Q&A: Summit School District board of education candidate Michael Atkinson
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?
- Listen to the wisdom of the Finance Committee and District Accountability Committee — Both recommended the board make a list of priorities then cut the lowest priorities. The Board didn’t. They must set priorities and eliminate the lower priorities.
- Streamline administration — find ways to streamline and invest in those things that help teachers/students succeed.
- Prioritize teachers, direct support to teachers, academics/curriculum, safety and security officers.
- Minimize consultants supporting budget-draining-bureaucracy.
- Too many initiatives and policies — simplify and get back to funding academics and those things that support teachers and students.
- Be good stewards of taxpayer money — with the current and the apparent near future of the economy, taxpayer’s pockets can’t keep up with additional taxes. Regardless whether additional funds become available, we must spend them responsibly and effectively.
- Have the finance committee find grant money and use it for tutoring or curriculum updates to relieve the burden on the general fund.
- Partner with community organizations to provide after school support.
- Find and encourage parents and other community members to volunteer at schools.
What are ways you would seek to improve students’ test scores?
- Enlist the teachers whose students tested well to help the other teachers.
- Listen to the District Accountability Committee’s No. 1 recommendation, which was to get back to standards.
- Hold teachers accountable to standards. Parents are concerned that there is curriculum being included that does not seem to be based on any standard.
- Ensure curriculum is to standards but is consistent between schools and between grades. Ensure that teachers can teach to the level of the student. You must challenge the advanced students and help the kids that are struggling. Nobody can be forgotten.
- Only change curriculum if there is a real indication that curriculum is the issue. Change requires teachers to be trained and much more work. I have spoken to teachers who are tired of losing time to this practice.
- Study halls instead of free periods to maximize education.
- Look at how teachers are spending their instruction time. Is the bureaucracy taking up their time, and, if so, free them up.
- Discipline. Get repeat troublesome kids out of the classroom. Get them support, but they can’t be allowed to interrupt classes.
- Create effective consequences for lateness and missing school.
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?
- Every student should have equity of opportunity. It is impossible to equalize all outcomes. There are factors beyond control that no amount of spending or focus can change.
- We should assure every child has a ride to school, access to the resources, support with homework — even if their parents are unable to help, by enlisting students and community volunteers. All people should be respected and shown kindness, regardless of their identity.
- The concern I have with the equity policy is that it says that all differences in outcomes are due to systemic racism. I have known hundreds of students, parents and teachers over my 35 years in Summit County, including many Hispanics, and none of them ever felt racism is a problem. There are real reasons Latino children are falling behind, but racism is not one of them. Applying resources (time, money, administrators, curriculum) to this takes away from academics. Address the real issues: language learning, parental involvement, access to internet or homework support.
- Do not eliminate advanced classes because of equity. That is simply another form of inequity by taking away opportunity.
- No more diversity, equity and inclusion officers. Real equity is hiring more teachers and pursuing academic excellence for all students.
What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you support, and why?
- Support for Hispanic families. More can and should be done, and I appreciate the work being done. Thank you.
- Making mental health a priority. I will never forget the memorial service I presided over for a student from Summit High who died by suicide. Let’s all work together to make sure that no parents or schoolmates have to lose a loved one to hopelessness.
What are some decisions that the district or board have made that you oppose, and why?
- Decreasing emphasis on academics. Being “curious and courageous” is good, but I’m not sure it is more important than academic excellence.
- Hiring diversity, equity and inclusion officers while eliminating academic officers. Real equity is everyone getting a quality education regardless of their identity, ethnicity, ability or disability.
- Eliminating advanced science in the name of equity. Again, eliminating advanced science is inequitable to advanced students, including Hispanic students who excel in this area.
- Budget. They have been burning through reserve funds and not replenishing them, apparently not setting priorities or sticking to them.
- Ignoring finance committee and District Accountability inputs to the budget. Why ask these capable people to serve if you are only going to ignore their wisdom?
- Hiring consultants to do work the board should be doing. Vote in capable board members since they serve without charge.
- Unified Improvement Plans — way too many so they can’t be implemented, complicated jargon that nobody can understand including teachers. Simplify — get back to standards and teach to the level of the student.
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