by Joby Brown
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(BEAVER COUNTY)— Cynthia Cook, president of the Big Beaver Falls Area School Board, says that in order for our students to be prepared for today’s evolving job market requirements, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needs to adjust their budget and contribute to the school districts the amount that is required to operate efficiently.
“Currently the school districts are given 35 percent instead of the 50 percent contribution that we should be receiving from the state. Also if teachers were able to do more teaching students the knowledge of education instead of preparing them for all the required state testing that would help them with job preparation.
“I believe they (the students) must be made aware that there is a world outside of Beaver Falls in which they can and must be an active member. I believe that stressing the importance of citizenship, entrepreneurship, and a good work ethic, in conjunction with a commitment to academics will help them succeed.
“We seek to have top down authority, meaning that if the administration are effective leaders that is equipping and preparing the teachers and staff, then the students will model that behavior and hopefully desire to become successful. We have wonderful kids in our district, who can have unlimited opportunities to excel and be ready for the next level of their life,” Cook said.
Cook, who has a bachelor’s degree in human resource management, and a master’s degree in higher education, said she is an advocate for public education and wants to see students succeed.
“I have always wanted to serve and help students get to the next level. To help them understand that they have a choice, and that they need to seek to be wise decision makers. That with an education the doors will open more easily than without, not to say that it won’t happen, but that you need to prepare yourself for life. It has been said that if ‘we fail to plan—we plan to fail,’ and I want to help students along the way,” Cook said.
Cook was elected to the Big Beaver Falls Area School Board in November 2000, the first time she sought public office. She was elected Board president in 2005, served one year, was re-appointed in 2007, and still serves as president.
She explained why she decided to run for election to the school board.
“Through my work at Geneva College, I realized that some students were coming to college unprepared for college academics. Being a graduate of Beaver Falls, I wanted to do something to make sure that the graduates of Beaver Falls were academically prepared for college or whatever field they chose. I believe that equity and equality should always be factors in education, and I wanted to be part of that decision making. Also there was a transition of officers and a need to have more African-Americans on the board that would be a voice for African-American student who represent a portion of the district,” she said.
Cook spoke about challenges facing the Big Beaver Falls Area school district.
“One very positive challenge is to continue to be recognized as one of Pennsylvania’s best school districts. During the past three years, we have received the designation as the most overachieving academic school district in the state by the Pittsburgh Business Times. As with most districts in Beaver County, the economic situation is a major concern for us as we seek to provide a quality education that taxpayers can afford. There are numerous pressures that schools face with the economic downturn, we are faced with academic inequity due to an outdated and unjust state funding formula. Special education today is also a concern. There are many students who have been diagnosed with some learning disorder and therefore, the educational needs have to be altered for them,” she said.
Cook also discussed the impact of recent state funding cutbacks that have forced the Board to furlough some teaching and staff positions and not replace some positions lost due to retirement.
“This also means elimination of some programs that were helpful educational tools for the students, for example, our district is no longer able to provide after school tutoring and summer school programs for our elementary and middle school students. These programs give additional academic support to our children. We had to cut and eliminate additional support teachers and programs, such as Title I Reading & Math support, Special Education. These programs were successful and made a difference in student achievement and in the lives of these kids. Now our students no longer have the safety net we had in place for them,” she said.
Cynthia Cook worked at Geneva College in Beaver Falls from 1994 until 2011. She held many positions in the student development department that involved building relationships with the students and helping them to matriculate and become successful. She served as the director for multicultural student services, helping students become acclimated to the college, particularly for students from a wide range of ethnic orientations.
Serving as school board president and as a dean and director at Geneva College, were each demanding in their own way.
“I am a born and bred resident of Beaver Falls, and I am a proud alumnus of the Beaver Falls School District. We are that hidden treasure that many people do not know about. Despite all the bad that people may read or hear of regarding Beaver Falls, our district is something that I am proud to be a part of when decisions are made. In the past three years we have received Pittsburgh Business Times’ designation as the most overachieving academic school district in the Commonwealth.
“Additionally we were second and third in the preceding years. We are proud of that designation and all the accomplishments the students achieve on the football field, basketball court, and on stage,” she said.
She said while at Geneva, which is located in the city of Beaver Falls, she enjoyed working with all students, helping them to accept others for who they are, and to learn something from those that they came in contact with. Developing relationships with students and seeing the impact they had on one another, was an accomplishment, she said.
Now that she has left Geneva College, Cook said she is looking to the Lord for what is next in terms of employment.
“I want to always stay connected with serving people and helping them turn the light on, as one might say, so that they too can be what they are called to be.”