Irvington Residents Sought Change with the Election of New School Board Members

Sarah Silverhardt is an Irvington High School Senior. She has been an intern at River Journal over the past four weeks.

On Tuesday, May 19, 2009, Irvington residents flooded polls at the Main Street School to vote for two candidates for the Irvington School Board for the next three year term.

Board President was the key position and running for re-election was Tanya Hunt; on the opposing side, Robyne Camp, a member of the Irvington district.

Hunt, a parent and resident of the Irvington district, first became involved in the School Board a couple of years back. "I wanted to look at how I could volunteer within the community. I knew I didn’t want to go back to work, so I began to take further interest in the PTSA, IEF and to attend School Board meetings," Hunt explained.

Aspiring to make a difference, be involved and have a better understanding of what was going on throughout the community, Hunt continued attending meetings and being active for a year and a half. "In the spring of 2006, two weeks before the Board member election, Paul Mandel spoke with me and suggested that I run. Even though it wasn’t the timing I had planned, my skills were a good fit for the job, so I ran for the Board that year."

During her term, Hunt was very successful and had a remarkable impact on the Irvington community. One of her main focuses while in office was to find out, "What do other districts do?" With that question in mind, in February 2007 Hunt established a group of Board members from every Rivertown which met every six weeks to exchange information about their communities. The group eventually expanded to include superintendents, business staff and curriculum members. "I was able to establish an open and collaborative tone in terms of communicating with the Irvington district, other districts and the Board. The best thing I did was establish that type of atmosphere," Hunt said.

The goals were to begin to establish partnerships within the various districts and to share costs among numerous programs, "For me, it was a clear and obvious opportunity. I didn’t just talk — I did something. I got the districts to talk to each other in a way they hadn’t before," said Hunt.

Overall, Hunt believed that the best way to keep Irvington prospering and improving was to find the balance that provides the best educational services to the school district at a price the community can afford. "Education gives children the opportunities you can’t get anywhere else. Excellent education is the "peaking point" to success in life," Hunt said.

But even with all of Hunts’ hard work, efforts and accomplishments throughout her three-year term, the results showed that Irvington residents desired change. With an impressive 801 votes, Camp scored the position of President of the School Board.

"I was very surprised," Camp said. "I talked to two people before the polls closed, a current and former PTSA president. I told them that if I was not elected, I would run again next year. I did not expect to be elected, but it was a wonderful surprise."

Camp first became involved a couple of years ago when she agreed that Irvington’s property taxes were too high. During that time, the School Board had proposed a bond issue to put artificial turf on the athletic field. After the proposal, Camp became very involved with the matter and opposed the idea, because of both financial and ecological issues.

Camp couldn’t have stood her ground and expressed her strong opposing views without the help of Linda Leary, an Irvington resident, friend and her campaign manager. "The biggest surprise was the number of votes — I felt as though Robyne was the long shot. But the residents listened and paid attention and, in the end, people wanted change," said Leary.

Leary explained that as concerned residents, she and Camp were jointly passionate about this issue and worried during the economic meltdown. At first the two were concerned that other residents didn’t feel the same. Since they no longer had children in the district, they were uncertain about how parents and other taxpayers felt. In the end, though, a majority of the residents sided with the pair and the bond was defeated. "The citizens went way out and we proved that the Board made a misjudgment," said Leary.

The field initiative served as the kick-off for a long race ahead. After that, Camp decided to run for President of the School Board. She went door-to-door, personally connecting with residents and telling them honestly where she stood on particular matters. Camp explained that she was happy to hear concerns and take advice.

Camp is truly a candidate focused on education. "The quality of education is not as good as it should be. I want the students to have the best possible education and I want Irvington to be a premier school district." As for the athletic field, she feels it still needs to be repaired but nothing is proposed at the moment and they, as a Board, need consultation from professionals. Another issue Camp hopes to address is listening to the concerns of the community and the parents. "Parents feel as though they have been shut out and don’t have enough say. Overall, their concerns aren’t heard. I want to listen more and help them with current issues," said Camp.

"So far, I have toured all four Irvington schools and have received a lot of feedback from multiple groups of parents regarding the education in the district. I have also spoken with numerous residents and have several ideas for improvement," explained Camp.

Leary, Camp’s campaign manager, believes that "the underlying issues are to improve the way our students are being educated (K-12), and to be in control of wasteful spending." The team shares the views of researching the most effective teaching methods and presenting them to the Irvington schools. On another note, Leary reasons that students aren’t getting the education they deserve and need for their futures. SAT scores show that Irvington is in the 66th percentile. "Our students are getting short-changed," Leary said.

Prepared to be fully dedicated towards the town, the Camp and Leary team believes that their "sheer passion will help to correct the schools." Now that the new Board has as its President an active member of the community who is not a parent, the residents can expect change and more of a balance between the two "sides."

"In the future, I plan to have virtual office hours about concerns or issues that I should be aware of. I hope that people will call or email so that improvements can be made," said Camp.

Leary said, "Robyne and I thought throughout the campaign, that this is the greatest experience we could be going through."

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About the Author: Sarah Silverhardt