Schenectady board member, colleagues trade criticism


SCHENECTADY — Freshman board member Jamaica Miles apologized to her colleagues if she had ever “overly criticized the board in a disrespectful way.”

She also denied that she is using students to advance her agenda and warned the board to be ‘strong in your justification for overriding the voters of this town’ if they intend to try. to get her off the panel.

That warning and his impassioned remarks at Wednesday night’s board of education meeting came in response to a letter of criticism dated April 12 that Miles said he received from board chair Cathy Lewis and the Board Vice Chairman Bernice Rivera “for what we believe to be matters demonstrating poor judgment.”

“We have serious concerns regarding several of your recent actions, including related to your duties and responsibilities as a member of the Board of Directors, bringing them to your attention, our hope is that the actions will be corrected,” the statement said. letter, which Miles read. . “We aim to work collaboratively for the best interest of the district.”

The missive cited three instances, including two student protests in November and April, and the third related to Miles’ apparent criticism in March of an administrator for recognizing students for perfect attendance.

The community activist, elected to the council a year ago, addressed each incident and demanded respect from her fellow council members.

Miles, co-founder of All of Us Community Action Group, has openly opposed the district adding more police officers or community engagement officers to school buildings. Despite the refusal of her and other members of the community, the measure was approved by a count of 4 to 3 at the end of March.

At a board meeting earlier this month, Rivera chastised Miles for using impressionable minds to get his message and that of his organization across. She pointed to a Times Union article in which a student leader credited Miles with providing information that helped her make an informed decision about the protest.

“As a board member, I am concerned that students are prepped to participate in protests during the school day, which takes away valuable teaching time and teaching and support staff,” Rivera said. “It also worries me that students seem to be used to provide your organization, All of Us, with more media coverage.”

At the same time, Rivera noted that she strongly supports the “right to protest, stand up for and stand up for marginalized groups” and is all for racial equity and fairness.

“What disappoints and discourages me is the fact that a board member is apparently using students to promote his platform,” Rivera added. “It seems more the role of an opportunist than a board member and the public deserves more.”

Miles countered at the April 13 meeting that she did not control the media and that high school students were the ones who sought her input during the build-up to the student-led protest.

“They asked me questions and I answered them based on my skills, knowledge and understanding and over 10 years of experience in the organization,” she said, adding that she “was trusted by students, parents and faculty”.

She punctuated her remarks with a request for respect.

“I don’t think everyone on the board understands how difficult it is to repeatedly disrespect and remain civil… I expect the same respect and dignity as anyone else,” Miles said.

Lewis and Rivera’s letter accused Miles of undermining the board by participating in a high school protest in early November where some students upset about the new block schedule left the building and gathered around campus.

The document goes on to mention that Miles at a school board meeting in March “publicly criticized” a staff member for acknowledging students for perfect attendance.

“Board members are expected to support students in their achievements, any criticism of staff should be brought to the Superintendent of Schools as a staff matter to be dealt with accordingly, you have not”, the authors of the letter said.

Miles said his comments were directed at the superintendent and were about “our policy and practices as a district.”

Rivera and Lewis also alleged in their letter that Miles “facilitated and encouraged students to come out of class during the school day to stage a protest” and that she was “disparaging Ms. Lewis in the public forum with the students.”

“Your actions are inconsistent with your duty and obligation to work constructively and collaboratively as a member of the board,” the letter states. “The examples of your actions noted above are the opposite of this. We bring them to your attention in the hope of improving collaboration and moving forward productively in the best interest of the District.

On Wednesday, Miles said that after carefully reviewing Rivera’s letter and comments at the previous board meeting, “if at any point I expressed my disappointment or my concerns or I was too critical of the board in a disrespectful way, I apologize.”

“My passion and the importance of the issues may not have manifested in a way that members of this board are used to, but I always come forward with the priority of students, families and the community in the sense wide,” she added.

But she also questioned why board leaders hadn’t reached out to her sooner if they had issues with what she might have said in November and were genuinely interested in working collaboratively for the good of the school community.

She also took issue with Rivera’s comments that she was pushing an agenda or a platform.

She said that in November she was driving near the high school and stopped to see what was going on when she noticed students coming out. Miles insisted that she did not facilitate or encourage students to walk out of class during the school day during the April 6 high school protest against the addition of police to Schenectady schools and that she had simply “shared information with the students” when they commented on the vote.

“I don’t use students for profit, I’m insulted by the accusation and defamation of my character,” she said. “If it is the intention of this leadership of this body to remove me as a member, make sure you are solid in your justification for overriding the voters of this city.”

Login Abudalla, a senior at Schenectady High School, took Rivera to task over his comments about Miles’ influence on students.

“If you find it hard to believe that students have minds of their own, then you don’t know the students of this district at all,” Abudalla said.

She said Miles’ guidance actually went a long way in ensuring the April high school protest was orderly and not chaotic.

Rivera said Wednesday that she understands “how inspiring, important and valuable our students are.”

“I have dedicated my life to this so I would never want any of the students to think I was questioning their abilities, I see that every day.”

She spoke about her days as a teacher at Schenectady and her work with NYSUT allows her to see other districts in upstate New York that helped her become a school leader.

“What I do, I think of my own children, and every decision I make on this board is based on the fact that I consider all of my students, all of our Schenectady students, as my own children.”

“It’s important for us to work together, it’s important for us to collaborate, because that’s what we do here on the board.”


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