Judge Speaks To JPS Staff Prior To School Year

Andra Ackerman, Cohoes, N.Y., served as Jamestown Public Schools’ guest speaker on Tuesday. The presentation left members of the staff in tears and garnered a standing ovation. Submitted photo

On Tuesday, Jamestown Public Schools hosted Cohes, N.Y, judge Andra Ackerman who served as a guest speaker for the district. The presentation had the district staff in tears and out of their seats.

At Jamestown High School on Tuesday, Ackerman detailed her childhood having lived in poverty and resided in a home of abuse and trauma. JPS Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said Ackerman was “awesome.”

“First of all, she got a standing ovation,” said Apthorpe, noting that to be a rare feat when someone addresses a room full of teachers.

Apthorpe said Ackerman’s lecture spent much time on her upbringing that involved deep pain. Ackerman spent eight years in foster care with three different families, has never met her biological father and as of 2017 didn’t know where her biological mother was located. But despite the hardships Ackerman faced in childhood, she graduated from Hudson Valley Community College, Siena College and the state University at Buffalo School of Law. She would later become the city court judge in Cohes.

“Even me, everybody was just crying and choked up,” Apthorpe said during Ackerman’s address.

Away from the courtroom, Ackerman created a program titled “United Against Crime-Community Action Network,” or simply U-CAN. The program mentors 16-21 year olds who experience similar situations to the one Ackerman dealt with growing up.

“Now she’s a big, successful judge doing things for teenagers,” Apthorpe said.

The superintendent said Ackerman’s speech resonated with JPS teachers because the story is a similar one they deal with repeatedly in the district.

During the lecture, a picture of Ackerman taken from when she was a child was displayed for the audience of teachers. In the photograph, Apthorpe said Ackerman looked like a typical elementary school student. According to Apthorpe, Ackerman said “you never know what happens behind a face,” referring to the picture of herself as a child when she was being raised in a traumatic household.

“We have so many kids, sadly, in similar situations still (in the district),” Apthorpe said. “We’re trying to get our paradigm to shift around how we look at kids.”