Sunday, October 25, 2009

VSD Board Candidates - A review

Most of the articles on this blog so far have been on global, national or state level issues. But since the local schools are where my kids get educated, I decided to drill down to my own district in Vancouver, and talk to some of the candidates. In this highly unscientific interview, I asked each one some standard questions. But mostly, it was an opportunity for me to get to know them as people. After all, they have come forward to volunteer their time and energy as the representatives of the parents, and by proxy the students, of the district. At times like these when money is scarce and student performance is lagging, I thought my blog can add some value to the decision making process of the voters.

Now, for the candidates themselves. For Position 2, we have Mark Stoker(Incumbent) and Chris Peppers, and for Position 3, two newcomers Nelson Holmberg and Kathy Gillespie. In general, the candidates all came across as passionate about something, which I think is good. All of them had a long history with Vancouver. Each one has a website that gives their detailed positions on issues they care about. I have attached URLs for each under the summary.

First, let me articulate what I consider to be my priorities, and then compare them to the candidates'. I believe the top priority and the prime directive of any board member should be student achievement. The data from the district screams lagging math and science scores, widening achievement gap, and huge dropout rates. If our schools are the only public institutions chartered with providing education, and if they are not meeting the charter, it automatically becomes the #1 issue in my mind. Everything else sort of falls out of this prime directive. Secondly, I wanted to see if anyone cared about STEM - Science, Math, Engineering and Mathematics. This has been clearly articulated as a priority by Arne Duncan, the national education secretary, and international competitive data on our school kid's STEM ability is now near the bottom of the list. Third, I wanted our candidates to demand more transparency and accountability in the dealings of the district. As one of the candidates pointed out, VSD meetings happen too early in the day for most parents to attend, they are not televised or archived on line for everyone to see, and the written minutes are not available for public viewing. What's up with that? Then there are issues that I do not consider as priorities. First is the fixation that more money will fix everything, in spite of data that show it does not. I would like the new board to address unnecessary spending first.

So moving right along, my review here is going to go after what they thought were their top three priorities, and my general impression of them as a candidate.

Position 2 - Mark Stoker (incumbent) - Top 3 issues 1. The Levy 2. Achievement Gap 3. Graduation Rate. On the whole, I found Mark to be pleasant and approachable. I was happy to see achievement related issues make it to the top three - both achievement gap as well as graduation rate made it. The levy is something that would have been an appropriate issue during good times, but I believe these are the times to figure out how to do more with less. I thought his second and third priorities were right on the money. Also on the plus side, he is the more experienced candidate for the race.

Position 2 - Chris Peppers (challenger) - Top 3 issues 1. Transparency of board operations 2. Community engagement 3. Accountability. Chris was probably the most curious of the four, asking for inputs and data where he felt he did not understand something. I think this is a good trait. However, studnet achievement was only mentioned as a part of transparency. While I agree that the line items on his priority list are important, I think they will automatically fall out of making student achievement the prime directive.

Position 3 - Kathy Gillespie - Top 3 issues 1. Academic achievement 2. A budget that is aligned to academic acheivement 3. Connect academics with career goals - esp. high schoolers. I think Kathy's first two priorities were right along mine. She also mentioned STEM as part of her first priority, which I consider a plus for her. She has a lot of volunteer experience in schools, and as a former newspaper editor, she can be an effective communicator.

Position 4 - Nelson Holmberg - Top 3 issues 1. Funding 2. Safety and Security in Schools 3. Realistic Learning Standards. The only priority that somewhat aligned with student achievement was the last one. Although Nelson was very passionate about transparency and accountability in his conversation, somehow it did not make his top 3. He also believed in bringing new "out of the box" thinking into the board, which I thought was refreshing.

So, in summary, if I look at alignment to my own set of priotities, the edge goes to Mark Stoker and Kathy Gillespie. However, with that comes the challege of what is not on their list - Accountabily and Transparency in board operations. I hope they put this on their list to address, as we will need the entire community to pull us through the education crisis. But no matter who wins, I don't expect the school board to perform dramatically better than the last one. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

Finally, I would urge the voters to make their own priority lists, and compare them to those of the candidates', and also study the candidate's web sites.

1 comment:

mrazekan said...

Thanks for pulling this information together!