School social worker Gizelle E. Stokes stands at the front door of King Center Charter School each morning and welcomes every child with a handshake.
Some of her kids may not have had breakfast that morning or dinner the night before. Others may not have socks on, even during frigid winters.
These are just some of the factors that impact learning, said Stokes, and she understands that in a different way by virtue of her training.
“If you’re angry at 7:45, and [English] or math is your first class, how can you focus?” said Stokes, a candidate in the May 6 Buffalo Board of Education election.
She said voters should pick her for one of the three at-large seats because she has training in restorative justice and skills in collaborating with schools and the legal and mental health systems.
“My mantra is putting children first because that is what I believe,” she said.
Her knowledge of domestic and child abuse services brings a unique perspective in dealing with children who come from challenged, unstable homes and environments, she said.
Stokes has worked with Vera House, a domestic violence prevention and crisis management organization. In 2004, she got involved with Preventionfocus, a violence prevention organization that has done work in West Hertel Academy and Bennett High School.
If elected, Stokes said, she would work with schools to improve their parent engagement processes.
“Changing things at home can affect learning,” she said.
“There is a need for a bridge between hearing parents and responding to their needs.”
With a master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University, Stokes has been a social worker and school counselor at the King Center Charter School since 2012. She has also applied to the district. She previously worked at Tapestry Charter School as a social worker and college adviser from 2010 to 2012.
Even though Stokes has worked for charter schools for the past four years, she is against opening more of them in Buffalo.
“Charter schools are not the silver bullet,” she said. “I work in one, but my daughter has always been to public schools.”
Stokes’ 6-year-old daughter is a first-grader at Olmsted School 64 and also went to Bennett Park Montessori School 32. Her daughter could have gone to Elmwood Franklin School, Stokes said. But then Stokes began thinking that she wanted a school with more diversity – socially, economically and racially. So Stokes enrolled her in School 64.
“I preferred her to be in a public setting,” said Stokes, 31. “In a district where we’re about 40 percent in poverty, there are a lot of social and emotional issues attached to that.”
Her priorities include student achievement and having assessments that measure student growth, not just whether students reach certain levels, she said.
“We need to be looking at indicators that really improve success, like attendance and growth. Not just cut-off scores,” she said. “As a counselor, I deal with the residual effects of that.”
A 2000 graduate of Bennett High School, Stokes worked as a recruiter for the University at Buffalo in 2006-07. During her time at Syracuse, she worked with On Point for College, a nonprofit college-access organization, and Say Yes to Education, another nonprofit that partnered with the Buffalo Public Schools to ensure that all graduating students who want to attend college will have the money to do so.
Her father, George, married Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes in 2010. She has been endorsed by the Grassroots political organization.
Stokes also is a Girl Scout troop leader, teaches sociology as an associate professor at Erie Community College North, and runs Figures Boutique for full-figured women as a personal shopper.
Stokes was scheduled to appear in court today after she was arrested March 11 for marijuana possession; transit police said she ran a stop sign and that they found the drug in the car. A variety of other charges were dismissed, and her attorney is seeking dismissal of the pot charge.
“I am not guilty of those things, and I just want to focus on children,” she said.
Gizelle E. Stokes
Occupation: Social worker and counselor, King Center Charter School
Campaign supporters: Grassroots
Retain Superintendent Pamela C. Brown: Yes
More charter schools: No
More city funding for education: No
Priorities: Student achievement, balanced budget
Quote: “My mantra is putting children first because that is what I believe.”