Please read the statements below from our SLT parent candidates, and vote during our PTA meeting and Officer/SLT election on Oct 29th, 2020. (Statements are in no particular order.)
My name is Vanessa Banigo. I am a parent to Amaru (5th grade) and Ikiote (3rd grade). Since joining the school in 2018, I have been very active in the school community and the classroom, including the following;
- Ran two after school clubs (arts and crafts)
- Class parent for 1st grade
- Lunchtime monitor
- Volunteer for Around the World
- Volunteer for Meet the Author event
- Volunteer for Pandemonium (typed up Pandemonium poems)
- Attended class trips
- Attended school events
I am also active as a board member at the local Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
I also ran a free weekly free-writing club during pandemic summer months. The club gave children a chance to express themselves and be sociable at such an unsettling and lonely time.
My school and local community participation thus far has been a great way to understand the PS321 school culture and the hard work/resources of the parents that support it.
I am from the UK originally, and my husband is American and Nigerian. We raised our children in Nigeria before moving to the USA two years ago. As you can imagine, we have experienced some challenges integrating into school life. We have also directly benefited from the work of the SLT.
Now I would like to give back by joining the SLT myself. I have had the opportunity to sit in on a previous SLT meeting, which I enjoyed very much, and also to speak with other parents on the SLT about the role. I also attended the last SLT election and listened to all the candidates.
I aim to continue its great work in discussing challenges in social-emotional learning and implicit bias. I wish to help find more ways to support children in a rapidly-changing world.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Tara Schwartz (IEP position):
My name is Tara Schwartz, and I am the mother of a 4th grader and a 1st grader at P.S. 321. It is my sincere hope that you cast your vote for me to join the School Leadership Team for P.S. 321. Here’s why I believe that I will be the right fit for this position and hope to earn your vote:
- I’ve been committed to doing all that I can to help P.S. 321 since my child walked in the door as a Kindergartner in the fall of 2016. I began volunteering for the PTA almost immediately, co-chairing our Spring Gala and Auctions for two years (“The Breakfast Club” in 2017 and “Ziggy Stardust” in 2018). Using my knowledge as an executive and event producer in the social responsibility world, and my passion for helping our school, I worked alongside incredible co-chairs to create two wonderful events. I also had the privilege of chairing our “Teacher Appreciation Day” Parisian Café in 2019 and serving as the class PTA liaison for three years, and have volunteered at countless events to support the incredible PTA members who work so hard to make our community great.
- I understand that all children have different needs! I am the mother of both a general education student and a child with an Individualized Education Program. Through my family’s own experience, I have come to truly understand the nuances that make up the school experience for each child and how those small details can create different experiences — even for children within the same family — inside the walls of P.S. 321. Because of this unique lens, I believe I can be a voice that will advocate and help shape decisions for all the unique individuals that walk through the P.S. 321 door (physically or virtually!) and make up our wonderful student body.
- Creating inclusive and equitable environments for kids and families to live, learn and play is what I do for a living. Literally! I have spent the past 20 years of my career in community relations and social responsibility in the sports and entertainment industry, using the power of sport as the ignition to unite people and make a difference in communities around the world, from Johannesburg, South Africa to Jamaica, Queens. Most importantly, I have learned how to harness the power of multi-pronged partnerships to move and create meaningful change. This experience will be the most helpful in working closely with other parents, teachers and administrators to make the best choices we can for P.S. 321, collectively.
- I LOVE P.S. 321! I’m not sure how else to write it! I love the community we have all created and understand how much work it takes to make it such a special place for our children and their families. I am insanely grateful to the teachers and staff, and admire their commitment to show up every day (physically and virtually!) to share their knowledge and create safe learning spaces so each member of the P.S. 321 community can show up with their whole selves. My passion for this school is endless, and I KNOW that if you elect me to the School Leadership Team I will give all that I can give to continue to the legacy of involvement and community that has come before me.
Thank you for your consideration. I hope to work on your and your child’s behalf very soon!
Nilda Velez Solomon:
I’m Nilda Velez Solomon, a new 321 parent to kindergartner Rose Velez Solomon, and I’m applying to be a member of the SLT because I would like to contribute to the 321 community directly with my experience as a career educator and focus our efforts on leading for racial equity.
I began teaching as a NYC Teaching Fellow in 2003 and my experience includes teaching in the Bronx and Brooklyn, in elementary and middle schools, and in DOE and charter schools. I am currently an academic dean at a middle school and have served the Bushwick community for over a decade. My current role includes empowering our families and the critical racial and social justice work that the pandemic has put into stark relief. I have worked with my school’s mutual aid group to address food insecurity, tech needs, and the mental health needs of the school and surrounding community. I am a member of the school’s leadership team and because my role centers families, I imagine my current work is similar to the SLT’s priorities.
I hope to contribute to the 321 community through the SLT by connecting directly with other families and representing their needs and interests. I also hope to advocate for anti-racist practice through the curricula and direct connection with the Park Slope and other Brooklyn communities who may benefit from true mutual aid. This is important to me because I am eager to see 321 manifest the values that I demonstrate to my daughter and that guide the work I’ve done in education for the last 17 years.
I have experience advocating for families, organizing large teams, leading mission-driven work, and I am fluent in Spanish. I thrive on adaptive leadership and serving others.
My name is Christine Green, and I am interested in serving on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). My son, Henry Jarrett, is in first grade, and we have been a part of the PS 321 community for the past two years.
Last year I served on the Meet the Writers Committee and volunteered for the Book Sale. In addition to ensuring the school community benefitted from excellent, diverse writers, I helped by making baked goods to show our appreciation and create a welcoming environment for the teachers and writers. During the Book Sale, I organized hundreds of books and assisted the student shoppers.
My experience within the PS 321 community has been a warm one. I would like to play a role in fostering that warmth and inclusiveness in the broader school community. My interest in the SLT stems from my strong desire to ensure all students feel welcome at PS 321 and that their learning (social emotional and academic) is rich.
I believe my personal and professional experiences could enrich the SLT. Guided by my commitment to social justice, I have volunteered with organizations that aim to improve New Yorkers’ lives. Most recently, I served on the board of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), the first supermarket-style food pantry in the country. At WSCAH, the organization’s focus is on lifting New Yorkers out of poverty, not only providing emergency food and social services. This experience included fundraising, committee management, hiring an executive director, HR matters, and strategic planning.
Professionally, I am an attorney serving a non-profit that provides leadership development in civic engagement to a diverse movement of leaders who are working to eradicate educational inequity. Areas of my work that I find most relevant to the SLT’s role include advising senior management on practices and policies that foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment, working collaboratively across lines of difference, and fostering educational equity in public education. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I was a public school third grade teacher. So, I have a deep appreciation for the classroom experience, school culture, and the imperative of strong school leadership.
Ultimately, I hope to join the SLT because of my commitment to ensuring all kids receive an excellent education in a diverse and inclusive environment, where joy prevails.
My name is Denell Downum and I am the mother of Eleanor and Vivian Pitchal, who are currently in the 4th and 1st grades, respectively, at PS 321. I have loved being a member of the PS 321 community over the past four years, and now I hope to be able to give back to the school and the community by serving on the School Leadership Team (SLT).
The pandemic has posed enormous challenges for our school and for our families. As an educator myself, with over a decade of experience teaching literature and writing at the college level, I know just how hard it is to have to suddenly change curricula and teaching methods. I lived that experience this past March when my college, Montclair State University, moved abruptly to fully online delivery, requiring me to completely revamp my classes in less than one week’s time. As a parent, I also know the burden (as well as the occasional joy) of supporting my children in their own remote learning, struggling with online platforms that don’t always work and a learning experience that has been a particularly difficult fit for my younger daughter.
These experiences, and the lessons I’ve learned from them, would shape my contribution to the SLT, as would my lifelong commitment to education and my deep appreciation for our school. My main goals are as follows:
- to support the school’s administrators, teachers, and staff in developing solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic
- to contribute to the conversation about how to make remote and hybrid learning equitable, recognizing that these modes are more challenging for some students than for others
- to advance the important work under way at the school surrounding issues of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism
- to make sure that all of our kids are encouraged to excel and enabled to receive the foundation they need to be successful at higher levels of education and beyond
Over the past four years, I have enjoyed volunteering for projects like chaperoning field trips and giving presentations in my daughters’ classrooms, and I have also served on the Youth Committee for the After School program at Congregation Beth Elohim. This year, I hope to expand my contribution to the PS 321 community by bringing my voice, my energy, and my commitment to the SLT.
My name is Emily Rubenstein. I am a 3rd generation New Yorker, my husband considers himself a New Yorker after 20 years, and this is our fifth year as members of the PS321 community. Our daughter Sarah is in 4th grade, and our daughter Maya is in 2nd.
From the time Sarah started in Kindergarten we’ve enjoyed being a part of the warm and dedicated PS321 community. As my husband and I both work full time, we are continually impressed by how the school families and staff have provided a safe space for our children to grow and feel supported.
Last year, I was eager to become more involved, so I volunteered to serve as fundraising co-chair for the PTA. I gained a deep appreciation of the tremendous work that our school demands in “normal” times.
My time on the PTA also coincided with a cascading set of urgent challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic: reinforcing the school’s commitment to DEI; preserving financial support for the school in a time of dramatic scarcity; keeping families informed as circumstances shift constantly and rapidly; helping parents balance their families’ health, social, emotional and educational needs. This unusual year has given me a clear view of all the ways the school and the community rely upon each other.
As a parent of two young girls, I am particularly interested in how the school addresses social emotional learning. Our children have been lucky to have the support of so many incredible staff and teachers as they navigate the world of evolving friendships and big emotions. I am thrilled at how the school has incorporated SEL into the curriculum and classroom work.
In my professional life, I have focused on public policy, urban resiliency, and project management in the public and non-profit sectors. I have decades of experience managing and developing effective programs and helping organizations achieve their objectives when resources may be scarce.
My PTA experience working with the school’s budget would make me an effective advocate on the SLT. I also look forward to the opportunity to build on the SEL work the school has pursued, and support the school’s efforts to leverage technology for learning and community building.
Our family has been active in the life of PS 321 since 2011, when our oldest son, Elijah, started kindergarten there. I remember vividly how joyful it felt to join the morning flood of parents and children around our neighborhood as they poured down the streets toward 321. He’s now in high school, but our youngest, Asher, is currently in second grade, and so we still feel the magnetic pull of this magical school. Over the years, I’ve been a lunch monitor, a kindergarten science “teacher,” a member of the “Meet the Writers” committee, and our family (particularly my husband Michael) was very involved in the opt-out anti-testing movement as it first took hold at 321.
One of my passions has been bringing greater awareness and celebration of the diversity of the students and families at 321. As a professor of LGBTQ history — and part of a two-dad family — that passion has expressed itself in various ways. Several years back, I was an active member of the diversity committee at school. Two years ago, I joined a group of parents as we taught a bit about LGBTQ Pride to our kindergarteners. And last year, a colleague and I began working with the 4th and 5th grade teachers on ways to incorporate LGBTQ content into their social studies curriculum. Continuing that emphasis will be important to me as part of the SLT.
But these last months have demonstrated vividly how central our public schools are for our city as a whole. They not only nurture and educate our children, but, by extension, they weave us all together into local communities. That role is vital. And so I am especially drawn to the SLT this year because I want to put greater energy in supporting 321 as we navigate these unprecedented times. As the New York Times wrote this past week, the pandemic experience is driving changes in education — and exposing problems — that we will be wrestling with for a long time to come. I’d like to be part of the effort of addressing questions like how we maintain the quality of our schools as city budgets are cut; how 321 can help to drive greater equity in our public school system; how technology can be used in ways that expand our kids’ learning without losing the intimacy of teaching; and how our curriculum can stay attuned to the ever-changing diversity of our city.
321 is such a wonderful school and community institution, and I am eager to help support it more directly as we face these pressing issues.