Anthracite Unite has taken a firm stance against corruption and institutional racism in the Hazleton Area School District, and we’ll remain committed to protecting working-class students’ right to quality education. Leading up to the May 21 primary elections, we’re running a series of posts profiling four working-class Latina mothers who are running for a seat on the Hazleton Area School Board, challenging the local petty bourgeois establishment.
Last week we profiled Marilyn Calderon. Here we present our interview with Taira Ferreras.
Anthracite Unite: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run for school board?
Taira Ferreras: I am a 28-year-old proud mother of three children. In 2014, I relocated to Hazleton with my husband and children from my hometown of Atlantic City, NJ. I’m a graduate of Lackawanna College – Hazleton, where I received an associate degree in human services. Currently I work as social service coordinator for a housing complex in Hazleton that is home to over 180 seniors and disabled citizens from our community. I am very passionate about helping people in our community. During my time at Lackawanna, I was a student mentor for the “Aspire Program”and also participated in many volunteer services in the area. In an effort to bring the community together I organized and created Hazelton’s very first “Multicultural Day“ event. This came from my experience with events like this growing up in Atlantic City. It was an opportunity for people from different cultures to come together and appreciate everyone’s unique cultural background. We also had information for Hazleton residents on various social services that are available. We’re planning the next one for late August of this year.
Many people have asked me why I want to serve as School Board Director for the Hazleton Area School District (HASD) and my reasons are genuine. I’m a true believer that diverse environments breed innovation and I want to bring that progressive change to HASD. We need a diverse school board with people who truly understand the unique issues and challenges of the schools. We also need people who are mindful of the issues the students, parents, teachers, and the community may be facing. My goal is to be a proactive school board member that positively impacts the student body and the community. I would bring tenacity, optimism, and diversity to the school board so that together we can create solutions that will help improve opportunity so that every student succeeds.
AU: One of the things you’ve talked about as you campaign is a Title 3 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Grant. Can you explain what that is and how you think it can help HASD?
TF: If elected, I would like to make a proposal to the Board for a Title 3 “ESSA” Grant along with several other proposals for Federal School Improvement Grants to help our School District. The student body at HASD is very diverse, and many of the students are trying to learn English, but the challenge is that out of 750 teachers in HASD, only 5 are bilingual.
According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Education 22 PA. Code §4.26:
Every school district shall provide a program for each student whose dominant language is not English for the purpose of facilitating the student’s achievement of English proficiency and the academic standards under § 4.12 (relating to academic standards). Programs under this section shall include appropriate bilingual-bicultural or English as a second language (ESL) instruction.
Therefore, by law we are required to make this accommodation in our school district. By obtaining a Title 3 grant it would help improve education for English-learning students. We need bilingual paraprofessionals and teachers to help students learn English and meet the challenging state academic guidelines. This would also help improve students’ academic achievement as a whole.
AU: If you were to win, you’d make history as being the first Latina ever elected to public office in Hazleton. But there’s also reason for working-class people of all stripes to find your candidacy appealing, isn’t there? The Hazleton Area School Board – and thus our children’s education – has always been controlled by a small group of well-connected local elites. Mostly people who, let’s face it, appear to care more about maintaining their own power than they do about education. Why is it important that these barriers come down?
TF: Myself and the women from “Moms for HASD” really want to bring that positive change.
Personally I feel that success in a diverse school comes from a balance of student self-awareness and community acceptance of others. I am a proud Latina-American, and I embrace both my national heritage and my cultural heritage – I was born here in the United States, and my mother is from Utuado, Puerto Rico. I make it a point for my children to embrace both cultures and to be proud of who they are. But I also want to represent everyone in the community, because I believe we are all ready for a change!
We need people on the school board who truly want to make a difference, people that are committed to finding solutions to helping our children succeed. I am a mother with children in HASD, and my family’s concerns are equally as important as the concerns of every other family.
Our current school board consists mostly of people who have shown a lack empathy for our community and our children, and of people who haven’t significantly made any positive changes for the school district.
As a community, we have to ask ourselves, why would we continue to allow the same people who cannot relate or understand our perspectives to represent our families and our children?
I believe every child here should have the best education they deserve, regardless of what language they speak or where they came from.
We need new open-minded, culturally competent and progressive people on the School Board if we want to ensure the future of every student in HASD.
AU: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission came to Hazleton recently as part of an ongoing investigation into possible discrimination at HASD. At the public hearing they held, we heard some heart-wrenching stories. You were there; what did you take from that? What actions would you take as School Director to take on some of the issues that came up?
TF: Attending the Human Relations Commission meeting, I felt empathy for the people there. What impacted me was stories from parents and the community about, for example, how their special needs child at HASD lacked access to the services they needed to catch up, and stories from former Hispanic students expressing discriminatory treatment.
I can’t help but ask: How can the school district abandon and discourage the most neediest students in our community?
Another issue I would like to address if elected to the school board is the fact that our school district security/police officers outnumber the amount of counselors we have.
School counselors are a vital part of the educational atmosphere. They help identifying student issues, whether its behavioral or academic, or even social-emotional issues around mental health.
I do believe in school safety and disciplinary actions when they are needed, however I think that many of the students at HASD have received extreme disciplinary sanctions for relatively minor offenses. This causes students to then be perceived differently by teachers, school administrators, and peers, and may affect their confidence and bring down their motivation for furthering their education.
AU: If people want to support your candidacy, what can they do?
TF: Local Elections are May 21, 2019. There are five seats open for HASD. Right now we have some excellent candidates running to make that positive change and I truly would love to see some of them elected. However, I am only asking for “one” of your five votes.
I am # 10 on the Democratic ballot. Regardless if you’re Democrat or Republican, what is important is the future education of our students. You can also write me in as your candidate.
The strength of our alliance resides in the diversity of our members within the school board. Together, we will positively change and improve the education for our children, our community, and our future.
You can follow Taira Ferreras on Facebook and Instagram (@taiferreras)
For more from Anthracite Unite’s series on Hazleton Areas School Board candidates, see: