Opinion | Bruce Butler: Pay attention to the school board election

We need to learn a lot more about where the nine school board candidates stand on a variety of issues in preparation for the Nov. 2 Summit School District Board of Education election.

I know a few of the candidates, and I respect all who have stepped forward to run for the four open seats. Serving on a school board is not easy work. It has been my observation over the years that nothing makes people more irrational than their children — except maybe their pets. In full disclosure, my daughter has been a Summit School District student for all her K-11 years.

The current school board has faced some unprecedented challenges due to a year of COVID-19 turmoil that nobody could have anticipated, and any COVID-related decisions are sure to draw criticism. However, the board started out last year clearly divided over the decision to place wokeness above management skills and academics when they hired Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. This split among board members lead to the immediate resignation of school board President Bonnie Ward. Smith’s tenure ended with another board member resignation over whether to retain his services and a $100,000 payout to end his controversial and generally ineffective tenure.

The board continued to stir up controversy over procedural transparency, development and implementation of the Just and Equitable Education policy, pay for administrative personnel, the new teacher’s union contract, in-person versus virtual learning, mask mandates for kids and cohort quarantines. For better or worse, COVID-19 called a lot more attention to school board decisions, curriculum and academic performance. It turns out that Summit County’s test scores have been steadily declining in many disciplines since 2017, so it is not just a COVID-19 problem.

Voters want to know how the candidates would actually improve the district’s declining academic performance; how they define equity and what remedies that would really entail; whether the health benefits of masking young children outweigh the social, developmental and emotional damage being done; where they stand on school choice; and what changes they would incorporate into the next teacher’s union contract.

I would add a few more questions too:

  • Will the board commit to dropping education academia elitist terms and language from curriculum, policy and planning documents that functionally disenfranchises parents because they cannot clearly understand what is expected of their kids and how their kids are performing?
  • Is the school board willing to make some of its land available for workforce/affordable housing, like the old Silverthorne Elementary site on Brian Avenue for example?
  • Why spend money to participate in the International Baccalaureate diploma program, yet when a student wants to challenge himself or herself with a real overseas experience the reaction is discouraging? Why does the district not enthusiastically support its international commitment? Is there really no way to assign Summit High School credits for students who are willing to take bold risks?

In my daughter’s case, she has had some excellent and influential teachers over the years, and I applaud Summit School District for advancing its academic alliance with Colorado Mountain College. However, I am thankful that she is spending her senior year as a foreign exchange student in Switzerland. She is experiencing the humbling struggle of taking classes in a foreign language and adapting to a new culture, but the real bottom line is that Swiss education is considerably more rigorous than ours. While our education system is obsessed with race and gender identity, the Swiss are obsessed with math, science, proficiency in multiple languages, arts and history. Switzerland is not the only country outpacing us. We have fallen behind academically, and it should be a wake-up call for U.S. education.

Thanks again to each of the candidates who have thrown their names into the school board mix. Thanks to the many outstanding and dedicated teachers in Summit County. It sounds like interim Superintendent Roy Crawford is off to a more positive start.

Summit County voters are more engaged in this school board election than they have been in a long time. Please take time to learn more about each of these candidates, ask tough questions, and be sure to vote.

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