Ballots are here. It’s time for decisions to be made – and ballots mailed by Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
In the race for the Snoqualmie Valley School Board District 4 seat, it’s incumbent Marci Busby versus David Spring; sometimes seemingly polar opposite candidates when it comes to their positions on local school issues.
Spring says he’s a voice for change and Busby champions past district decisions.
Spring’s campaign is self-run, with himself and a supporter or two logging miles going home-to-home ringing doorbells in Valley neighborhoods.
Busby’s campaign consists of a team of writers, researchers, editors and fact checkers, including a past board member, district employees and longtime district volunteers, who help craft answers, honing positions.
Seemingly opposite ends of the political campaign spectrum. Almost a David versus Goliath race.
So if you are still on the fence, here’s some answers to questions posed to candidates during the August primary – and some more recent ones asked by the Snoqualmie Valley Teachers Union, SVEA. Hopefully, the information helps you decide what box to check on those ballots sitting on your kitchen counter.
1) As the long-term placement of 9th graders at a traditional 9-12th grade high school or in a separate freshman campus affects the components of future SVSD facilities planning and future capital bonds, where do you believe 9th graders ultimately belong: at a 9-12th grade campus or on a separate 9th grade campus and why?
I believe our 9th graders belong at the Mount Si Freshman Campus. Systematic intervention in a designated space WILL make a difference for kids. I think our talented Mount Si staff will set a new definition of flagship school with the education they will provide SVSD kids.
There are campuses across the country where the ninth grade is separate and they produce stellar graduates. There are freshman academies like ours, but also successful 7-9/10-12 or 9-10/11-12 split campuses. Achievement can have flexible roots. Schools which succeed do so because they are part of a greater vision and dream which is given logistical support – those that have poor results (in ANY configuration) often lack that vision, dream or support.
We have a vision and dream. It is my job to give support. I embraced this vision four years ago when the board first talked about the components of a freshman campus. I saw the wisdom in removing a class, in order to free up space for potential construction opportunities. I am proud that our administration included STEM as part of this dream far before it was on most people’s radar and that they have been methodically implementing it into our curriculum.
I believe that our high school students should have the opportunity for four full years at a comprehensive high school. I am therefore opposed to a separate 9th grade campus that is not on the main high school campus.
There are many reasons that a separate 9thGrade campus has never succeed in our State (or in the nation). The primary reason is that it deprives 9th graders of activities they need to get into a good college. It also is too disruptive in that it requires students to learn new routines in both the 9th and 10th Grade. It also increases the dropout rate by making more difficult for 10th graders to make up classes that they may have failed in the 9th Grade.
2) The Snoqualmie Valley School Board is currently working to develop a long-term strategic plan. Do you believe the district needs one? If so, what should it contain? If no, then explain why not?
I have many times pleaded with the school board to develop a better long-term plan. It will be impossible to get the community to support any capital bond plan unless the community understands how this plan will affect their kids – now and in the future. Our past school board has instead put forth plans that were patchwork plans without any long-term structure. I also believe that plans need to be based upon reasonable enrollment projections and honoring State laws regarding enrollment projections and State matching funds. If I am elected to the school board, there will be a clearer long-term plan.
I look forward to solidifying a long-term strategic plan. I hope that it provides broad direction for instruction, budgeting, facilities and community partnerships. It should contain measurable goals, but should neither micromanage nor be expensive to monitor. It should have flexibility to change when laws do.
Please note, we could not be experiencing our increasing district and student success without strategy nor planning. As a district we have a Mission and as a Board we develop an annual budget. The Superintendent of Public Instruction has an online report-card and we have a new district score-card. In a district reliant on site based management, each of our schools has a Learning Improvement Team (LIT) which produces their unique School Improvement Plan (SIP). Schools, PTSA’s and district administration utilize this strategic document for planning and guidance.
The district has a collection of documents already containing goals, plans, and metrics. It is not that we lack strategy, planning or reporting; it is that we lack a single document specifically named as such. Through re-tooling, revising, and combining existing works we can then add new materials. Ultimately, along with district and community input, we can quite easily align these to a strategic plan format.
3) Since 2003 SVSD has not passed a school construction bond; one to solve its remaining long-term (10-15 years) capacity issues at the high school level. What do you think it will take to finally pass a needed school construction bond?
Since our last campaign, I heard from voters that although we had a process before our last measure they wanted more. Also evident was that a clear-cut need could not be tied to highly debated items. I listened. When we go to the voters we must prove due diligence and then keep it simple. I think an “All Day Kindergarten” bond will most easily pass. Our Snoqualmie elementary schools are overcrowded, valley construction has increased, and we are set to add all day kindergarten in 2016 (kindergarten classroom need doubles!!!). An elementary only bond has understandable need and would have limited potential controversy.
With SMS annexation and the creation of the freshman campus, long-term capacity issues at the high school level are solved for a long time to come. The painful truth is that even though a two middle school model is not ideal, we are not at capacity. Common space is crowded and we will hit capacity soon. With ballot success and a triumphant launch of the Freshman Campus, we should quickly run part two –address secondary level improvements and other needs. An elementary first bond is not un-loyal to other work and needs. It flexibly adapts our recent planning.
As I have stated many times at school board meetings, we will not be able to pass a major bond until the bond includes adequate State Matching funds – as is clearly required by our State Constitution. It is extremely unfair to ask voters to pass major bonds when our local property taxes are already 50% higher than they are in Bellevue or Seattle ($12 per thousand of assessed valuation versus $8 per thousand in Bellevue and Seattle). Had the school board followed my advice in 2008, we would have $100 million in State matching funds and be able to use State funds to build the schools we need without imposing excessively high taxes on local homeowners.
4) How do you think SVSD should deal with the aging, 60-year old Mount Si High School, a building with seismic issues and not fully flood-proofed?
Mount Si High School has major problems. I have pointed out these problems to past school boards for many years. I am glad the current school board has finally acknowledged them. Better late than never. But it will take at least $150 million to replace much of Mount Si High School. In addition, we need to build at least one and possibly two new elementary schools on Snoqualmie Ridge. The total cost will be over $200 million. This is simply too much for our small community to bear. The only way we will be able to solve this problem is by demanding that the State legislature honor our State Constitution by supplying adequate State matching funds.
The recent McKee/Schalka assessment “estimates the actual age (of MSHS) to be 10 years, indicating 35 years of remaining economic life.” The majority of MSHS was either constructed or significantly remodeled in the 1990s or 2000s. This is not a dilapidated old building. The structural report by Reid/Middleton concluded that there are some suggested upgrades due to recently changed building codes and that retrofitting could be considered in future remodel projects. None of the upgrades are ‘required’ until we add 10% more seismic weight or reduce seismic capacity.
All seismic issues were typical of 20th century buildings; so it is likely that the majority of the buildings in the valley, including schools, have similar issues. Safety and building upgrades are imperative! MSHS is not alone in its need for tender loving care. We have many competing capital needs. SES is also not flood-proofed. FCES has aging parts and might need a new septic system before full day kindergarten starts. We need a sixth elementary and middle school capacity increased. In our upcoming Mount Si remodel, we need to prudently save funds for other schools. The list for Valley tax-payers goes on and on and we must consider our debt limit.
5) During the conversations leading up to the 2012 decision to annex Snoqualmie Middle School to MSHS and reduce Snoqualmie Valley to two middle schools, administrators provided information about the size of neighboring district middle schools (usually about 800 students) and showed some benefits to having 2 larger middle schools. Ultimately, do you believe the Snoqualmie Valley School District should have 2 or 3 middle schools and why?
I believe that we should have three middle schools for several reasons. First, I am opposed to busing students to schools which are far from their home. Students from Snoqualmie Ridge should not be bused to middle schools in North Bend or Fall City. Second, the common areas of Twin Falls Middle School were designed for a maximum of 600 students. Jamming hundreds more students into a building than it is designed for will create unsafe conditions. Third, one of the most important tasks in middle school is for students to build relationships with other students and with their teachers. Large middle schools make it more difficult for students to build these important relationships. Finally, larger middle schools make it more difficult for students to participate in after school activities such as band and sports. Having three middle schools instead of two offer our students 50% more opportunities for involvement and engagement in their school. In short, I disagree with the current administration’s claim that there is a benefit to packing students into huge middle schools – treating our students as if they are nothing but a bunch of sardines that can be thrown into a larger can without any adverse effects.
I believe SVSD should ultimately have 3 middle schools. With portables, we will not be full at TFMS nor CKMS next year. But common spaces will be crowded and we will hit capacity very soon. I also support the Freshman Campus. I voted for and supported the bond for the$48 million replacement middle school. This configuration would have given us a cost-effective solution for 6-12 capacity for well over a decade, leaving only a 6th elementary needed to solve capacity issues. I hope we can still/soon build a third middle school out of the flood way, on SVSD owned property on Snoqualmie Ridge in our population center.
Both larger and smaller middle schools have pros and cons. It is true that many of our neighbors have found success with larger schools and we have had increasing success with smaller campuses. In either arrangement, we need to continue to focus on equipping the teachers inside the building with the best tools we can.
As we move forward with hopes of passing a bond, we will need to actively pursue input from members of the community who want larger middle schools to both address their needs/concerns and enlist their support.
6) What are your top three objectives for the Snoqualmie Valley School District if you are elected to the School Board?
Secure permanent district capacity by building elementary #6 on Snoqualmie Ridge. Advance our comprehensive high school offerings for both college and career readiness. We must continue to advance our Advance Placement and STEM offerings without jeopardizing our career-tech, athletic, and arts programming. Increase our on-time graduation rate. We have already implemented intervention at the ninth-grade level at Mount Si. We also need to give Two Rivers students and teachers the support they need to reach their potential. Continue to advance our overall programming P-21 (From early intervention through special education at our Transitional Learning Center).
First, I will lower class sizes by reducing the number of central office administrators and paid consultants in order to hire more teachers. Second, I will insist on firm caps on class sizes in every grade. This is essential not only for the sanity of our teachers, but also for the success of our students. Third, I will pass a bond to build a 6th elementary school on Snoqualmie Ridge in order to reduce overcrowding at our existing elementary schools and prepare us for full day kindergarten.
7) We are working on education reform that benefits students. What does “education reform” mean to you? What are three education reform proposals that you believe would most improve teaching and learning in our schools?
Educational reform references the need to improve schools. If implemented correctly and monitored, the new evaluation system is one initiative that I believe will have direct impact on teacher quality and overall student learning. A second reform effort I support is our district’s transition to a Freshman Campus. The model was based on solid research that addressed the importance of ninth grade students’ transition to the secondary learning experience and post high school success. Finally, I am very intrigued with what I am learning about STEM education and how this model can actively engage students in real-world, relevant learning experiences.
I am endorsed by national education reform leader, Dr. Diane Ravitch. I agree with her that real education reform is change to our schools which is supported by credible scientific research. For example, we know that reducing class sizes increases the odds that a child will graduate from high school. We know that experienced teachers are more effective at helping children than first year teachers. We also know that full day kindergarten helps children succeed in school and in life. I therefore believe real education reform should focus on lowering class sizes, supporting teaching
8) Given the current disconnect between the board and the teachers union and other unions, what new and different policies would you advocate for to aid in our return to a more collaborative work and negotiation environment?
I spent nearly 20 years teaching courses on problem solving and conflict resolution at Bellevue College. The first step in solving problems is admitting that they exist. The first step in conflict resolution is creating a cooperative atmosphere where everyone is on the same team – and the opinion of every team member is heard. I believe teachers and parents should have a greater voice at school board meetings. We cannot fairly solve problems when administrators and high-priced consultants are given two hours to state their position – while parents and teachers are only given two minutes to state a different position.
I would first want to reflect on our current bargaining model to clearly understand what parts of the process attributed to this disconnect. Based on what we learn, this might be a great opportunity for us to explore models that are being used by other districts to see if we could consider a different approach. At the same time, there might be great value in revisiting the principles of the Mutual Interest bargaining model and re-engage both the Association and District to provide clarity and gain a better understanding of how we might incorporate this approach into the bargaining process.
9) What does teacher accountability mean to you? What policies would you work to have implemented in Snoqualmie Valley relating to your views on teacher accountability?
This topic is being heavily debated across the country and there are differing perspectives as how to define teacher accountability. From my view, teacher accountability refers to the goal of increasing students’ knowledge, skills and overall school success. I still have many questions around ‘what will accountability look like’, how will the goals be established, what evidence will be required, and how often will it be measured. As you can see there are so many variables that need to be considered and discussed before any policies and/or decisions are made. This is a very complicated issue.
Using high stakes tests to evaluate teachers is not appropriate because these tests evaluate only lower levels of learning – and even then are extremely unreliable. Instead, a fairer way to evaluate teachers is using peer evaluation within schools. Teachers should be given more help if too many of their students fail to pass end of course exams. But it is unfair to hold teachers accountable for the failure of students when those teachers have class sizes much higher than the national average. What we should do instead is hold the legislature accountable for failure to adequately fund our public schools.