Monday, April 30, 2018

Valerie Samn's Answers to Common Questions

I am running for the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2018.

This year is an especially challenging time with many crucial decisions to be made. How will we improve school safety? What are our next steps with our contract with the Superintendent? How can we ensure educational excellence while being fiscally responsible while taxes are skyrocketing. 

Here are my answers to questions about my background and general approach to work in education. 

What is your background?

I am a life-long educator. As an undergraduate, I was heavily involved in the MIT Educational Studies Program, in which I was (miraculously) allowed to found and run a residential program for high school students.

I decided make a career of education, and I spent four years in a doctoral program in Cognition and Learning at Teachers College. From there, I joined the NYC Department of Education, first as a high school math teacher and staff developer. Now I have been with the DOE Central in the Office of School Performance for over five years. I am certified in NYS as a School Building Leader (SBL) and School District Leader (SDL).

How will you help New Rochelle achieve educational excellence?

I believe that the key to educational excellence is to allow practitioners as much freedom as possible to apply their expertise towards implementing the district's vision, while holding them accountable through concrete processes that establish open dialogue, monitoring of outcomes, and continuous improvement. 

My vision is that CSDNR will be able to create sustainable systems to ensure the following for all schools:
  • Academic Rigor and Social-Emotional Growth
  • Equity and social justice
  • Data-driven and research-based practices
  • School accountability, including effective communication

What experience do you have with school budgets? 

My experience with school budgets comes from my training and internship to become certified as a school principal and district leader. I am confident that this introductory experience,  combined with my strong analytical skills, and willingness to learn from experts, will allow me to hit the ground running as a board member.

What do you feel are the most pressing needs in our school district?

There is a concern that the district has been letting things slip for too long. This is either the result of a lack of internal accountability, poor communication or a combination of both.

The BOE needs to establish systems of accountability to ensure that strategies are implemented, and when they are, that they meet the district’s objectives. This includes:
  • Coming to a common understanding of what “Success” looks like in every area,
  • Monitoring and measuring outcomes, and
  • Being reflective and continually improving processes
There also needs to be an improved dialogue between the district and the community. The district needs to improve communications with parents, both about one-off incidents, as well as responding to larger concerns. More thinking needs to be done around how we can best leverage social media and other tools to more efficiently disseminate accurate information on a timely basis, and allow more voices to be heard. As a community, we need to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue, and make an effort to tap into the wealth of knowledge and expertise in New Rochelle. Great ideas can come from anywhere.

What would you bring to the BOE?

I am a relentless problem-solver with a diverse array of experiences in the field of education. I strive to meet as many needs as possible, as efficiently as possible, and at times with out-of-the-box solutions. I seek truth and research-based best practices. I do my best to remain open-minded because, to find the best solutions, one must be willing give up one’s own ideas for those that better fulfill the mission and vision of the New Rochelle Schools.

What do you think of Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice?

I support high-quality implementations of Restorative Practices because it is a research-based, coherent framework that can address several issues at once: a positive school culture, social-emotional growth, and school discipline. Lessons learned through Restorative Practices  also support classroom discussion, so it can have direct academic benefits as well.

I tend to prefer coherent strategies that serve multiple purposes. While they can take significant effort at first, they ultimately take less of a toll on staff and administration. Once capacity is built, a coherent strategy ultimately reduces expenses in the future.

What are your thoughts on school safety?

I support strategies that include a strong  component of social-emotional learning and that promote a positive school environment. Strategies in the area of school safety are prone to risk the worsening of the school-to-prison pipeline and racial discrimination, so I would want to ensure that these issues are considered when implementing a strategy, and they are closely monitored to ensure equity and efficacy.

Will you be able to convince the board of your ideas, such as Restorative Practices?

I do not intend to try to “convince” the board or anyone else about any specific strategy in any school. This is because principals and    district administrators are the ones with deep knowledge of the needs of the students in their own schools. They must be the ones to select and implement strategies aligned to the district’s goals and vision established in the Strategic Roadmap.

Instead, the BOE needs to establish systems of accountability to ensure that what the district chooses to implement are demonstrably achieving the vision outlined in the Strategic Roadmap. To achieve effective accountability, a healthy dialogue must be established between the BOE, district/schools, parents, and the community.


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Valerie Samn's Answers to Common Questions

I am running for the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2018. This year is an especially challenging time with many crucial decisions to...