Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Q A School candidates offer views on issues

March 28, 2007

Six candidates are running for four open seats on the Basehor-Linwood school board in the April 3 election.

Jeane Redmond is unopposed for position No. 1. Dayna Miller is unopposed for position No. 2. Eric Dove and Kerry Mueller are challenging each other for position No. 3. Doug Bittel and Leigh Farris are running for position No. 7.

The Sentinel posed questions to the candidates, who were asked to be as specific as possible in their answers. Here are their responses:

All of the candidates are for a school bond issue, but none have disclosed any details. If you had to decide today, what would some of the specifics of a proposed bond issue be and what do you personally think the district needs to do/build to remedy space issues?

Redmond: At this time with the information I have I like the plan of having a new middle school that will house fifth through eighth grades. By pulling fifth grade out of the three elementary schools, that will free up much needed space. The elementary schools are all at or near 85 percent capacity with the exception of Linwood Elementary. However, the middle school is poring over into their classrooms, making space very tight. The middle school is over capacity and while the Sixth Grade Center has worked well, I feel that having one grade by itself, you can't utilize resources as efficiently. I am in support of having the new middle school geographically centrally located.

Miller: There are so many variables to consider when discussing a bond issue. There are no easy answers. We have spent years studying this subject. We have tried several bond issues with different configurations and price tags, but none have been right for the community at the time, given the results at the polls. The community hasn't supported a bond issue since the renovation of the high school and the building of the Glenwood Ridge facility.

While I do have some personal thoughts, I believe it is my job to represent the patrons' preferences. That is why, at this time, we have a committee of community members that are looking at this issue. They are looking at the same data we have looked at and will have a recommendation for the board in the next couple of months.

With that said, I personally believe the data indicates that a middle school would lessen overcrowding across the district. If we incorporate the fifth and sixth grades, we would gain room for some growth at all the elementary facilities. Yes, I believe that there should always be an elementary school in Linwood. In terms of location, I believe sites in the middle of the district would balance transportation challenges.

Dove: A new middle school or high school must be central. The new facility should satisfy the anticipated growth of the district for a minimum of five years. There should be planned additions to the new facility. Bussing should be kept to a minimum. The patrons of the district will decide if anything is built. The committee that has been formed will be giving their recommendations soon. With the data that I have seen, I personally favor a central high school. However, a new high school is the highest cost alternative and least likely to pass. In the end, the goal is enough space to effectively educate the residents of the district. A part of that process is saving money by using the existing competition fields at the high school. Consideration must be given to a "district activity center" such as the Olathe and Blue Valley School districts maintain.

Mueller: When looking at the growth in the district, no one has a crystal ball, but I believe it is realistic that our district will eventually need two middle schools, more elementary schools and a second high school, depending on how large we want our high school population to be in a building. The current middle school building does not adequately provide the space needed for our students and faculty. While the building is structurally sound, its floor plan and size of classrooms are inadequate. In addition, it is crowded. Already the middle school has taken over several classrooms from the elementary school, and next year is going to be worse. Scheduling classes such as PE, band, strings and vocal music, as well as lunch, is a nightmare because the space must be shared with the elementary school.

I believe our elementary schools should be in neighborhoods, and I believe Linwood Elementary needs to stay in Linwood. In my opinion, building a new middle school would be the best solution because it would be designed for today's teaching and learning needs. And could be built to accommodate growth for many years in the future.I am open to exploring the options of converting the present high school into a middle school and building a new high school. If this route is taken, personally, I would like to see the new high school located between Highway 24-40 and probably Metro Avenue.

I believe our middle school should be configured with grades 6, 7 and 8. If the next bond issue is to build a new high school and move the middle school into the present high school building, then we will need to strongly consider moving the fifth grade into the middle school also. Many other school districts around the nation are configured this way, and we should take their best practices. The fifth and sixth grades should be located in pods rather than mixed in with the seventh- and eighth-graders.Another elementary school will be needed in the very near future. Moving the fifth grade into the middle school environment would help alleviate the current elementary crowding, but this is only a short-term solution.

The school board is in agreement that we need to maintain our current guidelines for smaller class sizes, and I think the parents are in support of this also. But to do so will require the district to have adequate facilities to accommodate these classes and the growth in student population.Of course, financial feasibility and the cost of a bond issue is always a huge consideration when deciding what to put before the voters.

I am eager to hear the facilities planning committee's opinions and recommendations. I have worked on enough bond issues to know that one must keep an open mind and base decisions on facts rather than personal preferences.
Bittel: In my opinion the most pressing space issues are at BES (Basehor Elementary), BLMS (Basehor-Linwood Middle School) and GRES (Glenwood Ridge Elementary).

Those space issues cannot be resolved without adding classrooms. I would prefer that we try to take care of our space issues for at least 10 years. The most economical way to address all of these issues is with a centrally located fifth through eighth grade middle school. It relieves crowding at all three facilities and, with an adequate number of classrooms, would provide a 10 year span before space might again become a problem.

A central location reduces the amount of bussing time required as well.

There are other solutions to our space problems, but with the information that I have at this time I believe this is the best plan.

Farris: After looking over the statistics, it appears that a solution may be to locate a central site (district 2 area) large enough to build a current sixth through eighth grade and a future high school. In addition to adding the sixth through eighth now, we expand the current GRES building. Once the boundaries are reestablished, LES can expand into the existing middle school, BES can expand into the sixth-grade center and GRES can expand into the new addition. Down the road, the existing high school can become a middle school and a high school can be built at the capacity needed for the future growth.

The bond issue will pass if the community understands that an improved school district will benefit everyone in our community. Our students academics and sports achievements are a big part of what draws individuals to the area and a big part of what continues to make this a close knit community. We educate our children so they will grow to be productive and thoughtful members of society. Our school district should reflect how much our community, as a whole, cares for the future of our children.

The district's "grade card" can be viewed by anyone and may help families decide whether they will or will not move into the Basehor-Linwood area. What are your specific ideas on how to continue improving test scores and student achievement to continue to make the district's "grade card" comparable to or better than surrounding districts?

Redmond: It has been proven that students test better when there is a consistent staff of educators. We have one of the lowest starting pay schedules in our area. We have the potential of becoming a training ground for young teachers that will teach in our district for a few years than move down the road to another district for an increase in pay. One of our obstacles we have is very little retail and commercial tax base. However, we are gaining new retail, which will bring more tax dollars into our district. We need to use part of the new monies toward salaries to retain our quality educators.

We also need to make sure we have the necessary teaching resources available to all schools and a comfortable environment (space) for our students to learn in. We need to provide our educators the opportunity to attend workshops and seminars so they can continue to provide improved instruction to our students.

Miller: I believe we have improved the district's "grade card". We have implemented collaboration days for teachers, enabling them to work across the district in their grade levels and subject areas, insuring that we are teaching to state standards and benchmarks. We have retained a position which is dedicated to curriculum and instruction and whose sole responsibility is updating our curriculum to meet standards and benchmarks. As a result of these efforts, we have surpassed scores in comparable districts.

Dove: Improving the grade card involves many things. It starts with a curriculum that is geared towards those results. Then, the district must find and retain highly qualified, motivated staff to teach the skills of the curriculum. Textbooks must facilitate the curriculum. The parents and students must embrace the process and assure that every student is motivated to achieve their best. Academic success must be rewarded, celebrated and publicized every bit as much as extracurricular success.

Mueller: Over the past few years we have been revising our curriculum and teaching methods. We have put other measures in place, such as teacher collaboration time, more focused in-service sessions and the teacher-mentoring program. These have all contributed to the improvement in test scores and student achievement. The school board must maintain its focus on the curriculum and support of the teachers and administrators in their ongoing efforts. We have also expanded our offerings in the high school to include college level and dual credit courses. The administration looks at this each year and tries to expand the course offerings. Many factors are at play here, including whether we have a teacher on staff who is certified to teach a particular course, do we have the classroom space for it and are there enough students who want to take the class. It's always interesting to compare our 'grade card' to surrounding districts, and I think doing so is beneficial. However, one must keep in mind that comparing Basehor-Linwood and other 4A schools to larger districts is like comparing apples to oranges. The larger districts have more resources and have a wider range of course offerings.

Bittel: The district has shown its commitment to curriculum by maintaining a position in the central office with the objective of curriculum development. This is a key position in the district if we are to excel in areas where there are new advances every day, especially in science and technology. In addition, we must continually evaluate the technology we expose our students to so that they will have the best tools available to help with their education. I also think that we are not preparing our students aggressively enough to pursue advanced college degrees. If our children are going to be competitive in the world economy, they need to have advanced skills. The United States still has a huge advantage in world-class universities. Education at one of our universities is the best defense against outsourcing. We must do everything we can to make our kids understand the importance of an intense education for their future prosperity. To that end, our district must continue to expand the number of college credit courses offered. We must use cutting-edge technology, especially in math and science. We must provide opportunities and incentives for our teachers to maintain excellence in a continually advancing learning environment.

Farris: Accountability of the school board, administration and teachers, students and parents.

This is a team effort. The school board needs to ensure that communication is open and ongoing at all levels. Administrators need to ensure needed resources are provided and accomplishments are recognized and rewarded. Teachers need to have training that will help them successfully use technology for both professional productivity and to improve student learning. All teaching staff should make themselves accessible to parents. We need to identify barriers to high achievement and continue to develop tools and strategies to assist low-performance. Parents need to make sure their child attendance is high and homework is completed.

While Robert Albers has been the district superintendent for less than a year, current board members have stated they have been pleased with his performance so far and recently renewed his contract. Considering last year's superintendent troubles, what expectations and goals do you have for the current superintendent and how will you hold him accountable?

Redmond: Dr. Albers brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our district. He is very knowledgeable about what is going on in the district and during school board meetings. He is very organized with his presentation to the board. My expectations of Dr. Albers are that he conducts the affairs of the district in a professional and respectable manner, treat others in the district, which includes principals, teachers and fellow administrators as his professional team and provide coaching to principals if issues arise. Principals in turn should work with teachers if issues arise. As a district, if we work together as a team, we are stronger than if we are working against each other. Our students will be provided a better education. He will be held accountable for his role in managing the district's budget, the district's test scores, his leadership of the district's educators and administrators and his working relationship with the school board.

Miller: The ongoing process of the superintendent evaluation is something that the board reviews frequently. Things I think are important to this process are:

  • Improved communication through more frequent and direct dialog.
  • Additional use of surveys from the staff regarding performance
  • Establishment of standards and milestones by which to measure performance in this position.

Dove: The Board of Education (BOE) is equivalent to the Board of Directors of a corporation. The BOE must set to goals and mission of the district. They must also set the boundaries by which the goals and mission will be achieved. The BOE must constantly monitor the progress and make corrections as necessary. The BOE must work as a unit to allow the superintendent to properly achieve the mission and goals. The superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the district. Some goals are constant. Standardized test results must improve at every opportunity. The CEO must do all that he can to unify the district. The employees of the district must have quality supervision. The CEO must be vigilant in making sure that the financial resources of the district are spent wisely. The CEO should attend many district events. The CEO needs to help shape the future of the district by discovering the best facility plan for the district and finding the compromise that will pass muster with the voters.

Mueller: My expectations and goals include continuing to improve in our state assessments and student achievement, continue to hire quality staff and making recommendations to ensure safety in our buildings, the salary schedules of all our staff positions are competitive, the staff has a quality and rewarding environment in which to work and a bond issue that adequately addresses our growth is passed. Every July, the administration and board meet to outline goals and priorities for the coming school year. Measurements are used throughout the year to evaluate the progress. Additionally, the board is required to evaluate the superintendent twice during the first two years of his employment and yearly thereafter.

Bittel: Dr. Albers did a good job of taking over a district in turmoil and calming things down. Our Annual Yearly Progress Evaluations are evidence that the district continues to focus on what is important, which is the education of our children. He has shown a history of dealing with personnel issues effectively and he continues to do so presently. These were my expectations for Dr. Albers' first year. I felt that renewing his contract was a positive move for the district and he will continue to be re-evaluated on an annual basis.

Our district's biggest challenge in the future is the space issue. Dr. Albers and the Board of Education must be the leaders in conveying to the public how important it is that we deal with classroom over-crowding. Dr. Albers brings his experience in communicating with the public the need for a bond and I support his formation of a committee to evaluate the space issue and make recommendations to the board. The ultimate decision regarding the bond must be effectively communicated to our district in order for the bond issue to pass.

Farris: Through his decisions and support, Dr Albers has shown that he has the district's interest at heart. I expect a superintendent to remain unbiased and make decisions that will affect not only day to day events, but the district as it continues to grow.

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