A question-and-answer session with the Medford School Board candidates
Sally Killen (incumbent)
1. I seek a balance among long-term district needs such as efficiency and maintenance, vital educational needs for all students and fair compensation for staff. All three are important. If the district is inefficient, it wastes public monies. If it doesn't maintain the remodeled and rebuilt buildings, it creates unsafe learning environments. All students must be provided what they need to learn, and direct providers of learning — the staff — need to be fairly compensated.
2. I ask the superintendent to provide information. I visit all schools each year and ask for feedback from parents and staff that I meet. I pass out my contact info to everyone at meetings. I take emails and phone calls from constituents. I talk to everyone who wants to talk. Then I create a picture of the situation, critical elements, problems, potential solutions, and determine the solution I can most strongly support.
3. It's healthy to have differences among School Board members; it creates a vigorous dialogue that helps provide creative solutions. As in all working relationships, the School Board members and superintendent do not always agree. It's important to have a respectful relationship in which all points of view are provided and a workable solution is reached. I believe it is each board member's responsibility to work toward a relationship that benefits the district's business.
4. I want more communication with the public. The district has a website that is frequently updated. I wish I knew how to get more of the public to sign up to receive those updates; I want www.medford.k12.or.us to be on everyone's Favorites list. I would also want to have the media give equal coverage of both successes and challenges in the district.
5. Education needs to benefit from some stability of goals. The federal and state governments often change educational standards and testing goals. Thus what makes a good education is a moving target. That's unfair to students, community, and educational systems. Once there is a period of time of stable expectations, it will be possible to fairly judge how effective the educational system is. Then the amount of funding can be determined with more accuracy.
1. The budget seems to be receiving more and more but giving less and less. There is money going to places that it shouldn't be in some areas. Where is it going? I intend to find out! I have a strong background in finance.
2. I will analyze everything that is available for each situation to come to careful and effective decisions. Amongst the most important sources to solving issues include listening to the parents themselves and the Parent Teacher Associations when possible. Feedback from doing surveys can also be a great method, for example.
3. It is my understanding that the School Board is responsible for holding the superintendent accountable. However, in order to make informed decisions, the School Board should communicate well to understand the superintendent's side of things and take all available information into consideration.
4. I believe that since it's a "public school" that all communication and information should be frequently and readily available to the public as well as easy to access. I also believe that feedback (like surveys, or PTA's, and parents) from the public would help the School Board to decide the frequency and availability of reporting all news, good and especially bad. The bad news cannot be handled when kept hidden.
5. I believe that a shortened school week or a "half day" is not the right way to achieve a good education. I also believe that the 30, and 40+ student classroom sizes are far too large for each single teacher to effectively teach. I would love to see more specialty aid teachers in the classrooms as well.
Scott Kohlmeier (Kohlmeier did not respond to emails and multiple phone calls.)
1. First and foremost we must keep our focus on student time in the classroom. Evaluate all programs that take time away from students in the classroom. If there are programs not contributing to students' graduation development, we need to consider if the cost ... is beneficial. We need to look strongly at staffing requirements at all levels of education. I would look at the "substitute bench" to make certain that we are not too heavily staffed there.
2. Though I respect that the majority of information will come through the superintendent and staff, I feel it important not to be an unfamiliar face to those we serve. I would make sure to visit each of the 20 Medford schools each year. I would attend staff meetings, classrooms, meet with teachers, parents and students. Visits of this nature would be a good avenue to gain information and strengthen our communications.
3. In my years with UPS, we had many differences of opinions on policy and methods. However, as we came to resolution our discussions were focused on one item — the customer. As board members, we and the superintendent must always keep this same focus. In the case of the Medford School District, the "customer" is the student and the "indirect customer" is the family.
4. The school district must have a strong and open communication network. Websites, newspaper articles, television and radio are great means of communication. Press conferences can be very beneficial at times, depending on the importance of the matter. I also believe it's important to be certain that all information is complete and accurate. The most damaging communication comes through "partial" or inaccurate communication. This said, it is not always best to communicate too early in every instance.
5. I would like to see an education system that meets the needs of every student at every level. We often see curriculum that is geared toward the average student. We need to see more emphasis on those who are underachieving as well as those who are overachieving. I would also like to see elevated graduation rates that better prepare students for college.
1. My first priority is to get students and teachers in the classrooms. We must not lose students to other schools because we failed to offer the best, most leading-edge schooling opportunities. We must not lose high school students because we failed to offer athletics, activities and vocational classes. We then must provide teachers "face time" with those students in reasonably sized classes so that they can learn.
2. I have a vast network of students, parents, coaches, teachers, administrators, office assistants and custodians who continually keep me up to date with how School Board policies affect them in actual practice. I already spend many hours on our campuses building these relationships and I would continue to nurture them. I would then follow up with the appropriate district employees to confirm the information.
3. First, I would seek to have additional conversations to further clarify the issues. I find that often disagreements arise from misunderstandings and that good communication can clear up the problem. If there is still an underlying difference in philosophy, I would strive to resolve it through compromise.
4. I think that one of the biggest problems in our district today is a lack of communication with the public. The schools belong to the public, and the public has an unassailable right to know what is going on in them. This very lack of communication has led to mistrust, low morale and a general belief that the district is not well-run. We must use all means at our disposal to communicate better.
5. Our district needs to be board-directed, not superintendent-directed. I would like to see much more collaboration among the patrons, teachers, administration and School Board. We need to listen to all the voices in education, implement the good ideas, and clearly explain why some will not work. Big changes are very likely coming from the state level, and we need to be nimble to ensure that kids get the education they need to function and compete.
1. A larger percentage of the district budget needs to be spent directly in the classroom, where it positively impacts students and not on administrators or support staff, who do not have direct contact with students. I want to eliminate inefficient and wasteful district spending, and get employee benefit costs under control. My immediate priorities are to increase certified teacher staffing levels, increase current classroom instructional days and increase academic programs, while decreasing classroom sizes.
2. As a CPA, I'm regularly accustomed to performing extensive research for my clients, which could impact their multi-million dollar decisions. Depending upon the issue, I would speak with Superintendent Phil Long and his cabinet, with various school district employees, students, district patrons and the public, or with experts in the topic at-hand. I'd also read reports, journals and publications, and would rely on my education and past business experience as a CPA.
3. Disagreements will occur, as we've recently witnessed among some current School Board members. Disagreements can also provide vital checks-and-balances. I disagree with Superintendent Long and the current School Board on some issues, including the recently proposed district budget. In my numerous discussions with Superintendent Long, his cabinet, and the School Board, I've tried to find "common ground", where possible. We've discussed our differences civilly, and in the end, we've agreed to disagree, where disagreements exist.
4. I believe the public has the right to have access to, and know information that impacts them, in a timely manner. What's timely? While some events can be publicized in a newsletter, the public, and those directly impacted, should be notified immediately in the case of a gun, or a sexual offender in a school. I'd utilize publications, websites, public meetings and the media to the full-extent appropriate, in order to communicate with the public.
5. I'd like to see an increase in certified teaching staff, a decrease in classroom-sizes, an increase in classroom instructional days, a decrease in administrative staff and a decrease in labor costs. More radically, I'd like to see the district convert to a year-around quarter system, similar to what's utilized in many colleges, versus following the current nine-months-on, three-months-off school calendar. I believe the quarter system is more efficient and would dramatically increase students' achievement.
1. Without question, the classroom, with emphasis on keeping class sizes as low as possible, especially in the primary grades. In the primary grades we learn to read so we can later read to learn. I will resist reducing the number of school days, and will push to see that necessary sacrifice is equally shared.
2. Clearly, the administrative staff is a major source for board information, but I will not limit myself to that source, no matter how good their analysis might be. I will spend a great deal of time listening to teachers, parents, students and other members of the community. I consider myself a good listener, one of the most important skills of a public official.
3. One of the most destructive behaviors a board member can exhibit is backbiting, sarcasm or personal attacks in a public forum. As for the superintendent, she/he is a professional, hired by the board, and serves at the board's pleasure. The superintendent will know when I am not pleased, but she/he will be given respect as a professional. If I determine the superintendent has taken a wrong turn, I have no problem expressing my concerns.
4. Every citizen should be able to go to the district website the Friday before a board meeting and see the agenda, the packet each board member receives and every presentation any staff member will present. I am appalled at how difficult it is to find such information on the website, and the way this district provides scant information in advance. Providing the information in advance gives the public a better grasp of the topics.
5. More class time. Oregon students receive approximately 20 fewer days of instruction than the majority of students in this country. This means that over an Oregon child's 13 years of public school she/he will receive almost two years less instruction time than children in much of the rest of the country. Additional funding is needed; providing a stabilization fund to avoid peaks and valleys would be a good first step.
Marlene Yesquen (incumbent, unopposed)
1. I want to make sure we provide students with the tools and resources they need to meet or exceed Oregon graduation requirements. I think our most valuable resource in meeting this goal will be our teachers, and it is my highest priority to maintain as many certified teachers as possible. More teachers translate into smaller classroom sizes and more curriculum options, which will give our students the best opportunity to succeed.
2. As an attorney, I have been trained to research applicable laws, statutes and peer-reviewed journals to meet the needs of my clients. I believe I have the ability to review information from a wide variety of sources, put it all together, and come to an informed decision. I have found one of the best sources of information to be the experts on the front line and I have spent many hours talking to our teachers, staff and parents.
3. I adhere to a strong professional ethic, which requires that I am courteous and respectful to anyone with whom I interact despite disagreements. It is important to recognize that everyone on the board is trying to do what they believe is best. I hope to deal with any disagreement with other board members or the superintendent with respect, clarity about my position and a sincere interest in other points of view.
4. I support an open public process that uses a variety of communication methods in order to reach our community. It is the school district's responsibility to inform the public about both good and bad news within a reasonable time period. The district should use every method available, including writing letters to families, postings on the district website, emails to families, discussions at board meetings and telephone calls to families when necessary.
5. The district's recent report finds that 59 percent of students graduate after four years. I think improving this score is our highest priority. My priorities are to maintain as many teachers as possible to reduce class sizes and retain curriculum options, establish high standards for students, staff and administrators, increase parental communication and involvement, invest in full-day kindergarten, strengthen our alternative education program and increase opportunities for teachers and the community to contribute to decision making.