By Contributing Writer Riley Kim (’24)
On May 16, the J-D community will vote for candidates to join the Jamesville-DeWitt Central School Board. There are three open spots and three candidates. The RamPage interviewed George “Joe” Gross on his platform as a candidate.
How will you, as a Board member, impact the J-D schools and community?
Serving on the Board of Education is a privilege, and I take the responsibility very seriously. We serve as the representatives of the entire community and as advocates for each student in the district. We must continue to engage with the community to make sure that our schools provide the best education possible for every student we serve. I feel I can have a positive impact by listening closely to the community and being open-minded to find the best solutions to the challenges we face.
If elected, what would be the main goal of your agenda during your time as a Board member?
My main goal will be to continue the important work expressed in our District Strategic Plan. The 2022-2023 school year is the third year of our five-year strategic plan implementation focusing on four areas: Culture of Wellness; Curriculum and Programs; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Family Engagement. Given that a three-year term on the Board would extend beyond the end of the current Strategic Plan, I look forward to contributing to the development of our next strategic plan.
How would you decide which issues to prioritize as a Board member?
Over the last couple of years, one of the practices that I have found to be helpful is that the entire Board of Education is encouraged to bring issues forward, and we prioritize those issues as a group. I think it is important to have a robust dialogue with the superintendent about these priorities and determine which issues are best handled at a Board level, and which issues should be handled by other district personnel.
Moving forward, how would you plan to make changes to our materials, classrooms, and other areas of the school?
Our entire region has an amazing opportunity over the next decade with the plans to address Interstate 81, and the investment in Micron. These two initiatives have the potential to truly change the face of all of Central New York. The students in our district need to be fully prepared for a 21st-century world that incorporates working with people from diverse backgrounds on teams. Our students need to be literate, numerate, and perhaps more importantly, creative and curious so that they can constructively contribute to building our community in the future.
What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing the J-D District?
Over the course of the last three years, New York State has finally made the needed investments of funding to fully fund the foundation aid formulas. This has resulted in significant additional funding for districts like Jamesville-DeWitt. However, the foundation aid funding formula was developed with some underlying data that is 20 years old. It is important to continue to advocate for proper funding that reflects today’s reality so that we can continue to provide the best experience possible for students.
Many community members likely want to hear your stance on pertinent issues. Do you think the district is doing an adequate job addressing security concerns? Additionally, what is your stance on book challenges?
Regarding security, I do believe this is an issue that the district must invest in more. I think it is great that our district has invested in a security audit from experts that will provide us with a roadmap to make sure our schools are as safe as possible. Security is a multifaceted concern, however. I want our schools to be welcoming to all — students, staff, and families, so any actions the Board of Education takes should be fully informed by our entire community.
In terms of book challenges, I would be reluctant to exclude any book from our libraries or classrooms. Students of today must have media literacy so that they can properly evaluate and critique the information they receive, and I think our faculty and staff are some of the best resources to help students do this. We all encounter difficult and controversial topics in our lives, and I am always open to hearing views that differ from my own.
Do you believe administrators should have the final say on material published in the school newspaper, rather than students having the final say? Do you support the revised editorial policy?
One of the responsibilities of the Board of Education is to set policy. I serve on the Policy Committee of the Board (2021-2022 and 2022-2023), and one of the policies we discussed was the Editorial Policy (Policy 7510 Extracurricular Activities). While I do believe that students should have the ability to express themselves, it is the responsibility of the Board of Education to ensure that the District is not placed in a vulnerable position because of this expression. Therefore, it is appropriate that District employees have the ability to censor certain student speech. If and when a student’s expression is curtailed by a District employee, the student should know the reasons for the changes.
What are you going to do to make sure students’ voices are heard?
Our community has voted to have a student (non-voting) member of the Board of Education. The Student Board Representatives have been able to provide the Board with a student perspective on various issues, through surveys and discussion. The Board is always seeking additional opportunities to hear from students, through presentations to the Board. Board members also have access to the RamPage student newspaper and other sources like the RamFeed. Many members of the Board of Education have children who are currently students in the district, and we often seek counsel from our children and other students in the District in informal settings. The Board also hears from students through the School Climate Survey and other tools like ThoughtExchange. Students are also always welcome to attend and make public comments at our regular meetings.
Whose opinions (students, parents, school officials) should carry the most weight in establishing school policies?
I don’t believe that any one group should always carry the most weight in establishing policies; I think that the Board of Education needs to weigh a lot of factors related to the particular subject, the laws and regulations surrounding an issue, and often the age of the students involved. There are many times when state law or regulation dictates how the school district must operate. There are other times when the particular characteristics of our community are much more influential in how policy is developed. Ultimately, it is important for a member of the Board of Education to research a topic, and seek information from a multitude of sources before determining the final course of action.