My name is Amy Joy Robinson, and I am running for School Director in the Northgate School District. I want to tell you a little about myself and why I am a great candidate to represent the residents of Bellevue and Avalon.
I grew up in a small town in northern Pennsylvania, and moved to Pittsburgh in 1996 to attend art school. I graduated in 1999 with an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Arts from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute. While completing my degree, I landed an internship with one of the top three advertising agencies in Pittsburgh, Hallmark Tassone, whose clients included Dad’s Pet Care Company, Shop ’n Save Supermarkets, The Hoover Company, and H.J. Heinz Company. After graduation I was hired full-time, and over the next several years worked my way up from graphic artist to art director, and was responsible for working on a wide range of advertising vehicles: sales presentations, product packaging, brochures, point-of-sale materials, direct mail, magazine ads, newspaper ads and television commercials.
Currently I am the University Art Director in the Public Relations and Marketing Department of Robert Morris University. I joined the University in the spring of 2006, working closely with the administration and the individual schools to develop marketing strategies with measurable goals to help raise awareness of the University and showcase the accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff.
I have lived in Bellevue for the past 12 years with my daughter (currently in ninth grade at Northgate Middle Senior High School) and my husband, Mark Robinson. I have made it a priority to get involved in the community and with a variety of school activities. Over the past 10 years, I have served the school district in many different capacities: serving as Bellevue Elementary PTO treasurer; volunteering with the 6th Grade Field Trip; serving as Vice President of the Cheerleading Boosters; helping with the Marching Band Boosters, and assisting with marketing the High School Musical for the past two years. In the community, I have been an active board member of the Friends of Bayne Library, assisting in fundraising activities to help subsidize the library’s budget for needed items, such as books and furniture.
I am very fortunate to be part of this community and school district, and while there is always room for improvement, I feel that my daughter has enjoyed a great school experience at Northgate. I want to help ensure that the younger children of our community and their families continue to have access to an excellent education, and the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a small school district like ours.
What is your vision for Northgate?
My vision for Northgate is one that encompasses identifying our strengths and continuing to build upon them, while also maintaining a key focus on our challenges and working with our councils and residents to improve those areas. As a school board member, my vision for Northgate is to maintain a fiscally sound district during these tough times, while ensuring that an open dialogue exists between the school board and its residents. It is important that we protect all of the opportunities that currently exist for our students. Although we are facing economic difficulties right now, we need to ensure that we maintain these key areas:
• Security for our children – I believe that the number one thing we need to ensure in our school environment is that our kids are safe. We must have adequate training in our schools to handle any emergency or crisis. This is why my vision for safety at Northgate includes a School Resource Officer. As budget concerns over this position have become a topic of debate, I propose that we make room in our schools for our local police officers to complete their required administrative work. This would be a win-win situation: not only would we have a safety presence in our schools, but our police would also be able to complete their required administrative duties.
• Arts Programs – While maintaining our focus on the core subjects, we also need to promote the creative outlets of our children by ensuring that Art, Music and Drama programs always have a home in the Northgate school district. These programs encourage out-of-the-box thinking, and are a key concept that all of our children will need as they grow.
• Special Needs – Northgate is great school district when it comes to educating and supporting students with special needs. While it is terribly unfortunate that the teacher assists have been recently furloughed, I still firmly believe that these positions are extremely valuable to ensuring that all students in the classroom are given the attention that is needed for them to be successful.
• Preparing our children for their next steps – Our educators and staff should always be paying attention to the growth of the students to make sure they are ready to take the next step in their education. Students too often move from high school to college feeling unprepared to face some of the real world challenges that are ahead of them. This also can be an issue in the students’ move from elementary to the middle high school: collaboration between the teachers is key so that students understand the actions they must take when preparing for the next stage in their lives. We do not want to rely on the teachers alone, though—parents should also encourage and educate their children on the changes they will face.
• A selling point for the community – Northgate School District must form a strong bond with the communities of Avalon and Bellevue, and become a selling point for the area. The school board and its communities cannot stand independent of one another and expect success. A strong school district can play a major role within a community; however, the state of the community also sets the direction for where the schools will go.
Overall, my vision is to ensure that we build the Northgate School District to encompass a sense of community, growth, and stability for our children. We need to ensure that school board members, our local council members and our residents continue to exchange ideas and promote a sense that “we are all in this together.” I know that with a focused effort from all three groups, Northgate will continue to be successful.
Northgate’s strengths & weaknesses/struggles and how I propose we resolve them.
One of Northgate’s biggest strengths is that we are a small school district: our students benefit from smaller class sizes, and the faculty and staff are able to get to know them and make observations that they would likely overlook with a larger student body. The downside to a smaller district is that we have a limited tax base, but still have to provide all the services that a larger district with a larger tax base provides. I feel we must work together to raise awareness of the decisions made by our local, state and federal governments that affect public education in our community. We need to contact our Pennsylvania state representatives in mass to make sure they know we are paying attention and make them aware of how their decisions will trickle down to our very small district.
We are blessed with many great faculty and staff members, as a large number of them live in the district and are loyal supporters of our students and the community. They also have a vested interest in the success of not only our school district, but our community as well. We need to rally around them and let them know that they matter to us and ask how we can help make their jobs easier. Take time to talk to our children about their day, and make sure they know what they can do to help our teachers: listening when their teachers are talking; being respectful of classroom rules and their fellow students, or coming up with ideas to help make our schools better. As parents, we can access their homework assignments and grades through the Parent Portal to help keep an eye on our children’s progress, and get in touch with their teachers if we see they are struggling.
One challenge I see is that we lack a sense of school pride. We seem to put ourselves down when compared to other school districts in the area. I do believe there is always room for improvement and we must continue to push ourselves to be better, but I don’t feel that we celebrate our successes as we should. We are a small district with limited funds for academic and extracurricular activities, but we have great students and staff who accomplish extraordinary things. We must figure out a better way to tell their stories. The district website has undergone a series of updates, and it is nice to see that it is regularly updated with “good news” from all three schools. This is just the first step. In today’s technological era, we have access to low- or no-cost tools that we can use to tell our stories. E-newsletters, social media outlets as well as traditional media outlets, and YouTube videos are all great ways to get the word out about who we are. Each and every one of us—parents, students, community members, faculty, staff and administration—can share our stories, listen to concerns and engage our neighbors and outsiders to help spread the word about our district. Most importantly, I believe that encouraging two-way communication with the parents, students and residents of Bellevue and Avalon will create a stronger trust between tax-paying residents and their elected representatives. In my multiple years of experience working in Public Relations and Marketing for an educational facility, I will encourage this growth while enhancing the image of the Northgate School District.
In the 2013-14 school year, one of our biggest challenges will be addressing the students who will be moved between the two elementary schools. We need clear communication on how the administration is handling the selection of students who will be moved, and they must establish a consistent policy that is easy for parents to understand. I had to switch schools twice as a student: once when I was going into middle school, and again when I was starting my tenth grade year. This was not an easy thing to do. We need to support our students who have to move and make sure they know that we understand how tough it can be. A list of frequently asked questions for parents and students would be a helpful tool during this transition period. I would reach out to our internal experts (faculty, staff and guidance counselors), as well as external experts for proactive steps we can take to help make the transition as painless as possible for our students and their families.
How do you see the council and school board working together in the future?
In these tough economic times, I am afraid that the tax cuts will keep coming and that grant money will continue to be tougher to come by, as there is more competition for the same amount of dollars. We can’t keep raising taxes on the residents of our local communities, so we must come up with some out-of-the-box ideas on how get the most out of every tax dollar, and use each of those dollars to accomplish more.
I see communication and cooperation between our school board and borough councils as a key component to solving this challenge. I will propose regular meetings of the school board and the councils of Avalon and Bellevue to discuss and review the issues that we face as a community. Working as a group to create a comprehensive five-year strategic plan for the area would be a great first step. Then we can pool our assets where appropriate to ensure we accomplish key goals in the areas of marketing and public relations; finding grant money opportunities and writing proposals; and revitalization efforts, community service opportunities and community engagement.
As community leaders we need to join forces, look to the future to become proactive problem solvers, and inspire our communities to rally around our schools, our business owners and our neighbors to help make our community stand out and stand strong.
If you have any questions for me, ideas to share or would like to discuss anything I’ve mentioned above in more detail feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com or connect with me via Facebook www.facebook.com/AmyJoyRobinsonForNorthgateSchoolBoard