I often get asked to complete surveys from stakeholder groups, and to answer questions in different forums. These represent specific issues that are of interest to stakeholders, but I think the answers are important for all so I wanted to share somewhere accessible to everyone. If you have specific questions and concerns that aren't addressed here, let me know! I will add to this as I go...
How do you define SEL (Social & Emotional Learning) strategies and what do you believe it does in the classroom?
I think SEL is most simply defined as the "soft" skills that allow children to manage their emotions, build relationships, and navigate the world around them. Those skills are absolutely foundational to children's individual educational success, and everything that comes after it, as well as to creating a positive and equitable classroom environment where all children can learn and develop.
From a personal perspective, as a parent of a child with mild ADHD and with very big emotions, I see daily just how important it is for him, but it benefits every child and every classroom. It is terribly sad, and unfortunate, that SEL is becoming yet another buzzword used to advance political agendas and score cheap political points to the detriment of all of us, but especially our children.
What importance do you attribute to PE (Physical Education) and health and how do feel about the cuts made to these subject areas in the past?
I hope and trust very few would argue with the obvious and well-documented health and wellness benefits of children being more physically active, and that is reason enough to be very concerned by cuts to these areas, but there are two wider concerns I would like to highlight. First, both PE in itself, and the organized sport it feeds into, enhance children's social learning and relationship building which is at the core of lifelong success. Second, a personal story. I confess I was not the best student through primary and secondary education. Many years, and two Master's degrees, later I think I developed academically, but PE and sport more generally was what kept me in school and got me to university.
I know there are many children just like myself, who don't relate and attach to academic study. Giving them outlets to keep them interested and motivated to be in school is vital - not just PE/sport, of course, for others it may be music, dance, art, and so on, but these non-core subjects are often far more important to children and their educational and life success than many people commonly recognize.
What ideas have you formulated that will increase public school funding to keep up with growth, fully compensate teachers for their expertise and commitment to teaching, ensure they have the classroom resources they need to be effective educators, and making teacher retention a priority?
I believe that, as a society, we need to place a higher value on education, and educators, and prioritize it as a public expenditure. I also recognize that we are a long way from that, especially in Utah, though in Park City taxes in fact were just increased on the basis that the money was needed for teacher salaries. We've yet to see the effect of that. Overall though, while the paucity of Utah education spending is well known, within the Park City District we are near double the Utah average per student, so locally the question for me is less "how do we increase funding" than it is, "how do we prioritize funding?"
We have an administration top heavy with unaccountable leadership. We have a superintendent paid at the very highest level, and given a house, and a car, and near a teachers' annual salary worth of landscaping support in her yard. We have too many no-bid contracts. We waste money on self-inflicted construction delays (I have questions about exactly what we are building in some cases too). Long story short, we simply spend money ineffectively and inefficiently. Begin to rectify that, and I'm certain we'll find additional funds to properly compensate teachers and resource their classrooms.
How do you define CRT (Critical Race Theory) and do you believe it is currently being taught in Utah public schools?
CRT is an advanced framework for understanding how people of color are systemically disadvantaged in America. It is absolutely not taught in Utah public schools (until maybe university), though it could be useful for public school administrators to help them consider the impact of policies on different demographics. We have to push back on those who want to pretend systemic racism doesn't exist or that describing it is as divisive as the racism itself. The job of public school administrators is to strive to increase equity in our education system, and that has to be grounded in an honest reflection of where we are.
What vetting process do you support when a parent objects to a book in their child’s school? What actions do you believe school districts should take or not take?
Let me first just say that no society which has actively engaged in book banning has ever landed on the right side of history. With that said, I do believe parents have a right to an opinion on what books their own children read (though I would encourage them to think about the message they send when they make ideas taboo). What they do not have a right to, is control over what other people's children read.
For the most part, I trust that the educators within our schools are more than capable of picking appropriate materials for their classrooms. For oversight of that, the Park City School District, as I assume do others across the state, has a long-standing policy covering curriculum adoption, including parental, teacher, and in some cases student, review of materials which is quite sufficient to meet the requirements of the recent Utah House Bill.
We are at a point in history where political actors are actively seeking to control the flow of ideas to protect and advance their own interests. That's incredibly dangerous. Now more than ever, we need school districts to stand behind teachers to protect their ability to educate, and to ensure students have access to quality, accurate, and diverse materials.
Considering legislation that has been proposed in the last 10 years, how would you vote on voucher/school choice bills?
I do not believe a voucher system is the right way to go. I believe it would increase inequity and create a multi-tier system where already underserved populations are further disadvantaged.
What are your views on the Summit program or programs like it being implemented in our schools?
In general I am in favor of programs that recognize children's unique learning needs and facilitate appropriately sized educational groups to allow children to effectively learn and flourish. I think the keys are how programs fit within budget, time, and curriculum constraints, and how we ensure equitable access. Specifically on the Summit program, I am not familiar enough to offer a nuanced opinion, but I will learn more and I would be delighted to hear from people who are much closer to it!
What ways can we support diversity in our curriculum so that all students see themselves as culturally relevant?
In addition to what I said above in regards to curriculum, in brief, I think it is incumbent on school districts to protect educators' ability to teach. I think this is about more than just curriculum though. I believe we need a demonstrated commitment to DEI more broadly. In Park City we had a DEI task force that could have done good work but was regrettably unsupported from the District administration. That type of visible focus is important, with progress reported directly into the school board, but it must be accompanied by genuine interest from the Board in seeing real progress. Unfortunately that piece was missing in Park City.
Representation is key too. That means placing DEI at the core of hiring efforts so that students not only see it through the curriculum, but also through their lived experience.
What have you personally done to support teachers/public education?
This is exactly why I am running for the Park City School Board. Like many parents here, I have been alarmed by our district's continuing controversies and the lack of transparency and accountability. I'm saddened when I hear teachers talk about a "culture of fear" in the district. I'm concerned when I see the ongoing loss of experienced educators and growing class sizes. I'm angry when I see bullying behavior from sitting school board members, both on social media and in board meetings.
I believe there is a better way. We can support teachers, and other stakeholders, and elevate their voices. We can bring decision-making into the open. We can hold people accountable when essential procedures are ignored that put children at risk and waste much needed money. We can focus budgets on getting resources where they are most needed - into classrooms, rather than attorneys' and administrators' pockets. We can be honest about the challenges the school district faces and rebuild the trust between the district and its stakeholders. That must be the foundation of how we support teachers, children, and public education.