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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 22, 2010
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND “I don’t have a personal agenda,” says Gloria Towle-Hilt, a retired Farnsworth Middle School teacher who is seeking a second three-year term on the school board.
“I ran as a former teacher, hoping to bring that perspective to the board. I have learned a tremendous amount on the other side of the fence.
“I’ve developed respect for the role of the board of education and for my fellow board members. We don’t always agree but I always feel listened to and respected. The other members have taught me about dedication and about being open and honest.”
She said, even if she isn’t elected to another term, she is grateful for the three years the voters gave her.
On the role of a school board member, Towle-Hilt said, “I wouldn’t be running for a seat if it was not for the Guilderland community’s desire to provide a solid education for its kids. Without the kids, there is no need for a board of education,” she said, and, similarly, there is no need for teachers, staff, or administrators.
“Providing them with a solid foundation is everyone’s goal,” she went on. “We need the support of everyone. Their needs have to be taken into account to get to our primary goal the children.”
On the next superintendent, Towle-Hilt said, “I would look for someone with a vision and with strong leadership skills.”
She defined “vision” as “having an idea of what an excellent school system is like but being open to other possibilities.”
For leadership, she said, “Communication skills are key” and the superintendent must know how to delegate as opposed to micro managing.
The superintendent should be someone who not only says he or she believes in shared decision-making but engages in it, Towle-Hilt said, noting, “It can be a little messy.”
She expects a good candidate would have investigated Guilderland’s history but need not “know Guilderland in and out.”
For length of term, she said, “A good three to five years is needed to make a vision a reality. You have to get people to own the vision. Trust takes time to build.”
About the superintendent’s role in relation to the board, Towle-Hilt said, “Some people outside of education say the superintendent is like a CEO. I see it more as a partnership….That relationship needs to be built in respect to each other’s roles. Each has to work in partnership to develop a common vision, built on honest, open, and often communication. That’s especially true in Guilderland, which has a long, valued history of shared decision-making.”
Towle-Hilt voted for and strongly supports the $87.4 million budget proposal. “I believe it’s a product of many hours of work by numerous individuals,” she said. “It’s an excellent reflection of the many concerns voiced by residents, a reflection of concerns of staff, a reflection of concerns of students, and a reflection of the board’s input. It’s a budget that shows people were listened to.”
She said the budget process was “transparent.” She added, “If we had a few more million [dollars] in revenue, I would like to restore some of the things we had to cut.”
If the budget were to be voted down, Towle-Hilt said she would like to look at it again, make changes, and have a second budget vote.
“Putting up the same budget sends the message we’re digging in our heels. We have to respect the vote of the community,” she said, adding she wouldn’t move to a contingency plan right way since that takes the decision-making out of the hands of the community.
On the tax hike, Towle-Hilt said, “I think 4 percent is a watershed number historically.” She said research from the New York State United Teachers shows “there’s a limit and 4 percent is like a magic number.”
Towle-Hilt said that, since she was hired by the district in 1971, she realized, “You are working for people that really care about education.” She concluded, “Depending on how severe economic times are…I think the community would support more than 4 percent, but the board would have a tough time with that.”
On contracts, Towle-Hilt responded, “I don’t think it is helpful to say, ‘There will be no raises.’ It entrenches people.
“We have a great collective bargaining history here, working through problems….Our teachers are not ostriches with their heads in the sand. They know what we’re dealing with and are dealing with the same kind of issues themselves.”
She concluded, “I have faith in the collective bargaining process. I would prefer we not posture or take positions.”
On full-day kindergarten, Towle-Hilt said, “I do support full-day K.” She noted that, last year, she was one of two board members who wavered until the last vote to adopt the move to the full-day program. “I do believe it has been a great investment, but I realize, since it is not mandated yet, it will always be subject to review.”
Towle-Hilt believes that, if it had not been for the state’s fiscal crisis, full-day kindergarten would have been mandated.
“I’m not saying I will never vote to go back to half-day,” she said, “but I don’t think we’re at the wall now, and we don’t need to make the sacrifice at this time.”
On teaching assistants, Towle-Hilt said, “The TAs are an integral and valuable part of the education program. There’s no denying that. It allows teachers to create a student-centered classroom with great individualization of programs.”
Noting that the district’s five elementary schools and the middle school feature classes with students of mixed abilities, Towle-Hilt said, “The success of teaching in a heterogeneous class works because we have teaching assistants. Without them, we would have to revamp our curriculum.
“We need to look at how the program is structured. Until that thinking has been done,” she said, cuts shouldn’t be made.
Towel-Hilt concluded, “I don’t like to make these decisions just based on budget…We have to look at how we’re delivering program.”