“I am uniquely qualified to serve on the Board of Education because I am a teacher, with experience teaching both high school and early childhood. I was a high school teacher at a public school here in St. Louis for several years, and having been an educator, I have insight into what motivates and inspires our teachers. I understand what it takes to attract and retain the very best educators for our kids,” Stacy Siwak said in her opening statement at a “Meet the Candidates” forum.
While Siwak taught, she also coached teams and sponsored clubs, forming good relationships with her students both in and out of the classroom. Siwak remembers how they would even come to talk to her about issues they were having with friends, or at home. This lead her to study counseling when she pursued a master’s degree in education so that she would have the proper training to help her students.
“When all of my children were in elementary school, I dedicated myself to volunteering in the community. And as a committee member, I learned that working with fellow board members in a respectful and cooperative way leads to positive results,” she said.
Siwak held many volunteer positions in each of the schools as well as at the district level, and most recently, was part of a district focus committee that was charged with finding out the community’s priorities through open houses and surveys. She heard concerns from the community that the district should better meet the social and emotional needs of their students.
“My training in school counseling will be very beneficial as we create policies into how to further integrate this into our curriculum and professional development,” Siwak said.
But not only is her education valuable to the school board; she also talks about how her experience as a parent makes her an asset to the board as well. She has three children currently within the school district, a tenth grader, an eighth grader, a sixth grader. Each of her children has different learning needs, and therefore, she has advocated for various levels of intervention for each of them.
One of her children is identified as gifted, and Siwak makes sure she is involved in appropriate classes with added rigor. Another one of her children is a typical student but has strengths and weaknesses, and Siwak has advocated for him over the years as well to make sure his needs are being met. She also has a child with an individualized learning plan with Special School District, and for him, she advocates with both Clayton teachers and Special School District teachers to make sure he is getting the academic support he needs.
“As a school board member, I will advocate for all of our kids, all of our students, and these experiences with my own children will be very helpful,” Siwak said.
Siwak said she is a strong proponent for having a student on the school board. Just as she feels a teacher’s voice is important on the school board, she thinks a student’s voice is equally as important.
“We are all working for what is best for our students, and who better to join that conversation than a student? It reminds me of our district motto– ‘Educate. Inspire. Empower.’ When I think of each of those words, how to educate, inspire, and empower our students, to have a student’s perspective in those discussions and how to implement that into our curriculums and classrooms would be very beneficial,” Siwak said.
Siwak is also a supporter of Proposition E, a proposal on the April 2, 2019, ballot asking voters to consider a tax levy increase which, as the School District of Clayton writes on their site, “would be used to maintain and strengthen the District’s academic excellence and fiscal stability by eliminating the gap between revenues and expenses, addressing facility and maintenance needs and rebuilding reserves.”
“Most of you probably already know that the last time we asked for a tax increase and it passed was in 2003, and that tax increase was only supposed to last a few years, but due to the sound and responsible fiscal management of our budget, our district was able to extend that an extra ten or so years,” Siwak said. “So I have complete faith in what our administration and our long term financial planning committee and our board have done to be conservative and responsible with our tax dollars. I do know that we did make cuts a few years ago, and I think we’re at the point now where we can’t continue to make cuts without sacrificing the quality of our education.”
She believes that Proposition E is vital to keeping class sizes small as well as retaining the highest quality teachers. If the cuts continue, she believes Clayton will not be able to offer the special programs it currently does or hire teachers with advanced degrees or a high level of experience.
“Our school board will continue to have very challenging discussions about managing our budget, and I’m committed to being conservative and responsible with your tax dollars,” Siwak said.
When asked about funding priorities, Siwak’s answer is that they need to continue supporting teachers with adequate compensation to ensure the success of students.
“As part of achieving [academic success], there is growing concern that we need to better serve the social and emotional needs of our students. This may include added teacher training, and when appropriate, hiring qualified support staff and/or creating safe spaces for our kids. As a public school district, we must maintain support from taxpayers to fund these priorities, and I am committed to being a careful steward of their money,” she said in the “PTO Council Voters’ Guide.”
Equity is also an important issue to Siwak. She is impressed with the current efforts underway to ensure every student is given the same opportunities to succeed, such as how Clayton schools offer financial assistance for field trips if a family can’t afford to pay the fee.
“Of course, there is always room for improvement. I support the work of the district’s Equity Committee that studies how to enhance equity in our schools, including through professional development for our educators. We also can better understand how to improve equity through analysis of data on academic performance and participation in activities, as well as through surveys and interviews,” Siwak said.
When it comes to improving the educational experience for average performers, Siwak cautions against using the term solely based on their academic performance alone, for they can be above average in extracurriculars or electives. However, having been a teacher herself, she also knows one factor that leads to average performance is a lack of inherent motivation or of resources at home.
“We need to ensure each student benefits from intervention when needed, making communication essential among teacher, counselor, and parent,” Siwak said.
She hopes to build consensus and support in the Clayton community around the work of the district, but also hopes to improve the methods in reaching the community with information about the work itself. To make district information more widely available, Siwak suggests using technology to stream meetings live or encourage community members to download the app. She also hopes to host informal meetings to better reach the entire community.
“I’d like us to better use those and other tools in reaching the entire community and not just those with ties to the school district. We might also, as a school board and administration, host town hall meetings or question-and-answer sessions at the growing number of large condominium buildings in Clayton. We also should continue encouraging residents to serve as volunteers in our schools and on district committees,” Siwak said.
Some of Siwak’s other goals include meeting the social and emotional needs of students, increasing racial diversity, enhancing the athletic program, and strengthening the relationship between the school district and the city of Clayton. In all of these issues, Siwak believes she is an important asset.
“Many people don’t realize the school board reviews and approves all of the curriculum, assessments, professional development, and personnel policies for example. Each of which would benefit greatly from having a teacher’s perspective included. We currently do not have an educator on our school board and I’ve felt for a very long time that it’s the one voice that is missing.”