The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce held a forum for candidates from both Gilbert Public Schools and Higley Unified School District on June 5th. The format of the forum was that each candidate had two minutes to answer each question and provide a final statement. The order in which candidates answered questions changed from question to question.
The questions for HUSD candidates were approximately;
- What knowledge of the issues and special skills will you bring to the job, and how will you use them?
- What is the District’s greatest financial need and how will you address it? And for the GPS candidates only, do you support the proposed override?
- How would you build consensus and cooperation with the community, and how would you rate the current level of consensus on a scale of 1 to 10?
- What is your opinion of the current educational standards and rigor
- The forum went quickly enough that Higley candidates only had a fifth question. How will you improve transparency in the district?
- Final statement
HUSD Candidate Vanessa Whitener
Vanessa is currently a Board member, and emphasized her knowledge of the issues and revenue and her involvement in previous budget cuts, because of an override that did not pass. She has worked as a teacher, and has a background in school finance.
Regarding finances, she stated that 80% of HUSD money goes to the classroom and that the Board needs to get creative since education is a non-profit. Override dollars go to the classroom. Capital bonds go to buildings and infrastructure. HUSD has capital money available, but doesn’t have the flexibility to use it in the classroom where it’s needed.
Regarding community consensus she said the Board needs to build more. HUSD can make contact with involved parents, but the means to reach the entire community are weak and need improvement. The Board meetings are only a little piece of what Board members do and their other activities provide opportunities to reach out.
Regarding standards Vanessa said Common Core is the standard the State has chosen, but there are opportunities for local control. Communities have different values and different needs. For example, HUSD sets its own curriculum. The changes in standards mean we need more parental involvement on how to implement, and happy students are a sign that education is working.
For increasing transparency she said that the District’s actions are virtually wide open to FOIA requests, but how many people would understand the documents they get back? Many of them are loaded with education jargon that makes them hard to follow. She suggested posting Cliff Notes versions of issues so the general public can understand them.
Vanessa was born and raised in Gilbert. She wants her kids and others to have the same growth experience she did and be strengthened by their community. There are improvements yet to be made.
HUSD Candidate Michelle Rigby
The budget is the biggest issue. HUSD needs to start looking for answers outside the box. And HUSD needs vertical levels of communication to reach out to the entire community
Regarding finances Michelle wants what’s best for the kids and wants to use public forums to help assign priorities.
She believes the District does a pretty good job of communicating for consensus, but there’s always room for improvement. Michelle rates the current consensus an 8.
Regarding standards and rigor, the AP opportunities leading to an Associate’s degree is good for the gifted, but we also need programs like EVIT for those who choose a different path.
She advocates an open door policy to improve transparency. HUSD needs to start communicating earlier to get information out ahead of the decision.
Michelle has a passion for the district and public education, and she is here to stay. She has been involved in PTO and as a volunteer coordinator. HUSD is doing some great things, but needs to keep it up and think outside the box.
HUSD Candidate Rebecca Jarman
Rebecca rates the budget and communication with community as the biggest issues. The community doesn’t feel like it’s in the loop. Getting the community more involved would be a huge win win opportunity.
On finances, overrides and bonds are not the only way HUSD can find money. The administration is top heavy. Fund the district from the classroom up, not the administration down.
Consensus with the community will improve if HUSD makes the community more comfortable. Rebecca says the Board appears to be difficult to approach to many in the community. The Board’s response is we don’t understand why the community doesn’t understand. There have been too many examples of the community learning of issues after the decision was already made.
Rebecca says States have Constitutional rights which makes a national education standard questionable, but right now it’s time to involve parents in choosing books and setting curriculum. States have the right to set their own standards, and the community should be involved in translating it to a curriculum.
State statute requires budgets to be comprehensible by lay people. She would like to see that concept applied to other areas. Transparency must include making issues understandable and not concealing them in layers of professional jargon.
Rebecca admires the kids she’s known that have gone through HUSD, and wants them to be able to choose their own path. Education is what will save our country, and she wants to help guide and facilitate the next generation.
HUSD Candidate Michelle Anderson
Michelle has been attending board meetings and recognizes education is changing. Different schools provide different programs and parents have the ability to choose the school they want their kids to attend. Michelle has worked as a math teacher and has worked for HUSD in the District office for 9 years. She has seen policies that worked and also those that failed.
The biggest financial issue is that students have the resources for all opportunities they want to pursue. HUSD should make a bigger effort to seek out alternative funding.
As for consensus with the community, there are parents that are heavily involved, but the Board isn’t actively trying to learn what the community wants to know. There need to be more community forums for the Board to gather input.
Regarding standards and rigor, students being challenged for academic success is good, but measurements are more oriented towards generating statistics that look good for the district and that’s a false goal. Success is measured by whether students feel prepared for the next step.
For transparency Michelle wants to make sure people know about some of the existing email lists and can opt in. She is concerned that some involved parents still don’t understand basic issues like charter schools, and HUSD isn’t actively providing information to correct that.
She has been involved with HUSD a long time as employee and as a volunteer on parent committees, and would now like to move up and work cooperatively with the current Board.