Sunday, February 1, 2015

On Tuesday's School Board Election

There's a school-board election set for Tuesday, February 3rd.

Is anybody still reading?
I hope so. Whom we choose is important – even if we don't have kid or grandkids in the Las Cruces Public School System. Not only do these folks decide how to spend a bunch of public money, they help determine the educational climate here, which has a bearing on business and quality of life for everyone.

I won't tell you how I'm voting. (My blog post today will explain that, and give reasons.) I can tell you that National Education Association, which doesn't precisely make endorsements, “recommends” Maury Castro in District 4 and Ed Frank in District 5 as the strongest candidates.

I do want to discuss some issues, and some thoughts on how to decide whom to vote for.
Bonnie Votaw, whose retirement from the Board creates a District 4 race without an incumbent, publicized an interesting set of questions for candidates recently – and I'd endorse her questions and add an important one she omitted. (I'll reprint all her questions on today's blog post.)

My additional question is how the board member will approach the relationship between the Board and its hired Superintendent, Stan Rounds. 
In all situations with a board and a CEO or manager, public or private, the relationship between the two is an important and often difficult issue. Here, the Superintendent must give fair consideration to the Board's wishes, but the Board should not unduly interfere in day-to-day business. Transparency – Superintend to Board and, except in personnel issues, Board to public – is important. So is the Board's continued alertness to whether the Superintendent is acting properly. Too often a superintendent, who knows day-to-day operations best, can intimidate a Board.

I don't claim sufficient knowledge to say how this Board should regard this Superintendent; but I do think the issue is one of major concern. The recent snow snafu (in which Rounds was criticized, whether deservedly or not, then responded by claiming consultations with other agencies which the other agencies appeared to deny) is but the most recent of several actual or perceived issues deserving a frank discussion. 
I hope the Board monitors Rounds closely. I don't presume to say what the results would or should be.

Votaw's initial questions focus on a candidates position on the current policy on state-mandated standardized testing questions, as well as the use of student test-scores as a major element in teacher evaluations. 
I think this area is a key issue. The very idea of “teaching to the test” isn't ideal pedagogy. A key factor in successful instruction is the teacher-student rapport, which “teaching to the test” undermines. Standardized tests also: (a) tend to disadvantage students from unusual backgrounds; (b) cause significant and counter-productive stress on teachers and students; and (c) fail to maximize a teacher's chance to really make a difference with students by responding to the specific needs and interests of a class or student. 
Votaw also noted that “several of the candidates are affiliated with different political organizations” and would ask, in essence, how those affiliations would affect a candidate's judgment as a board member and commitment to the best interest of the kids. I can only applaud that question. 

Discussions in classrooms or the Boardroom should feature open discussions, a courteous but candid clash of ideas and facts – not a rigid and redundant reiteration of different ideologies.

I guess I'd add this question too: “What's the best evidence that you'll make decisions based on fair and thorough examinations of facts, not on your general political viewpoint?” 
Please do vote; and perhaps investigate a little first.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 1 February in the Las Cruces Sun-NewsI also wrote a blog post this week, which specifically discusses some reasons I wouldn't vote for Troy Tudor.    You can reach that one by paging down past the next few paragraphs or by clicking here.  ]

[For the record: I would vote with great enthusiasm for Maury Castro in District 4.  He's a modest, thoughtful, capable man.  To the extent I've observed him, he's shown good judgment,.  He has  extensive relevant experience.  I also learned this week that he worked in the mines for 14 years, going to school at night, earning his GED, then bachelor's, and then master's degrees in educational psychology.  I never worked underground in the mines, but I'm pretty sure that doing that every day and then going to school afterward takes an unusual combination of intelligence, diligence, and dedication.  He's a guy who's experienced "real life" but appreciates education profoundly and has both academic knowledge and a quarter-century of relevant experience.  You ask him a question about the local schools and he gives you an intelligent and thoughtful answer.

You listen to Troy Tudor, you hear a generalized answer or a quick retreat to his political ideology.  He sounds more concerned about business than children.  In fact his position as Chamber of Commerce VP creates a major conflict-of-interest. His alleged conduct in the lawsuit mentioned in the earlier post could raise questions about his respect for law, for his neighbors, and for his own word.  He doesn't appear promising material for a constructive and thoughtful school-board member.  Maury does.

There are two other candidates in that race.  Paul Blevins, whose been involved in the school advisory committees where his kids were in school here, clearly knows the local schools and is dedicated to them; but judging from his answers to KRWG's questions, he sounds a little too comfortable with the predominance of standardized tests, and with how things are currently going.  I'd vote for him ahead of Tudor; he seems like an awfully nice guy; but I don't see him helping to bring change and significant improvement. Paul Garcia also sounds well-meaning and somewhat knowledgeable; as with Blevins, I'd vote for him over Tudor; but Maury Castro seems the best of the four.]

[In District 5, I will vote for Ed Frank.  
I don't oppose Connie Phillips as I oppose Troy Tudor.  She's served on the School Board for some time.  I'd vote for her against a lot of possible challengers. She's dedicated and well-meaning.

I think Frank, a 39-year teacher, will bring to the Board a teacher's knowledge of schools and students.  He is also dead set against the horrible over-use of standardized testing in our schools today, and I have confidence that he'd do what he could, within the law, to bring change.  

Two of the system's big problems are (1) over-use of counter-productive standard tests, combined with the inappropriate use of those to evaluate teachers, and (2) a need to adjust the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent.  (I understand that the former problem involves a state mandate.)  Without singling out Dr. Phillips for blame, both problems have gotten worse during the past few years, as far as I can tell.  Dr. Phillips seems a good person, but as one observer put it to me, "She's too passive."   Adding Mr. Frank to the Board would add a member who seems more likely to bring effective change where it's needed.]


1 comment:

  1. I've never had much truck with Michelle Malkin's views of the world, but I think she makes some salient points in her piece about over-testing children. (Remember, kids. Follow the money.)

    Choose to Refuse on PARCC/SBAC Testing
    Bureaucrats and big business can’t make you let your kids take their exams...