Her term may have ended, but commissioner isn’t finished with her work in education
Commissioner isn’t finished with her work in education
Q&A: Syracuse City School District Commissioner Katie Sojewicz reflects on her time on the board as the end of her tenure approaches.
This fall, Syracuse City School District faced another election year for its Board of Commissioners. The district, which encompasses over 30 K-12 programs and five alternative programs, serves over 19,000 students.
Katie Sojewicz, the now former at-large representative for the Board of Commissioners, was first elected in 2015 and then again in 2019. With over 25 years of experience in the education field, her career spans from teaching both students and other educators to administrative and non-profit work.
Almost eight years after being initially elected, Sojewicz did not run this election season again. Past her time as a representative, Sojewicz will continue to work within the Syracuse area and beyond as Professional Development Director of the non-profit The Reading League (TRL).
She has worked at TRL for over five years, first as a reading coach and then as the development coordinator. TRL has chapters across the country, showing other educational professionals evidence-aligned practices on how best to teach reading to students.
The NewsHouse spoke with Sojewicz about her work during her term, her greatest accomplishments and her outlook for the coming future.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What made you want to get into education, as well as specifically serving the Syracuse area?
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KS: I originally was a teacher in the Syracuse City School District and then left to do other things but stayed in education. When I left Syracuse City to do these other things, I still wanted to be involved because my three children were still in school in Syracuse. I wanted to figure out a way to be actively involved, and I was always interested in the school board. At the time that I originally ran in 2015, there were no current parents on the board – all the board members who were on in 2015 or who were running did not have children in the district. I thought that was a really important voice that was missing. That partnered with the fact that I was a teacher, I felt like I had a unique perspective to add. That’s why I originally ran again in 2019, and it was really to continue the work that we had started with the newer superintendent.
Now that your children have gone through the Syracuse City school system, have you noticed any changes since they first started or anything specific about their experiences?
KS: My two oldest children are both at Syracuse University and then we have a 15-year-old who’s a sophomore in high school still in Syracuse. What I have seen progress throughout the years is more opportunities, especially for students, and especially at the high school level. There are five high schools in Syracuse, and anyone in the city who’s a student can attend any of those five; it’s their choice. For example, if you were interested in the medical field, you would go to Henninger because they have the medical programs there. If you were interested in engineering, carpentry, or environmental issues, you would go to Nottingham.
Our youngest is at the Institute of Technology in downtown Syracuse. He’s in the media program, which is a partnership with Newhouse School. It’s really an incredible experience. He does all his regular high school, and he’ll graduate with a regular diploma, but then his elective for all four years is this media program.
Really, throughout my eight years on the board, I’ve seen these opportunities for students increase, as well as seeing an increase in students who stay in school because they have more choices and things to do that they’re interested in.
Syracuse University maintains close contact with the local community, hosting programs through the different schools on campus, Syracuse University Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, as well as local volunteer clubs. One affiliate that works closely with students in the Syracuse City School District is Balancing the Books, a volunteer organization through the Whitman School of Management that tutors students at Henninger High School and Huntington Middle School, member schools of Syracuse City School District.
Additional Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs are available at Corcoran High School and the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler.
Related to New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s education funding she pledged earlier this year, has that made its way to the district yet?
KS: We feel as a district — especially with our representatives, state senators, and state assembly people — very fortunate because they are really fierce advocates for making sure that we get the funding that we ask for. Luckily, we have a governor who is hearing them. What happens is that we will get the actual money in March, but we can plan on how to use it now. We know what we’re getting. That has certainly contributed to being able to expand our career and technical education programs and lots of other ways to make sure that students and families are engaged. We will take that money and immediately use it.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment personally during your term and your time on the board?
KS: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know if I have just one, but I definitely think about everything we were able to accomplish during COVID-19. We made sure that all students had a device if they needed it and that all students had a hotspot if they needed it. Obviously, the board didn’t do any of those things, but we were willing to meet on a minute’s notice and change things around, really to be flexible as everybody was. But also that we came together to really support what the district wanted to do for students. That’s definitely an accomplishment because COVID-19 was unexpected, and we had to change the way we did everything.
I was also very focused at the beginning of my term on equity, especially among the schools that have a selection process. We have a couple of schools, like our elementary schools and Montessori schools, that have a process where there ends up being more students that want to go there than can. It really wasn’t equitable when I first got on the board, and parents who had more capital and were more able to call and advocate for their children got the seats. I worked really hard, and it’s very equitable now.
Now that your term is up, do you have any specific plans? Are you staying local or trying something new?
KS: I’m still working in education. I work for a non-profit. I teach teachers how to teach reading. I teach them about the science of reading, and it has become increasingly busy. I travel a ton. I’m just going to continue to focus on that job, which I love!