In her own words: Rachel Gilliar For School Trustee

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Three years ago when I decided to run for the Port Washington Board of Education, the educational landscape felt troubled. Our schools were being squeezed between two very different pressures: providing a good education, and paying for it.

Parents (I, among them) wanted better communication from our schools, better education for our children, and more for our money. Parents wanted excellence in the core curriculum, while they also believed (I, among them) that education should encompass teaching children how to respond to their instincts to be creative and innovative thinkers, to be the people our nation and our world will need in the future.

Three years ago I promised voters I would dedicate myself to change, and I have. For example, I promised I would improve communication. The Board of Education’s morning meetings are now podcast, so community members can listen to our discussions at their convenience. We formed a website task force to make information easier to access. We added a district Facebook page and hired a new public relations firm.

I promised to advocate for the return of staffing for the enrichment program. With more PEP/e-steam teachers, the schools can provide more whole-class enrichment. This vital program was at risk this year from the financial shortfall from the state caused by the pandemic. I made it clear that gutting enrichment is not an option. With the same vigor, I will defend the arts, music, sports, auto shop, technology, and all the offerings outside the core curriculum that allow children to find their own gifts.

I promised to listen more.  I saw parents who were worried about being branded a squeaky wheel and parents worried about having their concerns dismissed. I have stood on street corners, at birthday parties, in the pool, and, once, in the middle of an ice skating rink to listen to my fellow parents talk about their experiences and seek my advice; I tell parents they have an absolute right to advocate for their children and to expect we will hear them.

I promised fiscal responsibility.  This year, I and my fellow trustees have voted for a budget with a tax levy increase of only 1.99 percent, well under the 3.36 percent levy that is allowed by New York State law.

The global pandemic of the year 2020 brought our schools to a screeching halt, as though a crevice opened in the earth, leaving the past behind us and no longer accessible across an unbridgeable chasm.

In response to the sudden closing of our schools, our district swung into action, first making sure the children who receive free and reduced lunches would not go hungry. The District provided nearly 750 iPads and Chromebooks to children in families with no such devices, all sanitized. The School District instituted professional development for our teachers and moved schooling for 5,395 children online.

To enumerate these tasks belies the complexity of each one and the army of effort it took to accomplish them. Change in education is usually slow, but now these things had to happen at breakneck speed.

I measure the challenge to our teachers on the same scale I measure the challenge to myself in these last few months. Each day is an experiment in living and learning. At the same time, I know how demanding this has been for parents because I, too, am living your reality.

With almost three months of remote learning behind us, some parents tell me they think the schools got it just right, while some parents are disaffected or downright angry.  I believe parents have different opinions because they are having different experiences for many reasons. Going forward, the school district needs to take responsibility for these disparities and make sure remote learning works for every student. This is an institutional problem.

Teachers are the linchpin of education. The District must support them, as they use the new platforms to connect with their students. Whether in-person or online, it is our responsibility as Trustees to make sure our schools have the tools to give every student an education as tailored as possible to their talents. Every student should have ready access to the support he or she deserves and the activities that set their minds alight. We must ensure their futures are kept on course and are not dimmed by crisis.

I have the experience to navigate these difficult times for our District. As a neighbor, a fellow parent, and a member of the Board of Education, you have put your trust in me. I will be honored to serve the Port Washington community for the next three years.

-Rachel Gilliar

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