RISD candidates Patricia Price Hicks, Sakennia Reed, moderator Lacy Durham, Regina Harris, Taler Jefferson and Vanessa Pacheco

The first candidate forum under Richardson ISD’s 5-2 system of electing trustees to single member districts was held Tuesday night, with candidates from District 2 surrounding Berkner High and District 4 containing Hamilton Park sharing their vision for leading RISD. Incumbent Karen Clardy is unopposed in District 5 surrounding Lake Highlands High.

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In District 2, challenger Vanessa Pacheco expressed the importance of bringing transparency to the board and encouraging participation by a diverse community of parents. The mother of two Berkner students works as VP for an investor who owns Sylvan Learning Centers. The number one issue facing RISD is mental health, she said, and the stressors faced by the 50% of RISD’s student population who are economically disadvantaged. She wants counseling services and programs to help them.

Eron Linn, the D2 incumbent, was out of town and unable to attend the forum.

In District 4, Taler BK Jefferson said the board needs diversity. As the youngest candidate in the race, the Hillcrest High biology teacher said she understands both the student experience and the teacher experience. She founded the Salome Foundation in Hamilton Park to create community events and support RISD students. Her top priority would be providing resources for teachers with students who speak little English, since more than 100 languages are spoken in RISD, she said.

Regina Harris stressed her PTA experience and said her roots and her history are in HP and RISD. The mom of a son at Richardson High served in various volunteer jobs at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet, West Junior High and RHS including local PTA president and VP of the RISD Council of PTAs. Diversity in leadership is her number one issue.

“I want to see everyone at the table,” she said, “including people who look like me. Currently I don’t see it on the school board, in administration or on committees.”

Patricia Price Hicks, a 32-year teacher, grew up in HP and said her teaching experience would add value to the board.

“I thought about this long and hard, and I always wanted to propel into administration,” she said.

Hicks said equity was her top priority and expressed concern that RISD no longer has a biracial committee.

“We need some people who are not going to be afraid,” she said.

Sakennia Reed described herself as a military brat, and said moving around during her dad’s 25-year military service helped her learn to speak to students and teachers. The 7th grade teacher at DISD’s Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy wants to set the bar high and believes students can reach it.

“It’s important to make sure every student has an opportunity to thrive,” she said, “whether they are college-bound, career-bound or military-bound.” Her top issue is closing the achievement gap, and she said closing the “belief gap” and the “opportunity gap” are just as important.

Asked by moderator Lacy Durham how RISD could improve outcomes for its graduates, Reed proposed Pre-K for every 3 and 4-year-old, Algebra I for every 8th grader, more Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes and increased student autonomy. Pacheco agreed with Pre-K for all and advocated broadening the district’s Career and Technology Education (CATE) program. Hicks shared a need for more trade and vocational courses and expressed particular concern for special education students who may be “falling through the cracks.”

Durham asked how to increase parental involvement, and candidates encouraged moms and dads to jump in and roll up their sleeves.

“Get on the PTA board,” Harris said, “travel to Austin, advocate for your kids, speak to teachers” to make your student more effective.

“Look at this room. There should be more parents here,” agreed Jefferson. “It makes a difference to students when leadership looks like them.”

Additional forums will be held by the League of Women Voters of Richardson Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet (District 4) and Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Berkner’s Lecture Hall (District 2).