Parkway Board of Education candidates plan for future of the district


Sabrina Bohn

Answering a question asked by a student, Board of Education candidate Pam Hill sits beside Tom Wilsdon representing Sudhir Rathod at the student-sponsored School Board Candidate Forum March 11 at Parkway Central. Candidates Farida Ahsan and Dr. Sam Sciortino also attended the candidate forum, and all candidates answered questions surrounding topics such as mental health, curriculum, student drug use and more. “I think those forums are a great way to learn more about the candidates, and I just loved the student-sponsored one,” Hill said. “There are things you need to read and issues you need to study up on as a school board candidate, and because I have an interest in education, reading things about education is something that I’m going to want to do and going to be willing to put in the time to do.”

Yard signs boasting candidates’ names line the streets of Parkway’s district as the community prepares for the election Tuesday, April 2. With two seats open on the Board of Education, newcomers Pam Hill and Farida Ahsan, as well as incumbents Dr. Sam Sciortino and Sudhir Rathod are campaigning to be elected to the board.

While local elections often do not make headlines, Hill feels that these elections are just as important as national ones.

“The thing that’s really interesting about politics and current events is that people pay so much attention to what’s going on nationally, but when it comes down to it, the people that serve you locally probably have a bigger effect on your daily life,” Hill said. “The school board has a lot to do with the funding for the district and the overall direction of the school district. As a student, you spend a huge amount of time in your school, and I think that’s why it’s important for you to pay attention, even if you can’t vote at this point.”

Hill, Sciortino and Ahsan stress the importance of keeping communication open with students, parents and teachers to ensure that the district is meeting the community’s needs.

“What I will do is make myself available to the community, especially to the parents and the students whenever they want to discuss their problems and concerns,” Ahsan said. “I will take that to the board and try to address those issues. If we have to distribute some kind of literature to the students to solve those problems, then I will try to do that.”

In fact, listening to the community, staying open-minded and continuously researching issues in the district are some of Hill’s top priorities.

“I just really believe in listening. I would hope that teachers and students would feel free to come to me and talk about things,” Hill said. “I’m also a big believer in the fact that everybody needs to be continually learning, but you have to be open-minded; you have to be willing to listen to people and ask questions. When it comes down to it, I think any good board member needs to keep what is best for the district’s students in the front of their mind. I know that a good board member really needs to do work to understand the issues in the school district to make decisions by reading, research and talking to people, and I plan on doing that.”

These three candidates also want to focus on mental health within the district. Sciortino works with the Mental Health Task Force, a group of community members within Project Parkway finding ways to address mental health in school, and Ahsan and Hill have made mental health a focal point of their campaigns.

“I want to influence everyone with district responsibility to take very serious measures to insure students with mental health, behavioral and learning disabilities and Dyslexia are receiving the very best education through very highly qualified and trained teachers and administrators,” Sciortino said. “The Mental Health Task Force will be developing practical recommendations for the district to accomplish for student mental health needs. Our teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses and principals are being trained to directly identify the needs of students with mental health issues and specifically develop the services they must have to work through their problem before they leave Parkway.”

Within the realm of mental health, Ahsan feels that bullying can be addressed more thoroughly by looking at the root causes to understand and assist students better; she also feels that punishments such as suspensions can be approached in a similar way.

“For bullying, we need to find out why a person is behaving like that and the cause of the issue. We should bring the parties together, have them sit together and discuss with each other,” Ahsan said. “For the suspension, I would like to make sure that we look into the root causes: why a student is doing that? What are the underlying issues that make a person behave like that? We need to try to take care of those things because often school suspensions don’t produce a productive solution.”

As the first Pakistani-American school board candidate, Ahsan feels that she can help promote diversity, an important ideal for her, and give a voice to minorities within the community.

“Inclusion and diversity go hand in hand. We have to be respectful because the world is not getting any less diverse. We need to find the base where we can make our children more comfortable and open to other people and their ideas, and we can tell them it is okay to listen to others. We are not going to agree on all the issues all the time, but we can respectfully disagree on those issues,” Ahsan said. “At a decision making level, we need diversity. Parkway is very good at promoting diversity, and if I get elected, I am from a different cultural background, so I can bring those voices and those values to the board to help explain what we can do to address those issues.”

Hill also plans to address diversity and inclusion if elected to the school board. Specifically, after seeing how black and Hispanic students, students with IEPs, English language learners and students who are on free and reduced lunch scored lower than other Parkway students on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP), she wants to focus on meeting those students’ needs.

“I believe in focusing on the ‘all’ part of Parkway’s mission. I want to help create the best Parkway for all students and for all of our community members,” Hill said. “I think for every one of those groups, there are different things that the district can do. It might have to do with teaching methods, it might have to do with staffing, it might have to do with school climate, but I think that the district really needs to look at how its serving all its students. I think that the changes that are made to better serve those groups will make things better for all the students.”

Another issue that Sciortino and Ahsan want to address is drug use within schools, specifically the use of Juuls.

“I want to help students who vape, smoke and take drugs to seriously know the health, both mental and physical, hazards that will impact their life adversely,” Sciortino said. “I think an intensive educational program describing the harm they are doing to their bodies and mental well-being [would help]. A program that will be so impactful, they will rethink their behavior and turn to more positive measures in their life. I think students who go through this program should be required to bring the message of the harm to younger students. This will give them confidence and satisfaction in helping others while they are helping themselves.”

Although the candidates have certain issues that they feel are important, they each call on students to express their needs and become involved in the process of the school board. Students who are 18 can register to vote to participate in elections like this, and students who are not yet 18 can participate in local politics by learning about the government and advocating for their needs.  

“In the end, the students are responsible for their lives. We are here to guide them, but we have to give them the liberty to make the choices that they want to make,” Ahsan said. “If we do not talk to the students, we will just be discussing what we want. This is the future of the students–this is your future. You should know who the people are who are ensuring that they are taking the right steps to make your future successful. The board members cannot make policies, the district does that, but as a board member, we can take your voices and concerns to the board and tell them why it is important.”

*All candidates were contacted March 20 to be included in this article for balanced coverage. The view of candidate Sudhir Rathod is not featured in this article due to no response to our request.