The six candidates running for Rochester School Board are all making their pitches to voters about why they’re the best person for the job.
Most recently, that took place at the Rochester Public Library during three candidate forums organized by the League of Women Voters.
The candidates include incumbent Don Barlow and candidate Justin Cook, who are both vying for seat 1; incumbent Deborah Seelinger and candidate Karen MacLaughlin for seat 3; and incumbent Mark Schleusner and candidate Jess Garcia for seat 7.
The questions covered topics ranging from inequity to finances, from the pandemic to grading, and from test scores to the relationship between the school board and the district’s superintendent.
In addition to all their responses to the questions, the candidates' broader remarks gave a general framework for how they view the role of being a school board member overall.
Cook spoke of the need to look long term in order to make the school district "worthy" of the city it’s located in. In his opening statement, he spoke of the importance of small schools as well as the value of K-8 options.
“I want to present a bold vision of Rochester as a center of excellence in public education,” Cook said.
Barlow and Seelinger, both current members of the board, spoke of their community experience. Seelinger said one of the reasons she’s running again is for continuity of service and that the job comes with a steep learning curve.
Schleusner, the third incumbent running for the board, spoke of being a “product of Rochester Public Schools.” He went on to refer to himself as a problem solver.
“I’ve spent a lot of time understanding complex systems; at the end of the day, the school board is absolutely a complex system,” Schleusner said.
Garcia and McLaughlin both addressed the issues of inequity in their opening statements. McLaughlin referenced the disparities in discipline data along racial lines, as well as equity in general; she repeatedly pitched her experience as an attorney as an asset to the school district. Garcia spoke about her experience working with underserved populations in her role as a psychologist and about how she’s “no stranger to discrimination (and) oppression.”
Some of the candidates answered questions by acknowledging the need to work within the existing framework while also finding new solutions: Can the district afford it, or will it weigh down the budget? Can the district do it or is it bound by the Department of Education?
At the same time, the candidates also spoke of the need to reimagine the educational system and reform that existing framework when it needs to be.
“What this pandemic has done is create an opportunity for us all to realize that there’s multiple ways for our students to achieve and to excel,” Barlow said. “Let’s not limit ourselves based on the models we have. Let’s look futuristically toward what can be.”
Seelinger gave a similar statement.
"COVID-19 has turned education upside down; but some of us have been saying for years, 'let's disrupt the system,'" Seelinger said.
The three forums weren’t the first time the candidates answered questions about their platforms. All of them also recently took part in a forum hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.