‘We’re all mothers’ says new school board prez, Gonzalez-Parker

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, who handed out diplomas at Guilderland’s June 26 commencement exercises, says she talked after the ceremony to other school board members about becoming the board’s president.

GUILDERLAND — For the first time in its history, the Guilderland School Board is made up entirely of women.

At its July 2 reorganizational meeting, the board elected a new president, Blanca Gonzalez-Parker, as she traded places with Kelly Person who returned to being vice president.

Asked her thoughts on the precedent-setting all-female board, Gonzalez-Parker told The Enterprise, “I think it’s less about the fact that we’re all women and more about the fact we’re all mothers …That enables us to be really excellent board members and also to communicate well.

“We’ve all had similar experiences, whether it was 20 years ago with our kids in school or now … We’ve all been in each other’s shoes at one point or another … We genuinely like each other.”

The July 2 election took place without any board discussion. Person, who attended the meeting remotely via computer, nominated Gonzalez-Parker for president saying only, “I’m unable to do it at the moment.”

Person had stepped up to be president this spring after Seema Rivera, who had served as president since 2019, was appointed to the Board of Regents, which governs education in New York state. It was then that Gonzalez-Parker, just ahead of her re-election in May became the board’s vice president.

The July 2 votes for president and vice president were both 8 to 0. Rebecca Butterfield was in the Dominican Republic and so did not attend while Person and Tara Molloy-Grocki attended remotely.

Molloy-Grocki, a mother of three who retired in June after 31 years of elementary school teaching and also had served as president of Guilderland’s teachers’ union, took the oath of office. She was elected to the post in May along with Nina Kaplan in a five-way race for three seats.

Kaplan had been sworn in earlier as a replacement for Rivera. The mother of three, Kaplan has been a social studies teacher for 21 years.

Gonzalez-Parker, who works in public health, was first elected to the board in 2020 to fill out one year of a vacated term, and then was re-elected in 2021, winning a full three-year term before winning again this year.

She graduated from Guilderland High School in 1996. She has a bachelor of science degree in nursing from Utica College, a bachelor of arts degree in English, and a master’s degree in public health.

She and her husband, Michael Parker, have three daughters, two in Guilderland High School and one in college.

Kelly Person, who has returned to her role as vice president after a few months as president, is serving her second term on the school board.

An Air National Guard Inspector General Investigations Officer, she has bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University at Albany and a master’s degree in military operational art and science from Air University Command and Staff College and is a 2022 graduate of Air University Air War College.

She and her wife, Melinda Person, have four children.


“We all value consensus”

“I think the role of school board president is very important,” Gonzalez-Parker told The Enterprise this week. “And I think we had a great leader in Seema Rivera and one of the things that made her a great leader is that, along the way, she taught us basically what the role encompassed and sort of prepared us.”

Gonzalez-Parker said that Rivera’s resignation led her to explore the idea of becoming president herself. “Kelly was not interested due to her circumstances right now,” she said.

“I spoke with a few of the board members after the graduation ceremony; you know, that’s the last time we were all together and I put out some feelers and everyone was supportive,” she said.

Gonzalez-Parker said she is interested in “making decisions by consensus.”

To have topics put on a meeting agenda for the board to discuss, five members have to agree. Gonzalez-Parker said she is capable of convincing others that a topic is important and worth discussing.

“We hear a lot of concerns from the community … that I think would be great agenda items, but they don’t always make it. This is such an important role,” she said of being president “in that you can be persistent and follow up and try maybe a little bit harder to get some of those agenda items on the agenda also.”

Gonzalez-Parker prides herself in her accessibility and communication skills and looks forward as president to responding to emails sent to the school board. “This is an opportunity to communicate more with the community,” she said.

“I hope that my changing role doesn’t make community members, parents, faculty, staff feel like they can’t approach me,” she said. “I am really approachable … Nothing has really changed. People can still email me; they can call or text with their concerns, and I take every single concern seriously.”

Another priority for Gonzalez-Parker is continuing the district’s work with diversity, equity, and inclusion. She feels that the director of DEI, Derek Westbrook, “is not as strong or experienced as Matt Pinchinat … As great as he is, he doesn’t have that advantage,” she said, referencing that Pinchinat, when he was hired to the newly created post in 2021, had already been a teacher at the school.

Pinchinat left the district in July 2023 to work as deputy managing director of DEI for the state Teachers’ Retirement System, and Westbrook was hired as DEI director in the fall.

Gonzalez-Parker is pleased that, as the board’s president, she will continue to serve on the DEI Committee.

“I feel that there are some topics that we have not addressed, one of them being antisemitism, effectively. Also, the concerns brought forth by parents having to do with special ed and communication, and bullying that’s been happening to our students who are in special ed,” she said. “So this is my opportunity to follow up on that and make sure that we’re meeting our goals.”

Gonzalez-Parker went on, “So I’ve recommended an audit, as have other board members, of the special-education program to see where perhaps the breakdown in communications is or what areas we need to focus on to try to prove the programs.”

Returning to the theme of board members all being “on the same page,” Gonzalez-Parker called Superintendent Marie Wiles “the gold standard for all superintendents.”

“We all support Marie …,” she said. “Everything that she presents to us is very much evidence-based.”

One of Wiles’s recent initiatives had been to form a Future-Ready Task Force, which will be making recommendations for a capital project that would create modern learning spaces for students.

“It’s going to be difficult to meet the needs of our students without a pretty substantial sized capital project,” said Gonzalez-Parker.

But, she went on, board members are all aware of being respectful of taxpayers and not overburdening them.

“We are certainly very acutely aware of what’s happening in Berne-Knox-Westerlo right now and do not want that to happen,” she said.

The BKW School Board in May put up a budget that went over the state-set tax cap and, after a narrow defeat, put up the exact same budget in June, again requiring a supermajority to pass. The second defeat engendered a large turnout and a wider margin of defeat, leading to over $560,000 in cuts rather than the less then $100,000 in cuts it would have taken to stay under the state-set levy limit.

“I think compromise is essential,” said Gonzalez-Parker. While there are a variety of perspectives among her board members, she said, “We all value consensus.”

Her personal opinion on BKW, she said, is, “It’s an insensitive time to go over the tax cap. And I felt there were a few times where the writing was on the wall, that perhaps folks needed to take a step back and compromise.”

Just one of Guilderland’s school board members — Nathan Sabourin, who did not seek re-election — wanted to go over the tax cap this year and so voted against the spending plan that eventually passed with 72 percent of the vote. Guilderland, in the decade since the state enacted the rules on levy limits for schools, has never pierced the tax cap, and has not suffered a defeat in those years.

While each member of the Guilderland board has her own personal priorities, Gonzalez-Parker said, “We’re all willing to give and take a little bit.”

Sometimes personal priorities have to be put on the back burner, she said.

Gonzalez-Parker said that, when she started on the Guilderland board, “There was definitely tension and division.”

Now, she said, “We have the same values, same goals.”

Asked to define those, she said, “We all value one another as people, and [we value] positive communication. We see the board as an opportunity to set an example for our students as to how government, whether local or whatnot, can work together harmoniously … There’s no bickering or fighting or mudslinging.

“Additionally, we all have prioritized DEI. We all support Marie. We put our students first in every single thing we do.”

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