Summit County school board candidates discuss local education issues
Summit County school board candidates faced the community together during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 14 and talked about challenges with funding, technology, teacher retention and workforce housing.
The event at Summit High School was organized by the Education Foundation of the Summit, the Summit Middle School PTO, the Summit High School PTSO and the Summit Daily News.
About 50 people attended, including school district administrators, current school board members and other local elected officials and community members.
Five candidates — newcomers Cindy Bargell, Terry Craig, Mark Franke and Lisa Webster as well as incumbent Sue Wilcox — are running for four open seats on the seven-member Summit School District Board of Education.
The candidates talked about their community involvement and several mentioned family members who were teachers and their childhood education experiences in communities smaller than Summit. Four of the five have children currently in Summit schools.
They all tended to agree with each other on goals, problems and solutions, but some differences in approach became evident.
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WHAT SETS THEM APART?
Wilcox said her last four years on the school board make her distinct. She has been involved with local schools for 20 years and helped with the district’s last property tax initiative. She also enjoys the finer-grain details of education policy, she said.
Franke noted his experience as manager of a small technology business and said he would bring numbers savvy to the board. He also mentioned wanting to address needs in early childhood education as well as career and technical opportunities for secondary students.
Craig, the only candidate who hasn’t had children in the school district, said she brings an outside perspective and time to devote to the school board’s meetings and committees.
She moved to Summit in 1978 and has been a well-known community figure as wife of Keystone Policy Center founder Bob Craig, as a teacher at the Keystone Science School, as a local art gallery owner for decades and as a member of the Snake River Basin Planning Commission and county Open Space Advisory Board.
Bargell, a lawyer, has been involved with school PTOs and local nonprofit boards. She said she wants the district to focus more on addressing behavioral and mental health and suicide prevention.
Webster drew parallels between her U.S. Air Force career and experience with strategic planning in the military and the roles and responsibilities of school board members. This year, she coordinated the district’s new summer school program.
FUNDING, TECH AND PARENTS
Moderator Ben Trollinger, editor of the Summit Daily, posed questions to the candidates, starting with school funding.
Though the district has received more support than most Colorado districts from local taxpayers, “roofs still need to be fixed,” Bargell said. “What’s going to matter most as a board is to look at what sources are available kind of outside the box.”
The candidates talked about considering how to leverage new mill levies, grants and community partnerships for funding capital improvements and the district’s one-to-one technology initiatve, which would ensure each student has a personal computer, tablet or similar device at school.
“That’s very important to us. It’s the way of the world right now. It’s how our kids learn,” Wilcox said.
Bargell said she respected the tech focus, but the district needs to concentrate on literacy, especially with the growing population of students whose first language is not English.
“If you can’t read, you can’t decipher anything on a piece of equipment,” she said.
Moving to a question about attracting and keeping quality teachers, Franke said, “We’ve got to look real hard at how we put more dollars into teachers’ pockets.”
Wilcox said teachers come to Summit because of the district’s successful track record and new initiatives, and “it’s our responsibility to keep this going.”
Bargell said the district can better retain its teachers by letting them know they are respected and by encouraging parental involvement so teachers can worry less about discipline and their students’ mental and physical health.
HOUSING AND ACADEMICS
Candidates were challenged by a few anonymous audience questions, including whether they would use school district land for workforce housing. All five answered “yes” as long as the decision was considered carefully.
Wilcox said the current school board just started the process of hiring a contractor to create a master plan of the district’s properties, and she would wait to see what recommendations came from that.
Webster agreed on the value of a master plan and third-party recommendations, but she said the district should get more creative to address the problem sooner by using strategies like temporarily housing single employees with local families.
Craig said a decision to use district land for workforce housing would require significant planning and community input.
She also spoke about trying to better assist teachers when asked how to correct a situation in which young students aren’t prepared for their grade-level curriculum.
Franke said he would hold school administrators accountable and analyze whether the cause is at the individual student level, the classroom or the school. Wilcox talked about using assessments and intervention options already in place, and Webster mentioned how the summer program can help avoid the academic “summer slide.”
Brad Piehl, chair of the district’s nonprofit funding partner Education Foundation of the Summit, said after the forum that, because the foundation promotes STEM, he was glad to hear so much about technology.
However, he wished the candidates would have said more about how to ensure teachers have the skills to challenge students and keep track of kids with tech.
“It’s not about buying computers for all the kids in 10th grade. It’s support, it’s infrastructure, it’s IT support,” he said.
Summit is lucky to field five good candidates, he said, and voters can’t make a bad choice.
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