Below are the questions and answers from the Lawrence Times "Meet the Candidates" interviews.
I highly recommend you click the link and read the whole article to learn about the other candidates running as well.
Q: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the district, and what solutions do you have to fix it?
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 to our teachers and a living wage for our classified staff. This means digging into 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 is important. I have heard directly from some teachers that a reduction in class size is more important to them than a raise. Their effectiveness as teachers decreases when there are 30+ students in a class. Hopefully, by paying a living wage, we can increase the number of paras we have in classrooms to provide extra support as well. We also need to provide greater support 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. We should take what the more satisfied schools in district surveys are doing differently and see if we can learn from them and implement them elsewhere. Workloads also need to be evaluated. Anything that does not directly impact students and learning should go away if possible. Lastly, student behavior has become more challenging to manage post-pandemic. We need to provide more support to teachers and staff to help them. We need to provide parents or the community at large with more resources to aid in this endeavor.
What else do you want our readers to know ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election/Nov. 7 general election?
I am hoping we can start to put more focus back on student achievement. In particular, we need to work on closing the gap for students of color, students from low-income households, and students in special education. It is not just enough that we raise achievement for all, we must close this gap. There are several ways we can try to do this. Parental involvement has a strong direct, impact on student achievement. We need to foster closer cooperation between schools and parents/caregivers. The district is implementing a new social-emotional learning curriculum. I am hopeful about its impact on achievement. Social and emotional skills like critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and self-control are key to academic learning and broader child development. Lastly, we must demand that Topeka fund our schools. When adjusted for inflation, the base aid per pupil is less than what it was in 1992. When special education is not funded at the statutorily required level, we must take money out of our general fund to cover the shortfall. These general fund dollars could be spent on retaining and recruiting great teachers as well as in support of closing the achievement gap. Reversing the decline in enrollment is vital to our district. Montessori and magnet schools can only do so much to attract families when there is a shortage 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 the district.