Candidate Q&A: Walla Walla School District Position 5 incumbent talks about student safety | Elections | #schoolsaftey

Incumbent Derek Sarley and newcomer Kirk Jameson are vying for the Position 5 spot on the Walla Walla School Board in the upcoming general election.

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

Below are Sarley’s Q&A responses. Jameson did not respond to the U-B’s candidate questionnaire.

What are your top priorities as a school board member?

Sarley: Student success, sound financial management and continuous improvement.

In my eight years on the board, we’ve delivered on all three. Since 2015, our on-time graduation rate has increased from 80% to 95%. For Hispanic/Latino students, it jumped from 70% to 91%.

In 2015, almost half of all WWPS graduates who attended two-year colleges had to take remedial courses in both English and math before tackling college-level work. By 2021, that number was just 17%.

At a time when school boards across the state are staying solvent by slashing staff or dipping deep into reserves, WWPS just passed a budget that balances over a four-year planning window.

Looking forward, we must pour resources into early-grade literacy, manage our finances to preserve student opportunities while paying competitive salaries, and address the behavior and mental health challenges we see in so many young people these days.

What are your thoughts on the Vision 2030 strategic plan and how it should be implemented?

Sarley: Vision 2030 is a statement of our values. We must deliver ambitious learning opportunities for all students and engage them in their learning through curriculum they see as rigorous and relevant for life after high school.

We must provide high-quality instruction in every classroom, through an educator-led process of collaboration and pedagogical improvement. In some areas, this will require a significant change in professional practice, as with our commitment to ensure students receiving special education services access grade-level content through greater inclusion in regular classrooms.

We must ensure a culture of equity and belonging, where every student of every culture and every identity feels equally part of our school community.

Lastly, we’re doubling down on family and community engagement. Parents or other caretakers are partners in their students’ learning. And the easier it is to volunteer, the more this incredible community will give up its time to do so.

How should the district ensure student and staff safety?

Sarley: It requires a multi-layered approach. We increased the physical safety of our schools with the last bond, which funded significant improvements in access control, cross-campus communications, and cameras and monitoring systems that aid in the prevention or remediation of bullying and other negative behaviors.

District administration works in close coordination with local law enforcement to keep open channels of communication and ensure rapid response any time a threatening situation emerges. We continually reinforce the “See Something, Say Something!” campaign, which encourages our entire school community to call the police and district officials any time there is a school safety concern or threat of violence.

I understand not every parent likes school safety drills, but they are an important way to ensure staff are trained and ready to respond to dangerous situations. We strive for good communication on this front, because students must both feel safe and be safe.

In your view, what’s the role of a school board member in deciding what materials do or do not belong in school libraries?

Sarley: In our district, parents have the right to know what their kids are reading and to opt them out of books they don’t approve. We have revised all our procedures over the last few years to allow parents to have easy, remote access to their students’ use of library materials. We also established a system that allows parents to block access to any — or all — books in the library.

Having said that, I stand strongly in defense of librarians. These are people who have dedicated their lives to building a love of reading in our students. Some of the moments I can best remember from my own elementary school days are going down to the library, finding a spot on the brightly colored rug, and listening to a librarian read “Amelia Bedelia” or “The Berenstain Bears.”

We have lost something meaningful when our society attacks such people.

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

Sarley: Comparatively speaking, they have been. Across Washington state, standardized test scores for both low- and non-low-income students dropped around 8 percentage points. In Walla Walla, those drops for both student groups were much smaller.

This is a credit to the hard work of our staff during those distance-learning days, along with the approach we’ve taken since the pandemic’s end. Our board used Federal ESSER dollars to make aggressive investments in student academic, after-school and mental health supports to give our students every chance to get back on track fast.

The challenge we face now is one of confronting and overcoming poverty. For our students who don’t come from low-income homes, we’ve made significant gains and now surpass state averages in standardized tests in most grades. We haven’t made the same kind of progress meeting the needs of low-income students. That’s our work for the next four years.

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

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