Robert Hoggard, 26
Robert Hoggard, 26, is a Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester hoping to win a seat on the Rochester City School District School Board. He’s invested in developing trauma-informed practices, restorative justice in discipline efforts, expanding quality after-school programs, and special education reform.
What was the best piece of advice you received before you ran for office?
I leaned on the advice of my advisor. I'm a Ph.D. student, and I spoke with my advisor before I spoke with anyone else. He knew it would be a challenging timeline, but he said you always have to follow your passion.
That encouragement to say, "I have a full plate, but when you're fighting for something greater than you keep fighting."
When did that light bulb go off? When did you realize you wanted to run for office?
There was a series of moments. The state appointed a distinguished educator to the district in which the educator interfaced like a consultant, but almost like a watchdog for the state. There is quite a bit of talk about the state taking over our district in a very undemocratic way.
And a lot of folks weren't impressed with the candidates. Normally someone in their first year as a Ph.D. student wouldn’t do this. But maybe I can go out and fight and make a difference.
I just see the district in dysfunction and it just caused me to push to the step forward and say, maybe I should do this.
What perspective do you think are currently missing on the board? And what are you hoping to bring?
I think we need more folks who are data-driven, and really follow what the data says. We have reports from a lot of folks. But we have not followed up on the recommendations of those reports or looking at how those reports quantify our work.
For example, we have one of the highest per-pupil spending programs in the country with almost $30,000 per student and almost a billion dollar budget. If you look at the outcomes, only 56% of our students graduate, and of those that graduate, only 6% of them are career college ready. We should be focused on career and college readiness.
Being data-driven is important as is having a sense of urgency. I haven't seen those two points.
I'm doing research at the Warner School of Education. Being a long term substitute teacher in the district and serving in a college bridge program, I've seen these issues. I feel like I'm positioned really nicely to really help us address them.
What are the issues you're trying to address?
I think if we address all the issues that happen outside their classroom, we’ll begin to address academic achievement. So, we need to really look at the wraparound services and programs that we provide. How can we offer more quality after-school programs? How can we make sure that our practices are trauma-informed? We’re going to invest more in restorative justice in our discipline practices so that less and less students are disciplined based off zero-tolerance policies and get long term suspended for reasons that we could have taken care of it in a different way.
At the core of my message is: if we address everything that happens outside of the classroom, we can impact academic achievement.
Why should people care about school board elections if they don’t have kids or other family in school?
Schools are our future. A vote in the school board is a vote in our future. And right now, our future doesn't look the best.
We need to wholeheartedly support the candidates that give us the best agenda and the best vision for the future.
What I've heard folks saying is, “I may not have kids in the district, but I pay taxes. And the taxes we pay the city helps subsidize the school district. And as of right now, we're not getting a return on our investment with our schools.”
You're getting your doctorate in education and you were a substitute teacher in the district. What first got you passionate about education?
I was always called to social justice issues. In undergrad, It was my college president who really pushed me to think about justice in different ways.
As I searched within myself, I felt like education is that gateway issue that can get you involved with other issues. If we really address issues in education, we can address poverty, violence in urban neighborhoods, and etc.
“Wait your turn. Sit down. I'm really tired of hearing that because we want to get involved in solving issues that haven't been addressed in the last four or five decades.”
This really got me pumped and passionate about education and working earnestly to make sure we have a better education system.
Do you think people have doubted you for your identity? For your age, race, etc.
Certainly because of age. We have quite a few baby boomers in the race. Anytime I say something like, “Younger folks are on the ballot across the country, and we’re ready to address these issues that haven't been addressed.” A lot of older folks take that as we're being disrespectful.
Wait your turn. Sit down. I'm really tired of hearing that because we want to get involved in solving issues that haven't been addressed in the last four or five decades. I wish there were some older folks, baby boomers who really took us under their wings to help mentor us. But many times, it's us just jumping out there and saying we need to change.
What is the best piece of advice you’d give to another young Dem considering a run for office?
Run. Pick up a clipboard.
If you're ever thinking about it, get out there and run. One of my friends lost a school board race in Florida, but if he got the chance, he would do it all over again. Because even if you lose, you can still bring some issues to the table that probably wouldn’t have been brought up in the first place.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.