(General programming note for blog readers in the West Lafayette school district: I am a candidate in the 2020 West Lafayette School Board election. There are four seats open, and I would like to fill one of them. If you want to know more about my campaign, ask questions, request a yard sign, please go to https://masson.us/schoolboard.)
The League of Women Voters are putting together a “Vote 411” guide for candidates. They ask a few questions, but it turns out the responses are limited to 1,000 characters. I thought I’d put the full responses here. My 411 responses have been shortened and edited a bit to fit the 1,000 character limit. (As always, if you want to know more about my school board campaign, go to http://masson.us/schoolboard.)
Why are you running for the school board?
I’m running because I think traditional public schools are critical, not just to the students they educate but also to the communities they serve. Our kids need a world-class education so they can compete as workers, contribute as citizens, and thrive as people. The school also serves as focal point for West Lafayette that knits our community together.
I believe I have a skill set and a temperament that would make me a good Board member. I have past school board experience but have been off the board for the past four years, balancing experience with fresh perspective and energy. Additionally, I have a background in municipal law and have worked on and with community boards of various kinds which I think will assist me in contributing to the School Board.
I served on the School Board in 2015 and 2016 and have served on the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation since 2018 (as its President since 2019). The Foundation is a non-profit corporation dedicated to supporting the mission of the schools. Among other things, it helps fund the Backpack Program, conducts alumni outreach, provides scholarship support, provides teacher grants, and has raised approximately $1.6 million in support of school capital projects.
From 2017 to the present, I have been a citizen participant on the school corporation’s policy review committee, working with current board members to conduct a decennial review of the School Corporation policies and make recommendations to the School Board on policy revisions and updates. Part of the update process was making the policies digital and searchable.
In 2017, I was also an active participant in the Friends of West Lafayette Schools effort to extend the property tax referendum, knocking on doors and educating the public on the need for the referendum and how it would impact their taxes. That effort was successful and the measure passed with resounding community support.
In 2018 and 2019, I participated on the Reimagining West Lafayette Schools Committee which made recommendations to the Board for updating the school’s strategic plan and action items for implementing that plan.
In 2019, I drafted a taxpayer petition in support of West Lafayette’s challenge to the charter school legislation that would potentially allow a charter school to acquire WLCSC’s six million dollar Happy Hollow facility for $1.
As an attorney with a practice devoted to municipal law and past employment with the General Assembly, I have a legal background that gives me experience with much of the regulatory framework in which the school operates. For example, I help the County navigate issues concerning personnel, local government finance, public record and open door law requirements, Constitutional concerns, legislative developments, and a variety of other issues. As the County Attorney, I represent a big organization with a number of elected officials who have independent decision-making authority and do not always agree. That has given me an ability to help people find common ground, and I’ve had reasonably good success at avoiding the types of personality conflicts that sometimes hinder compromise.
What in your view is the current school board doing right in its guidance of the district during the Covid 19 pandemic? What are your recommendations?
The School Board is remaining flexible and adapting to the situation as it develops. I think the school is handling COVID about as well as it can. I am the parent of two students in the West Lafayette schools. One is taking classes in-person and one is taking classes virtually. I think both of my kids have made the correct decision for themselves.
I would have preferred a steadier line of communication concerning the COVID re-opening. But, ultimately, I think the schools were in a fairly impossible situation in terms of decision making: there is a lot we don’t know about COVID, and it’s difficult to know how to properly balance the risks of COVID against such things as the impact of closing schools or limiting in-person teaching. Furthermore, the schools were at the mercy of decisions made, made slowly, changed, or not made at all by others at the federal, state, and local levels. It is my understanding that a lot of administrators, educators, and community members worked long hours coming up with a workable approach. That said, parents of students were understandably anxious and concerned about what and how decisions were being made. A consistent line of communication letting parents know more details about the planning process, and the specific challenges school decision-makers were facing might have provided reassurance and more insight into the reasons for choosing to act or not act in a certain fashion.
The COVID emergency will eventually pass, and the School Board needs to retain a broad enough focus that, while keeping the kids and the community as safe as possible from COVID, the schools retain the ability to educate students while the pandemic is ongoing and to bounce back as rapidly as possible when the threat begins to abate.
What safety and security issues should the school district be addressing?
We are fortunate enough to live in a district where the risks from external security threats are relatively low. I think our current security infrastructure is probably adequate to address those threats. There is, however, the potential for conflict arising out of interactions among students with a wide range of social, emotional, academic, and behavioral needs. I believe students can enjoy a healthier, happier, safer school experience if the school more deliberately looks to implement a multi-tiered approach to supports and interventions for the students.
In particular, I would like to see the School move forward on the part of its strategic plan which addresses establishment of a multi-tiered system of support. Tier one is directed to all students and is dedicated to creating an academically, behaviorally, and emotionally supportive school wide atmosphere. Among other things, it would consist of frequent, positive interactions that establish relationships between staff and students and build community within the school while setting clear expectations, reinforcing positive behaviors, and redirecting negative behaviors. The tier one engagements also help identify kids who might need more focused support. The additional tiers involve similar goals but with the smaller number of kids who need more attention. Tier two involves smaller groups with brief interactions designed to provide those supports, interventions, and strategies. And tier three involves individualized supports with the potential for providing help from outside third parties to those students who might need it.
By providing kids with the academic, behavioral, and emotional supports they need, preferably before conflicts arise, the likelihood of safety and security concerns decline.
If elected what are the most pressing issues you want to address during your first or next year of service?
We need to begin preparations for renewing the referendum tax rate. While the current rate will remain in effect for several more years, its preservation is critical to the health and success of our schools. We will need to analyze our use of the funds to make sure we are managing the revenue responsibly, then educate the public so it can be confident in the need for the tax rate. As part of this process, we will need to determine the proper renewal rate to request, ensure that the public question is on the ballot, and mobilize supporters to vote in favor.
I would like to see work continue on implementation of the recently adopted strategic plan. The plan has broad goals such as providing a world-class education to all students, and developing and maintaining a viable funding plan. Strategies identified for implementing those goals involve such things as reviewing the systems that have been successful in other parts of the world; implementing those aspects that are within the school’s control and lobbying the State or other entities with respect to those aspects that are outside of the school’s control. The School Corporation would also seek to identify or otherwise reduce barriers to education for low socioeconomic status, “at risk,” or other students who might face challenges that may not be well-addressed under our current system. One of the end goals is to ensure that all students at West Side consistently develop the attributes for becoming “well-rounded, ethical, innovative, creative, productive, and adaptive citizens.”
I would like to see planning for the future of Happy Hollow. The most likely use seems to be as an early childhood education center. The school needs to continue its efforts toward eliminating the risk posed by the State’s mandate that the facility be made available to a charter school operator for $1. In addition, I would urge a feasibility study that analyzes the costs of renovation, the market demand for early childhood education in West Lafayette, the benefits such a facility could provide to the community, the concerns of stakeholders, and the potential for revenue to offset the costs of renovation and providing early childhood education services.
I believe COVID will have a significant financial impact on our schools. Because of how the state budget process works, I expect that impact to be at its most acute in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. We should begin preparations for that crunch by looking for ways to maintain our cash reserves, by mobilizing the public to lobby the legislature to preserve school funding, and by looking for additional sources of revenue. When the tough choices come, we should recognize that teachers are the backbone of the school corporation and prioritize teacher retention and preserving their compensation.