School Board Candidate Q&A: Keith Thompson
School board candidate Keith Thompson answered the following questions posed by the Vail Daily.
I am running for the school board to make a difference in the lives of kids. It sounds like a simple answer, when in reality its not. I loved being a teacher, I loved being a principal, and I have loved being a school board member for the last six years. Kids are fun, challenging and the living message we send into a future we will not see. Jefferson said it best about education and democracy: Education and Democracy are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have a democracy without an educated public and you cannot have an educated public without a democracy. I believe in public education and I believe I can make a difference in the lives of kids as a school board member in Eagle County.
Dealing with the achievement gap is a huge topic. The local school district is in the best position to deal with it.At the local level, we are already doing some great things in our schools such as dual language, parent outreach, translations, teacher training, and much more. On top of what we are already doing, I think the better connection you get with the home and the more we can draw the non-English-speaking parents into the education of their kids, the better. There are tremendous obstacles and challenges to this. I believe our districts small, neighborhood vision will help. We are opening June Creek Elementary next August, which means, next year in the east end of the district, we will have five elementary schools serving a student population of about 1,250. I like small neighborhood schools. Another area where we can raise our student achievement is in technology. Technology is a tool we are currently using to raise the achievement gap not only in the classrooms but also in outreaching to families. We need to provide training for families so they know how to use it for educational support and contact with the teachers and schools.
What is working with the Teacher Advancement Program is the opportunity for coaching, the cluster meetings, the focus on student learning, and in improving instruction. Whats not working is the loss of morale on teachers as they wonder what their bonus will be, the lack of clarity in what they will be getting paid as well as the lack in clarity of what a five is on the rating scale.Other areas of concern include the amount of evaluations required, the paperwork, peers evaluating peers with bonuses dependent on the evaluation score, and the sorting and ranking through some kind of bell curve as to where your bonus, if any, will fall. The board and administration are currently working on these areas, and it is our commitment as a board to listen to the teachers and principals and help them get the resources they need like training, training days, and more staff to help overcome the residuals of building schedules to accommodate the use of mentor and master teachers.
Reducing teacher turnover seems to be an ever occurring problem. In actuality, in the last few years our turnover rate has been the lowest its been in the last 10 to 15 years. As a district we have focused on that. We passed a bond to increase pay, developed the performance pay plan, and looked at ways to reward years of service to the district. We are currently looking at the pay performance structure headed up by Jason Glass. I think the board needs to look at how we can use the master and mentor teachers and not negatively impact the classrooms by making the numbers higher. Housing and assisting with mortgage loans are two ways many districts are getting creative.
This question on providing the charter school with $2.5 million is an interesting question and an easy one to answer if you have worked on the question and understand the questions within. I see 288 Eagle County Kids going to school on Eagle County land. I see future Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley High School students. Close to one hundred, or about one seventh of Battle Mountains student population were former charter school kids. I see Eagle County taxpayers and strong supporters of our public schools. I see a divided community over this issue. Why? It depends on your definition of community. I see that question as a question of parent choice. I highly support parent choice. I see a $2.5 million dollar investment in a building, that 10 years from now, will still belong to Eagle County schools. I see a chance for us to come together instead of draw a line. Where were some of the more vocal critics when the board, the administration and charter folks worked together, not only on this issue but many other partnerships? It doesnt take any courage to lean on the complaint counter. It takes courage to stand up for what is right and helping kids in this situation is right.
Overall, I am pleased with the accomplishments of our current school board. Those accomplishments include the Teacher Advancement Program, state-of-the-art schools, technology, passing of the bond, dual language and expeditionary learning.But what clouds much of this for me, are the decisions I am not pleased with, and they involve decisions resulting in the loss of three district administrators, the loss of morale, the loss of time and money spent on legal fees, consulting fees, interim fees, buy-out fees, etc.School boards need to work as a team and when you dont, costly decisions result. We have overlooked some board policies and we have backfilled policies after decisions have been made. The new school board starting after the election will need to get some training on functioning as a team and in understanding what your role is as a board member.
My ideal candidate is somebody who knows this community, someone who knows the great diversity that exists in this community, and someone who will take time to know all of the different parts of this community.The successful superintendent will need to be a relationship and team builder. To do that, he or she will need to be a visionary with a commitment to invest in this community and the communication skills to spread the vision. This superintendent will need to build trust with the administrators, so administrators can build trust with the teachers and most of all with our students, parents and community. Most importantly, this superintendent needs to have a passion for kids and public education. He/she needs to have been a teacher and a principal so they understand very clearly what its like to be in the trenches.
My answer is yes, the opportunity is there and yes, we can do more. The question should be, how can we assist students and their families in finding a college that matches what they want to become and where they can succeed?I think high school counselors are stretched thin and I would like to look at supporting the high school counselors with a lower student ratio than we already have. They are a strong link to the kids, the scholarships available, and the colleges, but they cant do it all nor do it alone. We need to do more with our Hispanic kids and families through education about what colleges are available, what financial aid is available, and what skills are needed by the student to be successful.
We are light years ahead in the area of technology, and that is due in large part to our technology team and John Kuglin. Have you seen the flat screens in our classrooms and the interactive capabilities we have in our classrooms? Video demand is on the way and we need to invest more money into equipment and most of all keeping and growing our great staff. At the school level we need to audit the technological skills and classes we teach. We need to research what are some of the best practices that school districts do to prepare kids in the dynamic field of technology.
The purpose behind the law is ideal. Public education is about all children. Its about providing an equal opportunity. School districts and school boards need to be held accountable for student growth. I would like to see more funding at the national level for assistance in those areas of education that are obstacles to student learning, like the challenges with learning the English language, providing adequate educational resources, supporting preschool programs and teacher pay and training. The threat of losing funds and control doesnt work. It just widens the gap.