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My qualifications for school board, besides being an economist, include experience in financial analysis, budgeting, capital planning, bond sales, and contracting, as well as a lifelong passion for education.
In my view, the top three issues currently facing the Ellensburg School District are the hiring of a new superintendent, resolution of facility issues (especially elementary school overcrowding), and addressing the problem of excessive standardized testing. Other important issues include some of those addressed in the subsequent questions, as well as other civil rights issues. The top issue for Ellensburg, in my opinion, remains facility issues. After finally passing a bond to renovate the middle school, we faced a serious problem with elementary school overcrowding. We need new elementary school capacity, and we also need a realistic long-term plan for maintaining and replacing all facilities so that unmet needs no longer take us by surprise. My goal would always be to meet the students’ needs at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers.
Charter schools have both pros and cons. On the one hand, they take resources away from regular public schools to meet the goals of the proposed charters, and it may not be easy to evaluate whether these goals continue to be met by the charter schools rather than changing over time. On the other hand, charter schools can sometimes address needs that cannot be met by regular public schools, such as providing needed opportunities for various types of disadvantaged groups. My understanding is that charter schools are not a big issue in the Ellensburg district and that there is community support for meeting special needs through the regular public schools.
Achievement testing is motivated by the laudable goal of motivating better teaching and learning so that all students have equal opportunities to succeed. Standardized tests are said to be objective, and therefore fair, evaluations that help hold students and schools accountable for learning and teaching. Critics argue that the tests disfavor cultural minorities and those with learning disabilities or different learning styles. They also do not measure the full range of student achievement, and they may narrow the curriculum by encouraging “teaching to the test.” Some argue that judging schools and students by results motivates improvements, while others fear that approach may reward the successful and result in even fewer resources being available for disadvantaged students. As a school board member, I would always support meeting legally-required testing requirements, but would also seek to change the law where appropriate.
I give credence to the research indicating that teenagers operate on a different time schedule from other children and adults. Thus, the important learning that occurs in high school can be impaired by start times that are too early for the times when students are alert. However, I understand that our 8:30 start time at the high school is not unduly early for most teenagers. If it were, changing it would pose problems for families and bus schedules unless start times were changed at all levels of schooling.
On-time graduation rate statistics are more meaningful now that their calculation has been standardized nation-wide. But despite recent improvements, significant differences remain by income, ethnic group, presence of disability or lack of English – indicating that a fundamental problem is inequality of opportunity. This is not a problem schools can solve by themselves; it requires changes throughout social, political, and economic systems. Also, it’s possible that higher graduation rates still reflect manipulation of data or lowering of standards. The graduation rate can act as another arbitrary metric that interferes with meeting the needs of individual students. The Ellensburg school district is committed to increasing its graduation rate to the national target of 90% by 2020. I hope its efforts are focused on those with the greatest need, and include measures not ordinarily thought of as academic such as support for finding food, housing, and mental health care.
Schools must create a safe and respectful atmosphere that allows teachers and students to focus on learning and feel free to discuss and confront bullying. Schools should weave education about bullying into the curriculum and train teachers (and bus drivers) about bullying and general classroom management. Like the Ellensburg school district, they should have a code of conduct and procedures about bullying, including making it easy and safe to report bullying. Schools cannot address bullying alone, however, especially cyberbullying. Parents must discuss cyberbullying with their kids, monitor their online activities, and keep lines of communication open in general. Schools should also coordinate with community organizations dealing with youth to create a shared vision and response plan for bullying. Finally, students should be encouraged to engage in constructive activities in their areas of interest so they develop confidence and friendships that help protect them from bullying.
The original purpose of education in America was to prepare students for good citizenship. Yet all federal funding for civics education ended in 2011. Still, in 2009 the Washington state legislature passed a bill that called for adding ½ credit in civics if the state board of education increased the required number of credits in social studies. The civics requirement is now in effect. Recently, an initiative by the Joe Foss Institute has encouraged states to make passing the U.S. citizenship test a requirement for high school graduation. The citizenship test relies on rote memorization and is in danger of being yet another standardized test for which teachers must prepare their students. Better preparation for citizenship, however, requires creatively-designed active projects that many teachers are unprepared to devise. With one of Ellensburg High School’s best teachers, Marco Bicchieri, in charge of our civics program, I have no doubt that we have an excellent curriculum.
I do not believe that students, who need to be in school, should be suspended for classroom disruption. This is also Ellensburg’s official policy; we want to keep all students engaged in their educational program. The challenge is to provide activities at an in-school suspension program that provide incentives for better behavior and promote continued subject-matter learning. Ellensburg has such a program, as well as providing for an individualized re-engagement plan for all suspended students. In addition, I believe that students should be disciplined but not suspended for bullying outside the classroom, as these students need to be in school to learn appropriate behaviors and minimize negative outside influences.