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Competing visions: Snoqualmie Valley school board candidates split views on campus, leadership
Should every school board member support the final decision of the board, regardless of how they voted on it? Yes, absolutely, came the response. Should student achievement be a factor in teacher evaluations? Again, a full round of yesses.
Five of six school board candidates were in overall agreement on some rapid-fire questions put to them during the Oct. 13 candidate forum at Mount Si High School, but when the moderator reached questions about a proposed freshman campus at Snoqualmie Middle School and support of recent bonds, the unanimous tone disintegrated.
During the second, extended response portion of the forum, the candidates became sharply divided on points of leadership, spending priorities, impact fees, and including community members in school processes.
Geoff Doy of North Bend called for well-trained teachers and well-funded classrooms above all else. His District 2 opponent Caroline Loudenback, also of North Bend, directed attention to all of the district’s successes, and how they were accomplished. Carolyn Simpson of Snoqualmie emphasized the need for the district to have a strategic plan in her comments, while her opponent and incumbent for director District 3, Craig Husa of Fall City, referred to the district’s vision statement, and existing policies and priorities that governed his actions on the board. Dan Popp, of Redmond, the current school board president, took a personal and humorous approach in talking about his involvement with the school, and his trust in the curriculum experts the district has hired. His approach complemented that of Steven Kangas, who stood in for District 5 candidate Peggy Johnson, who read her written statements. Johnson, of Fall City, was unable to attend the forum because of an out-of-town commitment made months earlier, Kangas said.
About 100 community members attended the forum, organized by the Snoqualmie Valley PTSA Council, to hear the candidates’ views on various issues. Rivals for a board seat were each asked the same randomly-selected question and given two minutes to respond; however, each pair of rivals was asked a different question for each round.
Moderator Heather Gillette, WSPTA Region 2 director, led the questions, asking Doy and Loudenback how they would stop the downward trend in district math scores.
Both candidates responded that the decline wasn’t truly a trend. Doy said it varied with age level and at times, depended on the schools the students attended. Some schools had much stronger math scores, and Doy felt a sharing of best practices between those schools and the others would create much-needed improvement in scores.
Loudenback added that the district is already working on several programs to improve both math and science courses, including Career & Technical Education classes. The district is also working toward a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum model.
Asked about the best ways of implementing statewide curriculum changes, Doy said “The rubber meets the road in the classrooms, so let’s ask the teachers.” Loudenback agreed that the answer was in helping the teachers. “You support a good team,” she said.
To address the district’s funding inequity— Snoqualmie Valley receives the fifth least amount of state funding of all the 295 school districts in Washington—Doy said “Every dollar that we can focus (in the classroom), that’s what we need to do.” However, Loudenback said it wasn’t necessarily bad to receive less state funding, which often comes with additional spending requirements. “Good teaching is good teaching,” she said. “It isn’t about the money.”
New campus, Day of Silence
At the Simpson-Husa table, Gillette asked for the candidates opinions on the district’s proposed annexation of Snoqualmie Middle School as a freshman campus of Mount Si High School. Simpson strongly opposed the idea, saying “High school overcrowding issues are not imminent,” and calling on the district to honor the voters’ wishes when, in 2008, they voted to make Snoqualmie Valley a three middle-school district. Husa stated that the board was reconsidering the decision currently. He still supported the original idea and the two-year process that originated it, although the timing may not be right now.
On whether the school board has a role in the Day of Silence, Simpson stated that no single cause should have its own day, particularly not in late April when seniors are preparing for exams and finishing up senior projects. She did support a fall-based “Day of Respect” that could focus on all causes, along with year-round teaching of respect. Husa stressed that the event was student-led and the board had no involvement, other than to protect all students’ constitutional rights. He later added that teaching students about respect and diversity should never be limited to a single day.
“Why do bonds fail?” drew a response from Simpson about voters soured by unrealistic enrollment projections, and confidence that when the district can truly demonstrate the need for another bond, the voters will support it, “but we need to make sure that our facts are strong, and our assumptions are reasonable,” she said. Husa noted that almost no school bonds were approved in the past year, in a clear sign that voters were responding to the economy, although the need for a new building was there. The first question to Kangas and Popp was whether they’d support increasing the percentage of 8th graders taking algebra from its current 50 percent.
Reading Johnson’s statement, Kangas said math class sizes are too large for some students to be successful. More teachers would give students individual attention, leading to more success, leading to more 8th graders in algebra. Popp agreed that class sizes were too large, and he wanted to see more 8th graders in algebra. He also felt that the district’s responsibility in this matter was “to invest in the right curriculum.”
To a related question about the board’s role in setting curriculum Kangas said the board should seek more parent and teacher input, focus on methodology, and eliminate “busywork.” Popp felt the board’s role was in oversight, and the final decision should be left to the “experts,” the teachers.
Candidates agreed that board members should take a lead role to improve education funding statewide, but differed on the city of Snoqualmie’s withholding of impact fees from the district—Johnson thought the city was reasonable to want the fees recalculated, and Popp asserted that the city needed to “step up” and pay. “School districts don’t create growth, but they are tasked with being responsible for every student who comes from growth,” he said.
The full text of each candidates’ response is available for download at www.svptsacouncil.org.