By Editorial Board Published on October 29, 2015 www.syracuse.com
The Syracuse Media Group editorial board is endorsing in selected races this election cycle.
It would be difficult to overstate the challenges facing the Syracuse City School District.
New York state has given the district one to two years to turn around 18 failing schools or risk having an outsider take them over. The state attorney general determined the district's discipline policies violated students' civil rights, leading to a new code of conduct and an outside monitor.
And while district administrators tout an increasing graduation rate, four in 10 students still don't graduate by August of their senior year.
Voters are looking for new school board leadership offering fresh perspectives for the district of 21,000 students. We believe those leaders are Raymond Blackwell, Caleb Duncan, Mark Muhammad and Katie Sojewicz.
The four come from diverse backgrounds with a broad range of talent and experiences, which will serve them well as the board negotiates a delicate alliance with Superintendent Sharon Contreras. The state named the superintendent receiver of the district's failing schools, granting her broad powers to make changes without board approval. But she also serves at the board's pleasure.
Among the two youngest candidates, Blackwell and Duncan are running together on the Green Party ticket. They are recent graduates of the city's schools and see education from a different side of the prism, casting a more realistic light on the student experience in Syracuse.
Blackwell, 26, overcame the siren song of a gang to graduate from Fowler High School. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree from Long Island University and a master's degree from Syracuse University. He promises a practical approach, pushing the district to create more vocational and technical training to move students swiftly from schools to well-paying jobs in the community.
Duncan, 19, is a 2014 Henninger High School graduate, founded a student union in high school and served as a student representative on the code of conduct task force that resulted in the current discipline code. His thoughtful responses to the editorial board's questions show that he's ready to take his place at the table.
Muhammad, 55, a Democrat, has been on the board since January, when he was appointed by Mayor Stephanie Miner to fill a vacancy. He is a college professor at Onondaga Community College and Syracuse University, and also a minister in the Nation of Islam. State receivership gives the district an opportunity to try new ideas, and the resources needed to implement them, to benefit students in the failing schools and elsewhere in the district, he said.
Sojewicz, 43, also a Democrat, has the closest ties to the district. She is a former Syracuse teacher and the mother of three students who attend J.T. Roberts K-8. Her goal is to cut class sizes, which would give students more individualized attention and lessen the burden on the teaching staff. She also wants to cut the number of administrators hired by the district.
We think our choices are stronger than the other newcomers running -- -Dan Romeo, 25, Rita Paniagua, 53,and Latoya Allen,30. Incumbent Max Ruckdeschel's experience did not outweigh his ambivalence about the district's prospects. He is 34. Three board members whose terms are not yet up will provide stability.
Blackwell, Duncan, Muhammad and Sojewicz have the vision to bring about the change needed to help Syracuse's students succeed.
More resources for the Syracuse School District 2015 school board race.
Why we endorse candidates
The purpose of an editorial endorsement is to provide a thoughtful assessment of the choices voters face in an election. The editorial board operates independently and separately from news coverage. We rely on the reporting of the news staff, as you do, for information about the candidates and their positions on issues. The board gains further insights through formal and informal contacts with the candidates.
We offer editorial endorsements to stimulate the public conversation and promote civic engagement. Voting is a privilege and an obligation of citizenship. That part is up to you.