School Board candidate Q&A: Jason Benderly
School board candidate Jason Benderly answered the following questions posed by the Vail Daily.
Public schools will continue to educate the vast majority of children, but public education is facing increasing competition and rapidly changing demands. My work as an economist has made me acutely aware that our competitiveness in the world and quality of life is directly tied to the quality of the education our children receive. Public education has to adapt and innovate. I want to be part of the solution by improving the measurement of student achievement and teacher performance, attracting top-level college graduates as teachers, getting the best out of teachers (group training), providing more intervention for lagging students (individual learning programs), and looking for innovative school models.
We should work toward improving performance for all groups within our school system. I am looking for solutions that would close the achievement gap indirectly, perhaps by programs designed to increase the growth of different groups of students (a math/science academy, an English -anguage immersion program). These could close the gap because students starting at the lowest level are likely to achieve the fastest growth, but would do so in the context of improving the absolute level of performance of all students, not one group at the expense of another.
The Teacher Advancement Program was initially selected by teachers, administrators and community members as a way for teachers to collaborate and share the best teaching practices, and as a fair way to measure and reward those teachers having the biggest impact on student growth. In most respects, TAP has produced these desired results. The most important near-term issue is making the compensation process completely transparent and to refine the measurement systems. We are not where we need to be, but a task force (including teachers) has been formed and will make recommended changes before the end of this school year. I will continue to advocate flexible administrative processes that are reviewed continuously rather than a rigid system of rules.
Part of the answer is seen above in fixing the problems with the TAP program so teachers can see that they will be compensated fairly under the hoped-for improvements that will be made. Also, I intend to introduce several new ideas on how to provide subsidized housing for new teachers arriving in the valley as well as teachers looking to move from rentals to owned homes.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Recent public participation makes it obvious that this is a difficult and divisive issue. I initially voted no in part because a final decision should not be made until more complete information is available on the costs associated with the various building projects. I do believe that potential solutions are available, but they will require compromise.
I think the overall results have been in the right direction. Positive steps include continuing support for the new processes, the bond initiative, the TIFF grant, developing various public/private partnerships, supporting innovative programs (e.g., the ski academy), and funding a huge increase in the districts technology capabilities. On the negative side, we should have moved sooner on addressing compensation issues and we could have pushed sooner for more out-of-the-box thinking on innovative programs to address the wide range of constituencies the district serves.
The ideal candidate must be a natural leader, but should also be an innovative and creative thinker. Such a person will actively encourage a free flow of ideas from every employee in the district, even if these ideas conflict with current policies. Such a person also will view district policies as always open to change and will look for ways to adjust the constraints under which the district operates. Such a person will have earned the respect and trust of everyone from top to bottom in their previous organizations.
Yes and no. English-speaking students have scored well on standardized tests and past graduates have gone to some of the most competitive colleges. But more can be done. The new technology being adapted in the district schools has the potential to transform educational processes. Other ideas include using the Gore Range Natural Science Center as a model for teaching other subjects a small number of experts creating and implementing curriculum. Math is the subject nearest and dearest to me, but there is wide range of other subjects to which this model could be applied.
There is no limit to what the district could do. All it will take is imagination and will. My work and travel have made to clear to me that education is changing rapidly around the world. And while it is too simple to say that the world has suddenly become flat (a kaleidoscope is a better image), education is increasingly providing all of the options in life, whether for a potential auto mechanic, a nurse, an IT (information technologies) technician, or a teacher. I can envision a system of schools within a school, world-class academies using technology and best practices culled from around the world.
One major issue is that this legislation allows individual states to create their own standardized tests, and there is evidence that they tend to be easier than national norms and that they differ from state to state. One change I would like to see is national standardization of these tests. A second issue is that while it makes sense to say that no child shall be left behind, in fact it will take more time to reach proficiency for some demographic groups than others. A second useful change would be to take demographic differences among districts into account. A third change I would propose is to fund what are now many unfunded mandates.