FRISCO - Five school board candidates spoke Thursday night on subjects ranging from the design of pending construction projects to intelligent design, showing their desire for the schools' success but distinguishing themselves little from their fellow candidates. Tony Flitcraft, Sheila Groneman, Erin Major, Boyd Mitchell and Christine Scanlan were present for the panel. Stuart "Boot" Gordon read a letter announcing his withdrawal from the race; candidate Hilary Carlson was not able to attend.
The six candidates are running for three open seats: The two belonging to Scanlan and Major, who were appointed to fill vacancies, and the seat belonging to current president Kristy Johnson, who will not seek another term. The race will be decided during the Nov. 1 general election.After short introductions, local Democratic Party chairman and moderator Sandy Briggs opened the question period by asking the candidates how the district should meet the needs of its many Spanish-speaking students."It's the single largest challenge to our district, but also an opportunity we wouldn't have otherwise," Scanlan said. However, she said, "We're more innovative than we're showing."
Scanlan spoke of the importance of the International Baccalaureate program's global philosophy and the need to involve the parents of Spanish-speaking students. Groneman, the director of Summit County Head Start, an early childhood education program, agreed with the need to involve not just the student but the student's family in the learning process. The proper resources also must be allocated, she said, to make sure that new programs succeed. One such program seeking to bridge the achievement gap is the dual-language program at Dillon Valley Elementary, an initiative Major hopes will be implemented in another of the district's schools. Major also spoke of the Newcomer Center at the high school, which provides full-family support and English language instruction.
"I think we're doing a lot," she said. "I think we could do a lot more."Mitchell said he sees two main ways to take advantage of the district's diversity: Outreach to Spanish-speaking families and support to the schools' staff. If teachers are given the time, he said, they can incorporate diversity into classroom learning and benefit all students. A large portion of Flitcraft's platform focuses on the issues raised by the large immigrant population.
"This is not a new problem," said the retired soldier. "People have been immigrating to this country since 1776." It's a cultural thing, Flitcraft said, not a language thing. The schools need to emphasize American history and culture to create more of a "melting pot" and less of a "tossed salad," he said.
Another issue discussed was the $28 million worth of renovations planned at the high and middle schools and the rising construction costs that have caused the district to delay groundbreaking on at least one project. The district's plan is to wait until costs drop, and redesign only if the postponement periods drag on too long."If adjustments need to be made, let them be made," Mitchell said. "The school district will deliver and come in on budget." Like the rest of the candidates, Mitchell spoke of the district's commitment to make good on the promises made to the community when it passed the $32 million bond issue last November."We have an obligation to spend that money wisely," Scanlan said. "It's not in the interest of our community to spend at a premium when we think (costs) might go down."
Major added that figures forcing the district to postpone may be inflated. The general contractor through which the schools have been working is not their only option, she said. If and when cuts need to be made, however, Major said community involvement will be very important.Current estimates reflecting an 18 percent to 20 percent rise in construction costs have turned the $5 million high school project into a $5.9 million endeavor and the $22.8 million middle school overhaul into a $26.9 million undertaking.Groneman acknowledged an obligation to move forward, especially at the aging middle school. Voters, she said, have been extremely generous and need to be kept informed throughout the process.
When asked their opinions of implementing a balanced calendar for the school, which would give students more frequent breaks but shorten the summer break in accordance with studies that have shown increased academic performance under such a system, the candidates were again generally in agreement.All advocated the need for more data on the subject, the need to remain focused on academic performance and the need to have strong community backing for whatever changes are made, if any.Academic performance was also the focus of a discussion on the balance between fine arts programs with the core instruction needed to meet federal standards. Management, Flitcraft said, is all about allocating resources, and while he doesn't have any first-hand knowledge of the district's programming priorities, he said he'll "grab that moving train and get to work."
Groneman recalled a hippopotamus her son had created in ceramics class that he displayed a great deal of affection for when she considered throwing it away, though he was not particularly interested in the arts. "Those are other grounds and environments where children are learning," Groneman said. Scanlan agreed, describing the district's take on federal and state mandates as a "healthy perspective." Major spoke of the need to produce good citizens as well as academic achievers.While not expressing any feelings against arts programs, Mitchell took a step away from the other candidates on the issue, returning to his platform's strong focus on academic achievement.