Introduction: Why are you a candidate and what qualifications make you the best candidate?
The very foundation of governance in this country lies upon the premise of citizen participation in government. I taught this principle for years, and upon retirement, and seeing a level of dysfunction on the LCSD#1 Board which I believed to be destructive to education in Cheyenne, I "walked the talk". My qualifications include 36 years as a teacher, an educational leader in LCSD#1 which included being president of the CTEA, chair of my department, membership on many policies committees, and other leadership roles here in Cheyenne, and presently a member of the State Board of Education. Furthermore, in the past four years on the LCSD#1 Board, I am the only Trustee to have crafted resolutions forwarded to the Wyoming School Boards Association conference for legislative agenda (counting the Diploma Program's H.S. graduates; asking for legislative language to hold Charter Schools accountable, and asking for legislative language to school bus-arm violations be more explicit, thereby, giving the law "bite"). Additionally, it was my leadership which led this Board to go through "governance training" to combat the dysfunction we were living with. Finally, I believe that student learning MUST be at the center of the District's goals, and that is only accomplished when Board members have vision, believe in accountability, work on policy development related to learning, are engaged in community leadership, and understand the necessity of sustaining a healthy Superintendent -Board relationship (including avoiding "micro-managing the District).
1. How important are new/remodeled facilities to LCSD#1? How can they to be built with the decline in the state’s the traditional source of construction revenue.
This question begs one to look at the Wyoming Constitution and the Campbell decisions: The state legislature has a statutory and constitutional obligation to fund education throughout the state. This funding must be crafted in such a manner in which all schools and all school districts receive an "equal basket of goods." Thus, we must first work with the legislature to "find" the necessary monies for new construction, to hold our hands up and despair is not the answer. More than half of the schools in this district have either capacity (overcrowding) or condition (old buildings) issues which create a clear challenge to the Court's mandate of "equal basket of goods." We have a legal responsibility as well as a moral responsibility to lobby for new construction.
2. What is your assessment of the district’s use of the grade 5-6 configuration to address capacity issue?
First let me state: There are some who believe we should either add more modulars, or petition the state to change its K-3 teacher-student ratio from 1-16 to 1;19, I say those options are untenable and will not sustain our goals of student learning in an equitable manner. Certainly the 5-6 issue brings with it the challenges of "another transition", but given diligence in staffing and administrating such schools, I believe that such fears can be ameliorated. And that is what has taken place with the current 5-6 building, Meadowlark School. We no longer have the luxury of available land in neighborhoods, we cannot continue to put up modulars and we cannot afford changing the teacher-student ration. This district has studied the viability of the 5-6 configuration and has made visits to a suburban school district near Houston, TX, and believes it can make the 5-6 configuration work. Lets give this a chance to work.
3. How should LCSD#1 be using scores from the state-written standardized tests? Should they be used to determine teacher employment? To change curriculum?
"Not everything counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" (William Bruce Cameron, 1963). That noted, certainly there is room for standardized tests, but standardized tests MUST be central to how student learning is measured. As ESSA provides, we ought to look at multiple forms of assessments, including performance-based assessment. Furthermore, testing must not be permitted to replace effective and meaningful classroom instruction. Testing should only be used to guide instruction, not as a means to fire teachers, "grade" schools and promote vouchers or charter schools. Presently LCSD#1 is engaged in developing a "standards-based" report card which reports out just what the student has learned. We are in the elementary stages of this paradigm change, but this is a change which makes assessment a means to guide and help student learning. I opposed much of NCLB due to its punitive and negative attacks on teachers and schools, and I will oppose any kind of metric of teacher effectiveness based upon a standardized test score. Period.
4. To what extent can you commit to attend Wyoming School Boards Association, National School Boards Association and other opportunities for development and training out of town?
Boardsmanship just "doesn't happen." Being able to fulfill the governance expectations of sitting on a school board requires constant professional development regarding law, best educational practices, new innovations, etc.. I have pushed this Board towards greater engagement in professional development from "governance training" to attending conferences and workshops sponsored by the Wyoming School Boards Association. We must model what we expect from our teachers and administrators. Although sitting on a board is voluntary community engagement, there is the expectation and responsibility that whomever sits on the board is current in law, current in best practices, and current in educational innovation. Professional development is the key to professional decision-making, as well as effective district governance. To that end, I have actively been engage on the local, state. and national level in professionally developing myself.
5. Is the district doing a good job of evaluating teachers and building leaders? Explain.
With a national grant, this District has engaged in an innovative evaluation system of teachers. This is a deeply comprehensive model in which administrative and peer observation is conducted in collaboration with personal reflection. This model is the future, and the folks I have talked to believe in its efficacy. Although administrators are involved in the observation (following a very detailed and in-depth training), an effective model for administrative evaluation has yet to be developed: Who is an administrator? Is an administrator only a school principal, or is an administrator a subject coordinator or someone akin to coordinator? Upon defining who an administrator is, is there an effective meaningful metric to delineate the different kinds of administrators? And finally, we have a teacher support system, but have we developed effective capacity to support our administrators, i.e., are there professional learning communities for administrators on a regular and meaningful basis? What kinds of professional development do we provide for administrators to grow?
6. When the state cuts funding to schools, how can LCSD#1 manage the cuts? Some things are “outside the model” – meaning the state doesn’t figure them into our funding formula. They include Resource Officers and instructional facilitators. Should they be cut first?
I want to be very clear on this subject: First, let me direct you to the first question where I referenced the State Constitution and the State Supreme Court regarding the legislature's moral and legal responsibility to fund education. That said, before we start talking cuts, we much first work with the legislature to help it find the necessary funds to meet is obligation. Until that is exhausted, talking cuts results in making subjective value judgements of one employee group against another, or one program against another, and even one curricular area against another. No, to detail what cuts "might" be necessary is premature at this time. Should it be necessary to make cuts, as a last resort, it will require deep and long discussions regarding programs and personnel. And should we be forced to entertain cuts, the entire community needs to be a part of that discussion: remember, cuts will impact the economic health of this community.
7. What are your ideas about improving LCSD1’s graduation rate? First and foremost, we need to look at how graduation rate is determined: What percent of students starting in 9th grade graduated on time with their classmates? Using that metric, LCSD#1 is at about 79%. Yet that metric fails to consider students who take 4,5, or 6 years to graduate. If we were to look at those who take longer to graduate, our rate is well over 80%. Yet graduation rate is tied to school readiness in terms of children entering kindergarten. Graduation rate is tied to support personnel who reach-out and work with students who have been determined to be at-risk. Graduation rate is tied to adopting innovative programs such as AVID. Keep in mind that state correctional planners (prisons) look at current third grade reading scores in determining how many beds will be needed in the prisons. Yet, this state does not mandate kindergarten. How many children have access to quality and meaningful Pre-K schools? Finally, Robert Marzanno has found that schools control only about 20% of a student's success, the remaining 80% lies in the home and the community. Why not ask what this community is doing to improve the graduation rate. Schools can't do it alone.
8. Are there programs of study that you think should be kept, added or dropped?
Let me first direct you to my response to the question regarding cuts ... this question implies a value judgement regarding what parts of the curriculum are more important than others. In many respects this question is the "gottcha" question regarding the double-negative regarding "wants v. needs." Look, under no circumstances will I entertain any kind of cuts to the arts, be it visual, representative, theatrical, or musical. The arts are the application and representation of all of the so-called core curriculum. The programs we have in place are there for a purpose, that purpose being improving student learning, and are not "fat". Furthermore, I will not entertain any cuts to activities. Study after study have illuminated that future success is tied to student involvement in activities. Until we are confronted with an apocalyptic scenario which requires draconian action, it is inappropriate for me to make any suggestions at this time. As noted earlier, this is a discussion in which the entire community must weigh-in on.
9. What are your educational priorities?
My educational priorities are tied to the District's mission statement that our students will graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education in pursuit of a career and be prepared to engage in and participate in their communities, states and nation (civic readiness). Thus, to reach that goal, I expect the school district to effectively and continuously communicate with the community, I expect the school district to be working on continuous improvement on all levels of instruction and administration (to that end, support the superintendent's yearly goals of improvement), and I expect the school district to attract the best and brightest professionals to Cheyenne. Additionally, I expect this Board to engage in continuous professional development so that we might be able to support district leadership in their decision making. I expect this Board to represent the entire community in its decision making, and not be delegates of a particular neighborhood or triad ... in other words, I expect this Board to be Trustees for the entire community.
Readers can also consult my "Breen for Board" Facebook page for more information.