RCSD grad poised to become youngest school board member ever

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester City School District is on the verge of having its youngest ever board member. 

Isaiah Santiago, 19, was one of the four winning candidates to come out of Tuesday’s primary election.

Technically Santiago hasn’t won yet. He and the other new board members are just Democratic nominees until the November election. But without a Republican running, it’s basically a formality.

“I love our school district, but there are things that has to be changed, in order for us to move forward as a city all together,” says Santiago.

This time last year, Isaiah Santiago had just graduated from the School of The Arts. After spending a semester at St. John Fisher University, Santiago decided he wasn’t done with the Rochester City School District just yet. So in January he launched his campaign for the school board.

“Since eleventh grade, every Tuesday and Thursday after school I sat in the board meetings,” he says.

Santiago said that going through the district so recently gives him extra insight to spark some change.

“And it’s time for that,” Santiago explains. “I think that when you have a long, stagnant system, it takes new energy to push that stagnant system.”

His biggest concern is increasing resources for student mental health. Santiago pointed to a peer who recently committed suicide — showing the need for these services. Students at the school gathered Thursday to release balloons in his honor — something Santiago attended.

“Because we do see a rise in youth suicide, we do see a rise in hurt young people hurting other people,” says Santiago. “We do see a rise of the lack of emotional intelligence taking the avenue of violence.”

Santiago believes that increasing mental health resources will also increase school safety — another major focus.

“So they know when they are angry when they are hurt, instead of temporarily satisfying it by hurting others, or getting into things that may help you for the moment — here the correct ways with dealing with that,” says Santiago.

He also hopes to foster strong collaboration between the district and other city resources.

“The education system doesn’t get better if Rochester doesn’t get better, and Rochester doesn’t get better if our education doesn’t get better,” he says.

Although he’ll be juggling college and high school next year Santiago says the stress is worth it.

“I understood in running that it wasn’t only just a candidacy, it was a statement, that young people are ready to see change. And it was also me kicking the door open to young people in our local politics.”

RCSD Board Commissioner Amy Maloy gave the following statement to News10NBC regarding Tuesday’s election results:

“Isaiah exemplifies precisely the type of civic engagement we want for all of our graduates. Boards should be diverse bodies, think-tanks composed of people with different life experiences and backgrounds. Isaiah will richly add to this environment. Youth voice/opinion is often cast aside as juvenile or inexperienced… and I think this disengages or discourages young people.

As a teacher I recognize and value placing an emphasis on youth voice as a form of getting more kids engaged in their communities, local government, and the policy-making process. We can’t call ourselves truly diverse without that voice. And so I welcome this young man to our ranks, and am excited for the future of our school district.”