Meet the Roaring Fork school board candidates – Part 2
Q&As with Natalie Torres, Maureen Stepp and Molly Peterson
The Post Independent continues its coverage of the candidates running for the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 Board of Education with the candidates vying for the District B and C seats.
Ballots for the Nov. 5 election should be mailed out to registered voters in the school district on Oct. 11.
On the ballot for District B (representing areas west of highways 133 and 82 from Carbondale to the Glenwood Springs city limits, including Ironbridge/West Bank and Four Mile) is Natalie Torres.
Torres collected the requisite number of signatures through the nominating process to be on the ballot. There is a declared write-in candidate for that seat, Matt Cova, though he has indicated he is not actively campaigning and did not respond to the PI’s questions.
A similar situation resulted in the nominating process for District C (south Glenwood, Springs Valley and western Missouri Heights areas), where Maureen Stepp was successful in petitioning onto the ballot, while Molly Peterson is making a write-in bid for the seat.
The PI posed a series of questions to the school board candidates as a way of introducing them to voters. Responses from District D candidates Shane Larson, Jasmin Ramirez and Amy Connerton were published previously.
Following are the responses provided by candidates Torres, Stepp and Peterson.
Profession, how long have you lived here, and any relevant family or personal information you would like to share?
Natalie Torres: College Registrar at Colorado Mountain College. My husband, Nathan, and I moved to Glenwood Springs 12 years ago. I’m a proud mom of two RFSD kids: Aiden, who is 13 years old, and Anabelle, who is 9 years old. Both began at Sopris Elementary and now attend Riverview. We love being a part of this community.
Maureen Stepp: College professor and administrator at Colorado Mountain College. I have lived nine years in Glenwood Springs. I am a parent of a middle-school child currently attending in the Re-1 school district.
Molly Peterson: I’ve lived here in the valley going on 11 years now. Currently, I work for Edward Jones, and previous to this I was a teacher here for the last 10 years. My first teaching assignment was at Rifle Middle School, followed by Riverside Middle School and Glenwood Middle School. Originally from Michigan, I enjoy all the activities this area has to offer.
Why are you running for the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education?
Stepp: I am running for Re-1 Schools Board of Education because I am passionate about education and community. I think it is important for people to be involved in their community and to give back. I regard this opportunity as my way to do both. I am looking forward to collaborating with the board, the district administration and the community to prepare a plan to carry out the vision that was completed last year.
Peterson: I am running for school board to represent the educators of our area and be a voice for our teachers and support staff. Having personally worked in our schools, my first-hand experiences working in classrooms, on instructional leadership teams, and on district content teams are perspectives our decision-makers need to consider.
Torres: I’m running because I care deeply about our kids and schools. I want to give back to the community that has been so great for our family. I’ve loved being an active part of my kids’ schools. Most recently, my time on the Parent Volunteer Organization (PVO) at Riverview has made me want to do more — to serve the broader district.
What qualifications do you bring to the table, and how do you believe that will benefit the organization?
Peterson: Having been a teacher for 10 years, I bring my experiences and perspectives to the table. I have also been a member of this community for just as long and I know that, as stakeholders here, we all have a common goal, which is to put the needs of our children first and increase student achievement. Leading teams within our schools and being on several leadership teams within our district has empowered me with positive experiences that will ultimately benefit our organization. Our kids are worth it.
Stepp: I have been an educator and administrator for over 15 years. I have a doctorate in education and am excited to work in a sector with many challenges, yet has abundant possibilities for change. As a parent, an educator, and a community member, I can provide a wide perspective on different issues. Last year, I participated in Sen. Rankin’s Education Leadership Council, increasing my understanding of our educational system at the state level and the innovative and successful programs that exist.
Torres: I bring professional and personal qualifications to benefit the RFSD. For 12 years, I’ve worked in higher education and deeply appreciate the importance of PreK-12. Our schools are key for students to be successful in higher education and any career path they may choose. In my position at CMC I have to keep updated on state and federal regulations and guidelines that influence the decision-making process. I listen and focus on issues that impact campuses and the overall institution, and collaboratively seek solutions that will benefit our students. I have been an active school volunteer and have served as a coach for three years with the Glenwood Springs Soccer Club. I am bilingual and am committed to personal learning and teamwork.
What proposals do you have to best meet the needs of the district’s diverse student population?
Torres: I am not running for the board because I have specific proposals. Rather, I want to collaborate as much as possible with my fellow board members, district staff, teachers, parents and students to advance the work and success of the district. I do believe that the diversity of our district is one of its strengths.
Stepp: Ideally, our district employees would mirror the communities we serve. In reality, it is difficult to recruit from different populations, so one goal should be to attract employees from diverse backgrounds. We need to examine what barriers exist to student success. We need to find solutions to make sure that each student has equal access to existing supports. Many innovative programs exist that we need to examine and replicate. These can help create a culture shift in how we educate our young.
Peterson: To best meet the needs of our population, we need to push for bilingual education or dual language programs. We need to push for more transitional English Language Development classes and flexibility in exiting kids in such programs with proficiencies. Most importantly, we need to push for the resources and time to do this.
What one thing do you believe the Roaring Fork Schools should be doing better for students, and why?
Stepp: Without completely understanding the budget or allocation processes, it is difficult, currently, to propose specific programs that could make a substantial impact. A few ideas that I would explore are ways to increase support and mental health services, increase teacher pay in order to attract/retain top talent, increasing access to dual-enrollment opportunities for students to take advantage of receiving free college credit while in high school, and ways to capitalize on the newly formed education foundation.
Peterson: A district with an ultimate goal of college readiness is truly important but one thing RFSD should be doing better for students is providing vocational programs for those who may not see college as their ultimate goal. The addition of vocational programming will complete the wide range of needs our children have.
Torres: I think our schools should always be working to prepare our students for life and a variety of career paths. On a daily basis, what does that look like in our classrooms? How do we meet each kid’s needs? How do we better support our teachers as they work with a variety of students? This needs to be an ongoing conversation to make sure we are doing the best for our students.
Are there any changes you propose be considered for the school district, and why?
Peterson: As our community continues to grow and progress, our district also needs to consider changes regarding retention of substitute/guest teachers, paraprofessionals and transportation staff in our schools. There is a shortage and currently, teachers are covering for other teachers, frequently losing any planning time and lunchtime to do so. We need to take a deeper look at the reasons for this shortage and what can be done about it. Changes include fixing budgetary issues and finding ways of retaining staff who fill these integral positions within the district.
Stepp: We could examine how we assess our schools, teachers and students. We should study various assessment methods/tools without over-testing the students. I believe that a diverse teacher population is important. Additionally, it is important to retain the talent that we do have. It requires numerous resources, both monetary and human, to recruit, train and retain teachers. In many cases, the high cost of living in this area is a barrier. More collaborative projects that provide employee housing (i.e., Basalt Vista) should be explored.
Torres: We have an incredible community of people who want to be involved with our schools. I hope I can serve as a bridge between parents and our community and district leadership. This is not a change for the district but an intention I will bring to my service on the board.
What solutions do you propose to increase teacher pay?
Torres: I appreciate the essential role that teachers play in the success of our students. At this time, I do not have a specific solution but want to understand the variety of factors that contribute to teacher satisfaction, including pay, to then help develop solutions.
Stepp: I will need to learn about the state funding formula to understand how the district allocates resources before I could propose a solution to this ever-growing issue. I do know that the state of Colorado is one of the lowest in the country for per-pupil spending and for teacher pay. Collaborating with other local districts and organizations to help drive policy change at the state level in order to offset the impacts of the TABOR and Gallagher Amendments would be a good place to start.
Peterson: Although our district is well aware and actively working to increase teacher pay, there are districts out there who have figured it out. We should observe these other districts, take a good look at what they are doing right and discover where our money is going. We should look to put money back in the classrooms. Most importantly, there needs to be financial transparency and financial documentation that is easily accessible and easily interpreted by all community members and stakeholders.
Should the district share local tax revenues with state charter schools located within the district? Why/why not?
Peterson: The foundation of our schools is solid. Charter schools are a separate entity and have made considerations regarding their own budget. Having conversations regarding funds between our local schools and state charter schools would be a productive way to share ideas and seek solutions to budgetary issues, but if sharing local tax revenues is pulling money away from our schools which have been here, in some cases, for decades for a state-wide initiative then, no, we shouldn’t share.
Stepp: I understand this has been a spirited debated. With my knowledge at this time, I would support bringing the charter schools into the district. I believe that charter schools offer a beneficial alternative to students. If managed and incorporated appropriately, these options could provide specialized education opportunities, i.e., STEM or project-based learning. I do not believe that charter schools should be a burden on the district. I believe they add to the district’s offerings and provide a unique approach to student success, a goal for which we are all striving.
Torres: I’m committed to understanding and following state regulations and learning more about the distribution of local tax revenues, and the impact this would have within the school district. Currently, I do not have a position on this issue.
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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.