Oct 06, 2011 Walt Shepperd Uncategorized
Candidates for a November ballot display their campaign styles in the annual Westcott Cultural Festival parade by how they wave, who they wave to, who they might step out of line to schmooze, and ultimately whether they hug. This year one of the huggers, Democrat school board candidate Michelle Mignano reflected afterward on being caught up in the spirit of the Westcott Nation. It’s a spirit that carries over to her door-to-door campaigning, providing the kind of energy needed to maintain passion, and remain excited about the issues which appear, at times, insoluble in dealing with our educational system.
A first time candidate, she says she’s running, along with three ballot mates for the four open seats on the board, because with a new superintendent who appears to work outside the box, there’s a real opportunity for change, and she doesn’t want to see it squandered. “Door to door,” she observes, “I find people not swimming in money. We don’t have excess funds to do all the creative stuff. I want to be there to support ways the community can work together to do the creative stuff without taxing ourselves.”
Active in her party’s 19th Ward committee, Mignano has heard people talk about a school board tenure as a springboard to higher office. “But recently,” he notes, “clearly no one has utilized that. I’m not looking to move on. This is politics with the big P, and you have got to want to do that. You have got to want to enter that fight, the fight to make education in our community better.”
The how of that, however, comes with a big H. Metropolitanization, perhaps? “It could be,” she says. “We’re a long way away from dealing with that, and I don’t want to take anything off the table, but if you ask the teachers, they’re going to tell you it’s not a dramatic change, it’s let the teachers teach. ‘Let us do what we have to do. Let us have the kids for another hour.’ They need connectivity with the kids. They ask if they get moved around too much how can kids make connections, fundamental long term connections.”
Is the Say Yes program part of the how? “In very general terms,” she maintains, “Say Yes is dong the things that are necessary for our demographic in the city. You have kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged to a level that a lot of middle-class suburbs will never even understand. They can’t even understand how our kids may not be able to pull themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps because they don’t have boots, or they don’t know where the straps are, and they might get beaten down for even trying.
“Mentoring, after school programs, summer programs, social services, access to the families for services are all fantastic things, which will ultimately help our students have a chance. It has been shown to help a cohort of classes, but needs to be given a couple of years to see it’s making strides for the entire system. What’s a little scary to me is the funding stream down the road.”
Three-time New York Press Association Writer of the Year, Walt Shepperd is a weekly columnist with The Eagle.