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Belleville Henderson high school student enters school board race


BELLEVILLE — With many of his classmates preparing for graduation less than two months away, one Belleville Henderson Central School senior has bigger things in mind: a spot on the school district’s Board of Education.

John W. Allen, who goes by the nickname J.W., will challenge for the board’s lone seat up for election, after collecting about 110 signatures — more than four times the number necessary to be placed on the ballot.

The 18-year-old said he became interested in the position about two years ago, after he started going to meetings to learn more about the school. He said he liked the parliamentary procedure and debate that took place at the meetings.

“It was right up my alley,” Mr. Allen said, adding he had only missed two or three meetings in the two years he’s followed the board.

He said one of his main goals is to maintain funding for the district’s agriculture program despite overall budget cuts from the state.

“The agriculture program is what makes Belleville Henderson, Belleville Henderson,” he said. He also hopes to help the board improve its relationship with the teachers union.

Mr. Allen has participated in several extracurricular activities, including being president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter and playing center on the basketball team and first base on the baseball team.

Mr. Allen also has held multiple officer positions within the state’s FFA chapter and currently serves as its president. The job has allowed him to travel to Albany, Washington, D.C., and several school districts around the state. He also serves on the student cabinet of state Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who praised him for bringing good perspective to the cabinet’s discussions.

“He’s a shining star for the North Country,” Mrs. Russell said.

If he were to win, he would have to juggle his responsibilities as school board member with his classes at Cornell University, which he will attend this fall to study business. Despite the approximately two-hour drive between the school district and the university’s Ithaca campus where he’ll be living, he said conversations with advisors at the school made him comfortable that meeting attendance wouldn’t be an issue.

“The back and forth isn’t a problem if I were to get it,” he said.

Barbara L. Bradley, a spokeswoman for the state School Boards Association, said it was rare for students to run for board positions. She said students who do run for such positions usually take the opportunity seriously.

“They have the perspective of still being in the schools,” Ms. Bradley said. “They’re really on the ground floor.”

To win the Board of Education seat, he’ll have to defeat incumbent Kevin P. O’Rourke, who has served on the board for two five-year terms. He also has held several positions with the Jefferson-Lewis School Boards Association.

Mr. O’Rourke, who helps operate O’Rourke Ground Water Developing, said his experience with the board has helped guide its decision making and how it has spoken to lawmakers about the district’s students.

He also noted that, as a parent, he came to the board from a different perspective than his younger opponent.

Despite their differences in age and experience, Mr. O’Rourke had nothing but positive things to say about his opponent, calling him a “fine young man.”

“I think it’s wonderful that he’s running,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

Mr. O’Rourke said he looked forward to going out to try to win his seat, but said the decision would be up to the community.

“They have two candidates,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “Now they’ll have their say.”

Were Mr. Allen to win the election, he would join a small number of 18-year-olds in New York to have won election to their school boards, a group that includes current state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. In 1972, Mr. DiNapoli won election to the Mineola Board of Education, making him the youngest person in the state to hold public office.

The school district will hold its elections from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 15.

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