Q&A: Summit School District board of education candidate Danielle Surette

Danielle Surette
School board candidate
Danielle Surette/Courtesy photo
Danielle Surette is running for a seat on the Summit Board of Education in the Nov. 7 election.
Danielle Surette/Courtesy photo

During spending discussions earlier this year, the school district was said to be at risk of hitting a budget deficit as early as the 2025-26 academic year. How would you seek to avoid this?

I would comb through the budget and figure out where all the money has gone. We received a substantial amount of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for COVID-19. Most of that money has been spent or budgeted. This was extra money that should have been spent on recovery, like hiring tutors and funding summer school. It wasn’t. I don’t believe the district doesn’t have enough money to run effectively. I believe that the money is not being managed properly and not being spent effectively. The amount of money over the years that has gone to public education has continued to increase, and there are several grants available for schools. 

I would cut out all unnecessary spending and make sure that we do not hit a budget deficit in 2025-26.  There will be some tough decisions to be made, but if it does not directly support teachers or the educational needs of our students, it should not be a budgeting priority. We need to start spending money like it was our own and not indulging in every pie-in-the-sky, new-age idea that doesn’t work. Get back to the basics of education. Our spending should be targeted and focused like our educational goals.  

What are ways you would seek to improve students’ test scores?

It’s a matter of priorities. First and foremost, the district needs to make academics a priority. I attend the school board meetings; it’s not a priority currently. An ideological focus has consumed our school board. Saying things like “we are more than just a test score” is unnecessary. Of course children are more than just a test score. This is an attempt to deflect from a very dire situation. It is unacceptable that roughly 60% of our kids aren’t proficient in reading and roughly 75% aren’t proficient in math.  

I’ve heard from district leadership that many teachers don’t know the standards of the test. How, then, can students do well? I would have mandatory professional development trainings focused on standards and make sure teachers are prepping accordingly. I would also implement summer school and very structured tutoring programs. On the Colorado Department of Education website, four Colorado schools were awarded the National Blue Ribbon Award. I visited these schools’ websites, reviewing their mission statements and values. Nearly all had the words “high expectations” and “excellence” in their description. That’s what is expected at these schools: mediocrity is not an option. We need to develop this attitude at Summit School District. 

Do you support or object to the district’s equity policy, which commits to identifying patterns of systemic inequity within the district and supporting the identity expression of students and staff?

This is the district’s main focus, not academics. Parents/community members objected to this policy. They wanted a real discussion before a decision was made, but, as usual, it was ignored. Instead of equality of opportunity, which I completely support, the equity policy focuses on disparity of outcomes. If any disparity exists, that it is due to systemic racism. The equity policy actually is critical race theory, which sees everything through a racial lens. It creates an oppressor/oppressed mentality. 

The equity policy reads: “Institutionalized racism and systemic oppression due to language proficiency continue to have the largest impact on student performance … etc.” “These inequities cannot be attributed to innate ability differences, and are therefore indicative of inequitable policies, practices, and procedures.” I don’t agree with this worldview. I find it poisonous, divisive and inaccurate. Anyone who understands human nature knows there are many factors to an individual’s success. There are real reasons students are struggling, and it’s not systemic racism. The longer we focus on this being the cause, the more students will be left behind. The equity policy passed in 2021, and it hasn’t improved anything. Our Hispanic students remain at the bottom 2% for the state of Colorado academically.

What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you support, and why?

A few of the decisions that I agree with the board on are the changing of the reading curriculum and free lunch and breakfast for students. Unfortunately there were a number of years where students were being taught to read by picture association. This method did not work and was clearly failing our students. I am still concerned for the many students that learned this way and were passed on to the next grade despite not learning to read. I assume they are still struggling and should get the intervention they need. I am glad they have finally decided to listen to the many advocates and now have a new, proven reading curriculum that will hopefully get our students reading at grade level. 

Another positive decision was providing breakfast and lunch to every student. All students should come to school ready to learn and with their stomachs full. I would never want a child to go hungry, and I think it is a great service to provide meals for our students. I want all students to be successful in their learning. Providing good nutrition is necessary to make sure they are healthy, happy and ready to learn.

What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you oppose, and why?

One major decision I disagree with is the passing of the resolution to teach LGBTQ in k-3 classrooms. These discussions are the responsibility of parents, not teachers. Introducing this to children as young as 5 is confusing and robs them of their innocence. There will be plenty of time for these conversations. Elementary school is not that time. Children aren’t thinking about sexuality at this age, nor should they be. It is completely unnecessary for a teacher to present this information, and it is not the business of the school to decide when this happens. 

By all means, teach that everyone is different and unique in their own way. Teach kindness, respect and tolerance for every student. The school is completely capable of saying people are different without getting into unnecessary details. Tolerance means the ability to tolerate even if you disagree, it is not forced conformity. Certain people view this as their own personal crusade, nothing else matters but to force their views on others, especially young children. It is completely over the line of the student-teacher relationship. The district, and the State for that matter, are over stepping their bounds.

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