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Niagara Falls School Board candidates diverge on evaluations

NIAGARA FALLS – The three candidates for the city School Board differed on how teacher evaluations should be done during a forum Tuesday night.

But the trio, which includes two incumbents, agreed on their assessment of the district’s teachers and the work of the current board, as well as wanting to slow down the implementation process of the state’s Common Core standards.

Newcomer Colene A. Melson and incumbents Kevin A. Dobbs and Russell J. Petrozzi – who presented their views on a variety of topics in education during a forum sponsored by several community groups – are vying for two seats on the nine-member board in Tuesday’s election.

“I feel I am qualified to bring a new outlook to the board for the students because I’ve been there,” Melson told a crowd of about 30 in the auditorium of Niagara Falls Public Library.

Melson teaches medical coding, special education and literacy at Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology. She’s making her first bid for elected office and previously did her student teaching and was a substitute teacher in the Falls, she said.

One of the clearest distinctions that emerged among the candidates during the forum was how they would prefer to see teachers evaluated.

Petrozzi, vice president of Capitol Cleaners and a three-term incumbent, said he believes the district’s system of applying a variety of evaluation processes is good because it offers ways to help improve a teacher’s performance and “not to bring down the hammer.”

Petrozzi said the district is “looking forward to seeing how it’s going to work.”

Melson said teacher evaluations should be done by peer review, with the ability for administrators also to participate.

Dobbs, who served on the board from 1997 until 2013 when he lost a bid for re-election, said he believes building principals and other central office administrators who understand the teacher’s job should perform the reviews.

When asked what percentage of teachers in the district are “doing the best they can,” Melson said 90 percent, while Dobbs and Petrozzi said it was closer to 95 percent.

In rating the work of the School Board on a scale of 1 to 10, Petrozzi gave it a 9, Dobbs an 8.5 and Melson an 8.

Dobbs said roughly 45 percent of the student population in the Falls are minorities, and, as the only current African-American member of the board, he feels a connection with students, parents and the community.

“I feel that I will fill a void of disparity that we presently have on the board,” said Dobbs, pastor of Christ Redemption Tabernacle in the Falls, who got back on the board when he was appointed to fill a four-month vacancy in February.

All three candidates were asked if they had any family members who work for the district – Dobbs said he has two daughters who are teachers; Melson said her husband teaches social studies at Niagara Falls High School; and Petrozzi said his wife is a secretary, though she had the job before they were married, and his daughter is a speech pathologist.

The forum was sponsored by the Niagara Falls Block Club Council, the Niagara Falls Rotary Club, the Falls Kiwanis Club and the Falls chapter of the NAACP. Corey Bower, assistant professor of leadership and policy at Niagara University, was the moderator.