State College Area school board candidate profiles: Laurel Zydney

Posted by Ed Mahon | on November 2, 2011 

Laurel Zydney, 49, unsuccessfully applied to be appointed to the board in 2007 and 2009.

Like other candidates, she’s highlighted her volunteer work and commitment to the community. 

“I’m really running because I care tremendously about public education. Both in general — I’m a public school grad, my husband, my children are — but also specifically this school district,” Zydney said in a CNET interview, adding that the State College Area school district is one of the reasons her family moved to Centre County.

She’s the only candidate in the race who has helped found a charter school.

On her campaign website, she says that she was involved with the Newark Charter School from 1998 until she moved to State College in 2002.

“We started because ... when we raised some concerns about some curriculum changes, some teaching changes, (the superintendent at the time) sort of said … ‘Just take your kids and go to private schools. You don’t need to stay here,’ ” Zydney said, adding, “We had worked hard to keep our kids in public school in a district where a lot of people hadn’t, not that we faulted them, but we wanted it for everyone. And so that’s really what got us going.”

Her campaign website says she co-wrote the charter for the school, “including initial policy decisions, curriculum development, pedagogy, school design, and management structure.”

She was also responsible for aligning the school’s Core Knowledge curriculum with the Delaware education standards and oversaw the application process.

The U.S. Department of Education selected Newark Charter as a 2010 Blue Ribbon School.

During the campaign, she hasn’t advocated for more charter schools in State College or in Pennsylvania. 

In interviews and public statements, she’s pointed out pros and cons of charter schools. And unlike candidate Samuel Settle she hasn’t argued that district needs to act more like a charter school. Two of children have attended State College Area School District-run schools, and her third is currently enrolled in one.

She’s been critical of vouchers for private schools, an issue that critics and proponents often lump together with charter schools.

But she has said that the experience of helping to found a charter school would help her as a school board member.

“I do think ... the experience I had was useful. Because it helped me see different perspectives and keep those in mind, like the teacher perspective, but also the administrator perspective,” she said.

Current status: Challenger seeking a spot on the board.

Political party: She’s a registered Democrat, running on the Democratic ballot. She cross-filed in the May primary.

An issue she thought the board handled well:

“I think they’ve been doing a better job, there’s always more you can do, but a better job with communication,” Zydney said, and she cited the budget cuts in the spring as an example. “It wasn’t perfect. …..but they came out with a plan, they had several meetings, they made revisions based on that. ...There was no way everyone in the district (was) going to be happy. But in the end, what I heard from people was ‘Well, we could see that they took that into account when they made the final decision.’ So that type of thing is very important, especially with those emotional issues.”

An issue she thought the board should have handled differently: She pointed again to the budget cuts this spring, arguing teachers should have been more involved in making recommendations.

“It seems like it was an administrative decision what to do. And I wasn’t clear ... how much teachers had been involved in the recommendations. My sense was that it was mostly a top down decision. And my sense is that that’s something we need to work on more,” Zydney said. “When I’ve worked with teachers before, yes, they want good pay, that’s very important and all. But also they want for their expertise and knowledge to be taken advantage of. And they want to be involved in those things. Because they see it day to day.”

Updated at 1 p.m Thursday, Nov. 3: In the profile of Dave Cannon, we mentioned that all the candidates except Lydia Glick cross-filed in the May primary. One of the candidates has asked to note that in all the stories. So we have.



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