Incumbent Carolyn Simpson and Chelsea Rivas are competing for a spot on the Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD) school board. The General Election is Nov. 5.
Simpson has served on the Snoqualmie Valley School District for the past eight years. During that time, she has worked to improve district culture according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She attended San Diego State University.
Rivas is a longtime community volunteer mentoring Snoqualmie Valley youth. Rivas is passionate about bringing a vital equity and inclusion lens to the decision-making table, according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She is completing her bachelor’s degree at Central Washington University.
How much should the school board support extracurriculars?
Simpson: Our primary obligation as a school board is to ensure that our students receive the education they need to be prepared for college, career and citizenship for this global 21st century environment.
Extracurricular activities, such as sports and clubs, can help students develop teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills, while also giving them a sense of belonging. When I speak with students, families and staff, I have been emotionally moved to hear that it is frequently the extracurricular activities that motivate students to come to school each day and work hard in their classrooms for academic success.
The benefits of extracurricular activities align with our education mission, and I support them.
Funding these activities is not easy. We have a limited budget which must be prioritized to focus on the teaching and learning work in our classrooms. Due to these budget limitations, most extracurricular programs need to be partially or fully funded by student fees (waived or reduced for those families who qualify), community contributions and fundraising.
Rivas: Extracurricular activities are more than just after-school fun. They can be a way to bridge the divide between theoretical knowledge and applied learning. They can provide opportunities for young people to learn teamwork, develop leadership skills, and explore creative avenues outside the constraints of the regular school experience. As a parent I already support multiple extracurricular activities, and as a board member I would likewise support the continuation and expansion of extracurricular offerings.
How much should the board be involved in curriculum decisions?
Simpson: State law requires school boards to establish curriculum standards to ensure a quality education for each student. In our quickly changing and constantly advancing global environment, it is essential that we have a process to keep our curriculum relevant and current.
Our teacher and administrator teams collaborate to determine when we need to update or add curriculum, and we prioritize our budgets, accordingly. Two recent examples of this are when we replaced our elementary math curriculum to better align it with learning standards and when we deployed new behavioral health curriculum in our schools.
The process for curriculum updates includes year-round work by a committee of staff and parents (District Curriculum Review Committee) to develop recommendations for school board approval. Often, this process includes a pilot period in a few classrooms evaluating new curricular options.
During my tenure on the school board, I have reviewed the curriculum recommendations from the committee, read the minutes of the discussions, compared curriculum choices, questioned members of the committee, discussed the budget impact, and determined whether there was broad support for the recommendation before voting to accept or decline the recommendations.
Rivas: I have four children in three Snoqualmie Valley schools — two in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. It’s important to me that the people making decisions about my children’s curriculum are the people who actually know my children: Their teachers, principals and other education professionals who are in their schools with them. As a parent I trust my children’s teachers. As a board member, I would be confident in the expertise and ability of these professionals; I would trust them to make thoughtful, intelligent curriculum decisions that would engage and inspire every young learner.
How can the board help teachers and staff overcome affordability issues of living in Snoqualmie Valley?
Simpson: The board’s primary obligation is to ensure our students have the education they need to be prepared for college and career choices. And, to do that, we need a highly qualified staff in our schools working with our students.
Having our teachers and staff living in the Valley contributes to a stronger community and a better work/life balance for our employees. I have seen this in the smile of a student when spotting their teacher or bus driver in the grocery store, for instance. It is precious.
Our school board, after receiving additional state funding, has already taken a big step to help with housing affordability by recently approving significant and competitive pay increases for teachers and staff.
Outside of what I can do within my school board responsibility, I also serve as the chair of the city of Snoqualmie Economic Development Commission, immediate past president of the Sno Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber’s delegate to an Eastside Coalition of Chambers. In these additional roles, I advocate for increasing the availability of housing options locally, such as more workforce housing choices, including apartments and smaller, more affordable, owned units.
Rivas: The first step in overcoming affordability issues is to understand what exactly they are, which means listening to teachers and staff, and then committing to do whatever is possible to solve those issues. Having spent the past several years studying social problems, I see affordability not as simple issues with simple solutions, but as nuanced and multi-faceted issues with many possible solutions. As a board member, I would love the opportunity to engage in deep listening so I could better understand the specific barriers our teachers and staff are facing. Then I would get to work dismantling those barriers any way I could by working with other community leaders to explore every option available so SVSD teachers and staff who want to live in the Valley could afford to do so.
How can the board support schools as the Valley continues to grow?
Simpson: The school board has many responsibilities related to growth.
At least annually, we analyze enrollment projections, class sizes and classroom space in our school buildings.
In Washington State, developers pay an impact fee per home that is provided to the school district but is far from enough to build new buildings. We use these fees to deploy portable classrooms to help with growth, then, when needed, we work with the community to develop support for bonds to build or expand our schools, such as the recent rebuilding and expansion of Mount Si High School. We take this responsibility seriously, particularly as it relates to the impact of property taxes on our Valley’s families.
As we grow, we also monitor our buildings for safety and security, and we have utilized community supported bond funds to make improvements.
The board also has the responsibility to acknowledge that growth in our Valley has also resulted in an increase in the number of students with diverse learning needs, such as students who need special education services, have physical disabilities, need gifted or advanced options, or are English language learners. As we grow in diversity, our strategic plan focuses on the success of each and every student, including the growing population of those with diverse learning needs.
Rivas: Aside from the usual things like continued fiscal responsibility, sustainable business practices and responsible governance (all of which are important, of course), as the Valley continues to grow, the board should always strive to foster a culture of camaraderie and communication between and among staff, parents, students and itself, because ultimately, the board doesn’t support schools, it supports people. One of my children has physical disabilities. He faces physical barriers every day. It’s important to me to feel that if I ever came to the board with an accessibility issue — or any other issue — they would listen to and hold space for what’s important to me and my family, then work with me to solve the problem at hand. I believe the best kind of board is one that sees itself not as governing people, per se, but serving people. As a board member, I would make a concerted effort to ensure staff, parents, families and students alike felt seen, heard and valued.