Hamden Election: Melissa A. Kaplan-Charkow For Board Of Training
HAMDEN, CT — The 2021 municipal election is heating up in Hamden with plenty of races on the ballot.
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 2 and cast their ballots for mayor, town clerk and seats on the legislative council and board of education.
Hamden Patch asked candidates to answer questions about their campaigns and will be publishing candidate profiles as election day draws near.
Democrat Melissa A. Kaplan-Charkow, 45, is running for re-election to the Hamden Board of Education.
Occupation: Interim Director Of The Honors Program At Quinnipiac University
Experience: Board of Education
Family in government: No
The single biggest issue in town is ______, and I plan to do this about it:
Critical to leadership on the BOE is transparency and relational trust building. The community and Hamden Government Offices have a right to know what BOE and administration are doing and why — but focusing on activities that build trust is key, especially as trust is understandably low in Hamden where institutions have not adequately met people’s needs. It is critical to seek out multiple perspectives, to “see” people, to show competence, to follow through on our plans or to keep the dialogue open when plans unexpectedly change. The Mayor and Legislative Council must be part of an open dialogue if they are to fully understand our initiatives and support a sustainable budget. That is why I believe that forging a connection between Hamden’s leadership must not be a top down process. Previously, meetings between the Mayor and the BOE and LC happened at the chair level. Not only did this process exclude the voices of other town leaders, but it upheld the patriarchy. Everyone, I believe, needs to be invited and welcomed into these meetings if we are to have greater transparency and perspectives.
The BOE should also take advantage of social media, for example, for regular reporting of actions and insights, and be open to the feedback you hear. But that is just the beginning, the BOE must go on listening tours at each school and seek out feedback by meeting people where they are at. I believe that we should design an engagement plan to seek out multiple voices so as to identify the strengths, challenges, and opportunities, the voices of students, families, and staff of color are often missing. We also sometimes forget what we ought to be listening for, which is insight into how our schools are (or aren’t) working — its technical ways of working and its relational ways of working.
Nothing is more important than listening to students, especially students of color, students with disabilities, and other students who are marginalized. Trust and insight can only be gained by seeking out voices of those who have been disenfranchised as well as of those who are have knowledge and experience to share, listening, and building relationships. The BOE has the ability to support and put the Hamden community at ease through information flow and transparency, and but they can also provide a place for voice and influence.
Critical differences between me and my opponents:
I grew up in Connecticut, and was thrilled to move back while working on my doctoral degree when I took a position in the English Department and Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Quinnipiac University, where I currently hold the position of Interim Director of the QU Honors Program. My husband and I purchased a house in Hamden in 2005, and it is here that we have decided to raise our daughter and son. My children also attend Hamden public schools.
Because of my commitment to education as both a parent and educator, I have endeavored to become an advocate for our children’s education, equitable access to valuable learning opportunities, protecting and creating a safe and supportive learning environment for our most vulnerable students, and the policies and practices that will safeguard high levels of achievement for all students in our district.
Although I have never had the privilege of teaching elementary, middle, and high school students, my experiences teaching at the college level has enabled me to gain an understanding of the curricular strengths and pillars needed to prepare students interested in applying to undergraduate programs and by extension, vocational and technical degrees, as well as students joining the workforce upon graduation. As an academic, I believe that my qualifications and investment in student learning coincide with the goals of BOE curriculum committee. And as such, I am very interested in continuing my involvement with curricular and pedagogical development. I currently serve on the BOE’s Curriculum, Equity, and Personnel Committees.
My academic qualifications and experience on the BOE can only be deemed successful if I am meeting the needs of the entire Hamden community (and not the privileged few), making sure that all students and schools receive the support that they need, addressing systemic inequities by working tirelessly to dismantle them, holding the administration accountable for seeing the BOE’s vision through, and forging strong partnerships with stakeholders throughout the community.
Melissa A. Kaplan-Charkow is seeking re-election to the Board of Education as the endorsed Democratic candidate. She is currently chair of the curriculum committee and a member of the equity committee. Melissa teaches in the English Department and Women & Gender Studies Program at Quinnipiac University, and is the Interim Director of the Honors Program. Prior to the BOE, Melissa served as the Ridge Hill School PTA secretary and attended BOE meetings to advocate for an Epi Pen administration procedure policy in compliance with the CDC and the American Pediatric Association, and provided terminology and training programs related to a new policy that ensured a safe and anti-discriminatory learning environment for transgender and non-binary students. While serving on the BOE, Melissa tirelessly supports neurodiverse and special education services, a culturally responsive and inclusive curriculum, anti-racist pedagogy, LGBTQ+ affirmation and safe spaces in our schools. Among her most proud accomplishments are revising the dress code (which had been contributing to sexist and racist policing of students’ bodies), ensuring health classes include explicit discussions about consent, and creating the LGBTQ+ equity initiative. Melissa consistently advocates for greater economic parity and to close opportunity gap in elementary schools, and and has successfully fought to maintain the Family Resource Center at a Title I School which serves and supports under-resourced families.
1. Support for students during the pandemic. First and foremost, I believe the BOE must support, meet the needs of, and create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students. Education is not a line item on the BOE’s agenda—it is the only item. As life returns to “normal, ” schools need to continue to build out support for addressing housing and food insecurity and physical and mental health as an integral part of learning. We need to focus on building relationships. While it may be tempting to dive solely into content to make up for lost time, a sense of community must also be in place for learning to happen. Address student motivation. Schools may be able to use this time to emphasize pedagogical models that engage students more through deep relationships, learner agency, compelling instruction and learning rather than the typical toolkit of compliance. We should consider putting emphasis on and reorienting grades around the learning process itself.
2. Support for teachers during the pandemic. The pandemic has forced teachers and staff into roles as social workers and tech support. Teachers have reported concerns regarding student basic needs, and other trying situations such as parent job loss, evictions, a lack of food in child households, increased student anxiety, and increased parental stress. Teachers are listening to these stories daily, which could lead to symptoms of secondary trauma. Wrapped within this was a growing awareness of inequities that their students were facing regarding digital literacy, poverty, and access to various systems of support. Because teachers cannot solve these problems of inequity immediately, frustrations grow. But advocating for change amidst their own personal concerns regarding the pandemic and its impact on their own families is exhausting.
3. The BOE must ensure that students get equal opportunity to an equitable, quality, self-affirming education and to make sure that the budget is a reflection of this priority. Whenever there is a call to action about supporting vulnerable students, inclusivity, equity, and diversity, I believe, we must be intentionally intersectional. In order to continue doing this important work, I will lead with equity and work to make sure the needs of our most vulnerable community are fully supported. I will work with the administration to champion equity and view it as a dimension of excellence in decision-making.
A. Hiring: To this end, I believe the composition of our faculty should reflect the BOE’s commitment to inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. Hamden needs to work with the town and state and explore grants to increasing funding aimed at competitive recruitment of faculty of color for open positions. A racially diverse faculty signals future possibilities to our underrepresented students and further affirms their presence on in our schools. Diversity brings different perspectives and understandings and inspires new ideas and innovations. Hence, I believe that the BOE needs to work with the Hamden administration to further develop a faculty recruitment, retention and professional development plan, created with input from across Hamden, which emphasizes diversity, inclusion and support of faculty professional development.
B. Curriculum: Prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the K-12 curriculum, centers issues and conversations regarding race, sexuality, gender, ability, religion, and ethnicity; and these issues and conversations are crucial because they affect every single person, not only people who have been systematically and institutionally marginalized and oppressed. I am fully committed to working to make Hamden schools a place where all students, faculty and staff feel included, supported, protected and respected as valued members of this community.
C. Discipline: It is becoming more widely known that the potential for exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspension and expulsion) to reduce instructional time and lead to adverse outcomes. Correlations between student experience of exclusionary discipline and later negative outcomes (“school-to-prison pipeline”) are also coming to light in addressing the widespread impact of racial bias in school systems. Black students with disabilities lose three times as much instructional time from discipline as their white peers, according to a report in Education Week. Researchers and school psychologists found that when education is disrupted by long absences (such as expulsion), students with special needs are more likely to drop out from school and never complete a diploma, more likely to remain unemployed and economically dependent. I believe that through extensive professional development, working with anti-racist scholars and advocates, creating a school culture that values equity, diversity, and inclusion, we will improve our ability to acknowledge that racial biases and racial disparities in education go hand-in-hand — which research suggests may be an important step in resolving both of these social ills.
In addition, students with oppositional defiant disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression are often kids, like my son, who can’t sit still, who challenge their teachers, or who struggle with social interactions, among other behavioral challenges—all of which can look like deliberate misbehavior or defiance and, in turn, lead to disciplinary action. I will continue to work with the district special education team and Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SETPA) to support our neurodiverse students in a joint effort to ensure that both structural and individual needs are met.
What else would you like voters to know about you?
If re-elected, I hope to continue my work on some of the previously mentioned priories in addition to other goals that I yet to be addressed, such as:
1. meeting the individual needs of the special education students
2. maintaining and creating new policies that are non-discriminatory regarding gender, race, class, religion, ethnicity, and dis/ability and sexuality across our student population
3. creating equity (including greater access to enrichment opportunities and programs) amongst the different elementary schools in Hamden
4. desegregating the elementary schools
5. hiring faculty of color that more accurately represents the community of Hamden
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