Over half-pint brews and slices of pizza, the three candidates running for RISD’s District 5 board seat answered reader-submitted questions Tuesday at Oak Highlands Brewery.
The candidates: Rachel McGowan, Kile Brown and Jan Stell. Each one started out with a brief introduction and talked about their values for either RISD in general or Lake Highlands schools.
There were emotional moments, and some moments brought pause and led to further questioning.
At one point during the “agree” or “disagree” turning of paddles, Stell twirled hers around several times during questions around social emotional learning, mask mandates and several other topics.
Stell referenced looking at statistics about student learning and how much time is dedicated to non-academic tasks in comparison to time spent on academics when asked about it.
Brown brought up his West Point education and corporate experience to drive home how pushing diversity and inclusion can apply to schools.
McGowan pulled examples from her kids’ experiences at Lake Highlands schools and what difficulties they’ve had or where they’ve excelled and where there’s room for improvement.
Here’s how candidates answered a few of the pressing questions last night (in ballot order).
Question: RISD has struggled to find subs during the pandemic. Why are teachers leaving? Why do you think teachers are leaving jobs they trained for, and what can RISD do about that?
McGowan: “I’ve had teachers talk about the training, the lack of training and things that they, they feel like they need more training, and they’re not being heard. They’re feeling like they’re not seen and heard from the District-level down. They’re just not feeling like they have been protected and taken care of overall. We’ve got to put the training in for these ladies and young men, and we’ve got to advocate and fight for our teachers. They are our greatest resource. And we’ve got to get creative.”
Brown: “One of the key things we need to do is get a leader who’s had experience in developing a culture of professionalism, a culture of joy, if you will, if you can call it that as a teacher, but but certainly enthusiasm for the job, right. But it’s also got to provide some, some structure within that framework to be able to give senior teachers a career path. And what we see from both the private and public sector is that that can make a difference in bigger ways than adding to their salary.”
Stell: “Our principals are key. They set the atmosphere in the classroom, for the teachers, they’ll back them up. Surely we can pay our teachers because like you say, money talks. I think they need support. We should do surveys to find out; I’m sure each building is a little bit different. They either need more backup in terms of discipline, they need more backup in terms of counselors and not just looking at one size fits all. I think we need to look outside the box and make some hard decisions to take care of our most precious asset, which is our teachers.”
Q: Test scores have dropped. What can the District do to boost standardized test scores?
McGowan: “RISD does do Saturday school, which I think is a great concept, and we also do peer helpers at the high school level where they actually kind of go to the elementary schools and hang out with the students. I think we could do a lot of those things better in our District. I think there’s nothing wrong with giving our kids a little bit more of an extension of the year after COVID, even if they’re straight-A students.”
Brown: “Teach the subject as best you can, and that’s the thing. We’ve got key essential tasks within each subject. Focus on those should be incorporated with whatever our curriculum is itself and help kids understand and be ready to take a test, those that actually work.”
Stell: “We’ve all talked about COVID a lot. I actually went back into TEA and pulled our ISD, not my schools, but by the District. But I think we need to relook at what we’re embracing in terms of where we’re spending our time or energy. If we’ve been dealing with this for 10 years, obviously, we need a fresh eye on that. And we need to look outside the box. I’m real concerned. Again, I think we’re a Blue Ribbon School.”
Q: What are three most important characteristics of an RISD superintendent?
McGowan: They know our District, culture makeup and improvement and are financially savvy.
Brown: They have experience raising the academic bar, love kids and teachers, and engage in daily tasks uninterrupted.
Stell: They are happy to be here, understand the culture and diversity, and value the schools’ money, time and energy.
Q: Aside from candidate training, when was the last time you were inside a D-5 school building and what was your impression?
McGowan: A week or so at Forest Meadow Junior High, helping son and teammates get fitted for basketball uniforms.
Brown: At the Espree show a few weeks ago in the Lake Highlands High School auditorium.
Stell: At Moss Haven Elementary last Christmas.
Q: RISD officials say, “All means all at RISD.” What does that mean to you? And do you agree with that?
McGowan: “I definitely agree with that. When those little people walk into these rooms in these buildings, all means all, I’m going to love these people just like, I want you to, like I love my own, right. And so I’m going to welcome them and take care of them and protect them and teach them because they are just little sponges and they can become many things they want to become. I want to see more diversity in Lake Highlands.”
Brown: “That’s easy to say, harder to do. Because when diversity, if this is a journey, diversity kind of makes it a lot more fun. The equality part of it makes sure everyone gets to contribute along the way. And inclusion means everybody makes it to the final destination.”
Stell: “Three little letters: A, L, L. All important letters. We need committed administrators, we need committed trustees, we needed committed principals that bring their children who don’t necessarily speak English, but they want to give them equal access to be the best that they can possibly be.”
Early voting is from Apr. 25 – May 3. Election Day is May 7.