Kenly Hansen, Stephen Johnson and Pat Phair are running for two seats on the Waupaca School Board.
Hansen and Johnson are current members of the board. Phair is making his first bid to be elected to the school board.
Below are the candidates’ answers to questions from the County Post. It is the second article in a three-part series on the Waupaca School Board election.
Do you believe that the Common Core academic standards will help improve education in the Waupaca School District? What strengths or weaknesses do you see with Common Core?
Hansen: In general, I believe in standardization. While any standardized test or process will have some shortcomings, there needs to be an objective way to assess academic progress and achievement both within our district and across districts. Common Core is a standard, but doesn’t define curriculum. We still have the ability to chart our own course.
Phair: When a builder constructs a house they follow a set of blueprints to insure the final structure is sound, safe and ready to withstand a lifetime of changes.
All schools systems have a curriculum (or blueprints) to map out the important educational materials needed for student success. Common Core is simply the latest model in a long line of curriculum suggestions with the purpose to standardize certain basic concepts.
We live in a mobile society, students are constantly moving from one school to another. Common Core is an attempt to give students from Superior to Milwaukee who will seek higher education or enter the job market, a similar foundation. Waupaca has already adopted the Common Core standards and has been working on implementation for over a year.
Like the builder’s basic materials – lumber, cement, glass and stone – the Common Core only covers four basic educational areas: social studies, science, English and math. There is plenty of room in the school district’s curriculum for individuals to pursue art, physical education, health, foreign languages, etc. No two houses are the same, nor are two students. The advantage to Common Core is to build a strong base but allow for lots of windows and doors.
Johnson: I believe the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will help improve the education the district is providing. The standards were written to align with the expectations of post-secondary schools, training programs and employers and should aid our preparation of students for life after high school. That does not imply students have not received a solid education prior to CCSS. The past successes of our students demonstrate the quality education our teachers provide.
The strengths of CCSS include rigorous language-arts and math instruction which will impact all courses, promotion of creative and critical thinking over memorization and development of problem solving and effective communications skills. With CCSS in their infancy, no pilot before adoption and assessment tools not expected until next year, program weaknesses are yet to be identified. The key will be to listen to our teachers and administrators and respond thoughtfully and quickly when program shortcomings are identified.
Our teachers and administrators have studied the CCSS, developing curriculum and writing lesson plans around the new standards. While the CCSS provides a framework, the successes that have been, and will continue to be recognized, must be attributed to the dedication, skills and talents of our educators.
What do you see as the school board’s role in shaping curriculum?
Phair: The school board should routinely assess the needs of its students and the educational desires of the community and, within reason, implement a curriculum which reflects both concerns.
Waupaca School District has a curriculum director whose job is to oversee the state and federal regulations and work with the teaching staff to make changes when and if required. A curriculum is a fluid document for each grade level, and each discipline. It needs to be looked at and updated, or at least discussed, regularly. Teachers need time and training to update curriculum.
The board should receive feedback on possible changes from the curriculum director on a regular basis and analyze the data. If materials, staffing or facility updates are needed to comply with curriculum changes then the board should act accordingly. Students, teachers, parents and the board should chart a course for the future of all students and the district’s curriculum should reflect it.
Johnson: The term curriculum is used in two ways and the board has a different role for each.
The first is that the curriculum is the framework comprised of the philosophy, goals and objectives of the district. The board has the ultimate responsibility of developing and adopting a curriculum that reflects the expectations and meets the needs of the community, parents and students.
The board must ensure the curriculum complies with federal and state regulations and that it is administered with fiscal responsibility. It is the board’s responsibility to monitor data along with community, parental, staff and student input to ensure the district’s objectives are being met.
When referring to classroom curriculum, the board’s role should be limited. Once district policies and objectives are established, it is the education professionals – our teachers and administrators that develop the classroom curriculum incorporating content, concepts and activities consistent with the District’s commitment to student success. Our teachers employ best practices and strategies and modify their curriculum when necessary to be responsive to the individual needs of our students.
While administrators monitor the effectiveness of the classroom curriculum, the board is ultimately responsible that the collective curriculum is attaining district goals.
Hansen: In our district, the board reviews test data to cross check district administration analysis of strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
The board’s role is to monitor results to determine whether or not student learning is meeting expectations. If the results are not satisfactory, the board needs to set the bar higher, demand accountability from administration and provide the resources necessary to drive improvement.
What kind of relationship should the school board have with its community? With its parents and families?
Johnson: The Waupaca School Board’s commitment is to act in the best interest of the district and the community as a whole.
As members of the school board, we are serving the community and must ensure that the policies, objectives and goals of the district reflect the needs, expectations and values of the community. To that end, our commitment and availability to the community must be consistent and clear. And, it must extend well beyond the time set for meetings and public input.
We must also make certain that the district communicates our appreciation for the support and contributions we receive from individuals and businesses throughout the community.
The board should continue to encourage parental and student input regarding our courses, facilities, programs and extracurricular offerings. As a parent with students currently attending our schools, the input I receive from the other parents, guardians and students with whom I interact along with school visits which include spending time in classrooms, allows me to bring an important perspective to the board.
We must also strive to be sure we are effectively communicating schools news, programs, student and staff achievements and board decisions to students, parents and the community.
Hansen: It has to be a partnership. The parents, families and all people in the district need to believe that the issues they raise to the board will be taken seriously.
I think our board, for the most part, has been in tune with the community.
One example of our board carrying the voice of the community to the meeting room is the School Calendar. The debate over days off during the school year is always a long one, partly because we spend time relaying opinions that parents and students have shared with us. This might not seem that important to some, but the board knows that many do have strong feelings about it, so we give it our utmost attention when the time to debate it arrives.
Same for WHS graduation day. I know not everybody ends up happy, but people need to know that we are listening and that we are conveying their voices.
Phair: I believe the school district is the community and the community is the school district. Each resident of the school district has a stake in the welfare of the educational system.
Parents of children, especially young children, want the best educational experience Waupaca can afford and they need to be involved in the daily success of the schools. Students want to know their school is competitive, up to date with technology, a positive environment during the day and a safe place to hang out after hours in an organized activity or just for fun. Community members who own small businesses or work for an employer in the community understand that keeping the school system vibrant will attract and keep jobs.
No community can look to a positive future if the schools are neglected or the students overlooked. Waupaca is a destination community for old and young alike and its school system in collaboration with the entire community has a rich history of working to provide residents a series of fine-art performances, athletic contests, tournaments of all kinds from chess to forensics, a haven for guest speaker events, art shows and many festivals.