Newly elected Riverhead School Board member Colin Palmer recently generated some buzz as the first member of the Suffolk County Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America to win an elected office in the county.
The longtime Riverhead native, a graduate of the district he now serves, joined the organization in 2016. Although he has been identified as a socialist since he was in high school, he said the national DSA is the first organization to which he joined and which identifies as socialist.
But that is not why Mr Palmer, whose family has lived in Riverhead since the 1830s, decided to run for the school board, especially since political parties generally do not take into account school board elections. He explained his decision in an interview with the Riverhead News-Review.
Q: What made you decide to run for the school board?
A: I decided to run earlier this year due to different things that happened last year – in particular, the district has decided to phase out the Latin program at Riverhead. I think it was a tough decision, but it was a decision that with enough time and effort can be reversed. And parents and students want there to be a Latin program in Riverhead. So I decided to run mainly for this and then I also ran to try to increase critical thinking education in the district. I feel like this is something that the community in general lacks. And with the schools where you prepare the students to be members of the community, I think it was important to try to make that change in the schools.
Q: When you plan to focus on critical thinking education, how do you see it playing out?
A: I know it’s going to be difficult, because I feel like people often politicize education and politicize things that have to do with critical thinking. But a big part of this is just giving students more opportunities to investigate what interests them and helping them realize that all topics are related. I think Riverhead has actually done a good job of trying to take courses – like math, science, literature, and social studies – and helping students realize that they are all interconnected by offering courses. somehow multidisciplinary courses. But I would like to see a lot more. And I think it actually builds on critical thinking, especially things like increased media literacy, more research-oriented courses, independent research that isn’t just – I think most of the Time, independent research is limited to science lessons – but I’m thinking of social science and history and literature, it’s actually a way to increase students’ understanding.
Q: Now that you’ve been elected, what are your priorities for the school district?
A: Right now, I think the main focus of counseling in general is just trying to figure out – now that next school year will be more of a post-COVID world – how to best deal with learning loss and also help us just mind getting into a more traditional school year. I spoke to teachers, even in other districts, who told me they felt like this last year hadn’t started in September. It all started when the pandemic struck. And I think a lot of students feel the same – that it’s been an incredibly long, a year and a half of a school year. Students also feel like they haven’t been able to do so much. So this is getting back to the heart of the matter, I think, this is the really important thing that we have to work on. And I think part of that will depend on what kind of programming we’re going to focus on. Because not everything can be traditional lessons in order to alleviate learning loss, or simply to face this new world in which we live.
Q: What are your ideas for bringing school back to a post-COVID world?
A: I think a lot of it will actually be working with other schools. I think sometimes we are a bit too closed as schools… We should think about working with other districts to develop programs, give students additional opportunities to work on projects and be part of programs with students that they wouldn’t normally do. work with. I think that would really help a lot.
Q: You are also the first member of the Suffolk County DSA to win an elected office in the county. What does this mean to you?
A: It is really humiliating. I think this means that the ideas that the DSA represents, especially democratic socialism, are not frightening fringe ideas; they are actually more common than many people realize. Most of the big issues supported by the DSA, a majority of Americans support them anyway. So I think it’s useful in normalizing the idea of electing someone on the left to an elected post in Suffolk County.
Q: Would you like to add anything about your term on the board or your priorities for the Riverhead School District?
A: I would say that anyone who cares about electing a socialist, I just want to make sure people know that I am not coming to completely upset the system or completely change the system. I am an elected official. I therefore represent the community. I represent people who voted for me and people who did not vote for me. But it is still important for me to vote my conscience and I have a feeling that I will vote in the minority many times in the school board and maybe even be the only dissenting vote on many issues. But whenever this happens, I will always explain my positions and make sure everyone knows that my positions come from a place of real conviction.