Rankin, Pacheco-Koveleski vie for Colo. Board of Ed
A passion for representing the diverse educational needs of the sprawling 3rd Congressional District drives the two candidates running for the district’s seat on the Colorado State Board of Education in the Nov. 8 election.
Joyce Rankin, the incumbent Republican from Carbondale and former teacher who was appointed to fill a mid-term vacancy on the state board last year, is running against Christine Pacheco-Koveleski, a Pueblo Democrat and private-practice lawyer who served six years on the Pueblo District 60 school board.
Rankin grew up outside Detroit, Michigan, and says she knew at an early age that she wanted to be a teacher.
She recalls her first teaching job in a low-income school district in California and seeking a better way to connect with parents at the start of the school year. She did that by offering to go to their homes, instead of having them come to the school.
“It took me a month to get to all of the parents in a class of 38 students, but very few had their conference in the classroom,” Rankin said at a recent Club 20 candidates forum in Grand Junction. “It was the best teaching year I ever had, because I felt like I had the parents behind those students.”
Rankin taught fifth grade for several years and was a school principal before going into the computer software business with her husband, Bob Rankin. She works as a legislative aide for now-state Rep. Rankin.
Pacheco-Koveleski was unable to make the Grand Junction event last month, but spoke to the Post Independent over the phone this past week.
“Education is not just a slogan for me, it changed my life and that of my children,” said Pacheco-Koveleski, a Pueblo native who is Hispanic. She was the first in her family to go to college, attending Colorado College in Colorado Springs and earning her law degree at CU-Boulder.
“I’ve always been an activist for children,” she said of her 35 years as a lawyer, 18 of which were spent as a legal services attorney working with low-income individuals and families.
The 3rd District covers more than 50,000 square miles, including the entire Western Slope, the San Luis Valley and Pueblo. Its 344 public schools include some of the wealthiest school districts, and some of the poorest.
But it’s not always an even playing field, Pacheco-Koveleski said.
“I really feel like the state Board of Education needs to be representative of all the children they serve,” she said, adding the board itself could benefit from better diversity. “Having come from a low-income community, and having chosen to stay in that community, I understand their issues.
“I’m also a huge advocate for smaller classrooms,” she said. “Teachers are often not able to teach, because they end up being baby sitters with too many children in the room.”
Rankin is an advocate for school choice, and says parents should be supported in using vouchers to direct public funds to the school, public or private, that best meets their student’s needs.
“If you have parents who want their student to go to a specific school, because they think it offers them the best chance to succeed, they should be allowed to,” Rankin said at the Grand Junction forum in response to a question about charter schools and school choice.
While the state education board is not a law-making body, Rankin pointed out, she said she does support giving more flexibility to charter schools. Also, given the choice, Rankin said she would do away with teacher tenure, which she said allows ineffective teachers to stick around.
“Competition allows good teachers to be even greater,” she said. “And we have some great teachers who should be paid more.”
Pacheco-Koveleski said she supports charter schools, and sees a place for them within the public education system.
“One size doesn’t necessarily fit all,” she said. But Pacheco-Koveleski stops short of supporting vouchers, saying that would make it even harder to level the playing field for all students.
The state Board of Education has a lot of work ahead of it, from hiring a new education commissioner in the coming months, reviewing the recently revised state academic standards, and deciding whether to continue contracting with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) for testing.
In January, the board must also take action on districts and individual schools whose test scores have been at a failing level for five years in a row. Those schools were given a reprieve when the new standards and testing was put in place, but the board must now decide what to do with those schools and districts that are still not performing. Options include closing schools or turning them into charter schools.
“It’s one of the most important jobs we will be doing next year,” Rankin said. “Local control is very important for our school system and our communities, but after five year if these schools are continuing to fail, there comes a point where we can’t let the students be the ones to lose.”
Pacheco-Koveleski said she worries how those decisions will impact minority students.
When it comes to standards, Pacheco-Koveleski said the state needs to be careful not to raise the bar so high that some students will never get over it.
“Not everybody wants to go to college,” she said. “As we’ve increased the standards, things like vocational education have been left behind. Some of the better jobs in the 3rd District are not necessarily ones you need higher education for.”
Another task for the Board of Education in the coming year will be to integrate the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act into the state’s education system.
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