Editor's note: The following questions were submitted to candidates for the USD 489 school board by the Hays NEA. The questions and answers are being posted as submitted with the permission of the Hays NEA and the candidates.
Three positions are up for election. Also running are Ken Brooks, Casey Herrman, Cathy Hopkins, Curt Vajnar and Thomas Wasinger.
1. Please discuss your reasons for seeking a position on the Board of Education. What qualifications do you have that make you the best candidate?
I chose to run for USD 489 School Board as a means to serve my community in a positive way, after encouragement from friends and neighbors at the low number of candidates for the number of open seats.
One of my core beliefs is in the need for our communities to band together in building up our society. This begins in working together to take care of our children. As a single, working parent for most of my son’s life, I know how impactful the mere existence of a public school can be on a family’s life. I have a great respect for the work that teachers and staff do and the tremendous responsibility they have in caring for those children, let alone educating them. My goal as a member of USD 489’s Board of Ed would be to serve the children of Hays, which means making sure that teachers and staff have the resources they need—money, time, and space.
In my professional life as a librarian, I have worked with and created partnerships with individual teachers and school staff, and I have worked to educate entire schools in library resources available to them. I currently serve as the president of my profession’s statewide organization and have previously served on several boards alongside public and private school teachers. I am an excellent listener, and I ask good questions when there are issues to be resolved. I have completed two courses with the Kansas Leadership Center, and I am a certified facilitator with the Center for Discourse and Democracy (at Kansas State University). I have worked with lobbyists in successfully advocating for and against legislation at the state level. I have presented regionally and nationally on a wide range of topics including the following:
• Library best practices.
• Resources – technology trends, how to find & use different resources, and how to teach how to use those resources.
• Poverty and its impact on behavior and learning, as well as resources to assist in moving out of it.
I have also introduced new technologies to our area including Hoopla (a platform for library books, movies, and music) and Niche Academy (a technology learning platform). In my current position, I was a core member of the remodel committee—a $1.6 million project in a building that remained open throughout (a great deal of) construction—and included the installation of a remarkable Early Literacy Area based on my sketches and outline.
What do you see as the greatest problem facing public education today? In Kansas?
I believe that the hyper-polarization of our communities has created an environment in which misinformation has been allowed to overrule expert guidance in the public eye. I think this applies to multiple areas under the purview of the USD 489 School Board, including healthy finances, curriculum decisions, and school safety—from viruses and other dangers.
In USD 489?
Same. The local impact of this problem can be mitigated by connecting community members to resources and to positive, proactive communication.
Issues that impact families and schools are rarely simple. They require deep analysis and balance of resources and facts at hand. Decisions about these issues are going to be hard, and they are going to have to defer, often, to the best knowledge we have at any given time; better, more current information will supersede older. The best knowledge is always going to come from the longstanding authorities that are available to us who are continuing their analysis using their larger resources and skill sets.
How do you see your role as a member of the Board of Education in regard to accountability to patrons of the district?
As a patron of the district myself, I feel that the BOE has worked to be transparent with the community. I think maintaining and expanding public communication will be very important in the coming years.
… to teachers?
As a support. Teachers need resources: money and time. A teacher cannot possibly be expected to do their work effectively while having to supply their classrooms out of their own paychecks or cram too much curriculum for 10 different learning styles for too many kids in rooms that are too small for the number of people expected to be in them. Teachers need time to learn and plan, and every teacher deserves a lunch break. Staff retention is imperative to any effective organization. “Nonprofessional” staff are integral as well to schools’ positive impact on children and their families, and these members of the organization should be treated fairly and accommodated appropriately.
… to students?
Students need good teachers; advocating for teachers is advocating for students.
Every Student Every Day is a great motto. This means everyone—including those with physical and intellectual disabilities, difficult family situations, and diverse backgrounds. The BOE is responsible for student safety, but the board relies on individual staff to employ best practices to accomplish goals regarding health and security.
Do you see your role as overseeing policy or making decisions regarding day-to-day operations?
I am experienced in board work. The Board’s role is to oversee policy & finance and to hire & evaluate particular individuals (the superintendent) who is then responsible for day-to-day operations and enforcement of policy. Evaluation of that singular hire should be very comprehensive and include evaluations from that person’s reports as well.
What philosophy/core belief will be the driving force behind your decision making if elected to the board?
Our community thrives when we all have access to the same opportunities. Personal responsibility is only personal when chances and treatment are already equal inside our school and other governmental structures.
What is your position on 1-to-1 technology for K-12? What changes, if any, would you like to see?
These are my observations as a person who has interacted with the school’s technology in my personal and professional life:
• That technology is necessary, not just for reasons to accommodate equal and greater access to information, but to make sure that children have the skills they require to live and work and grow in the world.
• That tablets hold within them access to books in text/picture and audio format and allow generally allow greater access to materials and resources.
• That many relied-upon resources are now ONLY available in a digital format and not print.
• That technology fails, often, and at the most inconvenient times.
• That it can connect us to one another in magnificent, important, beautiful ways.
• That communication between technology specialists and the people who employ it is not always excellent.
I have not asked teachers what they think about 1-to-1 technology for K-12. I think that asking kindergarten teachers to also teach iPad troubleshooting is too much. I also think that planning lessons around tech that may fail is hard to do; always having a backup lesson is taxing. I once spent a full two days (with two other staff members) installing resources on 5 grades, 3 classes each, all of which was then wiped due to an update that no one knew about—two days before students were set to arrive in class. My son was enrolled in online 8th grade last year but received an iPad with no keyboard for the first two months of the year—keyboarding was one of his requirements for a class.
Technology is important. Equitable access to technology means each child needs their own device. People make tech work. Increased and improved communication is necessary, and training for teachers on how to use the tech they are provided should be consistent and easily available, regardless of skill level.
Describe the first change you would like to see enacted by the Board of Education.
When I think of the most impactful measure that any school district has had on me as a single parent, it is the existence of half-day preschool for 3-4-year-olds and all-day kindergarten from age 5. Without that support as a single working mother, I would be destitute. Relying on patched together, inconsistent pre-kindergarten care for our littles is too taxing to endure sometimes, and far too expensive to maintain on an individual basis. Working and banding together, we can build a system that will support families better than we do now, and which will allow our community to grow economically as well as intellectually. Early Childhood Education is KEY to success later on for children.
I know in-roads are being made currently; I would like to see fast, effective, and sustainable movement in the coming three years.
We believe every student deserves qualified, committed teachers. How do you feel due process for teachers affects this goal?
I think it’s imperative.
Without due process, teachers are at the mercy of every single parent’s limited view—we only see our own children’s perspective and rarely the perspective of the other students in the room OR the challenges a particular teacher might be dealing with. I think that documentation of behavior (teacher & student) is important, and I think that it is essential that definitive cause be shown for termination through due process.
That said, I also acknowledge the seriousness of allegations not being taken seriously (as a rule in our society, not specifically to this district) and the damage that does to the accusers/victims of long-term abuse and to the function and trust in our overall systems. Allegations must be taken seriously, as the BOE is responsible for student safety. Due process ensures that we remain entrusted with the care we provide.
What is your vision regarding facilities in the district to provide our students with the best opportunities for success? What are your thoughts on previous and future bond issues/elections?
My view on the facilities is that they are almost entirely too small and too old to effectively accommodate the numbers and needs of the children who attend these schools.
Having moved here in 2019, I cannot personally attest to the previous processes. My impression from conversations with parents, teachers, and other voters is that those previous bond issues concentrated too much on expensive athletic facilities and not enough on classroom support.
Future bond issues should be transparent, should have all information available to anyone who asks, and should make student academic success the very obvious priority. Those of us who support improved facilities should work to educate populations, not just on the issue itself, but on the importance of voting in that local election.
How can the board/district recruit and retain quality teachers? What could the board do to improve teacher morale?
No teacher chooses this career to become enormously wealthy. Teacher recruitment and retention depends on a culture of growth and excellence in a community who appreciates them. Improved morale is a feature of a retention plan. Making sure that teachers feel a level of control and responsibility for their students’ success, giving teachers the tools they need to do their work effectively, and connecting district employees to each other will make a bigger impact than any other measures. Of course, this is only true as long as the wage that staff and teachers earn is enough to reward their education, experience, and commitment they demonstrate. It must be sufficient to live on and comparable to districts with similar demands.
In any organization, morale comes down to leadership: Do the leaders of the organization support the needs of the staff of the organization?
The BOE is ultimately responsible for morale. Making sure that staff (classified and unclassified) have means to communicate goals and grievances to their superiors and that their successes and failures are seen, acknowledged, and addressed are essential components of any leadership team.
The best organizations seek to hire leaders who work to improve their subordinates’ investment in the organization. People want to do well. When they cannot, the problem of WHY must be solved—this is an individual problem. If morale is low in USD 489, it is because leadership is invested in something besides the individual success of each staff member.
How would you characterize your attitude toward collective bargaining? What role do you see yourself taking in this process?
I think that collective bargaining is an essential component of our great American democracy. I would make myself a listener and a question-asker, especially in the first year of negotiations.
Thank you for the opportunity to communicate with the staff of our district. If there are any further questions or concerns, I can be reached at [email protected] and general position statements can be found at www.mzampierilillpopp489.com.