Summit school board candidates talk teacher salaries, mental health, finances at election forum
BRECKENRIDGE — Candidates for the Summit School District Board of Education took the stage at a nonpartisan election forum Thursday night, fielding questions on important issues surrounding the areas schools, such as teacher retention, improving student performance and district finances.
The panel comprised nine of the 10 candidates for four open positions on the board. Candidates include Chris Alleman, Gini Bradley, Miranda Fisher, Lauren Gearhart, Stan Katz, Emily Lutke, Gloria Quintero, Consuelo Redhorse, Brooke Shotts and Tim Westerberg. Bradley was unable to attend the forum but provided written opening and closing statements that were read aloud by the moderator.
While candidates came from different backgrounds and experiences, answers to one of the biggest questions surrounding the school district — how to attract and retain quality teachers — were largely uniform, tackling increases in salaries among other solutions.
“It is about salaries, but I think we can find a lot of creative solutions,” said Redhorse, a former Summit County Preschool board chair. “We need to talk to the teachers, we need to talk to support staff to find out what they want. It may be from school to school, it may be different groups of teachers, but we need to have some kind of task force … to find out what they want.”
Many candidates addressed reaching out to teachers themselves to find ways to make the jobs in the county more attractive, including ideas such as diving into workforce housing solutions, an increase in professional development and mentorship opportunities for young teachers, and even offering outside incentives like free ski passes.
“I also feel the wage increase could be incredibly beneficial to retain quality staff,” said Fisher, who serves on the Summit Chamber board of directors. “But … money doesn’t just rain from the sky, and we have a budget you have to keep to. So there’s other ways we can get creative. … I think there’s some cool opportunities to team up with the Summit Combined Housing Authority and think of our benefits packages in a different way to make them a little more enticing.”
“I had a conversation with an elementary school teacher who told me she has a master’s and 10-plus years in teaching and she makes less than a first-year firefighter,” added Shotts, chair of the Building Accountability Committee at Breckenridge Elementary School. “These things are super important, and we do need to retain the current teachers we have by giving them a livable wage. … And just trying to help wherever they need, so they don’t fail or feel overwhelmed and leave after a year.”
Candidates opened up more when asked about their priorities outside of teacher compensation and retention, noting a diversity of goals each has in mind following the election. For some, the name of the game is increasing student performance.
“I’m running for Summit school board because, simply, I believe we can do a lot better than we are,” said Katz, who served on a board of education in New Jersey for more than a decade. “On the educational side, our achievements leave a lot to be desired. Our percentile ranks in language arts, math and science range from a high of only around 75% and a very disappointing low of 47%. … We live in one of the wealthiest counties in the state with a long tradition of supporting the school district. That’s a good start, but we need to be a lot more proactive on the academic side.”
“My top priority is high academic expectations for all students, and the support that they need to meet those expectations,” said Westerberg, a former school principal and former Dillon Town Council member. “With clear, specific student performance expectations that are aimed at or aligned with leading to college and career readiness expectations or standards for each grade level, each course, each semester.”
Others had more specific priorities, such as the integration of more diverse and substantial curriculum programs into the schools.
“I think arts integration can help solve a lot of the issues in the classrooms,” said Alleman, president of the Silverthorne Elementary School PTA. “Arts integration is not simply teaching someone how to paint or how to sing or what theater is. It’s actually using those art forms as a teaching tool in the classroom to teach science, to teach math, to teach reading, to teach communication and even social-emotional learning. I think I can bring that to the school board with my 20-plus years in the arts.”
Student health was another big topic brought up by candidates, with some calling for better resources for students dealing with mental health issues.
“In order to have successful learners, we need to have clear minds that are focused,” said Gearhart, a coordinator for the Mountain Mentors program. “They are free of trauma, they are free of stress and conflict. Increasing therapeutic interventions in school has been great with the help of School Based Health Centers. But we need more. We need more access to Spanish speaking therapists; we also need social emotional curriculum interwoven in the schools. … But in order for us to have success with caring learners, we need to make sure we’re providing opportunities to practice those skills.”
Others said their main priority was making sure that teachers and the curriculum are able to connect with a diversity of students, both culturally and academically.
“I am running for school board because I want to be a megaphone for minorities,” said Quintero, program coordinator for the county’s Youth and Family Services. “Latinos make up 15% of our community, but when was the last time there was a Latino on our school board? … I’m hoping that my involvement will empower more parents to get involved in their children’s education. … I believe parents will be more involved when they feel represented.”
“Essentially make sure that we have opportunities for all,” said Lutke, co-chair for Vail Resorts Epic Promise Foundation. “I will be the first to say I have a lot to learn about what we’re currently doing, the curriculum that we’re offering, the processes we go through for curriculum revision when we’re looking at adding those in. That’s something I’m really excited to dive into to ensure we are offering the best programs for all of our different types of learners, understanding that learning doesn’t come easy to all.”
With four open seats, it’s up to the voters to decide Nov. 5 who is the best fit. To learn more about the candidates and their positions, visit summitdaily.com/election.
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