PSD Board of Education Candidate Survey (District C)
How do you think the public-school system can be more successful?
Poudre School District is one of the best in the state, with quality teachers, great facilities, adequate funding, significant parent involvement, rigorous goals, and a strong, clear vision and mission. Improvements can always be made, however, and I believe PSD can improve on issues of collaboration, transparency, and camaraderie among parents, teachers, students, administration, and the community to ensure that we are providing the best possible education for every child in the district.
I believe the Poudre School District is doing a good job. I have 5 children and 6 grandchildren who have attend PSD K-12 and I am grateful to the fine teachers who have taught them. However, even the best can improve and I think we should continue to seek ways to involve parents in the education of their children. It is not the responsibility of the school district to educate children, it is the responsibility of the parents to use the services of the district to help them educate their children.
What is your philosophy and/or approach to education?
As a public librarian, I believe education is a lifelong endeavor. Education does not–and should not–end when someone’s schooling does. For this reason, our schools need to prepare students for a life of learning by providing a holistic education that encompasses academics, sports, music, theater, social skills, and mental, physical, and emotional health. This comprehensive approach prepares students for future learning opportunities, builds their resilience, and allows them to be graceful in their successes, as well as their failures.
My philosophy is in keeping with the school system’s mantra – Educate every child, every day. My approach is to find the funding to make that happen.
Do you have experience working with children in a public-school setting? Have you given time volunteering with students in the Poudre school district?
I have spent over twenty years volunteering with the Poudre School District. Before I even had kids of my own, I volunteered at Poudre School District’s Channel 10, and then, once my children were in school, I served as PTO President and chaired the Read-a-thon at Tavelli Elementary. I currently volunteer for the theater group at Poudre High School. Early in my professional life, I worked as a Media Assistant at Poudre High School and now, as the Digital Literacy Librarian at the Poudre River Public Library District, I teach coding classes for children.
My first elected job was as secretary of the Barton School PTO. As my wife and I educated our kids with the excellent assistance of PSD, we served in numerous volunteer positions. We had at least one of our kids at Barton School for 20 straight years and volunteered consistently through their time in PSD.
When I served as a Larimer County Commissioner, I helped organize a group at RMHS that we called BASH (Best Alternative Student High). Among other activities, we took a large group of students on an all-night party to Glenwood Springs. The goal was to show these kids how to have a great time without drugs or alcohol. We used two school busses and left early in the morning with an escort from two Larimer County Sheriff’s deputies in sheriff’s vehicles. We swam at the hot springs pool, then went to Colorado Mountain College for dinner, played games in the gym and finally a dance. We stayed up all night and returned to RMHS at 7:30 am. The entire trip was free to the kids – we paid for the event with drug money.
Years before that, we had a huge drug-free party in our backyard for 350 kids from FCHS. 30 parents patrolled the perimeter of our property at 706 East Stuart to prevent crashers from entering. We had 3 hot tubs, music, dancing and a 30 foot long sub sandwich. We had approached all the neighbors with a 3 block radius but unfortunately someone from about 5 or 6 blocks away called the police. They told me I had to send the kids home or I would be given a summons. I took the summons and we toned down the music – it was 8:00 pm and the party was scheduled until 10:00 pm. When I went before the judge, the ticket was dismissed.
Which organizations have you received funding from? Are you currently a member of said organizations or other political organizations?
I have received funding from the PEA (Poudre Education Association) and CEA (Colorado Education Association). I am not a member of either.
It is illegal to accept money from corporations or other organizations according to my understanding of campaign law. All of the money I have raised has been donated by private citizens.
Addressing the aging state of our older school buildings, how are you ensuring that these structures are safe for students? Alternately, are you able to ensure that they offer amenities and technologies comparable to the newer schools in the area?
I am thankful that Poudre School District already has a master plan update in place, which entails a facilities audit of every building to confirm that they are safe for students and staff members. The School Accountability Committee (comprised of staff, parents, and community members) provides feedback on the audit’s findings and helps prioritize improvements. As a member of the Board of Education, I will ensure that our policies require the equitable distribution of technology and other amenities among schools in the district.
As a council member and commissioner, I had the responsibility to be involved with the building departments at the city and county. Those departments still exist and I will rely on their expertise and responsibility to work with the district to ensure the safety of our buildings. I personally wrote the Abatement of Dangerous Building Ordinance. I will work to make sure all students in the system are given the proper amenities and technologies to maintain basic equivalence in educational opportunity.
How will you ensure the safety of students who walk or bike to school? Particularly those students traveling in areas without sidewalks or designated bicycle lanes?
While some of this is beyond the purview of the PSD Board of Education, the Board can support more efforts like Safe Routes to School, which installed crosswalks and multi-use sidewalks around Tavelli Elementary, a significant improvement for our students’ and community’s safety. As a Board member, I would encourage more of this kind of collaboration between PSD and community organizations, and I would also seek funding from grants to keep our pedestrian and bike-riding students safe.
One of my grandsons is currently working at the City of Fort Collins in the Safe Routes to School program. He has briefed me on many of the things they are doing and I endorse that process. I am pleased to know that the district can receive this excellent assistance in getting our students to and from school safely.
Describe the academic achievement gap in the Poudre School District. What do you believe is the cause? How do you plan to bridge this gap across districts? How will you ensure that each district gives equal educational opportunities to their students despite the socioeconomic status of the families they are serving?
There is an achievement gap, or opportunity gap, between some groups of minority students and their more privileged peers, and this affects school districts all across the nation. As many people know, PSD has an excellent testing and graduation rate; our district exceeds the state level. When we break down these rates along racial or socio-economic factors, however, we find that students of color and low-income students have significantly lower tests scores and rates of graduation than their peers. PSD is already addressing this issue with several programs aimed at making students feel more academically and socially connected to their school community. Through their recent Connections Survey, PSD learned that students with meaningful connections to their school or to a teacher are more likely to be successful. These findings show that we need to hire more highly-qualified, diverse teachers to better serve our students as mentors and role models. PSD also needs to continue providing students with academic and personal support, so they can come to school ready to learn. As a BOE member, I will dedicate myself to providing our students with the opportunities that they need to succeed, and I will ensure that we continue to fund and develop initiatives that serve all of our students, regardless of background, identity, special needs, socio-economic status, or learning style.
The challenge of dealing with poverty was an important aspect of my service as a county commissioner. The division of labor among commissioners gave me the opportunity to work with the social services department. The achievement gap among students is often caused by parents who are working so hard to provide the basic necessities of life, that they don’t have enough time to educate their children. Many times folks with low income are also folks with low education. Education is the answer to break that cycle and I understand the need to serve those folks and helping them exercise their responsibility to educate their children.
What ideas do you have to increase retention and graduation rates for students?
Lower-income students and students of color are graduating from PSD at a lower rate than many of their peers. We need to address this on several different fronts. First, we need to create ways to get students excited about school and reaching their potential. Whether that is through academics, sports, music, theater, or something else altogether, students who feel that they belong will want to stay at school and graduate as a part of their school community. Second, students need more role models. Connections to the adults at school can make students feel included and understood, and although we have wonderful teachers at PSD, we need to make an effort to hire more teachers who are representative of our student population and their experiences.
Education needs to be relevant and exciting to maintain the interest of young people. Teachers can be particularly effective in providing that motivation. I have a plan to reward outstanding teachers with local philanthropy.
What is the public school system’s role in suicide awareness and prevention? Will you be implementing programs to provide support and education to students?
As a member of the Imagine Zero Suicide Coalition, I am currently working with mental health professionals, agencies, and community members to strengthen the suicide prevention resources in Northern Colorado. The Coalition recognizes the need to improve mental health outreach and education for youth and parents, to normalize discussing suicide, and to increase access to mental health care for all children, youth, and families. It is important for PSD to be actively involved in suicide prevention. PSD teachers receive suicide prevention training, but I also believe they should take the free Youth Mental Health First Aid course offered by the Larimer County Health District. The course addresses many health issues that students may face either directly or indirectly with their friends or family members. By talking about these issues in our schools, we can help de-stigmatize mental health and suicide and increase opportunities to help our students and their families.
We have experienced suicide in our family so I am painfully aware of the issue. One of my hopes is that the mental health/addiction issue that was defeated at the polls be brought back and passed by the voters. It would be a great investment in making lives better and reducing suicide. I also support the efforts to reduce suicide by outside non-profits and would welcome them to come into our schools to make presentations and discuss intervention.
What is your stance on censorship of controversial topics such as religion, politics and LGBTQI+? How do you plan to support the LGBTQI community through the school system?
I believe that schools must educate the whole child, and that means that we cannot ask students to leave their identities at the door when they come into class. Inclusion is extremely important for students’ academic performance and different sexual and gender identities and preferences should be addressed–not censored–in the school district’s curricula for history, English, sexual education, and any other relevant class. Additionally, school clubs for LGBTQIA students and their allies encourage inclusivity among students and staff; by incorporating more staff members as mentors and role models PSD can more actively facilitate support for LGBTQIA students. Thankfully, PSD already has several anti-bullying campaigns and resources available, including the Safe-to-Tell phone number and app for students to inform staff members if and when bullying happens. As the current President of PFLAG, I will, of course, continue to support these programs and advocate for greater awareness of them in our schools.
Regarding religion and politics, I believe these issues have their place in the classroom. They should not be censored, but they should also not be prescriptive. Students should learn about different religions, about different political perspectives, but they should not be taught that one ideology is better or truer than another. When it comes to religion and science, I believe that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of evolution and our schools should reflect those facts in their curricula.
Having been bullied as a junior high student, I have no tolerance for bullying of anyone at any time. I support giving objective information to students on controversial subjects but it is important that teachers don’t interject their personal bias. I had many such teachers during my tenure as a student.
How do you believe the district can best show support for immigrant students, including undocumented students who may have lost their DACA status?
PSD should–and thankfully does–treat all students the same, making sure all students have whatever kind of support they need to come to school prepared and ready to learn.
I will ensure that PSD continues its practices of:
-Not asking for citizenship or immigration status when enrolling a student
-Not distinguishing between a US birth certificate or a foreign birth certificate
-Not tracking citizenship/immigration status in student records
-Only releasing students’ information to parents/guardians and other emergency contacts on file (per FERPA and state law)
-Providing our students with mental health resources and other support services
PSD can show its support for immigrant students (documented or undocumented) by providing them with the best education we can possibly provide.
What ideas do you have for addressing injustice and disparities in discipline for students of color? Are you prepared to gather information about race and discipline rates and act upon the information you obtain?
When there are accusations or evidence of such injustices happening in PSD, I believe the Board of Education has a responsibility to investigate the disciplinary procedures in our schools–provided that such research would not violate student privacy laws or FERPA. If such a discrepancy is found in PSD, it must–of course–be systematically addressed.
4 of my grandchildren, all of whom attended PSD schools K-12 have another grandfather who is a black man. Although they look more Hispanic than black, I didn’t find they encountered any injustice while attending PSD. However, I am very interested to know if there is good information available that would show that is the case. I do not tolerate racism and always speak out strongly when I encounter it.
What can the district do to address bullying, especially that based upon race, ethnicity, immigration status or gender identity?
PSD already has several anti-bullying campaigns and resources available at schools, including the Safe-to-Tell app and phone number for kids to report bullying anonymously. There are School Resources Officers on the premises to address these issues, as well. However, the biggest thing we can do, and what I will work for as a future BOE member, is to create safe, inclusive environments on our school campuses. Students need teachers and other adult community members who will make them feel safe, denounce bullying, and facilitate welcoming classrooms and spaces for all students. This will, in turn, help every student perform at their best.
I would not tolerate bullying for any reason. It is wrong and must be condemned, Those who perpetrate that behavior need to be disciplined but more importantly educated as to the stupidity of bullying anyone for anything.
How much autonomy do you intend to give schools and teachers?
Not every school is the same, and they cannot be treated as such. For this reason, PSD has site-based budgeting, which is working well to meet the needs of our different programs. I believe that teachers and schools must follow the state standards, but they should have the autonomy to implement those standards in ways that are best for their particular set of students.
I would set correct principles and let them govern themselves.
What is your position on firearms in schools and the training and arming of teachers and staff?
Firearms do not belong in schools, neither in the hands of students nor of teachers. Having volunteered and/or worked in PSD for over twenty years, I have seen some dangerous situations (fights in the hallway, for example), but adding a firearm to that environment could turn a dangerous situation into a lethal one. PSD rightfully places a high priority on the physical safety of its students, and I believe that firearms would degrade, rather than enhance, safety in our schools.
While I know of some teachers who would gladly carry firearms in our schools, I don’t think that is a good idea at this point. I do support the use of school resource officers and would work to enhance that process.
What are your thoughts on charter schools and the use of public funds?
Charter schools are state law and here to stay. PSD has many different options for students and their families, and charter schools provide additional choices. Starting in the 2019-2020 school year, charter schools will receive the same per-pupil funding as neighborhood schools, including mill levy money. As a part of this new law, charter schools will need to be more transparent about their budgeting, showing how much money they receive from outside sources (including gifts, grants, and donations). They must also become more transparent about their waivers, including those that waive the need for classrooms to have licensed, certified teachers. These requirements will give students, parents, and the community the accountability and transparency they deserve when comparing charter and neighborhood schools. I also believe that neighborhood schools and charter schools can collaborate and learn from each other about how best to serve our students. To that end, I believe that the BOE should encourage and participate in an exchange of ideas between all schools, neighborhood and charter, to ensure that we are providing the best resources and opportunities to our children.
Charter schools are public schools because they receive public funds. They should be held to the same accountability standards as any school in the system and any new application should be approved if it meets district standards.
Can you describe your plans on how to better engage parents in their child’s education?
Quality teachers and parental involvement are key to a student’s success. Great teachers inspire parents to become engaged in their children’s education, and that involvement will see a student through their educational career and beyond. As a parent, I have learned the following:
-Be an advocate for you own child’s education.
-Attend meetings when you can. If you can’t (and even if you can) make those meetings, get the teachers’ emails and do not be afraid to use them.
-Ask your child’s teachers for opportunities to talk about what is happening in the classroom and at home. This can be in person or on the phone.
As a member of the BOE, I will work to communicate these strategies to parents, encouraging them to take an active role in their child’s education and to see teachers as allies. Teachers want what is best for your child! We–the Board of Education, teachers, and parents–must all work together to provide our students and their families with the resources they need to succeed.
One of my sons, who teaches at FCHS, did a small sample study. He found that among those of his students who received A and B grades, 80% of those parents came to parent/teacher conferences. Among those of his students who were receiving F and D grades, the attendance rate by parents at conferences was 0%. Other teachers have supported his findings.
We can do a better job of outreach to parents, however in my experience that may require some additional assistance from social services.