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Four seeking seats on Olean school board |

OLEAN — Those who venture out to the polls within the Olean City School District on Tuesday, May 18 will have four candidates to choose from for the two open school board seats.

The seats are currently held by Mary Hirsch-Schena and John Bartimole. Each seat is a five-year term beginning July 1.

Hirsch-Schena, who was first elected to the board in 2016 and is completing her first term, is seeking a new term along with newcomers Clarissa E. Ivan, Julio Fuentes and Kevin M. Dougherty.

In addition to the school board candidates, voters on May 18 will also cast their ballot for the 2021-22 school budget. The annual school budget vote and school board election will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the gymnasium of Olean Intermediate Middle School.

Candidates are profiled in alphabetical order by last name.

Kevin M. Dougherty is concerned for Olean children’s education after the past year of virtual learning, saying a good education has a direct impact on the success of our children in life.

He said children are not as likely to be affected by the coronavirus, but they are suffering from limited in-person attendance.

“The long-term effects of such deprivations weigh heavily on the outcome of our children’s future,” he said.

Dougherty said he is a father first and foremost. He and his partner, June, have four children, three of whom currently attend Olean schools with the youngest expected to in the fall.

Dougherty said his platform includes three points: getting children back in a full-time, pre-COVID-19 education model for next year and preceding years; working to get back to a Tier 1 curriculum and addressing the “learning loss” from the past year and a half; and working with the school board to get our staff a fair and equitable contract that makes sense.

Dougherty spent five years on the Olean Common Council “fighting to make a difference in our community.”

“I am fiscally conservative and an outside of the box type of thinker,” he said. “I know the in’s and out’s of dealing with the state, administrations and unions to come up with solutions and achieve goals.”

Before deciding to run for school board, Dougherty said he has uncovered many unforeseen consequences caused by the pandemic. He said it’s unfortunate that the district’s teachers have been without a contract for the entire year.

“All of the district employees, including teachers, support staff, maintenance staff, janitorial staff and bus drivers, are important components to the operation and function of the district,” he said.

Rather than spending funds on lawyers fighting against staff and educators, Dougherty said pledges to support and work together with all the employees for the benefit of our students.

“It takes all the Huskies to pull the sled,” he added.

Julio Fuentes has lived in the Olean City School District for 26 years, playing multiple sports for Olean to which he said he fortunately made many connections.

“I am currently attending Alfred University as a double major in psychology and sociology with a concentration in counseling,” he added.

Fuentes expressed his thanks to everyone who has supported him and will support him throughout this journey to become a member of the Olean school board.

“I have been blessed to have the support of my community throughout these years,” he said, “so I have been working to give back to it.”

Fuentes said he usually holds a flag football tournament to support someone in need in the community, and has been working on a scholarship for an Olean High School student.

“I think being elected to the Board of Education will be another step in the direction of giving back to our community,” he said.

Most importantly, if elected, Fuentes said he wants Olean to know he will take on this responsibility with no agenda.

“I come with an open mind to which I will listen, learn and take the most logical steps to better our community, which I feel starts with education,” he added.

Mary Hirsch-Schena is completing the last year of a five-year term and currently serves as the board’s president. She said she is first and foremost a mom to her daughter, the reason she ran for the school board.

“I wanted a voice in the policy and programs that would shape her — and all students’ — school experiences to give them the best opportunities for success,” she said. Hirsch-Schena is a special education teacher in a neighboring school district, so she understands the challenges all teachers and students face every day.

In recent years, Hirsch-Schena said she volunteers with the Music Boosters, the Olean Soccer Club, the Teacher Center Policy Board, the TOP soccer program and the Olean Theater Workshop and is an honorary member of the Olean Rotary Club.

While on the board, Hirsch-Schena served on several committees including the Buildings and Grounds Chairperson and was previously board vice president. She said she’s proud that she has never missed a board meeting.

“And one of my proudest board meeting moments came when we voted to restore the hiring of art and music teachers for our elementary schools,” she added. “These programs are crucial to the overall education of all of our students.”

Although COVID-19 has brought challenges to their lives and the way they educate, Hirsch-Schena said it does not define the important work that they have done as a school board and still needs to be done.

Hirsch-Schena said she promises to always ask questions, stay informed and never stop fighting for what is best for the school district, taxpayers and the children. She said she will try to always be available and respond back to anyone who reaches out in a timely manner.

“What we accomplish, and how we accomplish it, in the next 10 years will determine our children’s opportunities to learn and to prosper in a world we cannot begin to define,” she added. “I want to be a part of those decisions.”

Clarissa E. Ivan was born in Olean and graduated from Olean High School and BOCES Radio/TV program with the class of 2001, the first class of the new millennium. She said her family, the Spillers, encompass Latin, Black, Native and European roots.

“With a global perspective gained over 20 years of traveling and a diverse background, I would be a great asset to the Olean school board,” she said. “As a new mother, I am deeply invested in providing a good education for my son within this community.”

Ivan said she studied communications at Jamestown Community College and pursued a career in the entertainment industry, “a family tradition.” Interested in giving back, she joined AmeriCorps NCCC and City Year San Jose, focusing on education projects.

“I transitioned into the entertainment industry in the San Francisco Bay Area and continued on as an international cruise ship vocalist,” she said. “After exploring over 80 countries, I returned home with a desire to continue my life of service.”

Ivan said the kids in the district are not just students, but global citizens. She said the district has a strong foundation but needs to provide more pathways for advancement outside of the standardized testing module.

“With an outside perspective we can grow from the pandemic experience and use it as a tool to propel our students in new directions,” she added.

Ivan said the pandemic highlighted racial disparities across the nation. As Olean has become more diverse, the school’s leadership should reflect that. She said a 2017 study in Florida found that districts with diverse school boards have lower rates of school suspensions for all students.

“I want to elevate the different voices in our district which suffer from a lack of diversity in our school board and staff,” she said. “A board member has to be an advocate for students, parents, educators and taxpayers while fostering the shared vision between community and school district. I want all students to feel represented at the top.”

If elected, Ivan said she would like to implement a program focused on fundamental life skills and personal finance. She said students should leave public education equipped with the basic skills they need to feel confident when heading into the real world.

“I would also like to expand the knowledge of students to the many different opportunities that are available to them post graduation,” she said. “This way every student can find a healthy and positive pathway forward.”

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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