Allison Proszowski is a candidate for Board of Education in Clifton, New Jersey. She is running on a platform for school safety, expanding educational opportunities to all students, and increasing communication with students. Allison is also 18 years old! At Youth Caucus of America, we strongly support and encourage young people to run for public office because it brings new perspectives to public policy decisions. Earlier this week, Ms. Proszowski shared her experience with YCA as an 18 year old candidate for public office and offered some advice for young people interested in running for office.
What sparked your interest in running for Board of Education?
The short version: I was challenged by the Board of Education President.
The long version: The story of how I came to run actually started about two years ago. When I was a junior in high school, in October 2014, a couple students including myself created a Student Union, where we could discuss some of the problems the students were facing in the school. We addressed things such as overcrowding, school lunches, remedial, standardized testing, availability of classes, and grade weighting. We attended Board of Education meetings regularly to promote change about some of the things that needed to be fixed, and to push for the creation of a Student Representative position to the Board of Education. Over the last 2 years, I became very involved and attended almost every single Board meeting, yet when the Board continued to ignore us and make decisions negatively impacting our education, I decided I had to do more for the students. In March 2016 the district had a multimillion dollar budget deficit and their solution was to cut $2 million dollars from instruction, resulting in the loss of about 40 teachers. I was appalled when they approved this, and even more shocked when the Board President angrily criticized us, saying that no one wants to be in his seat making those tough decisions. At the next meeting I announced I would be running for the Board of Ed. I wanted to be the change for the town. I care tremendously about our students and teachers, and I want to be their voice on a Board that so often overlooks and ignores them.
If you win your election, what will be your main priorities on the BoE?
Above all, I want to increase transparency and communication between the Board of Education, the students, and the teachers. A lot of the problems and tensions that I’ve seen resulted from the lack of communication. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t look at all the sides and perspectives. If the Board were to meet and cooperate with representatives from the students and the teachers we could find mutually beneficial solutions. I think increasing communication could lead us to avoid situations such as the budget cuts that lost so many teachers, and instead find alternative solutions.
I also want to prioritize the safety of our school buildings. I’ve witnessed several emergency evacuations and bomb threats while I was in school, and many of the school buildings lack proper security. This needs to be fixed immediately, because students should not be afraid of going to school. My solution to this is for the Board of Education to create a school security subcommittee to specifically address the safety issues of all school buildings, and properly allocate funds to improve them.
Additionally, overcrowding is a major safety concern, since my district’s high school is the largest single campus high school in New Jersey. Overcrowding in the halls and in the classroom can increase their risk of getting injured in school, and can be detrimental to the education of the students. With excessive overcrowding, and with most buildings lacking air conditioning, the schools tend to be very uncomfortable, which makes it difficult to function and learn. I hope to install air conditioners in every classroom within the next three years, and alleviate overcrowding by reopening the annex building which was recently closed (due to budget cuts).
I also have several ideas for the future of the high school, such as expanding the honors program, and establishing a new technical school in our town. This would bring extra funding back to the district and encourage more students to attend the high school, because they would have more opportunities to get credits or certifications.
To summarize, my main goals would be to 1) improve communication between the Board, the students, and the teachers 2) address school security and overcrowding issues 3) improve and expand educational programs.
How do you believe your unique perspective as a young person will help you to serve your town?
I definitely think my age is a big advantage for the Board of Education position. Since I just graduated last year, I know the issues that the students are facing today, because I’ve been speaking about many of them these last two years. Many of the other commissioners and candidates don’t know what’s going on in some of the schools since they haven’t attended them in decades. My age puts me in touch with the student body and the teachers, and many of them have reached out to me to support my campaign. I’m the youngest person to ever run for office in my town, and I hope I can bring a new attitude to the Board, and help start a new era of youth involvement.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles you have faced as an 18 year old running for office?
A lot of people seem to think I am too young to serve on the Board, or fear that I will be inexperienced or irresponsible. One city councilman, who I’ve never even met, was even telling people in town not to vote for me because I’m too young and “not that bright.” (To people like this, I politely remind them that I graduated in the top 2% of my class, earned 22 college credits while in high school, and received a full scholarship to Rutgers University Honors College). I’ve also been attending Board of Education meetings since I was 16, before it even occurred to me that I could run for the Board, before I was even registered to vote. The fact that I am 18 should have nothing to do with my experience, my intelligence, or my eligibility to run for the Board, but unfortunately some people think I’m “just a kid.” I’ll admit that when it comes to politics, I am a little naive and inexperienced. But I am not running to be a politician, I am running to be a Board of Education member, and improve our schools.
What is the best advice you can give to a young person interested in running for office at the local level?
The best advice I can give to young person interested in running for office is the same advice people have been giving me about my campaign, which is to “Keep fighting the good fight.” In other words, don’t get discouraged, don’t give up, and remember why you are doing this. I ran because I cared about improving our schools. I ran because I didn’t want the students’ voices to be silenced. I ran to fight the injustices that corrupt politicians have been inflicting on our schools. When people criticize me for running, I just remember why I’m here. I keep fighting for what I believe in. If you truly care about changing your town, and want to get involved in local politics, I advise you to do the same. Talk to people, attend events, tell everyone why someone your age cares about the town. Don’t get discouraged by the negativity, and don’t stop fighting the good fight!
To learn more about Allison or to contribute to her campaign, you can connect with her via social media here:
She is raising money for her campaign on GoFundMe, and she will give back to her community by donating any extra money to a scholarship fund for local high school students!
Thank you to Allison for sharing her experience of running for office at 18 years old. We need more young voices in government; she is truly a prime example of a candidate who will work hard to ensure that youth are represented at the local level. Best of luck to Allison Proszowski in her race for Board of Education in Clifton, New Jersey!