By Elyena "NELLIE" de Goguel | East Side Monthly | Politics
Posted 8/15/2014 | Read on East Side Monthly
On March 21, the FBI descended on Gordon Fox’s home like a band of mosquitoes looking for blood; they arrived, sucked up whatever information they could gather, and quickly departed leaving behind a cloud of confusion and unresolved issues. Almost immediately after, Fox resigned as Speaker of the House and now for the first time in over 20 years, a freshman politician will represent the residents of District 4.
Three very different democratic East Siders are hoping to fill Fox’s empty seat: Aaron Regunberg, a 24 year old Brown graduate, dedicated community organizer and self proclaimed political science nerd; Miriam Ross, a lawyer, business owner and Roger Williams University School of Law adjunct professor who is, according to her own campaign slogan, “seasoned, experienced, trusted;” and Heather Tow-Yick, the executive director of Rhode Island’s Teach For America program whose family has voted in the district for four generations. Three candidates ranging in age, gender and experience, yet all share similar, progressive ideals. But, as was uttered in the film Highlander and which is just as applicable to this situation, “there can only be one.”
Heather Tow-Yick has the deepest connection to District 4 – her family has voted in the area for over four generations and Tow-Yick herself attended school on the East Side.
Education is obviously Tow-Yick’s forte – she heads Teach for America in Providence, has worked in the educational field for over 15 years, and has garnered a comprehensive track record in terms of establishing achievement within classrooms.
Unlike her opponents, Tow-Yick supports standardized testing and sees it as a helpful indicator of achievement.
From a corner table at the Three Sisters café, Tow-Yick states, “we do need to know and compare how students are doing across cities, towns, states, but it should be used first and foremost as a tool for improving practice in classroom teaching. This is the primary goal – compare and contrast then take action based on problems seen.”
Tow-Yick believes we’ve already made some positive steps toward improving Providence’s economy – reducing corporate tax from 9 to 7% and the adjustment of estate taxes - but how do we create an “entrepreneurial zone” for the city? She emphasizes how we need to look to the I-195 land as a great opportunity and model for testing economic development strategies. “We should be innovative on that front – do something different, bold.”
“Seasoned. Experienced. Trusted.” These are the traits that Miriam Ross believes differentiate her from the competition. Out of the three candidates she is the most knowledgeable when it comes to working with businesses, both as an in-house attorney at multinational corporations like GTECH - where she was involved in drafting ethics policies (among others) - and as an owner of her own law firm where she represents small business clients. She also teaches a number of courses at RWU School of Law specifically dealing with business, politics and ethics.
Ross knows that we need to attract new business to the state, which in turn, creates jobs, revitalizes our economy and boosts our nation-wide image. She believes that one way to achieve this goal is to establish a better regulatory system regarding the convoluted application process businesses have to navigate when applying for permits – something she is intimately familiar with as a chair on the RI Small Business Economic Summit.
In terms of education, Ross explains that we need to take a deep look at the state funding formula and reassess where our resources are actually going. While sitting in her office on Elmgrove Ave, Ross states, “I will get Providence and District 4 its appropriate share of state aid through the formula.” She is not a proponent of the current system of standardized testing, but she does concede that assessments, when used as a constructive measure and not as a punitive one, are necessary when determining achievement and success within schools.
Ross is also the most vocal when it comes to investing in alternative means of higher education; she explains that college is not everyone’s first choice and that its imperative to our state’s economy that we invest more in curricula that foster learning in “para-professional” and industry-specific jobs.
Aaron Regunberg came to Providence from Chicago to attend Brown. In 2011 he organized a group of students, faculty and alumni dubbed “Brown for Providence,” which, through rallies, petitioning and outside media pressure were part of a wider communal effort that helped convince the Ivy League institution to give an additional $30 million to the city. He also created the Providence Student Union, a nationally recognized non-profit that brings high school students together to advocate for the changes they want within their own educational institutions.
An ideal of empowerment is at the core of Regunberg’s campaign: in terms of criminal justice, he wants to see a greater investment in after school/ job programs for our state’s youth, a proactive approach he is already familiar with from his work as a member of the Board of Directors of the Billy Taylor House where these types of programs are already in effect.
In education, Regunberg wants to change what he believes is a top down, compliance driven culture – something he’s witnessed first hand from his work with the Providence Student Union.
“We’re not providing students with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed.” says Regunberg during a conversation at Seven Stars Bakery on Hope Street. “In order to do that, we need to take a more prudent than profligate approach to standardized testing; we’re sacrificing learning for what students call ‘drill kill bubble fill.’ ”
Regunberg is a strong advocate for bottom-up, grassroots driven legislative and policy adjustment and believes he is the only candidate who has the necessary organization and communication skills to make a distinctive difference in a house of 75 votes. This belief is supported by numerous influential community members: Clean Water Action, the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats and District 1 State Representative Edie Ajello are just a few who are advocating for Regunberg.