Meet the Roaring Fork District school board candidates — Part 1
Q&As with the three candidates seeking the District D seat
Voters in the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 (Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt) will be deciding three of the five seats on the Re-1 Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election.
The election features a three-way race for the District D seat (north and west Glenwood Springs areas), where incumbent Shane Larson is being challenged by Glenwood residents Amy Connerton and Jasmin Ramirez.
Current board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger is stepping down as the District C (south and east Glenwood areas, Spring Valley and western Missouri Heights) representative.
On the ballot to replace her is Maureen Stepp, while Molly Peterson is making a write-in bid for that same seat.
And, following the resignation earlier this year of former school board member Matt Hamilton, the District B seat is also open.
Natalie Torres is the lone name on the ballot for that seat (representing areas west of Highways 133 and 82 from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, including Ironbridge/West Bank and Four Mile). There’s also a declared write-in candidate for that seat, Matt Cova, though he indicated to the Post Independent that he is not actively campaigning.
Ballots should be mailed out to registered voters in the school district by mid-October.
The Post Independent posed a series of questions to the school board candidates as a way of introducing them to voters. Their responses are being shared in a two-part series, beginning today with the District D candidates.
Read responses to this same set of questions later this week from the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education candidates for District B (Natalie Torres) and District C (Maureen Stepp and Molly Peterson).
Profession, how long have you lived here, and any relevant family or personal information you would like to share?
Amy Connerton: I am an associate professor at Colorado Mountain College teaching in Allied Health. I also work shifts for Valley View Hospital’s Roaring Fork Family Practice which allows me to remain relevant in my field and stay connected to community health. I have lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 32 years and Glenwood since 2007. I have lived in the same neighborhood and raised my two daughters, who have both only ever attended public schools in Glenwood.
Shane Larson: I am the vice president of student affairs at Colorado Mountain College. I have lived in the valley for almost six years. I have two daughters at Glenwood Springs High School and a son at Glenwood Spring Middle School. I am also active in youth sports as a coach and served on the Three Rivers Little League Board for three years.
Jasmin Ramirez: My husband and I have lived here for 13 years and we have two kids in RFSD, a fourth grader who has autism and a 22-month-old who has a big personality. As special needs parents, we chose to integrate our child into the classroom at a young age and are grateful for the public school system that provides security for us in regards to his well being. Our hopes for our children are that they become passionate learners who are change-makers and mountain movers and, above all, kind human beings.
Why are you running for the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education?
Larson: I am running for reelection because I have enjoyed the work. I like to volunteer and believe in helping to support our community. I am running for reelection because I feel we have done some good work in the last couple of years, but there is still a lot to do. Improving teacher pay is a top priority we have been working on, we have a strong strategic plan in place as a district, and I want to see us continue to improve the educational outcomes of our students.
Ramirez: I am very excited about the opportunity to bring diversity to a board that represents a demographic that’s 58% minority students and more than 55% Latino. It’s important to me to bring a voice to a diverse population within our schools whose experience has not been represented. It is equally important to bring a voice to all parents, students and teachers whose concerns have not been heard, or who possibly feel unseen. My main priority is to help all students, parents and teachers feel like collaborators in their school community.
Connerton: We as a community of stakeholders need to invest in Re-1 schools to ensure that every student is fully prepared for the next stage of their life. As an educator I understand the importance of education quality and equity. My definition of education equity is providing the opportunities, support, environment, high expectations, and resources that every student needs to achieve educational success, feel valued, and contribute to a thriving community. The focus of the board should be how well our students achieve each of these things.
What qualifications do you bring to the table, and how do you believe that will benefit the organization?
Ramirez: After graduating GSHS, as a first-generation college student I sat on the coordinating committee that oversaw the Board of Trustees. This gave me insight into the moving parts and how essential communication is. I’ve been a member of our school PTA for five years, most recently as a member of our accountability committee and a parent member of our visioning process. I have made it my mission to go out into our district community to meet with parents, students and teachers (past, future, and present) in hopes of gaining more knowledge about the community and demographic our district serves.
Connerton: I currently work directly with graduates from the different high schools in our communities, which provides me with a unique perspective to understand what we are doing well in K-12 education and where we can improve. I understand the importance of transparency, communication and accountability which articulate from higher education and K-12 education. I have worked as a parent volunteer and substitute teacher in the district. I have an AAS from CMC, a BA from CMU, an MA from NAU and a Doctorate of Education through the University of Denver.
Larson: I am a former teacher and have worked in higher education for almost 20 years. I think I bring a unique perspective in that many of the local high school grads end up at CMC. I am very fortunate to get to work to help these local graduates continue their education. As the VP of student affairs much of my work involves student support and helping students to reach their educational goals.
What proposals do you have to best meet the needs of the district’s diverse student population?
Larson: I would not say that I have distinct proposals in serving a diverse population. I think it is a collection of many efforts and the hard work of employees of the district to welcome all students and provide the best possible education. Schools are a safe place for all kids to be kids, to learn and grow, to have friends and have fun. I believe our schools are very welcoming and safe places for all members of the community.
Ramirez: As a Latina, I know the struggles of many of our students seeking higher education and the factors that make it unapproachable. I hope to bring the conversation of equity further into our schools. All our students should be able to see themselves within our school walls, as educators, during their learning experience. Our schools should also be safe havens that honor culture, learning, as well as build relationships with their immediate community. Our students should have the opportunity to leave our schools with a sense of belonging to the school and the community.
Connerton: The Board of Education should ensure fair and equitable educational opportunities for all students. The Board should commit to breaking the historic and continuing predictive links among student socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity to educational opportunities and achievement. We need to do better to close this gap. Another perspective I have is from the lens of a single working parent and the challenges of navigating education. Many of our students live in single parent households and face unique challenges. I feel there could be better resources, support, policies and avenues for these students.
What one thing do you believe the Roaring Fork Schools should be doing better for students, and why?
Connerton: I think that increasing family engagement with the school can have a positive impact on student success and achievement. This will require active efforts to address language barriers, work hours, transportation, access to technology, and for some, a past history of negative school experiences. Examples include: programs to actively involve parents, standardize clear and transparent communication that allows families to engage with school staff, develop tools to ensure staff and school leaders are culturally competent, and provide customer-service training and protocols for front-line employees at the school level who set the tone for school culture.
Larson: I believe we need to continue to improve in preparing students for what comes next. No matter what that may be. Students who wish to pursue college need to have the skills to be ready to succeed, it is just as important to prepare students who are looking to go to work after high school. Most jobs require some sort of training or certification. Teaching students how to learn and how to be valuable employees is a skill that is getting lost.
Ramirez: Each of our 13 district schools has very different needs — academic, emotional, physical and staffing. We must understand the demographics within the school and look at the underlying issues so we can help our administrators and teachers address those needs. I also believe that we have an opportunity to build strong, resilient kids who feel ownership in their community. This entails relationships — what is my relationship with my child’s teacher? My administrator? My school? My district? I also believe that mental health, partnerships and respect for personal family morals and values matter.
Are there any changes you propose be considered for the school district, and why?
Larson: I would like to see us as a district consider more educational opportunities for students to gain a skill and go to work after high school. Career training and education in the trades are difficult and expensive programs to offer, but our local communities are in need of a more skilled and trained workforce. This is an area I think the district can help support our local community and provide options for students.
Connerton: Over the years as a district we have experienced several leadership changes, new schools, teacher turnover, and new curriculum and instructional design. Although innovation and change often are necessary in education, I would need to understand if what we are currently doing is actually working. If we are barely moving the student achievement needle to meet state standards, we need to reevaluate where we are and the best way forward to where we need to be.
Ramirez: Besides diversity in our educators/administrators, each school accountability committee should have a minimum of two diverse parents. This should fall on the school administration to ensure it. I also strongly believe our district must enforce its accountability committee as a separate entity from the wellness committee. The district must find parent representatives, with help from each school, to attend our district accountability meetings to provide transparency and an extra form of partnership and communication. If we continue to promote events we may find that many of our parents do want to be involved.
What solutions do you propose to increase teacher pay?
Ramirez: Recently, our teachers were given a “raise” only to be given larger classes. We must find a way to redistribute our current budget to provide breathing space for our teachers. We should look at all our schools individually, their demographics and their needs. Furthermore, we should use our teachers as the first option when it comes to tutoring services. Some of our teachers work multiple jobs due to low wages. Instead of sending our kids to third-party services, we should provide a list to parents of our educators. It’s not only efficient but effective.
Connerton: The nature of funding Colorado schools is primarily through a combination of state funds and local property taxes, and the interplay of the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) and Gallagher amendments. This has the local share of funding falling steadily for about 25 years. This has deeply eroded funding. Until we fix Colorado’s broken funding system at the state level every school and community has to do what it can to increase teacher pay. Many districts in Colorado have had to ask their communities through Mill Levy action to support an increase for teacher pay.
Larson: Last year the District and the IBB (Interest Based Bargaining) group did some great work to start the process of improving teacher pay. I believe we still have three avenues to explore to improve teacher pay. As a District we need to continue to find efficiencies that will allow more dollars to be applied to teacher pay. We can ask the community for help through a mill levy, but most important we must address this at the state level. Colorado K-12 funding is complicated but this is more than just a local issue.
Should the district share local tax revenues with state charter schools located within the district? Why/why not?
Larson: This is a big decision coming for the Board and there is still a lot of work to do. The students at the local charter schools are our friends and neighbors, they are part of the local community and are paying taxes like everyone else. They will also eventually be students in the district when they reach the high school so our collaboration with the charter schools is in everyone’s best interest. There is still work to be done on how they maintain their autonomy but also align with the district’s strategic goals.
Connerton: Often, school districts view charter schools as a threat, but history has shown that charter schools can serve a valuable teaching role. Increasing, leaders of traditional school system are looking to charter schools for examples of best-practices regarding things like curriculum to staffing to teacher retention. Instead of viewing charter schools as threats or nuisances, many realize the need for the improvement spurred by charter schools. Research has shown that charter schools can have a positive effect on other schools causing them to do more and do it better.
Ramirez: Our local tax revenues go to district schools in hopes that they are good enough for our children to thrive. Unfortunately, some schools have failed parents and children, so they have left for local charters or private schools in hopes of better results. I fall back on the premise that all public schools in the district should serve all students in the community. Our district charter school last year served only 21 diverse students to its 135 student count. We must do a better job of truly serving the students in our community.
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“I feel I have the opportunity to go out and work for the people, and represent the people directly,” Wilhelm said.