Summit school board candidates talk mental health, student success at high school forum
Leaders of the Summit High School Student Council met with eight of the nine school board candidates to ask about their priorities Wednesday, Oct. 27.
Student council leaders Ali Adkins, Avery Eytel, Liliana Lopez, Olivia Lyman and Taylor Tullio each took turns asking the candidates questions about topics important to them, such as mental health, community outreach, equity and post-secondary success.
As a former student in the district, Toby Babich said he understands the struggles many students go through. He said he wants input from students and staff to influence decisions and that he wants to see the district providing more mental health resources.
“I know what it’s like to be alone, isolated and need support from the school district to assist me in achieving my goals,” Babich said. “I know what it’s like to be left behind, but I also know what it’s like to succeed despite overwhelming challenges with the help of a good school district.”
Incumbent Lisa Webster said she would advocate for better school funding statewide. She also said she thinks the district’s International Baccalaureate program is valuable to the district but that there’s always room for improvement.
“I would say that most of you all, whether you realize it or not, have the capacity that a lot of adults don’t in terms of presenting what your idea is, being risk-takers to give your opinions and not sit back idly and watch things slide by,” Webster said.
Manuela Michaels said she doesn’t think the district’s last superintendent or board members prioritized academics. She also said she thinks more support should be provided to help English Language Learners, who felt a greater impact during the pandemic since many parents weren’t able to help with online school.
“In this campaign, we have met with teachers, principals, academic officers, bus drivers, and we have knocked on over 800 doors,” Michaels said. “I would keep doing that work, because it’s the only way to know what concerns people have and know how to help them.”
Chris Guarino said one of his main priorities is being an active listener and a consensus builder, adding that he wants to work with students to determine the role they want to play. He also said he is dedicated to creating equitable systems for the district’s English Language Learners.
“I think our community embraces our English Language Learners, and I think our school district does,” Guarino said. “… I want everyone to feel welcome and a part of this school district. We are a public school district. We’re here to serve every member of the public.”
Kim Langley said teachers are the “tip of the spear” and that everyone in the district needs to work to support them in their role of teaching students. She also said the district needs more mental health resources.
“We need the teachers and students to be trained on how to recognize the signs and feel comfortable asking the tough questions,” Langley said. “We need to make sure that there is no stigma attached to mental health issues, and we must provide the support necessary to anybody that needs it: students, teachers, admin, bus drivers or anybody else.”
Incumbent Kate Hudnut said it’s important for the district to reach out to the community on a variety of platforms, noting how much she uses social media to share information. She also noted the importance of continuously looking for new mental health resources.
“It’s not ever something we will check the box on,” Hudnut said about mental health. “It is something we will continually revisit, continually invest in and continually get feedback on how it’s going.”
Danielle Surette said she wants to know more about what mental health resources the district has in place and what more needs to be done. She also said the community needs to work together to help the district improve.
“My main goal is to get students back on track academically and encourage students to learn to think critically,” Surette said. “… We have a little bit of work to do here, but I do know that Summit School District can be great.”
Incumbent Johanna Kugler said community relationships with the board need to be reciprocal and that she hopes to see more folks engaging with the school. She also said it’s important for students to have multiple pathways to post-secondary success.
“I think our education is a partnership,” Kugler said. “The child is an expert on themselves, the parent is an expert on the family, and our teachers are experts in the field. And in order for us to thrive and for you to thrive, we need all three to work together.”
Pat Moser was not in attendance.
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