RISD school board candidates: Joseph Armstrong, Ben Prado, Karen Clardy, Eric Eager, Lynn Davenport, Dr. Kristin Kuhne and Justin Bono

In the final debates of the campaign season last week, RISD school board candidates clashed over how best – and who best – to lift students and guide the district.

Early voting begins today/Monday and Election Day is officially Saturday, May 6.

At a forum sponsored by the Lake Highlands Chamber of Commerce, candidates described the criteria they use when making hiring decisions.

“When working with people, I believe in a collaborative style,” answered Justin Bono, unopposed in Place 6, “but I also believe in accountability. We have one employee. The board hires a superintendent, and we hold that individual responsible, tracking against her goals and making sure the district is headed in the direction we want it to.”

In hiring and goal setting, said Dr. Kristin Kuhne, incumbent in Place 7, “I’m making sure we keep our end goal in mind, and that is what’s best for students. I’m focused on keeping students on a growth trajectory. We do seek to be collaborative, so we hire people who are aligned with our goals and our vision. It is important that you fit into the culture of RISD. People talk about how great our community and schools are, and you’ve got to be somebody who builds on that. I am a research analyst, a data-driven person, and I am focused on the metrics. It’s about accountability and making progress toward end goals.”

“One reason I got into this race is to contribute to our success,” said Lynn Davenport, challenger in Place 7. “I’ve been concerned about our academic ranking and teacher retention, so I’ve been trying to gather information – why are we losing some of our great teachers? I have an 11th, 9th and 7th grader, and it’s discouraging when a teacher is leaving that your 11th grader had and your subsequent kids won’t have. My question is why would they leave this great district? My opponent says we need to focus on data-driven decisions. That’s all fine and good, but I think sometimes we focus too much on data and not enough on people.”

In the race for Place 3, 4 candidates are seeking to fill the unfinished term of Kris Oliver.

“I’m part owner of a software company, and we’ve had rapid growth over the past 10 years,” said Eric Eager. “We implemented 7 principles including ‘positive leadership.’ How am I going to make you a better person, professionally and personally? We also focus on WIGs and PIGs – ‘wildly important goals’ and ‘pretty important goals.’ Don’t let the PIGs get in the way of the WIGs. We review these things every 90 days, and the lowest person in the company knows exactly what we are doing – from top to bottom, full transparency and accountability.”

“I’ve been working in the RISD schools for 25 years,” said Karen Clardy, former executive assistant at Lake Highlands High, “but the first principal I worked for in Virginia taught me, ‘children first – whatever decision you make, put children first.’ I’ve served on several district committees, and I’ve made many hiring decisions. Every decision I made has been based on what is best for students, and I don’t think you can go wrong with that. Over my 25 years I dealt with parents who did not like a certain decision, but often parents would come back and say, ‘you were right.’ My point is simple – do what is best for the child.”

“RISD is the largest employer in Richardson, and that’s how crucial it is to the local economy,” said Ben Prado. “The school district doesn’t just run our civic associations, it has a major impact on our economy – so it’s not just about the children. We’ve got teachers, staff members and administrators involved. I co-sponsored a dissertation when I lived in Germany on internal communication, and it’s picking up across the globe. Transparency from the top down? Where’s the transparency from the bottom up? I would make sure the board is communicating internally, not just where the board wants the district to be but where teachers would like to be.”

“I have a depth of business experience since I bought my business and we doubled – nearly tripled – sales,” said Joseph Armstrong, “but the most important thing to me is taking care of my 50+ employees and their families. First and foremost to me is servant leadership. I’m not a glass wall president. If I need to, I pick up materials or run jobs. We try to put good business practices in place where everyone is in the right position, but business owners know it doesn’t always happen that way. For folks coming on, character is most important, and once they are there, clear expectations. We make sure they know what their role is and help them meet that.”

In closing, each candidate was asked to give one word to describe their candidacy and the way they intend to serve when elected.

Justin Bono: committed.

Kristin Kuhne: proven.

Lynn Davenport: connector.

Eric Eager: integrity.

Karen Clardy: listener.

Ben Prado: diverse.

Joseph Armstrong: intentional.

A list of early voting locations, including Bethany Lutheran Church and Richardson Civic Center can be found online here. Election Day voting locations are listed here. Keep in mind that you have flexibility in your location to early-vote, but some sectors of Dallas, Highland Park, Garland and Richardson are facing heated city council and school board elections. Lines are expected to be shortest in good ole LH, where City Councilman Adam McGough is unopposed. We here at Advocate Media hope that serves as an added motivator to go vote!