The Douglas County Dems held a forum for all school board candidates on Saturday, July 8th. Below are the my answers to the questions asked.
I grew up in the Olathe public school system. This may sound weird but I was actually proud to be able to attend such great schools. I want my kids to have as good of an education as I did, if not better. My family moved to our current home just about a year ago. We were moving specifically to change schools in order to give a fresh start for one of our kids. It had nothing to do with what the school did or did not do for him. Socially he needed a change. We recognize how privileged we are to be able to make a move like that. We had tried transfer requests, but they were denied year after year. When my husband and I were discussing where we wanted to move, we debated about staying in Lawrence or moving to one of the big 3 districts in JOCO. Ultimately we choose to remain in Lawrence. This is where we had started our family, where our friends are, and it is the town we love. Not to mention, that my husband works for the district. He started as a para and now teaches at LHS. If we were staying, I wanted to make sure that I could help my kids get the best education possible and that was the final kicker to convince me to run.
In the years leading up to now, I have been a member of our schools PTA, even serving as treasurer for a year. I joined the school's site council, the superintendent's advisory board, the Lawrence Schools Foundation board and Future's committee all as attempts to see firsthand what was happening in our district. Those positions only allowed me to see so much. And the level of impact I could have in those roles was not great. I have considered running for school board for quite some time. The thought of being in a situation like this, talking to a group of people, answering questions on the fly, asking people for money, ugh, it makes me sick to my stomach. But for the opportunity to help improve our schools, it will be worth it to push myself out of my comfort zone.
Topeka has underfunded our schools for years. But they are not wholly to blame for the situation we are in. Poor choices by past boards have also led us to this moment. I hope to earn your vote and serve our community with the goal of improving our schools for all of our students, teachers, staff, and parents.
RECENT SCHOOL CLOSURES HAVE INTRODUCED MAJOR BARRIERS TO ACCESSING PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AND THERE IS A LOT OF FEAR IN THE COMMUNITY ABOUT PRIVATIZATION AND COMMERCIALIZATION OF OUR LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AS EVIDENCED BY THE INTRODUCTION OF MONTESSORI CURRICULUM. DO YOU SUPPORT THE INTRODUCTION OF CHARTER SCHOOLS INTO USD497? WHY OR WHY NOT?
I served on the Futures committee where we were presented with a lot of data, but not all of the data. Initially, I voted in favor of closing a school or possibly two. Knowing what I know now, I would not have voted that way. We did not pick the schools targeted for closure. When you distill a building down to numbers on a page, much gets lost. I mistakenly believed that from an equity perspective, not all schools targeted would be in one particular area. And it is hard to ignore the impact to marginalized populations as a result of these closures. 80% of Pinckney students received title funding, 40% of Broken Arrow students qualified for free and reduced lunches. I spoke at both school board meeting advocating against these closures.
I do not support the introduction of charter schools. Charter schools have typically come about when schools are failing. Our schools are not failing. Charter schools would further reduce enrollment in our public schools, diverting resources from our already cash-strapped district. Research on charter school performance has not borne out that charter schools are better at educating students. Results are mixed. Charter schools are not the solution. Reversing the decline in enrollment, is vital to our district. Montessori and magnet schools can't out weight the lack of affordable housing. Be it board members working with the city commission or in some other form, the district and the city should work together regularly to develop strategic initiatives with the goal of drawing more families to Lawrence.
THERE IS A SERIOUS LACK OF CONTINUITY OF LEADERSHIP IN EACH OF OUR SCHOOL BUILDINGS, AND EVEN MORE PRINCIPALS HAVE LEFT OR MOVED POSITIONS JUST THIS WEEK, COMPARED TO OUR HISTORY OF HAVING LONG-TIME STEWARDS IN THE BUILDING FOR YEARS OR EVEN DECADES AT ONCE POSITION. OUR CLASSIFIED STAFF, DESPITE RECENT SIGNIFICANT WAGE INCREASES ARE STILL $3 OR MORE FROM A LIVING WAGE. WHAT VISION DO YOU HAVE FOR STABILIZING THE USD497 WORKFORCE?
Nationwide we are facing a crisis in teaching. Fewer college students are choosing to become teachers, attrition is on the rise. Teachers are not just leaving their schools or districts but are leaving the profession. Staff instability directly impacts student achievement. This problem is not unique to teachers, school leaders are also leaving at higher rates. This makes it all the more important that we focus on retention and recruitment. In order to do this we need to tackle the working conditions and other factors that are prompting teachers to quit and dissuading people from entering the profession. Low pay, challenging school environments coupled with a need for more recognition and professional development all make it hard to recruit and retain great staff. We need to offer competitive pay and a living wage for our classified staff. This means digging in to the budget to see where there could be potential savings. The ability to fund contingency positions that allow us to plug staff in where needed in order to reduce class size would also be helpful. I have heard directly from some teachers that a reduction is class size is more important to them than a raise. Their effectiveness as teachers decreases when there are 30+ students in a class. Hopefully be paying a living wage, we can increase the number of paras we have in classrooms to provide extra support as well.
In addition to salary and class size, we need to provide greater supports for mental health. We need to create outlets for teachers, staff and school leaders to be able to ask questions and voice concerns without fear of repercussions. Fostering collaborative and positive cultures in our schools and ESC is important. The district conducts surveys. What are the schools with happier, more satisfied staff doing differently. What can we learn from them and implement elsewhere? Workloads also need to be reviewed. What are teachers and staff doing that does not directly impact students and learning? Can any of it go away? Lastly, student behavior has become more challenging to manage post-pandemic. We need to provide more supports to teachers and staff to help them. Are there resources we can provide parents or the community at large to aid in this endeavor?
CLOSING STATEMENT: (TOP 3 THINGS I WANT TO WORK ON AS A BOARD MEMBER)
As I mentioned in my previous answer, one of my priorities is to provide increased support for teachers and staff. This includes not only increasing compensation and shrinking class size, but offering better supports for their mental health and managing student behavior.
An additional priority revolves around school finance and the budget. We must DEMAND that Topeka fund our our schools appropriately. The state introduced the School District Finance and Quality Performance ACT which was designed to equalize educational opportunities statewide. At that time the base aid per pupil was set at $3600. Adjusted for inflation, that is equivalent to approximately $7576 in today's dollars. The base aid per pupil that was just approved in May is $5,088...nearly $2,500 less than what schools were getting 30 years ago! And if that wasn't enough, the state has continued to underfund special education. The legislature is statutorily required to fund special aid at 92%. They have not done this. As a result, the district will have to take money out form the general fund to cover that shortfall. That is money that could have been spent to mage wages even more competitive. The work of the future's committee was not completed. The district still needs to find more savings. In additional to salary increases, we need to build up our reserves and have money to cover the rising costs of health insurance, liability insurance and utilities.
Last, but definitely not least, we need to put more focus on student achievement. In Not only do we need to raise student achievement in whole, but we MUST work to close the gap for students of color, students from low-income households, and students in special education. There are several ways we can do this including fostering close cooperation between schools and families. Parental/familial involvement in schooling has a positive impact on student achievement. I am excited to see the impacts of the new social-emotional learning curriculum that is being launched. Social and emotional skills like critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and self-control are key to academic learning and broader child development. Well designed after school and summer enrichment programs can also improve achievement along with student-centered hands-on classroom experiences. One of the biggest impacts we can make is with early-childhood education. During the first five years of life, children's brains are developing connections faster than at any other point in their lives. Reaching these kids at this point in their lives has a massive impact on their outcomes later in life.
Below is a link to the Lawrence Times article covering the forum. I encourage you to read it and see what other candidates had to say.