School board candidates questioned in last forum; Roswell voters will decide who will sit on RISD board during Tuesday’s election
School board candidate Timothy Aguilar answers a question Thursday during the last candidate forum that was hosted by the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Early voting ends today, with election day on Tuesday. (Bethany Freudenthal Photo)
During the last forum before elections Tuesday, all nine candidates for the Roswell Independent School District Board of Education answered prepared questions and questions from the audience at a forum hosted by the Hispano Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens Thursday.
With the current dropout rate for the district at 29 percent, incumbent for District 1 and longtime educator Mona Kirk said dropout rates just aren’t a high school issue. It’s an issue that affects kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
To ensure that Roswell kids stay in school and are well taught, Kirk said the solution is to have a highly qualified teacher in each district classroom.
“We have to nurture those kids, and make sure those kids are in program and they are well taught. That means we have to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom from kindergarten through 12th grade. Data has proven that the single most important factor in the classroom is that highly qualified teacher. So that’s first and foremost,” Kirk said.
She also said the district needs to look at alternative solutions to the dropout rate. One suggestion she had was perhaps lengthening high school for kids who need extra time, from four years to five years.
“I know that we can graduate 100 percent of our kids. We just have to have that commitment. One hundred percent. Nothing else is acceptable,” Kirk said.
Citing research, Louis Mestas, who is challenging incumbent Nicole Austin for District 2, said that not everyone learns on the same day, in the same manner and in the same pace. He suggested the district create an alternative school at the middle school level.
“Not everyone learns on the same day, in the same manner in the same pace. Roswell needs an alternative school at the middle school (level),” Mestas said.
Mestas also said one way to decrease the dropout rate is to have a night school.
“A lot of our kids have to work, a night school is perfect. Five to eight o’clock math, maybe science and social studies, they get their credits, they got quality teachers there to pick up some extra money, because every teacher has a second job. So we need a night school, we need a second middle school,” Mestas said.
When it comes to hiring and retaining teachers, Austin said RISD has a recent history where there wasn’t a recruitment problem.
“Our best recruiters are happy teachers and if we’ve got happy teachers, if we’ve got happy support staff, if we’ve got happy parents, we’re going to be stealing teachers from all over the place, and they’re going to be fighting to come here,” Austin said.
With 25 to 29 teaching vacancies, Austin said RISD has a health problem that needs to be looked at scientifically. She suggested conducting an anonymous survey available to all district employees as a tool to evaluate the problem and initiate change.
Running against incumbent Dr. Peggy Brewer for District 3, Alan Gedde said teacher morale and having a positive environment is one of the biggest issues facing the recruitment and retention of teachers within the district.
“One of the reasons I love my job, is because of my boss, and when he first hired me, he said, ‘You have your master’s degree in this subject, go and enjoy, and if I don’t hear anything, I know you’re doing a good job.’ And he will come down once a week and he will inspire me and he will encourage me, and that is so important to our teachers, that we have a positive work environment,” Gedde said.
For Gedde, teachers need to know if they are unhappy they can talk to the correct person, and know that when they say it, it’s not going to come back and haunt them later. Gedde believes the amount of testing is also an issue.
With about $264,000 coming in over the next few years from Next Era Energy Resources, Jennifer Sanford, candidate for District 1 said working as a team to figure out how to invest that money into the district would be the best approach, but she did have some ideas on how to use that money.
“I think that we need therapies to be funded more. I don’t know if that has to be a separate grant, but if not I think we should be improving and adding more to the Gear Up program,” Sanford said.
She also suggested adding more classes at Sydney Gutierrez Charter School.
“This year they had an A grade, so they’re obviously doing something right. I know last year when my son, I applied for him, there were 69 applications, and three open spots, because the other 17 were filled by siblings. Whatever they’re doing is working, and I think that as a district we need to increase the amount of students that need to be able to use that program,” Sanford said.
Challenging incumbent Arturo Ibarra for District 5, James Edwards said he would want to keep that money on the east side of town.
“I guess I’m going to sound selfish. I’d put a lot of that money over here on the east side. At Mesa, Nancy Lopez, Mountain View, and thats not being selfish, because I went and looked at the school. They need paint. They need some people to go over there and show a caring attitude,” Edwards said.
“Playground equipment for kids. One of the complaints that I’ve heard, and I’ve talked to a couple of people just recently, about Washington Avenue at their playground, is they’ve got bars. One of the things I’m hearing is kids dropping out in elementary and they start in middle school. They don’t even have swings. When I went to middle school, we had swings. That was something that was different for me, because we didn’t have swings where I grew up at,” Edwards said.
A member of the audience asked, “do you feel the superintendent is doing a good job?
Incumbent and current Board President Dr. Peggy Brewer said, “part of the role of the board is working together with the superintendent, and that means that supervision, that guidance, that direction and that comes in the end when you do your evaluations.”
Brewer suggested the possibility of a new way to evaluate the superintendent.
“Something that I find so exciting is the possibility to enter in to is a new way to evaluate our superintendent, beyond just a check list, and that means asking for input, not only from our staff, but also from our community, because that individual is a powerful and effective person in our whole community, not just with our students and our staff. So thats an exciting thing I see as a possibility,” Brewer said.
District 5 incumbent Arturo Ibarra said, “to qualify someone when we don’t know what this year’s going to be, I don’t know, but I do know a C is not acceptable. A story from my home, my daughter got an 89. When she gets home with an 89, we’re one point away from a B and an A, and its not acceptable. 89 is good still, she says, but its still not acceptable,” Ibarra said.
As a board member, Ibarra said it comes from the leadership.
“It’s all of us. Its not just one. It doesn’t take one board member to say, this is not acceptable, somebody’s gone, or we need to get somebody,” Ibarra said Thursday.
One question was, “What is the number one reason you decided to run for the school board, and what do you think you can do that other board members didn’t do.”
Timothy Aguilar, candidate for District 1, said, “I’m big on legacy. I want to leave a good legacy for my children here in Roswell. This has been my home, I’ve grown up here, and to be honest, I don’t feel comfortable with the legacy I’m leaving my kids now, with the way our district is. I can’t say its just this board, but I want to leave a legacy.”
The district, Aguilar said, shouldn’t be OK with a C grade.
“I want better for my kids. I want better for our kids. Our kids deserve better, and I don’t feel like they’re getting better right now,” Aguilar said. “I’m not OK with a C, and I don’t think our kids should be ok with a C,” Aguilar said.
School board elections will be held in Roswell and throughout New Mexico on Feb. 7.
Staff writer Bethany Freudenthal may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.