CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A virtual forum Monday for the nine candidates running to fill three seats on the Shenendehowa School District Board of Education made clear what a difficult time voters will face as they make their selections at the polls next week.

The forum was hosted by partnering organizations, the Shen Teachers Association and the PTA Council. The hourlong event drew more than 90 viewers, a number much larger than attendance at the last several in-person forums.

For the forum event, the moderators chose to ask two of five questions that had been posed to all the candidates previously. The first question asked each one to discuss why they had become a candidate.

That question is the same as one posed to all the candidates by this newspaper. Please see their written responses in this issue.

The second question posed to the candidates asked each how they feel the Board of Education should address socio-emotional needs of students in the district.

All nine candidates are highly educated, have lived for quite a number of years in the district, have, will have, or had children who attend Shen schools, and all want to give back to their community. The differences in their answers to the second question were slight.

All nine acknowledged in some way that the transition from what has been a year-long pandemic with its mix of in-person, virtual, and split scheduling instruction will take a toll on students and staff and that the district must prepare for that as it looks forward to September.

Candidate Jason DiGianni, one of two recently appointed incumbents, recognized the question as being a big one saying how the district must expect fallout as it transitions from pandemic mode to pre-pandemic mode.

“From a mental well-being aspect everyone has been touched,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out our new reality and bring the students in.”

Joseph Weber, the second of the two recently appointed incumbents, said the district must be flexible and patient with students and staff.

“It’s not one size fits all to address the socio-emotional needs of all students,” he said. “We’re going to have to rely on our professional staff.”

Candidate Meghan Chapin noted that good communication and doing proper assessments of students should be viewed as a must.

“There’s been no academic intervention this year for the kids and they need that,” she said. “We must listen to our stakeholders. It must be two-way communication.”

Candidate Ram Lalukota said the unknown was the biggest thing the district faced during the pandemic and it had done a wonderful job.

“Elementary, middle school, and high school kids all have different needs,” he said. “We need to form a partnership committee to come up with a plan and listen to the committee. We need a plan.”

Candidate Alfred Ives noted that no one thought schools would reopen last fall but they did.

“These (socio-emotional) needs must be solved as well as those concerns that were there before the pandemic,” he said.

Candidate Stacy Pflomm said it would be the simple things that might cause the biggest challenge as students returned to school full-time.

“Having all their friends around will be tough for some; some will be excited and some will have anxiety. We must approach it with kindness,” she said.

Three-term incumbent Robert Pressly said socio-emotional learning must occur at all school levels and that one of the areas he was excited about was the district’s move to block scheduling which had been done during the pandemic.

“As they return to school we must have a nurturing, safe environment,” he said. “By moving from the 40-minute classes, block scheduling will make school nurturing for students.”

Candidate Tom Templeton, a psychotherapist and mental health counselor, said he is already seeing evidence of socio-emotional needs of students in his practice.

“I think it’s difficult for young people to trust due to the pandemic,” he said. “Things don’t always go back to what they were before. Screening, same-day appointments, and collaboration with parents and school personnel will help.”

Candidate Kara Tubbs saw the question as one that should be at the forefront of any consideration for opening schools to full-time in-person instruction.

“The stigma needs to be removed,” she said. “The Board must offer support and resources. We need to help our students by bringing back norms. And we must catch up on the loss of learning from the past year so we will have to boost their confidence.”

The vote will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 18 in the Gowana Gym. Absentee ballots are available at the district office by calling the district clerk at 881-0623.

There will be three propositions on the ballot in addition to an opportunity to make selections for the Board of Education seats.

Proposition No.1 seeks approval for the proposed $187 million 2021-2022 district budget. Proposition No.2 seeks approval to purchase 17 school buses. Proposition No.3 seeks approval for a $26.5 million capital project.

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