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Four run for two seats on Saranac Lake school board

Meet the candidates

SARANAC LAKE — The school board election this year will be conducted by mail-in ballot, and residents within the Saranac Lake Central School District should have their copies already.

Saranac Lake has the Tri-Lakes’ only contested school board race, with four candidates vying for two three-year terms on the board. The seats are currently held by Jeff Branch and Mike McCreadie. Branch is running for reelection, but McCreadie is not. Michael Beccaria, Joseph Henderson and Zachary Randolph are also running for the seats.

Zachary Randolph

Randolph said he is running for the board in hopes of better involving the community in the school and its board’s decisions.

His son has spent several years in the district, his wife is a high school special education teacher in the district, and he spent a short time on the St. Bernard’s School Education Council when his son was there. He works as chief clinical officer at St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, based in Saranac Lake.

“I’ve been attending the board meetings, and there hasn’t been a lot of community attendance,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned in my work at St. Joe’s is leadership can only make the best decisions when they really know the voice of the community.”

He said the school will have a lot of tough decisions to make in the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, and he believes the current board has done “great work.”

He said he would like to see a cross-section of the community encouraged to pitch in on discussions. He said not everyone has a vote on board issues, but everyone should have a voice.

Randolph said he wants to be on the board because “It’s a way to serve the community, to get engaged.”

Joseph Henderson

Henderson has studied and participated in education for much of his life. He is a professor at Paul Smith’s College, has a Ph.D. in education from the University of Rochester and has published books on environmental education.

He has two kids at Petrova Elementary School and worked as a middle and high school science teacher for five years in Western New York. His wife is a pediatrician at Adirondack Health.

He is also a candidate in another election this month, running to be a delegate representing Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention. He is critical of Democratic leaders such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former President Barack Obama, who he said have not supported public education.

Henderson is a self-described “passionate advocate for both universal social goods like public education and small community schools in small, rural towns like ours.”

He said he wants to work on challenges posed by social inequality, the coronavirus, declining school enrollment and “the continued attacks on public education by politicians from both (political) parties.”

He said the school district is the linchpin of the community. He said one of the deciding events that led him to run was seeing how the district responded to COVID-19 by organizing meal deliveries for students, which he called a “beautiful sight.”

Henderson said he worries about the state cutting school funding.

He also said he believes teachers’ “craft” has been taken away from them by the system-wide focus on testing. He said schools are “little laboratories for democracy.”

Jeff Branch

Branch has served on many boards in Saranac Lake and said he is running for a second term on the school board because he wants to keep some stability for the school as it works through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s about what’s best for the kids and the district,” Branch said. “It sounds short and it’s pretty simple, but that’s always my guiding philosophy.”

Branch sat on the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees for many years and ran several times for mayor. Since 2016 he has been chairman of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee. He said a good board member has to ask good questions, be informed and be prepared.

He said the decision to run is never easy and that he has “a lot of irons in the fire,” but the virus convinced him to run again. His younger son is a student at the high school, and his wife retired from the business department this year. He said the virus has caused a lot of problems for the school community.

“It kind of breaks my heart this year,” Branch said. “Not being able to go through graduation is a tough thing for the kids.”

He said the future will likely not be easy, either. He said he feels good about the current school budget, which will be voted on by June 9 as well, but that the future of school aid is foggy.

Branch also said school will be very different when students return in the fall.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of patience and a lot of support from the board members,” Branch said.

“I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to live here and been brought up here, and I just like giving back.”

Michael Beccaria

Beccaria said he decided to run for school board after living in the area for several years now and feeling he knows the community and process well enough to make a difference.

Beccaria said he has a background in education and is the library and IT director at Paul Smith’s College. His wife is a special education teacher in the Saranac Lake district.

Beccaria said he and his wife moved from Rochester to Tupper Lake in 2000 and have lived in Ray Brook since 2012.

He said he is not running on specific issues but wants to be “data driven, student centered” on issues such as poverty, a shortage of young people in town and the relationship between the state and local school districts.

He said he knows people usually vote for people they know, and said voters should know he is interested in serving students and the school.

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