Four run for four Guilderland School Board seats

GUILDERLAND — Four candidates are running for four seats on the Guilderland school board. The top three vote-getters will serve full three-year terms; the candidate who finishes fourth will fill out a two-year term.

Board President Christine Hayes is running for re-election, as is Vice President Seema Rivera. Hayes is an attorney, and Rivera is a professor.

Catherine Barber and Allan Simpson have decided not to run again.

Simpson had been appointed by the board to fill the seat vacated by then-vice president Christopher McManus, who resigned in November 2017, six months after he had been re-elected, citing increased work responsibilities.

The board appointed Simpson even though he had failed to win re-election six months earlier and had, in fact, finished last in a five-way race for three seats. Board members said they selected him because budget season was approaching and they needed someone familiar with drafting a budget. Simpson had served on the board since 2010 and is director of accounting operations at the New York State Insurance Fund.

Also running are economic planner Sean Maguire, who ran for the first time a year ago, coming in fourth in the five-way race for three seats, trailing McManus by just 20 votes.

The fourth candidate is Guilderland graduate Benjamin Goes, who, at 21, is now in his second year at Albany Law School.

Goes and Maguire were among the six people who applied in November for the appointment to McManus’s seat, which was ultimately filled by Simpson.

The nine members of the board serve the district at large and are not paid.

The issues

The Enterprise asked each candidate about these issues:  

— Standardized tests: There’s an ongoing controversy between “teaching to the test” and allowing teachers more freedom in creating their own curricula. Where do you fall on this spectrum, and why?

— Inclusion: The district is moving toward more inclusive classes, in which students of all levels, including those who have special needs and those who are the most advanced, are in the same classroom. What are the advantages and drawbacks, and where do you stand on the issue?

— Security: Is there more that you can or should be doing to ensure the safety of students while they are in the care of the school district?

Christine Hayes



Currently the board’s president, Christine Hayes is running for her third term on the board.

Hayes is associate counsel for Albany Medical Center, providing the hospital with legal advice and services in a variety of areas. She loves her work at Albany Med and says she doesn’t ever envision leaving.

She has lived in Guilderland for more than 25 years and graduated from Guilderland High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and history from The College of Saint Rose, a law degree from the New England School of Law, and a certificate of advanced study in education from Saint Rose.

Hayes is single and hopes one day to have children who will attend the district, she said.

She thinks standardized testing is necessary, to gauge the progress students are making, but says she is “troubled by the amount and the length.” Likewise, she is troubled by the amount of time teachers must spend preparing children for tests, taking time away from the kinds of “other enriching opportunities” they would like to be able to provide students.

Testing is necessary, but the amount of time spent on it and on preparing for it is excessive, she says.  

Asked about inclusion, Hayes said that students should be, and legally are required to be, placed in the least restrictive environment possible.

“It can be enriching for all the students in the classroom to be working together. That’s how it is when you get out into the real world,” Hayes said. “Everyone is together, learning from each other, and growing together.”

It’s important that kids see that same model at work early on, Hayes said, adding, “I don’t think anybody should be separated out. If they can excel in the regular classroom, that’s where they should be.”

Asked if inclusion is harder to implement in the high school, Hayes said that she knows that the district has moved forward with implementing the changes in a very deliberate way. There’s a lot of co-teaching, and educators in the district are very involved and know their students well, she said, and are able to create a learning environment that works for everyone. It’s different from the primary grades, she said, “But from what we’ve been told, I think it’s successful.”

She wants to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard on this issue, she said.

Hayes decided to run again this term after spending some time thinking over her priorities at work and on the school board. She thought, “If I can make this work, I really would like to,” she said of her work on the board. “I enjoy the work of the school board and I feel like I’m learning a lot, and I enjoy working with my colleagues there. So I’m happy to be able to give it another try.”  

School safety is a top priority for the board, for students, and for the community and other stakeholder groups, she said, referring to a community survey a year ago, in which safety was found to be a main concern for many respondent groups.

Safety is “always at the forefront of everybody’s mind and their decision-making,” Hayes said.

Asked if the school needs more resource officers, she said, “Yes, I think more support would be better. To have more adults around that are monitoring the situation would be helpful.”


Seema Rivera



Rivera is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education assistant professor in the department of education at Clarkson University’s Capital Region campus.

After graduating from Guilderland in 1997, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Binghamton University, a master’s degree in chemistry and adolescent education from The College of Saint Rose, and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.

She started her career as a chemistry teacher in New York State public schools.

Rivera and her husband, Tony, have two daughters — Lily, 8, is in third grade at Guilderland Elementary School, and Sage, 4, is in preschool at Christ the King Early Childhood Center and will start kindergarten at Guilderland Elementary School in the fall.

She is “all for academic freedom,” Rivera said. “Teachers are professionals — we should let them do their job.”

But there’s a balance between that and preparing students for tests, Rivera said, “because that’s the reality of school these days.”

When she taught years ago, she said, she remembers preparing students for Regents exams and also finding the time to teach them the things that she wanted to.

“It’s kind of a balancing act,” she said.

Inclusion, she said, is “a great model”; it’s important because classes in the district are becoming more and more diverse, in every way including students’ ethnicities and language needs.

“Being able to address the needs of all learners is so important,” she said, adding, “Students really benefit from the diversity of their classmates. There’s a lot of things students teach each other.”

While inclusion is great philosophically, she said, there is probably some room for improvement in the way it is implemented. “There’s a lot of support, I guess, that needs to be put into place to support all of their needs.”

Rivera has student teachers, and goes to visit them in their districts, she said, adding, in regard to security, “Our district is doing a pretty good job.”

No district is perfect, she said, but Guilderland is “always looking to improve — with technology, with different needs of students. The important thing is that they’re constantly addressing safety, and improving on it.

Community surveys have consistently shown safety to be a top issue for the community, she said.

“I think in an ideal world, it would be good to have more school resource officers, and I’m not against it, but we would probably need to evaluate, first, what we have done already, and what we still need” in terms of safety measures, she said.


Sean Maguire



Sean Maguire is the director of economic development for the Capital District Regional Planning Commission and an adjunct professor at the State University at Albany.

He attended Albany schools. Later, his parents moved from Albany to Guilderland and, he says, he moved in with them for a while. He got connected with the Westmere Fire Department then and with the parish at Christ the King Church.

“That was why my wife and I bought our first house here,” he said. “When we bought our second house, we went to great lengths to stay in Guilderland.”

He and his wife, Amie, who live in Campus Club Estates, have two children — Emily, a fourth-grader at Guilderland Elementary School, and Jack, a kindergartener.

Maguire served on the the Guilderland Elementary School Building Cabinet and on the district’s Repurposing Task Force.

He is a member of Guilderland’s Industrial Development Agency and the Albany County Planning Board.

He served as a volunteer firefighter with the Westmere Fire Department for about 10 years, he said, with five of those as commissioner.

He is seeking his first term on the board.

About standardized testing, Maguire said, “We have a system of tests and exams pushed in our schools, and they’re being held accountable for that. He thinks the successful instructor, though, “can find a way to meet the requirements of the standards within their own curriculum.”

Teachers also need time and support to be able to modify their own curriculum, he said.

He understands the problem of teachers needing to “teach to the test,” he said, but he hopes that they can find a way to “straddle that middle.”

The district needs to have a way to evaluate students’ progress and to know where they’re going, he said. “We are not there yet. I am confident we’ll get there,” he said.

Maguire supports the model of inclusion. “From a social aspect, it’s the right way to prepare our students,” he said.

Every student has individual needs, Maguire said, but those needs are not an impediment. “We just have to refine our approach,” he said.

His daughter has been part of an inclusive classroom, he said, and it has helped her understand the diversity of people.

“I’m glad we’re going in that direction,” he said of the district’s move toward an inclusion model. “If somebody has special needs, somebody pushes into the classroom.”

There’s a financial cost that goes along with the inclusion model, he said, adding, “We need to articulate why it’s important, and justify why the cost of education may come at a little higher price because of it.”

About safety, Maguire said that the district’s superintendent, Marie Wiles, spoke at the State of the Town event earlier this spring and said, in response to a question, that she thinks arming teachers is a “horrible” idea.

He agrees with her 100 percent, Maguire said.

“Not to oversimplify it, but bank robberies weren’t solved by giving tellers guns,” he said.

A large element in safety is awareness, he said. He cited the concept of “eyes on the street” from Jane Jacobs’s classic book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” which is the idea that strangers can help keep one another safe just by being present and aware of their environment.

“It’s not the sole responsibility of the school,” he said.

Maguire and his wife noticed a procedure at Guilderland Elementary School that they thought could be done better, and they shared their thoughts, he said.

The improvements the district has made to the physical plant has helped improve safety, Maguire said.

He said he is not in a position to evaluate the effectiveness of school resource officers.

Benjamin Goes



Benjamin Goes, 21, finished high school a year early, got his college degree at the University at Albany two years early (“I brought a lot of AP credits with me”) and now is talking about finishing law school early. He is in his second year at Albany Law School and might finish in January.

Once he finishes law school and takes the bar exam, he may go on to more graduate school, studying for a master’s degree in economics or philosophy.

While there, he plans to take things a little easier.

“I’ve been busy these last two years, and I’d like a break,” he said, “of just being able to read books and write papers, before going out and getting a job.”

Goes expects to work as in-house counsel to a university or corporation and probably, at some point, as a professor.

Goes graduated from Guilderland High School in 2014 and now volunteers at the school, as an advisor to students in the E=mc2 program, allowing students to pursue independent research, and in the school library. Being involved at school in this capacity has given him a new perspective, he said, and he wants to be involved.

“Students should have an experience that benefits them, but that they also enjoy. We should support teachers, to help them do that,” Goes said. Key to doing that is an environment with more flexibility, that would allow teachers to “meet the needs of the individual students in front of them, rather than standards imposed from above,” he says.

Speaking of standards, where does he fall on the spectrum of testing-versus-more-teacher-creativity?

“I fall about as far away from testing as you can possibly be,” said Goes. “I think we should do away with standardized tests altogether. I don’t think kids should be tested. Tested for what, really?

“The fact that there are standardized tests, and that they count for so much of a child’s grade at the end of the year  — for instance, in high school, the final exams, Regents exams, count for 20 percent of your entire grade for the whole year — creates reverse incentives that you really just can’t get away from,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you say, ‘It’s just a test, it’s just a test,’ it’s a huge deal for everyone involved,” he added.

“There’s no virtue in standardizing children,” Goes said. “Therefore, there’s no need to [test them to] see how standard children are.”

Every kid is different, in terms of skills, abilities, interests, he said. “Later on, after high school, we encourage them to pursue those unique traits of theirs into their own college majors or careers.” Why not allow them more flexibility to set their own paths earlier as well, he asks.

Goes lives at home with his family. His father is a district manager for a convenience-store chain; his mother works as an administrative assistant at a trucking company. He has one sister, Abigail, who graduated (“one semester early,” he notes) from Guilderland High School in January and is now saving for college.

Goes supports inclusion but thinks it’s more complicated to implement successfully at the high school than at the elementary level. Particularly in high-school classes, which he said tend to involve sitting and listening to teachers lecture, teachers need to be aware that more advanced students might not want to go over the same point three days in a row, when they grasped it the first time.

He is wary of expanding inclusion to the point of doing away with advanced-level  high-school classes altogether. Advanced classes, he said, offer an opportunity for higher-level class discussions and for meeting and forming friendships with students who share interest in the same subjects.

“If we’re going to do inclusion, I would be interested in taking it all the way, and allowing students who are really advanced to take higher-level classes,” Goes said.

Asked about security, Goes said he is open to proposals but advises proceeding with caution. Already, he said, the doors at school are locked and visitors need to go to a specific door, where they need to explain why they’re there and hand over identification. Kids need passes in order to walk through the hallways. There are monitors in the hallways, as well as outside, he said.

One result of all these security measures is that students themselves are made to feel like they are potential threats, he said. “I can’t go to the bathroom without being watched,” he said, referring to the constant presence of monitors in the hallways. “It’s an environment I don’t think our kids should be in.”

Rather than relying on “making a soft target harder,” he said, he would rather see more emphasis placed on the relationships among students, parents, and the rest of the community as the best way to increase safety.

Corrected on May 4, 2018: A statement on Sean Maguire’s view on school resource officers was corrected to accurately reflect his statements that he is not in a position to evaluate their use.

Corrected on May 8, 2018:  A statement by Benjamin Goes on school security was changed to better reflect his view that he is open to proposals but advises proceeding with caution.

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