[ voices ]

5 Questions for Erika Bezio

5 questions for typography
Erika Bezio
Saranac Lake Central Schools Teachers Association

You serve as liaison for the Saranac Lake Community School. How did you make the transition from classroom educator?

I’m officially a classroom teacher on special assignment. I attended a district focus group about community schools. There was an opportunity to become involved and I was ready for the challenge. I started in the 2018-19 school year. This is my 19th year with the district and doing this work as a former classroom educator is a gift; I already know many of the families from my years of teaching.


What’s the first step districts should take when starting a community school?

Designating a staff person who’s committed to the community school model, and who can do the work, is important. You need to have someone who can take a broad look at what’s already happening in the district, to help students and families, and develop a master plan to support that work. That ensures details don’t fall through the cracks and keeps the program sustainable. I report directly to the superintendent, which helps us maintain a districtwide perspective. Saranac Lake is a districtwide community school.

Erika Bezio and son

What services are available through the school?

Our telehealth service allows sick kids to be seen by a pediatrician right from the school nurses’ office. Using a medical Bluetooth cart, the nurse can contact the doctor’s office and the child’s parents and, via a three-way connection, all parties can watch in real time as the nurse examines, for example, the child’s inner ear. If the child needs to be sent home, our full-time family advocate can provide transport and even pick up a prescription along the way. We connect families with agencies that can help pay rent or internet bills, get them signed up for health or unemployment insurance and directly provide them with food and financial support. We also offer a variety of summer programs for incoming kindergartners and provide free school supplies for all students.


Community partnerships seem to be an important aspect as well. How did you build that network?

Every county has a community service director and deputy. Suzanne Lavigne, the director of community services for Franklin County, reached out to me to learn more about the community school model and how the county could support our work. I joined a countywide task force and those connections help me build relationships with organizations like the YMCA and the United Way. Today we partner with 22 different agencies to provide services and programs for our students and families.


What’s a key part of Saranac Lake’s success?

Having the support of administration and the school board allows me to implement new districtwide initiatives seamlessly. Our community partners also keep us going. And, of course, funding is important. My first year we had zero budget. Since then, we’ve received (state) aid and we also continuously write grants. A former board member recently created the Saranac Lake Community School Foundation to ensure our community school will continue.