Two Latinas Seek to Diversify LI School Boards

Sonia Spar, left, is running in the Greenport Board of Education election, and Elizabeth Silva, right, in the Riverhead Board of Education election. (Photos via RiverheadLOCAL en Español)

[Editor’s note: On May 15, Elizabeth Silva became the first Latina elected to the Riverhead Board of Education.]

Racial and ethnic diversity within Long Island’s East End school population has increased in the last decade. Statistics say that, in most schools districts in the South Fork and North Fork, there is a 50 percent chance that a student entering a classroom will be non-white, most likely Latino.

New York City Department of Education (DOE) data shows that, in the Riverhead school district, for instance, nearly 62 percent of the 5,490 students currently enrolled are non-white.

Specifically, 48 percent of all students there are Latino, 11 percent are non-Latino Black, 1.6 percent are multi-racial, 1.2 percent are Asians or Pacific Islanders and 0.2 percent are Native American. Some 38 percent are non-Latino white.

The figures are especially important when taking into account the fact that just a decade ago, during the 2007-2008 school year, only 18 percent of the students enrolled in Riverhead were Latino, according to the DOE.

This means that there has been a 30 percent increase in this particular sector of the student population in 10 years. In comparison to other races or ethnicities, whose numbers have dropped, Latinos are the only group to show growth.

Reports documenting other East End districts show that this pattern repeats itself in both the South and North Fork. A decade ago, 23 percent of the population in North Fork’s Greenport district was Latino. Today, it is 52 percent. Similarly, in Hampton Bays, South Fork, for instance, 34 percent of all students enrolled in 2007-2008 were Latino, while today’s figure is 55 percent.

Still, this change in demographics in the East End’s schools is not reflected elsewhere in its districts. The lack of diversity among the staff – both in classrooms, such as teachers, and in the government and school boards – often creates a disconnect between students (and their families) and the school district.

(…)

During [the Tuesday May 15] election, two candidates – in Greenport and Riverhead – aim to change the configuration of their respective school districts and add more diversity to match their own views.

Elizabeth Silva, 55, a resident of Aquebogue, was born in Manhattan of Colombian parents and raised in New York City and East Hampton. She is also the first Latina to run for the Riverhead school board election.

Byron Pérez, of Guatemalan parents and who chose not to run, temporarily joined the board last year after a seat was left vacant [because of a resignation].

Silva has a degree in business administration from Marywood University and holds a master’s in early childhood education, special education and bilingual education from Adelphi University. She is also a certified bilingual special education teacher and has worked at the Eastern Suffolk BOCES for almost 18 years. She is married with two daughters, and her eldest will soon graduate from Sarah Lawrence College. Her youngest is in the eighth grade at the Riverhead Middle School.

“The Latino population has grown significantly on the East End. I remember when I used to go to school in East Hampton. There were two or three of us Latinos in the entire school. That has changed,” said Silva.

“We need to be aware of this change and make better decisions for these bilingual children, as well as have better communication with the parents.”

Silva added that, at the moment, there is a lack of understanding on how to deal with bilingual children. While in the long run these children may end up succeeding in school, being completely fluent in English takes time, and that is not being taken into account.

“The exams and tests these kids are taking are inappropriate. There are many other strategies we need to start applying with our students,” she said.

In addition, Silva said that her objective is to promote meetings and other activities to help parents – particularly Latinos – to communicate better with their children and become involved in their education.

“We must create safe spaces for the Latino population to participate,” she said. “The superintendent [Dr. Aurelia Henríquez] has great ideas and plans to achieve this, and I want to do everything I can to help her.”

(…)

“Other voices” in Greenport

Sonia Spar, 44, born in Bogota, Colombia, and a resident of Greenport, is the first Latina to run in the Greenport school board election.

Spar holds a degree in modern languages from the University of the Andes in Colombia, with minors in political science and history. She also has two masters, one in Middle Eastern affairs from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the other one in international relations, also from the University of the Andes.

Currently, she is (…) the co-chair of the Anti-Bias Task Force in Southold.

Spar decided to run after attending a number of school board meetings and learning about their budget deficits.

“I want to create an education foundation for Greenport schools modeled after the ones in Southold and Shelter Island so we can have access to private funding and grants as well as other types of financing that may help the district,” she said.

Spar is married and has two children, 3 and 7. The oldest is in the first grade at Greenport Elementary School.

“It is very important to hear other voices in the school, to have more representation and to bring the needs of everyone in the community to the table,” said Spar.

She added that her experience dealing with minorities and nonprofit organizations has prepared her to create new initiatives in the district.

“We need to do different things. Doing the same is not working. We need to give incentives to people to make them want to take part [and] educate the community.”

(…)

School board elections will be held on Tuesday, May 15.

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