Candidate Q&A: Waitsburg School Board candidates talk about safety, library materials | Elections | #schoolsaftey

Incumbent Christy House and newcomer Tia Hays are vying for the Position 2 spot on the Waitsburg School Board.

The two candidates will appear on the ballot for the Tuesday, Nov. 7, general election. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 7 and official ballot drop boxes will be open until 8 p.m. Election Day.

Below are House’s and Hays’ Q&A responses. Responses were limited to 150 words per question and have been edited for grammar and style.

What are (or would be) your top priorities as a school board member?

Hays: My top priority as a school board member would be to safeguard the children in our care. That would include their physical safety as well as their educational and emotional safety.

Now more than ever our children are being targeted by forces that would see them harmed or exposed to unsafe conditions. Children should be free to learn without worry and anxiety or viewpoints that threaten their well-being.

Parents need to know there is another parent on the school board who shares their concerns and is invested in protecting the well-being of the children in our district.

House: The school board’s priorities are to create enhanced learning environments that meet current and future learner needs, embrace learning growth throughout the Waitsburg school system, expand educational experiences to early and adult learners, and improve educational practice to levels that have profound impact on learning for both students and adults.

I believe that as a board director it is important to work with other board members on behalf of the district. The board must work effectively with the state, county, city, administration, staff and parents on behalf of all students. A board director must keep an open mind. Top priority is the students, what is best for all students not just a select few.

How should the district combat chronic absenteeism?

Hays: Since the pandemic, chronic absenteeism has been an ongoing problem for many school districts. I think family communication is key to understanding the reasons behind chronic absenteeism.

If we understand the underlying reasons, we can more effectively help the students that fall prey to the absenteeism cycle. Getting to the root of the problem can be difficult but the efforts are worthwhile. Schools that positively engage their students and by extension their families, have less absenteeism issues than those that don’t.

Some districts, such as Waitsburg, use personal communication as their primary tool for engaging absent students. I like this strategy for several reasons — I believe it demonstrates a level of care that is vital to the relationship between our families and the school. It is also a proactive way that the school can stay on top of recurring absentee situations to best resolve issues as they are happening.

House: Our district has implemented and trains all staff in Character Strong (a researched-based social emotional learning and character education program), Second Steps (a program to empower students with skills for life) and PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention Support, a program where districtwide expectations are taught and then recognized with incentives) to help keep students in school and engaged in their learning.

We are dedicated to instilling a sense of pride and belonging across our schools, staff, families and community. In the school these programs are called The Cardinal Way. We will soon begin MTSS (Multi-tiered system of supports) which is basically an umbrella for all the above listed programs. I believe that the best way to combat chronic absenteeism is to create a positive culture and environment that promotes success.

How should the district ensure student and staff safety?

Hays: Student and staff safety at school is a complicated issue. School administrators grapple with multiple safety issues that feel as if they are coming from all fronts — gun violence, bullying, mental health issues and substance abuse to name a few.

One solution alone isn’t going to solve the problem of school security. School districts need to make sure their school security program incorporates a layered approach that integrates multiple technologies to provide as complete campus coverage as possible. Video surveillance, reporting platforms, resource officers, emergency response training and drills, building locks and access control, etc. are all necessary steps to ensuring our kids and the adults who care for them daily are safe so they can focus on what’s most important — getting a high-quality education.

House: Waitsburg School District has adopted the See Something Say Something format for reporting all incidents of harassment, intimidation, bullying and cyberbullying for all students, families and educators. It is important for students, staff and families to know that all incidents are confidential and will be investigated.

What’s the role of a school board member in deciding what materials do or do not belong in public school libraries?

Hays: I believe ultimately the school board is the final decision-making body for all curriculum materials for our district, including school library books. It’s important to work with administration and staff to best populate our libraries with materials and books that not only engage our kids but also teach them about the world we live in.

The role of our school libraries is first and foremost to educate our students in core subjects but also age-appropriately expand their critical thought processes to include new ideas. Striking a balance between the two concepts is important. I believe school board members have a responsibility to the parents in our district to assess the books that are made available to our kids and act accordingly.

House: The role of the school board is to adopt policies and evaluate results of those policies. We entrust the library’s evaluation and selection of books to the administration and designated staff. The school board has adapted Policy 2020P Procedure-Curriculum Development and Adaption of Instructional Materials and Policy 2021 Library Media Centers. As a parent, I would encourage anyone who has a question about policy to bring their concerns to the administration.

Are the district’s strategies to combat pandemic learning loss effective? Would you do anything different?

Hays: Pandemic learning loss has been devastating for our kids. Many local schools struggle daily with the consequences brought on by school closures during the lockdowns as well as the masking mandates that were so detrimental to our kids’ development and learning environment.

I am strongly against these measures being implemented against our students again. What we must do now is pick up the pieces and try to mitigate the unfortunate outcomes of those policies. I believe Waitsburg is doing an admirable job of identifying the students who most need the extra support and getting them the additional resources they need.

We have a new administration team this year as well as a new special education director who really desires to help every student be as successful as possible. Continuing to support those efforts should be a priority for every school board member and parent.

House: One of our district’s pillars is to provide pathways that nurture academic, social, and emotional growth in an auditable learning environment. We co-design personalized academic goals for each student, adjusted as they follow the student from grade to grade.

The goal of the school board is again to adopt policies and evaluate results after the implementation of the administration. As a board, we evaluate results and adjust as needed to support the administration, staff, student, families and all stakeholders.

Find voter resources and full coverage of the Nov. 8 election at the UB Election Center.

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