Editor's note: Here are responses to a questionnaire from the Dolores Educational Association from the final two candidates seeking seats on the Dolores School Board RE-4A. Responses from Dan Jones, Joye McHenry and Linnea Vass ran in The Dolores Star on Thursday, Sept. 26.
Why are you running for the school board?
I'm running for the school board because I believe I can help improve communication among all the stakeholders who are concerned about the quality of education that is provided to our children and teenagers in our community. Last year was a very divisive year, and my concern is that our children and teens learned some lessons that they didn't need to learn. As parents argued with administrators and coaches, a lot of attention was diverted from focusing on quality education. I believe I am a good listener, clarifier, and consensus builder, and can help the school board and the community re-focus on what is important. And I believe when we do this we can teach students how best to resolve issues and get back on track teaching students as they grow into adulthood.
What are your goals and priorities for our district?
My goals and priorities first focus around quality teaching in the classroom that's supported by parents, administrators and the community at large. I have a vision that I believe would help us stay focused on what's important. I think it would be wonderful if at each board meeting, school board members, administrators, and the community parents and others each sat on various sides of a triangle, and in the middle were three students (perhaps each being a "Student of the Month"), one from each school level, and their parents. And the folks on the sides of the triangle look at the students and families and ask "What are your life goals? And then we say "how can we help you be successful in school so that you can attain your life's goals?" To me this would be a great way to begin each school board meeting. This I believe would help us, first and foremost, focus our attention on teaching our children and teens.
Second, because our professional staff, especially our teachers are so under-paid for what they do, we need to ensure that we have the highest salaries possible in our school district. As administrators work hard to balance the costs of facilities, buses, supplies, etc., we need to ensure that we take care of those who do the work of the school district: Those who teach children how to become educated, responsible adults.
Third, we need to move our public discussions away from argument to consensus. Open, frank, informed conversation can always result in finding the best available solution to any problem or situation. Yes, sometimes people's preferences aren't realized. But if we strive to find the best solution for the benefit of all students and teachers, we will always end up with what's best for the majority, and the future.
What are the most pressing problems in our school district?
Better communication between all stakeholders, including parents, community members, administrators, the school board, teachers and students. This needs to be a priority so that we can then move forward with the issues that need to be addressed including past issues like construction of the new facilities, website publication of school policies, school board notices and meeting minutes, etc. We're preparing our students to function in the 21st century; we need to ensure that we're communicating in 21st century ways.
Maintaining a salary structure for teachers that is above-average in the region, and in the state. If we want to recruit and retain good teachers, we need to pay them as professionals for what they do.
Funding support for expanding school populations. Amendment 66 needs to be passed. Our culture is hesitant to vote for any tax increases. And yet, we see what has happened with all of our infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools, municipal services.) This minor increase will help this school district do more for more students filling our classrooms, and the educational results will be better-prepared students. Additionally, increased funding for teacher's salaries and supplies and equipment to do their jobs will contribute to better-satisfied teachers, and ultimately better learning.
What will you do to ensure that our district gets adequate local, state and federal funding?
I was already invited to attend a Colorado Association of School Boards meeting, and found that experience to be a great source of information relative to what's happening in our state Legislature. I will look for other opportunities to learn, and then bring that information into the dialogue in our community so that our superintendent and administration staff can pursue avenues of funding, including state funding and grants, etc. I'm ready to learn, and help our school district apply for everything that's available.
What is the role of online and home-schooling in our district?
I believe they are viable alternatives to public classroom education for those who truly need different ways of learning. I have four concerns. First, I have heard that some parents do this out of dissatisfaction with public schools, and unfortunately aren't totally committed to the demands of educating their child. The child suffers, and ultimately, so does our society. Second, I understand that public funds are removed from the public-school system when a child is home-schooled. This hurts the overall effectiveness of public schools. Third, children are tested at the third-grade level (TCAP), and if they aren't at standard, they return to public school and have to play catch-up. This isn't a good situation for the student, the teacher, nor public education. And finally, to me an obvious shortfall in learning is the lack of socialization with peers. But this can be overcome when parents are committed to the full range of educational needs.
What ideas do you have for how schools should measure student achievement?
It truly takes a variety of measurement tools to determine student achievement, and from what I've heard at school board meetings, our administrators and teachers are working hard to identify and use all sources of information. To create well-rounded adults, we need to evaluate student development in different ways so that we can help "shore up" weaknesses. Add to that the need to develop character and honesty and respect in interpersonal skills, and the responsibility becomes daunting. To help with all of this, we need to seek funding that can allow our school district to hire more professional counselors and people who analyze data and take some of the burden off of the teachers. For too long in recent times in public education we have been laying more and more responsibility on the backs of teachers, and taking away the necessary time to prepare and teach students content knowledge. We need to reverse this trend if we want to improve public education in our school district.
What role (if any) should our district take in recruiting students from other schools?
Our first priority of course has to be to the students in our district's geographic area. We are tasked as a community to educate the children here, and help them become the best adults they can become. If we have facilities, and if we have the staff to handle more students than we have in our district, then we can and should include some students from outside our district. After all, if we have a good product, it's incumbent to offer it to others, and improve the future of our world for everyone's sake. But if we don't have facilities and staff to do this justice, we should not just pursue students to increase our income.
What do you believe is the role of a school board member in relationship to the community? To the superintendent? Principals? Teachers and support personnel?
A school board member's relationship to the community is to be a conduit for ideas, thoughts, and opinions about educational practices for the children of the community to the board and the administration.
A school board member's relationship to the superintendent is one of supervision and oversight in bringing community, parent, teacher, and student perspectives to the job of administering the business and educational practices of the school district.
A school board member's relationship to principals is to be one of oversight on behalf of the school district and all stakeholders. While the superintendent supervises the principals, it's important that the school board knows what the principals are doing and why, so that they can be understood and articulated to all stakeholders.
A school board member's relationship to teachers and support staff is similar in the manner I mentioned above for principals: being aware of what they're doing, so that it can be communicated with various stakeholders. I think school board members need to spend some time monthly in the schools, talking to teachers and support staff and hearing their concerns first hand. This then needs to be shared with others, so that issues and concerns can be addressed. As stated above, open, frank and honest discussion helps everyone get the job of education done. And it's done best when we help give teachers and support staff the time and support to teach.
As a school board member, what kind of communication do you want with the Dolores Educational Association?
I would hope to create a relationship where we could openly talk about teacher issues and concerns in a frank manner, helping both the Dolores Educational Association and the school board dialogue and reach mutual solutions to mutual concerns. Perhaps the Dolores Educational Association, if you don't already, could invite a different school board member (on a rotating basis) to your meetings each time you meet.
How will you work with teachers and staff during salary and benefit discussions?
My bachelor's degree is in secondary education, so I have a bias toward teachers. That having been said, as a board member I believe my responsibilities will be to strive to balance the needs of the school district with the needs of the professional teachers and support staff. Being informed about what teachers do in the classroom, and in their preparation and on-going education outside the classroom, will enable me to better support teachers and support staff in meeting their personal needs relative to salary and benefits.
What is your stance on Amendment 66? Why?
I believe everyone needs to support Amendment 66 so that school districts can do more to support quality education. I believe we have "bled" the system too much, and everyone needs to step up and support the education and development of our children. Public schools play a vital role in the development of knowledgeable young adults who can contribute to our society in positive ways. And it all starts in the classroom, with teachers who's personal lives are secure, and who have the materials, training, etc. they need to do their jobs effectively.
How do you plan to communicate with the community?
I will be available to meet and discuss anything that concerns stakeholders within the bounds of what can legally be discussed, without violating confidentiality rules. Having said that, I'll attend any public meeting to which I'm invited and meet with individuals who have concerns. People can contact me directly via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will always be courteous, listen and clarify the concern, and strive to find an answer and get back to the person or persons in a timely manner. For me, the key to resolution of issues has always been timely listening, research, and resolution. I would bring this approach to my position as school board director.
How should the School Board respond to community concerns?
Interesting phrasing of the question. Does "community" mean "community-wide" or is it defined as "parents" or "interested community members"? I personally raise this hypothetical question because there are some people in the "community" who think that school board members should be parents or grandparents of children or teens in our school system. Since I'm neither, I need to state I'm "just" an interested community member who believes that all of our children in the community are "our" children; that everyone who loves our community and nation needs to be concerned about teaching our children to grow up to be contributing members of our society; and that I, like others like me, with the life experiences raising children in different school systems around our nation (I was in the Air Force for 23 years when I raised my two sons - my oldest son was multiple-handicapped and my second son graduated from high school first in a class of 600 students and graduated from the Air Force Academy) can bring all kinds of experiences to this position - all to help "our" children in "our" community grow up in this 21st Century world.
That having been said, all concerns from all stakeholders need to be seriously considered. And in open and frank discussions, concerns should be dealt with and resolutions reached. Often times individual people's concerns cannot be met as they impact the majority, but in any event, all concerns need to be addressed and professionally and courteously dealt with in a timely manner.