Garfield Re-2 school board candidate Q&As
Five candidates are running for three seats on the Garfield Re-2 school board this year.
Seats up for election this year include District A, currently held by Tom Slappey, who is ending a four-year term; District B, currently held by Jason Shoup, who is ending a two-year term; and District E, currently held by Anne Guettler, who is ending a four-year term.
School board member Jason Shoup is running unopposed to once again represent District B. In other districts, new challengers include Britton Fletchall, Jessica Paugh, Lauren Caitlin Carey and Tony May. May and Carey are running to represent District E, while Paugh and Fletchall are running to represent District A.
District A covers the northwest quadrant of Rifle and farther toward the rural west and north. District B covers the northeast quadrant of Rifle, toward the east to Silt and rural north. District E covers New Castle, toward the rural south and north. Districts C and D are not up for election this year.
Ballots were mailed out Oct. 11. Nov. 2 is Election Day.
1. COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for administrators, teachers and students. What is the best way of creating a conducive working and learning environment without compromising health and safety?
May: What caught my attention one morning at the start of the lockdown was that I observed my wife delivering a Riverside Middle School online class from our kitchen table, and to my surprise, I witnessed the lack of participation of online students. As I dove deeper into the topic, I automatically started to troubleshoot and quickly realized that there was no apparent solution in this model that would increase attendance. I decided to get involved and enthusiastically started attending Re-2 school board meetings. My key objective was to listen and learn about the policies and ideas that were on the table. I applaud the adaptation of the district to move to “in-person learning,” as it was a big step and has been remarkable for student retention. A big thank-you to Re-2 administration, teachers, staff, parents and students for help shaping what our community needs as we move through these new processes.
Paugh: Studies show, and my own professional experience indicates, that in-person instruction is most beneficial to student learning. We, as a district, school board and community, rely on medical experts to guide health and safety practices that will best ensure in-person learning for students. Medical experts include public health officials and local doctors. As a school board member, my priority is providing the best environment for learning and will utilize experts in appropriate fields to guide decisions that support a healthy and safe working and learning environment for all.
Carey: Indeed there has been an immense burden placed on our teachers and staff and especially our students. I have spoken with many teachers who feel this year has been their most difficult ever. Our teachers are teaching because they love children and see the potential of the world in them. Supporting them in the schools is of paramount importance. Following the guidance the Colorado Department of Education provides as it pertains to health and safety, as well as learning environments is the best avenue to allow our teachers to create the environments that help our students blossom and thrive into the world changers each and every one of them are. It is the responsibility of the board to make clear policy based on the best information available so that teachers and school staff can focus on the in-person learning we fought so hard for last school year.
Fletchall: First off, let me say thank you to all the teachers, administrators, custodial staff, bus drivers, assistants and parents who have worked over this last year and a half to keep our kids learning and safe. We are faced with challenges to keep our kids in schools and our teachers feeling safe in this era of COVID-19. I feel we need to keep up our sanitation efforts, personal hygiene practices and staying home when ill. I would like to see a stronger emphasis on promoting healthy kids from exercise, better eating habits and more rapid testing.
Shoup: Though COVID-19 has certainly created unprecedented challenges for school districts, I feel these challenges can be overcome while keeping students in schools and in a conducive learning environment by working closely with our local public health officials, adhering to state laws and mandates, encouraging parents to keep their students’ home if they are not feeling well, encouraging and advertising proper hygiene/hand washing techniques throughout schools and having hand sanitizer stations strategically placed throughout.
2. Staffing shortages are always a concern for many Colorado school districts in communities with a high cost of living. What can districts do to attract and retain quality employees?
May: The cost of living is high in this area, and job candidates are well aware from a simple search and have an idea what they’re getting into. The district has started an initiative in the right direction with the production of a short employment video to entice new candidates. We need to further expand the idea of selling the area to the right candidate, along with including a deeper dive workshop of this area’s financial lifestyle prior to signing on a new candidate.
Paugh: The gap between the cost of living and the staff wages is undeniable in this valley. Closing the gap is a challenge that all employers and industries are dealing with and is a long-term, budget constrained issue. The district partnering with other agencies to tackle the beast of affordable housing is a beneficial collaborative effort. Also, many of our first-year instructors are young, fresh out of college, and have no ties to the area. A robust retention program focusing on recreation, social activities, community engagement, etc., is a great way to help young teachers make connections and establish roots in the area.
Carey: The bottom line is that we need to find a way to provide more financial support for our teachers and staff. This means we have to get creative and think outside the box. We want what is best for our children, and for their teachers. I would like to see employee housing be something that is considered, and an increase in pay as soon as possible. We can begin with competitive compensation for our paraprofessionals and respecting the experience they have gained in other districts as they come to Re-2. These individuals contribute more value than most realize to our students’ daily school lives. We can show how much we value our teachers and staff financially, but we can also do it by living the appreciation we have for them.
Fletchall: Unfortunately, staffing shortages are not happening just to our district but for almost every industry in our valley. Why are we losing people? I am interested in reviewing exit interviews with past employees. Most research would show that the No. 1 reason employees leave is a toxic work environment with supervisors. Is that happening in our district? Obviously, cost of living and housing prices make moving here challenging, but we also have so much to offer potential employees.
Shoup: Staffing shortages and teacher retention is a huge problem in our local district. A recommendation that I feel might be beneficial would be to have an outside nonaffiliated party come in and do a market salary analysis/comparison and see where our salaries currently are at. Then hopefully with that data in hand we can look at ways to increase staff and teacher salaries, which would aid in retention. Another option to look at would be to either partner with an outside entity for affordable housing options or possibly utilize some of the district’s unused land for housing, i.e., town homes, apartments, condos, etc., that are strictly used for district staff and teachers only.
3. What are your thoughts on creating more opportunities and more technological accessibility for students?
May: Thinking big. I want to ensure that student achievement is the central focus. Through small steps, I think there is a lot of momentum with computer science with a mountain of resources available to perhaps develop an integrated curriculum path. My vision would create an advisory group to unify competing ideas on computer science instruction and investigate a delivery model.
Paugh: Inequitable access to technology (i.e. internet) creates a huge gap in learning, and ultimately, academic success. This is a nationwide challenge not unknown to the Re-2 district. The county is actively working on broadband access countywide, and neighboring districts are actively working to partner with local municipalities and other entities to disperse fiber networks districtwide. This is important work to create equitable access to technology for all students. Other strategies could include computer lab time after school hours in community libraries and individual schools.
Carey: STEAM (science, technology, electronics, arts and math) opportunities are vitally important for our children to be able to functionally participate in society as they grow into adults. Each student having a ChromeBook (as it is now) is a great step in that direction. Proper and creative funding and collaboration with community members and business partners to provide opportunities for our students to see tech in action will not only provide hands-on technology opportunities and a glimpse into what it means to be a contributing member of society. Providing professional development for our teachers and staff in this regard will only open further the educational opportunities for our students.
Fletchall: I would say our district gets a high mark in my book when it comes to technology and accessibility. I know when we transferred to distance learning, kids were able to check out a Chromebook. Different programs were available for internet access. For our kids to be successful in the new world they have to be computer literate and tech savvy. But have you seen a 16-year-old try and make change for a 20? Painful. I think that accessibility should be available when necessary, but I would like to see more learning that does not relate technology and focus on basic skills.
Shoup: In today’s world, it is essential to be up to date and on par with our curriculum and industry technology. Last year we were able to go from shared classroom tech to one-on-one technology in all schools, and every student now has a Chromebook. As we move forward, I feel that adding more CTE-type classes would be a very good and exciting option for expanding this avenue and would increase technology for all students. This would also give them a broader spectrum of skills to take with them as they look forward to entering today’s work force or even post-secondary education.
4. There are simply not enough Spanish-speaking instructors in a county that boasts at least a 30% Hispanic population. What are your thoughts on this issue, and what will you do in your power to ensure all students are properly being reached?
May: I am interested in working with the Re-2 administration to further understand the Family Resource Center and incorporate ideas from Garfield County Latino Committee, Roaring Fork Schools, D16 and D51. I have already taken the initiative to introduce the Latino advocates from Re-1 and Re-2 and talk with D51 on methods they have in place to retain “at risk” students.
Paugh: It is imperative that our teacher demographics more closely align to the demographics of our student population. Cultural literacy is a challenge that the Re-2 district faces as well as the community as a whole. Teaching and learning happens within cultural and social circumstances. It’s important to have educators that are able to navigate the different perspectives our students enter the classroom with based on their cultural backgrounds. Spanish-speaking educators that come from similar cultural backgrounds as our Hispanic students can effectively help to navigate difficult conversations, acknowledge and challenge bias and prejudice and create inclusive classroom spaces.
Carey: We need qualified interpreters at every elementary school and middle school. I would like to see one at Rifle High School and Coal Ridge High School as well. We need qualified interpreters at the main office. Not having this important need met hampers communication with parents and students, and it must be remedied.
Fletchall: As a father of two sons whose first language is Spanish, English as second-language programs were huge in their early development. Once again, how do you attract teachers and professionals who speak both languages? I am a firm believer that this success is a two-way street. Why are we not teaching more of our students and teachers Spanish? According to most studies, Spanish is the No. 2 language in the world, behind Chinese and all its variations. I believe we are not challenging our English-speaking kids with Spanish as much as we are challenging our Spanish speakers with English. If we want students to truly be ready for the world, arming them with the skill of a second language is huge.
Shoup: With the “No Student Left Behind” approach, I do believe it is critical that every student is reached and has a full understanding of what is being asked of and taught to them. An approach to target and help minimize this Spanish-speaking barrier might be to have instructors enroll and take Spanish classes (paid for or reimbursed by the district) as a new hire coming into the district, and as for the veteran teachers that are willing, they would be able to take such classes over the summer break so they would be ready for the upcoming year. Another recommendation I have would be to start teaching secondary language classes in the earlier years of school rather than waiting till high school. Studies have found that it is easier for younger age children to learn a new language than it is for adults.
5. What are the biggest issues you think the district faces on a regular basis?
May: I have been in agreement with most decisions the board and administration have provided regarding health, curriculum and finances. I understand the legal implications and will not put our students, faculty, staff, administration or purse at risk. I support the policy of no politics in the nonsocial studies/government classrooms. I do not support mandatory vaccines or masks; I support health decisions made by parents. I support the district’s approach to the new, stable financial system. I support the initiatives behind the repairs to Cactus Valley. I support the governance discussions of the Re-2 board-staff CS negotiations process and believe there is a good relationship to bridge necessary gaps to assist streamlining future discussions.
Paugh: As a community member and Rifle resident, I see teacher retention, academic achievement and cultural literacy as consistent issues the district faces. Another big issue to note is that the district does not currently have an updated strategic plan. The COVID-19 pandemic forced district staff into operating in emergency mode to navigate a crisis drastically impacting education across the nation. The last year did not afford time to engage in strategic planning. I am thrilled at the opportunity to work alongside district staff to develop a comprehensive and wildly effective district strategic plan that outlines specific goals/needs, includes measurable outcomes and accountability measures and allows for parent, student, community and staff participation in the process. I am certain that the district has done an excellent job at identifying current and pressing challenges, and I am eager to listen, learn and help support the district-identified goals.
Carey: Value our teachers: providing better compensation, professional development opportunities, and generally taking care of our teachers are key.
Language access: We need certified interpreters in our schools.
Inspire our kids: Our kids are bursting with creativity. Our educators are trained in nurturing these creative juices and helping students learn to harness, develop and grow them into whatever it is they want to be. And here we are back to supporting our teachers.
It’s a cycle. We want our children to do well on achievement tests; we need to support continuing education for our educators and provide them with the tools to create environments our children can thrive in.
I want our teachers to be the best supported in the state, so they can be their very best selves, so our kids can be their very best selves.
Our teachers matter. Our paraprofessionals matter. Our administration matters. Our children matter.
Fletchall: 1. Staffing — do we have the right teachers, do the right teachers feel they have the support of the administration, board and community? 2. Performance of our students at state testing. This is not new or can be blamed on this past year’s challenges. These numbers are only going to get lower. 3. Pride — do our kids have pride in their schools? I would doubt some of that as I see turnout at home games for any of our teams, destruction of school property. 4. Fear — as long as we keep perpetuating fear as the new normal it is a guarantee that kids will fail and our district will fail — over and over again.
Shoup: Some of the largest issues I feel the district faces at this point in time outside of COVID-19 are: student achievement, teacher and staff retention (which I believe also has a major impact on student achievement), and also community involvement and regular communication.
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