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The Stillwater League of Women Voters and Stillwater Public Library will host the Stillwater Board of Education candidates’ Virtual Forum at 5:30-6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28. The Stillwater Public Library is providing the Zoom meeting and people can access it through the Stillwater Public Library website or through Facebook.

The LWV provided the News Press the following Q&A with Seat 5 candidates Marshall Baker, Jeanette Burkhart and Steve Hallgren and Seat 1 candidates Camille DeYong and Carle Santelli.

1): Why are you running for the school board, and what qualifications and experience do you bring to this office?

Baker:

Never before has a competent and strong board been so important. The next two years of recovery and reinvention are critical. As a parent and educational consultant, I see an opportunity for my unique skills to serve Stillwater. I was a public biology and agriculture teacher at innovative school districts, served SPS as a principal and school board member, trained teachers as a professor at OSU, led a school improvement network as the Chief of Staff, and now lead innovative school designs nationally as a consultant. As a previous board member, I can jump right in and get to work.

Burkhart:

I’m running because when I virtually attend the school board meetings I feel that as a parent, I’m not being listened to. I have four children in the SPS system, a freshman, a middle schooler, and two in elementary school. We, as parents, filled out those surveys and told the SPS what we wanted. The board of education is to support education for our children, not make health decisions, that choice is for the parents to make. The board of education is an elected position and should be the voice of the people. I plan on being that voice.

Hallgren:

I seek to retain the Board of Education Ward 5 position to which I was appointed September 2020. I believe education is one of the most important responsibilities of a community and I am motivated to use my experience and knowledge to contribute to SPS. My wife, Gerry Auel, and I have lived in the Westwood neighborhood since 1986. Our three children thrived in Stillwater schools and went on to successful careers. I taught ecology for 30 years at OSU and high school biology for two years during Peace Corps service in Tanzania.

DeYong:

I have the necessary experience to help Stillwater emerge successfully from this tumultuous year. COVID-19 has impacted every decision the board made in 2020 and that has been extremely difficult. SPS has asked so much of everyone this year and our teachers/staff/students/families have responded valiantly. We must move forward to get kids back in school in a manner that is safe for all. I’m a strong supporter of teachers – they are the classroom experts who develop relationships that make kids want to come to school. My two daughters and I are all products of SPS. I love Stillwater Public Schools!

Santelli:

I am running for school board because I believe we need better representation of parents with students currently enrolled in our public schools and who are navigating the hurdles of distance learning.

2): As a Board member you are not required to be involved in curriculum and teaching methods. However, what would you like to see Stillwater Public Schools do with regard to innovative ideas and revisions that would give attention to deficit or neglected areas? Would you be open to innovated ideas and give attention to deficit areas?

Baker:

Innovation and education go hand in hand. The disruption caused by the pandemic has opened the door to really ask “what will our schools be like post-pandemic?” It is my hope we use this opportunity to reinvent, and not just recover. First, diagnostics and remediation will require innovative approaches to learning perhaps never employed before. Second, I would hope to see innovative strategies to support the social and emotional learning of students post-pandemic. Finally, I would love to empower our SPS site educators to engage in school design processes to create reinvention plans for their sites.

Burkhart:

I would like to be involved in curriculum and teaching methods, my husband I are invested in the education of our children and in our community. I’m open to trying innovated ideas and receiving feedback from those methods to see if they’re working or what needs to be tweaked to make the idea work for our children. Deficit areas need to be looked at in depth and improved.

Hallgren:

I strongly believe Stillwater Public Schools should be open to innovative ideas and revisions to correct deficits and to adjust to changes in social and economic forces. For example, the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted issues that affect our education system – social justice, adverse childhood experiences and information technology. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities, has likely increased childhood trauma and has increased our dependence on information technology. I support and encourage SPS to evaluate how these changes affect the education system and to make appropriate adjustments. The quality of education provided our students depends on timely and thoughtful innovation.

DeYong:

Absolutely, I’m open to innovative ideas, but I believe these need to be teacher-driven. Reading proficiency is a good example of a known challenge. While we clearly need to understand children’s progress, intense pressure on teachers for their kids to perform well on tests leaves little room for innovative ideas. One of my greatest joys is reading a book. It breaks my heart to hear kids say they hate to read and/or parents talk about kids crying before school because they have to take a high-stakes test. There is a balance between evaluating/measuring and developing joy for learning/reading in children.

Santelli:

As a parent, I know children learn in a vast array of different methods. I would love to see other learning options explored to help all students be their very best. I would also love to see less emphasis on testing and more focus on making sure the students are retaining what our teachers are teaching.

3): What would you do to prevent an adversarial relationship among Stillwater Public Schools, Meridian Technology Center and Oklahoma State University?

Baker:

Those three organizations should build synergy rather than controversy. One of the greatest assets of SPS is access to a world-class career and technical education (CTE) center and a land-grant research institution! Unfortunately, these partnerships have not always been fully utilized. I would like to see SPS create a more strategic plan to partner with these other organizations, break down policy and procedure barriers that make it difficult, and open more regular communication. As an SPS educator, I witnessed powerful partnerships between these three organizations, but there is room for even more purposeful collaboration.

Burkhart:

Everyone in these three competing entities should be included in meetings, updates, and planning in the Stillwater community. As a parent, I welcome that idea of our children having options and believe that competition should promote a higher quality product for a better price. However, as a member of the school board, I would encourage SPS to work towards providing the best choice for our students. That may be coordinating between all three entities, instead of duplicating.

Hallgren:

An active synergistic relation among Stillwater Public Schools, Oklahoma State University, Northern Oklahoma College and Meridian Technology Center benefits the entire community. We should seek creative ways to increase and strengthen the flow of ideas and expertise among these organizations.

Open communication and cooperation about curricula, educational goals and teaching methods avoid inefficient duplication of resources and create better pathways for students and teachers to succeed. At present, over 200 Stillwater high school students attend the affiliated institutions on a daily basis. Providing our students access to multiple educational resources in the community is a very powerful asset.

DeYong:

The people who work at SPS, Meridian and OSU are our neighbors and our friends. SPS has partnerships with both Meridian and OSU. The community benefits by having all three in one close-knit community. All three entities can do a better job of talking about how education is impacted by our partnerships. Stillwater residents are interested in ensuring that Stillwater has the very best public school/technology school/university, and great things are achieved when we work together. Having informal meetings among board members/teachers/administrators from both Meridian and SPS, as well as representatives from OSU is my goal as we move forward.

Santelli:

I will listen to all sides and make decisions based on science and what will be beneficial to the majority of the student population and their families.

4): When is the last time you have visited one of our public schools, i.e., elementary, junior high, middle school and high school?

Baker:

Since COVID, my time in schools has been limited. However, every week I put on my mask, deliver my two boys’ virtual work to the front door of Westwood, pick up the new folder of assignments, and head back to our house to support our boys in online learning. Prior to COVID, I spent a significant amount of time in our schools. As a previous board member, I have visited every school site. As a SPS administrator, I managed two school sites. As a parent, I have attended PTA meetings and met in schools with my children’s teachers.

Burkhart:

The last time I visited a school was last week to pick up distance learning packets for my youngest two children. Having four children in SPS, I visit, call, or email one of the SPS schools pretty regularly. Involvement is a key to a child’s education. My husband and I have open communication with our children about school and their assignments/projects. Now, with distance learning, involvement is even higher.

Hallgren:

As a School Board member, I have made it a priority to visit as many SPS sites as possible to interact directly with teachers, staff and students to learn firsthand about problems and opportunities. Most recently in December 2020, I visited the Transportation Office behind Lincoln Academy.

Soon after being appointed to BOE I visited three of the six elementary schools, and later, the Middle and Senior High schools. I observed Zoom classes for high school biology and discussed music instruction with Scott Jackson, Stillwater Orchestra Director. This interaction has been vital to my understanding of the entire district.

DeYong:

In my seven previous years as a school board member and two terms as president, I regularly met with teachers and administrators at all of the school sites. Even though COVID means fewer visits, I visited two sites last week and have read and responded to multiple emails, texts and phone calls from teachers, administrators and parents throughout the pandemic. I am a former high school math teacher and a retired OSU industrial engineering professor, so I can empathize with many of the challenges facing teachers and staff.

Santelli:

Before the pandemic, I was inside my child’s school everyday. Since the pandemic began, the last time I have been inside a school was to enroll my child. I enjoyed going in every day and having conversations with the teachers and staff.

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