Interview with Board of Education candidate Andrea Prusky

Andrea Prusky moved to Amsterdam with her husband and their five children three years ago. She has two step daughters in middle school and three sons in elementary school. About a year ago she became aware of an issue with bullying in her sons’ elementary school, and found that there was a lack of communication between parents and the school.

She felt that students and teachers knew where to go when instances of bullying arose, but parents didn’t. She felt that there weren’t enough resources for parents. She started the Facebook group United Voice Against Bullying to reach out to other parents in Amsterdam.

On the group’s page parents can post about instances of bullying in a particular school and class to inform other parents of ongoing issues. Parents are not to use the names of students involved under any circumstances. Furnished with this information parents can follow up with teachers to find out what steps are being taken to resolve the issue.

Prusky isn’t satisfied with the approach that Amsterdam schools take with bullying. She said, “I just feel like 2014 bullying is a lot more serious than it was. It’s so much more severe. Children need to be taught the difference between action and reaction.” Prusky feels that children’s behavioral problems are the result of their home environment. She said that parents may not always be entirely to blame, it could be that they don’t have the resources to properly address their child’s problems. In any event she feels that simply suspending a student isn’t the answer.

“A lot of the time the school looks at the children as a problem and removes them from the school. Children are being taught that if I misbehave in school I’ll be sent home where I can play Xbox,” she said. She feels that a different approach is necessary. She says that children with severe behavioral problems should be treated, and that they should be re-acclimated to school programs before returning to school. She believes that schools must have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and is looking to implement one.

While talking to some people she jokingly said that she was going to run for the Amsterdam Board of Education. This wasn’t the first time that she had this thought though, and she began to consider it more seriously, thinking, “Let me try. Let me see if I can get enough signatures. Let me see if I can do this.” She feels that things need to change, that the old approaches aren’t working, and that she can offer a new perspective and new ideas.

She believes that the Board of Education needs a working mother living in the community, a homeowner, and a taxpayer as a voice for the community. She says that other board members are retired, without children in the school system, and are too far removed from the schools. Prusky says, “I couldn’t quote you what is going on with the budget, but I can tell you the frustrations of the community.”

One of the frustrations for parents, according to Prusky, is the poor quality of education that students receive in Amsterdam. Something that made Prusky herself reluctant to move to there, so when she chose the location of her home she based the decision on its proximity to the school that she wanted her sons to attend.

She wanted her boys to go to William H. Barkley MicroSociety Magnet School, as she knew it to be the highest rated elementary school in the Greater Amsterdam School District. So she bought a home not far from there. When she went to enroll her children in school she discovered that the GASD uses a lottery system to determine which school a child will attend.

Prusky was unaware of this, and learned that there was a possibility that her boys would be split up and sent to different schools. Ultimately all three were enrolled in William B. Tecler Arts in Education Magnet School, which Prusky said is the lowest rated school in the district and the school furthest from her home.

Yet when the opportunity for Prusky’s sons to transfer to another school arose she didn’t take it. “The teachers are invested in my children,” she said. “They are so caring and so amazing. I don’t want to pull my kids out of Tecler.” She sees the teachers as dedicated individuals, yet the problem continues. Prusky doesn’t’t feel like she can accurately assess the situation and the potential solutions without first being elected to the board. She needs to be able to examine their records, and see what resources can be made available before passing judgment.

She says that the board needs to do more to encourage and stimulate community involvement. “There is no community involvement in Amsterdam. The only time you’ll see people show up to board meetings is if they’re raising school taxes or cutting health insurance for teachers.” She says that people have stopped caring.

She wants to utilize newer technology and social networking to reach out to community members. She realizes that not everyone can make it to the school board meetings which is why the Board of Education needs to increase its online presence. She says, “Parents are so out of the loop that they don’t know what’s happening.” The information needs to be made readily available in an interesting way to “get parents fired up.”

As an advertising executive for The Recorder newspaper, Prusky knows how to reach people, and doesn’t shy away from speaking to large groups of people. She feels like her job has taught her how to come up with creative ways to address any situation. Her work also presents her with many contacts and a means of reaching out to people. Prusky didn’t want to use her position to benefit her own campaign, telling her employers not to publish any stories on her. Instead she submitted a letter to the editor to introduce herself to the community, appreciating that The Recorder published it.

Prusky would like to see more initiatives to promote healthy eating and healthy habits for children. Tecler is participating in the Fuel Up to Play 60 grant program. The grant which schools can apply for is offered by the NFL and the National Dairy Council. It enables students to earn grant money for their school by performing healthy acts or eating healthily then entering the information online to track their efforts. Prusky’s sons are participating in the program, which she would like to see expanded within the district.

Overall Prusky says, “I want to do this as a mom. I want to do this as a person speaking loudly to the community.” If Prusky doesn’t win a seat on the board she says, “I’ll look for other creative outlets to help the community. I appreciate anyone who took the time to vote for me, and anyone just taking the time to get know me. I’ll find other ways to be active and try again.”

The Board of Education election will take place on May 20.

Ashley Onyon

Ashley Onyon is a graduate of the journalism program at SUNY Albany. She has contributed articles to The Mohawk Valley Independent and the annual journal Upstream.