The candidates vying for three open seats are: former architect Lisa Barrus, former Powell Police Investigator Dave Brown, former candidate and John Deere employee Jeffrey Easum, Employment and Training Coordinator at Experience Works Alan Horner, nurse Greg Imhoff, current school board chairman and former agriculture teacher Rob McCray, dental hygienist Raquel Schwab, former civil engineer Lynn Stutzman and agriculture worker Todd Voller.
During the hour and 15 minutes forum, candidates discussed student safety, tenure, technology, the Common Core Standards, substitute teachers and the current state of the Powell school district, as well as their own personal philosophies and involvement in the Powell community.
Technology in the classroom
The first question asked the candidates to give their views on the use of technology in education, specifically the increased use of iPads.
Candidates expressed mixed feelings about iPads, with some questioning their printing-compatibility with Microsoft-based products.
“My biggest question was, if you’re going to introduce this technology, which our children do need … wouldn’t you think a little bit more about how to print out this information?” asked Stutzman.
Horner’s concern was focused on student safety and Internet privacy.
“I just want to make sure that the security issues and prevention of outside interface is kept at an absolute maximum,” Horner said.
Brown stressed patience and noted iPads could potentially relieve students of a great physical burden.
“Like with anything new, it takes a couple years to get everything figured out,” he said. “If anyone’s ever lifted your kid’s backpack at school and it weighs 40 or 50 pounds, an iPad is going to be really nice to get everything on there.”
Voller also agreed the iPads are a valuable tool.
“They’re probably pretty handy to have because as people grow up and go to college they’re going to have to have them with their businesses too,” he said.
McCray said the iPads increase students’ engagement in classes and the use of iBooks (downloadable electronic textbooks) will be a long-term money-saver for the district.
“It will eventually, I believe, save the district money in not having to update textbooks, and if something new comes along you won’t have to buy another round of textbooks,” McCray said.
Training for substitute teachers
The first question submitted by a member of the public asked if substitute teachers should be afforded the same training opportunities as everyday teachers.
Imhoff, whose wife works at Southside and has substitute experience, said substitutes impact the lives of children and should be trained to the same degree as other teachers.
“Whether they sub one day, or a month, they’re going to affect the outcome of our kids no matter how long they’re there,” Imhoff said. “And I definitely think that besides the requirements to become a substitute teacher I think they should have the ongoing training other teachers are afforded.”
Stutzman said she would support training for substitutes, but doesn’t believe it’s a simple issue.
“I’m all for any training for anybody if funding allows, but would you make it optional or required?” she asked, adding that making it required would be unfair to substitutes who have other jobs.
McCray acknowledged that subs play a big role, saying that some substitute teachers work almost every day of the school year, but questioned the feasibility of offering training to everyone.
“If you’re going to pay for every substitute to be trained for everything we do, you’re talking about a pretty good sized dollar amount,” McCray said. “So that’s something that would certainly have to be taken into consideration before we say we’re going to train all of our subs in all of our different areas.”
Common Core Standards
The Common Core Standards, which will be implemented over the next two years, will change what is taught, and how it is assessed, in Wyoming schools. Candidates were asked the challenges they anticipate the district will face in that implementation.
An intricate and complicated issue, most candidates were not well-versed in the specifics of the standards or implementation process, but the candidates generally agreed the standards were a positive for the district, but would present some difficulties.
“Once it gets implemented, it’s going to be a wonderful thing,” Imhoff said. “I think it’s a good thing we’re giving the students an opportunity for equal opportunity and not equal outcomes.”
Easum expressed cynicism but did not give an opinion on the standards.
“I think about the time they get it all figured out they’ll change the game again,” Easum said.
Horner followed Easum by saying “How can I top that? I’m confident that whatever plan is rolled out, our district will do well.”
A second question from the public asked for candidates’ views on tenure and methods of motivation.
Most candidates said they do not support tenure.
Easum said teachers have no reason to worry “if they’re doing their jobs and the kids are learning.”
“I don’t have tenure at my job, therefore I don’t really agree with tenure,” he said.
Horner echoed Easum’s sentiment.
“I’m basically against tenure,” Horner said. “I feel that a great teacher whose kids are performing will always have a job. Teachers whose kids aren’t performing need to be looked at.”
Schwab agreed that effective teachers don’t need tenure to stay employed, but said struggling teachers should have the opportunity to get feedback and improve.
McCray didn’t outright support or oppose tenure, but said the quality of a teacher factors on a lot more than salary.
“I don’t think tenure is something that holds people back,” he said. “It’s been shown in a lot of ways that money doesn’t necessarily make somebody work harder.”
Barrus was the only candidate to openly support tenure.
Strengths of district
The candidates were asked to talk about what they believed were the strengths of the board and district.
“One of the best things we did was hiring Kevin Mitchell, because the board looks to the superintendent to work with, he gives us guidance,” Brown said. “He is the one that recommends things to us and we decide on a policy, as a board member.”
Horner praised the board’s engagement with the public.
“The response from the public in this district is really phenomenal. The board needs to continue to enlist that support to make our district the best,” he said.
Stutzman said she admires the board members’ ability to work together toward a common goal.
“There’s no animosity between our board,” Stutzman said. “I think because they are open to each other’s opinions and suggestions and gather the information and look at what’s best for the school district as a whole the process is a lot smoother and our district definitely benefits from that type of leadership.”
Schwab said the district’s strength is in having no weak schools.
“I work for a dentist that just moved here, and he asked me which school I thought his child should go to, and I told him in our community every school here is a great school,” she said.
Candidates discussed their involvement with the Powell community and how it might help them as a school board member.
Barrus currently serves on the Building Leadership Team at Powell Middle School and said communication with the students is key to understanding concerns.
Brown has taught classes on the Fourth Amendment and sexual abuse in Powell schools.
Easum said he attends many sporting events and is kept well-informed about the schools by his wife, who works for the district.
Horner said he has been supportive of the high school’s band and has served on the committee that raised funds for the senior bash.
Imhoff said being a nurse in Powell for the past 14 years has kept him active in the community.
“I really enjoy serving the community and serving the children,” he said.
McCray said he has been involved with school and community activities for a long time.
“I grew up in a small town so schools were kind of the hub of the community,” McCray said. “If something was going on, it was going on at the schools.”
Besides serving as the board’s chairman, McCray said he has been a 4-H leader, FFA adviser and superintendent at the fair.
Like Imhoff, Schwab’s job in the medical field has kept her in touch with the community.
“Being a dental hygienist, I’ve got to help educate children in the community with their oral hygiene,” she said.
Stutzman said now that she is not working she has the time to be more involved with her childrens’ activities.
“Pretty much anything my kids are involved in I’m right there with them,” she said.
Voller said he often travels to attend volleyball games.
When asked what personal philosophies would guide their decision making as a school board member, candidates cited their religion, political leanings and work ethic.
“We’re a Christian household,” Stutzman said. “We got a very good work ethic in our family. That’s something that I apply to everything I do whether I’m at home or whether I’m at work.”
Horner added his work experience to his religious and political beliefs.
“My thinking is guided by conservative Christian principles that made this the greatest country on earth,” Horner said.
Horner said his extensive work overseas taught him how to get along with other people and get others to work together.
Easum said his approach on the board will be student-centric.
“One of my philosophies is, no matter what the school board is addressing ... my philosophy is students always come first,” Easum said. “Every outcome, every decision we make needs to be focused around how it’s going to affect the kids.”
Brown said it is important to respect the needs and feelings of others. He said he would listen to all sides of an issue and base his decisions on facts and research to avoid making snap decisions.
Barrus said she wants to always make herself available to the public.
“I want to be approachable,” she said. “I want people to feel like they can come to me if I’m elected.”
The forum was co-sponsored by the Northwest College radio and television stations and the Powell Tribune. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.