline what their priorities would be if elected, and why they want to be on the board. Apker said she wants to amplify the anti-marginalization work that the district has championed over the last several years, while Blalock echoed Apker’s statement that staff retention and acquisition in the district is a primary issue (Blalock also said he’s married to an Ithaca High School teacher).
Predictably, teachers were a central theme of the discussion, particularly of the portion where candidates outlined their priorities. Keeping teachers in classrooms, filling vacancies, and providing resources needed to implement the district’s curriculum goals were all frequently mentioned.
“I believe the best path to take to meet that goal is to support teachers’ efforts to provide a robust educational curriculum that will allow each student to flourish,” said Krantweiss. “I’ll also offer continued support for ICSD’s established anti-racism curriculum, while at the same time focusing on strengthening academic programs by providing funding and offering more training for teachers.”
Both Wasyliw and Malcolm stated they are committed to continuing the work that the Board of Education is currently undertaking, building on what has been accomplished during their respective years on the board. Wasyliw said she viewed ISCD as unique, and she shared Malcolm’s desire to contribute to the rebuild after COVID-19’s disruption of K-12 education.
“I see the learning loss, the morale loss, the mental health issues, the stresses from COVID to be really huge, and I see this as a time to build back,” Wasyliw said.
Fans of Ithaca Voice reporter Brian Crandall’s work will recognize Blalock, who was a member of the City of Ithaca’s Planning Board for several years. Blalock touched upon that experience during his answers, saying he would like to spend time meeting with people in-person, outside of Board meeting rules (Blalock was also the only person to mention expanding the tax base to reduce the burden on residents in the district). He said he wanted to replicate the approach current board member Dr. Jill Tripp has taken since being elected last year, holding “office hours” at a local coffee shop for people to stop by.
Each candidate was asked if they share the district’s explicit goal of anti-racism education. Each did, with Eversley Bradwell continuing to say that he believed the district had to stand for not only anti-racism, but to push against discrimination of all kinds, citing recent anti-LGBT legislation around the country.
“I see the resistance, and if we go into this thinking that there won’t be further resistance as we continue this, we’re lying to ourselves,” said Malcolm, who also answered with similar sentiments as Eversley Bradwell. Malcolm added that his grandchild will be entering the school district soon and that he is proud to have the work he contributed to with the district produce a better environment for future generations.
Apker contributed to the aforementioned focus on teachers and their oft-expressed need for resources.
“We do need to continue to identify and address individual and structural sources of racism and barriers to accessibility, we do need to equip teachers with the tools to help students and families navigate this complex landscape,” Apker said. “I see the most successful outcomes of inclusion really being achieved as we maintain mutual respect and unity as we grapple through this brave work.”
The most salient question to those unhappy or unserved with the district’s current efforts came about halfway through, asking candidates how the district can best support families and students who have needs that aren’t being met. All of the candidates highlighted transparency and communication with families as ways to best address those issues—Malcolm mentioned a need for creative thinking, flexibility and “meeting families where they are.”
Other candidates emphasized active listening and understanding on the part of the district, while Wasyliw also touted the need for support of athletic teams and extracurricular activities so that students can find community outside of the classroom as well. Blalock said that he thinks the district should utilize more outreach to customize the services it provides, mentioning the Community Closet at Ithaca High School which grew from providing some clothes for students who didn’t have them to now having personal care items, toothbrushes, clothing and more.
“The important thing with that program is that students aren’t going to raise their hands and say they don’t have a toothbrush, they aren’t going to say that but they have that need,” Blalock said. “When we uncover that need and we meet it, the support for that program has been overwhelming.”
Candidates closed with statements about what they believe they should be elected, eliciting some brief responses from Malcolm and Wasyliw while Blalock focused on his ideas to alleviate some of the tax burden on those living in ICSD. Krantweiss noted his teaching experience in New York City and Cornell and Binghamton University, as well as his career as a psychotherapist, all of which he said would be valuable for the board going forward. Eversley Bradwell noted that his granddaughter posited that he should be re-elected to the board because he is “good at meetings.”
“I hope what she was trying to communicate is that I have a demonstrated history of facilitation of meetings,” Eversley Bradwell said. “As [Apker] said, we are in challenging times and they require difficult and honest conversations, and I like to think I have a demonstrated ability to negotiate these disagreements. I believe disagreement is necessary in order to find the best path forward for our young people.”