Q&A: Summit School District board of education candidate Gayle Jones Westerberg
School board candidate
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 support approaching the school district budget conservatively by scrutinizing spending to align with progress toward the goals of the strategic plan. I would be cautious in considering unnecessary curriculum adoption or ventures outside of the scope of the current plan. I also have confidence in the leadership to present a budget that avoids hitting a deficit.
Historically, I have seen fluctuations in the budget. Yet, Summit School District has a succession of clean audits and is one of the highest rated in the state for fiscal management. The state allows for a 3% fund balance, and the district’s policy demands 7%. With a 10% fund balance, we are on solid ground. The district has been questioned about maintaining a fund balance that exceeds the limit because the money generated for that year should be spent on the students during that fiscal year. Now, we are more in line with what is expected to support the students in our school district. Our energy to effect changes needs to be focused at the state level, where the funding for education is dismal. Since 2009, our state has withheld more than $10 billion dollars from school funding. With the 2023-24 school finance act, we may be getting closer to fully funding schools. While we need to be prudent with our own resources, we must demand more funding solutions at the state level. Colorado schools deserve to be a priority.
What are ways that you would improve students’ test scores?
Academic and personal success is a priority. While using only standardized test scores is a narrow view of a student’s learning profile, I would continue the practice of disaggregating data to determine specifically where students are struggling, keeping in mind that group scores may show trends over time but do not tell the story of individual student achievement. Student motivation to excel is often diminished when feedback is delayed until the next school year and the results are out of context. We need to report information related to student performance to our community that is in real time and meaningful to our students. I am interested in looking at the qualitative and quantitative data gathered by teachers related to student performance and seek their opinions as to what professional learning, curriculum and strategies need to be employed to accelerate student performance. Finally, we can get a clearer picture of how to move forward with student learning if we embrace an assets-based approach and see what is right with our students, and our schools. Let’s bring student voice to the forefront and hear about their experiences. Let’s observe, ask questions and determine root causes. Growth should be celebrated!
Do you support or object to the district’s equity system which commits to identifying patterns of systemic inequity within the district and supporting the identify and expression of students and staff?
Since I began my career as a special education teacher, I have been working for equity. At that time, it was the right for students to be integrated into classrooms and not be separated from being educated with their peers. Now, we are talking about all students and being open to them as individuals so that everyone receives the resources they need to learn, grow, thrive and be prepared for life beyond high school graduation. I have lived and worked in systems that employed systemic inequity by giving identical human and financial resources to schools although there was a wide disparity in the numbers of students being served, and an extensive range of economic, learning and language needs. I fully support amplifying multiple points of view and perspectives, critical thinking that acknowledges historical bias and a focus on social justice. I am cognizant of the opportunity gap that exists in Summit School District, and I see that policies recently developed are in place to create culturally responsive environments that enhance the possibilities for all students. Seeing education through the equity lens is transformational.
What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you support, and why?
I support the strategic plan and the graduate profile that outlines a structure for students to graduate from Summit School District by developing the attributes of being courageous, curious, globally aware, growth oriented and prepared along with the pathways that are provided to individualize career and academic plans. Additionally, I am enthusiastic about the campaign to improve attendance and the strong focus on building a sense of belonging. Both of these initiatives positively impact academic and personal success for every student. The master plan, particularly the improvements that are outlined for every school site and the housing initiatives that focus on developing more options for staff has my endorsement. I am encouraged by the school district’s efforts to strengthen local partnerships and the feasibility of offering more rental and housing choices for staff. Having stable housing for staff increases the chances of recruiting new staff, longevity for current staff and ultimately impacts student learning.
What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you oppose, and why?
I can’t identify any decisions that I oppose, but I do have a few topics that I believe need more investigation. I subscribe to the tenets of scientific, evidence-based reading theories that identify the foundational skills that students need to be successful readers. I am also interested in bringing to the forefront, research-based evidence related to the science of teaching, student engagement, meaningful learning for students, and language acquisition strategies that work for English learners. Teaching and learning are very complex and we need to be aware of all of the facets as we make instructional decisions related to curriculum, classroom instruction and teacher training.
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