Responsibilities as a School Board Director
As a school board director, I would take seriously my responsibility to help shape the education that students receive. If you are unfamiliar, the responsibilities entrusted to school board directors are: levying taxes, approving budgets, adopting curriculum, evaluating the superintendent, implementing disciplinary procedures, and hiring personnel. In addition, I will take an oath to uphold both state and federal laws that shape our public education system.
Vo-Tech and Life Skills
Many students feel a lot of pressure to go to traditional college, seeing this as the only possible path forward, and sometimes, those students' gifts are simply not in the traditional classroom. Vo-tech and other career education programs help all students achieve their potential while giving them the confidence they need to succeed outside of the traditional college track. Over the years, I have often encountered students that either don't have a lot of life skills or who wished that they had courses in high school that better addressed the life skills they would need as they entered adulthood. They feel that traditional academic requirements are so tight that there is not enough room for courses that provide practical skills: budgeting, how to pay taxes, understanding insurance, etc. Students benefit when we have curriculums that give them a wide array of options that can help to eventually shape them into responsible adults.
Nationwide there is a teacher shortage due to a combination of retirement and more people leaving the profession. In order to address the teacher shortage, our district needs to create an environment where teachers can thrive. We need to work harder at making this a district where teachers are respected and their expertise is valued. We also need to create conditions that would draw talent to our district, and it isn't simply paying more. If we could give teachers classrooms that are a manageable size, access to innovative materials, freedom to use the classroom practices that they know work best, we could attract teachers to our district. From my experience, teachers and educational staff go into education because they want to serve others and to help children succeed; we need to foster an environment that both encourages our current teachers to stay and future teachers to want to come here.
As I spoke with parents and guardians during discussions about the middle school consolidation, I began to notice a trend. So many parents/guardians believed that the consolidation would negatively impact their kids in the special education program or that the special education programs in general were not supporting kids in the ways that they need. Many mentioned a shortage of personal care assistants as well as a lack of space needed for support, like sensory rooms and spaces for physical therapy. Others also mentioned that their kids did not get the required least restrictive environment (LRE) that requires students to be in the same classrooms and activities as much as possible with other students. In addition, the amount of special education expenditures has gone up significantly over the last decade and the number of students with IEPs has increased. The least we can do is find a way to foster a more inclusive environment for students with disabilities and those in special education programs by promoting more awareness about and respect for the experiences of these students.
As a board member, I would be committed to our students' safety. When we discuss safety, we tend to drift toward the largest concern: active shooting situations. Like many other parents, every time there is an active shooter event, we worry endlessly about the danger our kids might be in just by simply going to school, and I know the hard conversations that we have to have with our kids in order to make them feel safe in school. It is important that we have trained school security personnel, and I was glad to see that the district has been able to obtain additional funding for increased personnel. In addition, the modifications to the high school as part of the revitalization project will help to provide a more protective entryway for an active shooter situation. These are necessary steps that we must take in order ensure the safety of our kids.
We must prioritize the mental health of our students in order to help them to succeed. As an instructor, I've seen a steady increase in mental health issues over the last ten years; however, the pandemic caused an even sharp increase in the amount of mental health care students need. Also, death by suicide is one of the leading causes of death in teens and young adults. We need additional staff to increase intervention practices and to help students get the accommodations that they need. These students have had a profound disruption to their emotional and social development as a result of the pandemic, and we need to make sure that our school system provides a safe and supportive environment.
One of the comments that I hear most often from parents is that their kids are being bullied at school. Despite many programs that have been directed at bullying, it doesn't seem to be enough. One of the reasons that this is the case is again the class sizes in school. Teachers and staff are overextended, and as a result, they cannot be aware of everything that is happening in a crowded classroom or in the hallways. Lengthy, overcrowded bus rides also contribute to this problem and give students no reprieve from these damaging situations. Like teachers, our dedicated bus drives cannot monitor every child on the bus when their attention needs to be focused on driving safely. Finally, we need to hold students accountable for their actions when they engage in this type of behavior.
Funding for Music and the Arts
It often seems like when districts need to tighten budgets, the curriculums that get cut are often those in the arts. In fact, it was just announced that Hempfield Area High School will be losing a number of its music courses (although there are three new elective music courses). The arts are important for a well-rounded education, and they provide numerous benefits for kids. For music in particular, there is a correlation between musical training and mathematical aptitude. When the district is put in the position of cutting courses, I would like for there to be better communication about those cuts to the students, parents, guardians, and community members with the possibility of collaborating to find other possible solutions.
Opting Out of Curriculum Texts
I would continue to support the practice in the district of allowing parents/guardians to opt out of a text in a class that they do not want their child to read. I have already encountered this with one of my kids. Whenever the teacher assigns a book, I am given the option for my child to read an alternative text. I believe this approach respects both the expertise of the teachers and the wishes of parents/guardians.
I know there have been a lot of questions about the proposed book policies, and I also know that there has been a lot of misinformation about this topic. I am not the type of person who likes to jump on a bandwagon, so I have been taking my time to do my homework. I’ve been attending both board meetings and policy meetings as the book policy has been revised. I wanted to take the time to carefully listen to and weigh the perspectives of different community members as I, myself, think through this issue. If I were elected to the school board, I would bring this same careful deliberation on any issue, making sure that I had all the information and was as informed as possible before voting.
I also know that there have been some jarring images circulating on social media that certainly give me pause as a parent. So, I have also been taking the time to see what books are on the shelves of our libraries and what books have been challenged and subsequently pulled from the shelves. I am currently waiting on a Right to Know request about this information. I was hoping to have this information before formulating a complete response. As I said above, I like to make sure that I do my research.
I am concerned that the book policy revision process has been going on for a year, making it difficult for our educators and librarians to move forward with creating libraries, an important institution embraced by the founding fathers, that serve students’ educational needs. If a policy is not enacted soon, the process will remain in limbo even longer.
In book policies like this, it is important that we balance the expertise of our librarians and teachers with the concerns of parents and community members; that is a very difficult road to navigate. I am also concerned about the tone of the discussion regarding the topic. I am someone who believes in the importance of policy and process and that we stay committed to upholding them; as a member of the school board, I will be asked to do this in addition to upholding the laws that guide our public education system.
There are two important policies being discussed right now—one that details the selection of resources for the library as well as one that addresses potential challenges to resources that can be made by parents and community members. The new draft of the policy regarding the selection of materials provides clearer guidelines about the resources that can be obtained for the library while valuing the expertise of our librarians and teachers. I believe this will provide the types of parameters that will ultimately help our educators and teachers in selecting content for each age range of students.
The new draft of the policy regarding challenging books also gives community members the opportunity to discuss any resources that they believe to be problematic. The challenge process has evolved to include a balance between community members and members of our public education system.
Considering that these policies have been under revision for over a year, it seems prudent at this point to vote on and try these policies. There are no perfect policies, and until we try them, there is no way to know how effective they might be. Administrative policies like this can also be revised, if need be, learning from what does and does not work.
With that being said, if there are a significant number of challenges against resources in the school district, I am worried about the impact this might have on taxpayers in the district. In general, book challenge processes are very expensive. For instance, Lee’s Summit school district has had roughly 100 books challenged. They have reviewed about half of that amount and already spent about $19,000. If something like that were to happen here, the ripple effect could eventually place an undue burden on taxpayers while also diverting money away from what is most important: our kids’ education.