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Comal ISD SMD 6 Council of PTAs Forum

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On Monday, April 18th, my fellow candidate and I participated in a forum for our single member district put on by the Comal ISD Council of PTAs. While not every question we were asked was provided beforehand, quite a few were, and we were allowed to bring our notes with us.

While I didn’t read these responses word for word, they are the gist of what I said when I answered.

What do you see as the future role of public education in our society?

Public education has been a pillar of our society around the world since the days of Plato. It’s a hallmark of advanced civilization, and has been since those days. Access to education provides opportunities for everyone, and leads to further advancements. 

Warren Buffett, Oprah, Steve Jobs and Google’s co-founder, Larry Page, my fellow candidate and I, all have one thing in common — our education came from public schools.

Public schools provide the very basics of what it takes to function in an advanced society; reading, writing, and arithmetic are what make our economy go ‘round. They’re what make our culture go ‘round. Without those basics, we lose the ability to decide our own future, so I would hope we don’t see public schools go anywhere. 

I think the future holds a lot of possibilities when it comes to technology, and the ethical use of it. If public schools can embrace education around technologies that are here to stay, from social networks to productivity software, we can set our children up for success no matter what they want to do. 

Children of today, from every walk of life, will grow up and have to face problems we can’t even imagine yet, and our public schools must be available to teach them critical thinking skills so that they can reason out solutions for the problems of tomorrow.

I also think we need to be looking critically ourselves at how to meet students where they are; whether that’s the need to do virtual schooling instead of in-person, and the option to learn trades or a vocation instead of following a college path. There are lots of ways we can help our students be successful adults that contribute to our society in meaningful ways, and public schooling is a huge part of that.

How important are fine arts and extra-curricular activities such as athletics to an overall education? How should they be funded?

Fine arts, athletics, all of it is important to a well-rounded student that becomes a well-rounded, adult human. We’re not teaching children, we’re teaching future adults. 

These co-curricular and extra curricular activities can motivate students in a way that core academics cannot. 

Being part of a team provides skills that students will use the rest of their life, in every kind of work they do, from their career to coaching a little league team. Those social skills are vital to being successful in our society. As I like to say to my kids, learning how to “human” is the most important thing they will do as they grow up. 

Fine arts and athletics also help develop a school culture. Learning how to play an instrument has been shown to help students better understand mathematics. Art can provide an outlet for every kind of feeling a student might be feeling, and help them process those feelings in a healthy way. 

Funding for these activities is important and should be balanced with our academic needs. It’s not an issue of either/or. It’s about prioritizing academics and extracurriculars of every kind so that our children have every critical need met when it comes to their growth as humans. 

With Comal ISD being one of the largest growing school districts, what do you see as the future of our schools in regard to class size, building needs? How do you feel Comal ISD should address growth? Do you support future bond initiatives?

The need for more schools, more classrooms in those schools, and more teachers to teach is inevitable. Transparency is going to be key to helping our community understand the depth of needs the district has to service its students.  

This district is growing faster than I think anyone predicted, and I am sure the pandemic is continuing to impact that on a number of levels. 

We’ve seen growth because people want the Comal ISD way of life. A little slower, a little more friendly, a little more relaxed. What isn’t relaxed is just how quickly they want in. 

I do support future bond initiatives, wholeheartedly, but in a fiscally responsible mindset. Right now a quarter of Comal ISD’s budget goes to “Debt Servicing” — a fancy term that means our loans are due on the schools we built with a bond — we’re likely standing in one of them now [the event took place in Pieper Ranch Middle School].

But the pandemic impacted how quickly houses went up in this area, how many people could afford to move in, etc. Any number of small delays can add up to a big issue when we’re talking about the projections that were made when Pieper Ranch MS, Pieper HS, and even Davenport, were proposed.

I’m concerned about the timing of a new bond in relation to the one we’re currently working to pay back while we wait for property taxes on all these new homes to come to fruition. We’ll have to look at the data and very carefully plan for our next phase of growth.

No one could have predicted a pandemic when we asked for the bond that built these schools, but we’ve lived through it now and we have to adjust our expectations on what is possible in the short term while we course-correct to account for all those tiny delays that mean we’re in a little bit of a rock and a hard place right now. 

We also have to find a way to do it that doesn’t increase class sizes. The more students you stuff into a room, the more incremental learning loss there is. 

State law requires that we have a committee of stakeholders to make decisions like this, made up of teachers, parents, and support services staff.

I don’t believe this committee currently exists in a form that would help make these complex decisions, but if it did, I’m confident we’d be able to find solutions through compromise that make everyone happy.

Please state two or three major goals you want our school district to accomplish during your  term of office, and describe the steps you would take to see that those goals are achieved.

I would like to see the district become competitive with all the surrounding districts in terms of pay and opportunities.

We pay less than every district, at every level of years of service. We must find a way to come even with that or even surpass it so that we can attract the best talent.

The best way to do that? Find ways to streamline.

As someone that’s an analyst by trade and has spent her entire career in the tech sector, I think I have the skills to help Comal ISD reach this goal, because I’ll come armed with project management and analyst skills honed over years of service in the private sector. I want those same skills to be used to help Comal ISD.

With hard work and determination we will find the money to pay teachers more and become competitive with the districts around us.

I want to see the district leap forward in terms of technology. There are all sorts of ways that they can, from improving website communication across schools and the district itself to becoming accessible (which is required by ADA law) on those websites so that everyone can access the information they need to.

As someone that works daily with small-business website owners, I’ve got the background knowledge and skillset to provide guidance that will make sure Comal ISD has all the tools it needs to be at home in the 21st century.

What are your financial priorities for the school district? (Examples: reduction in class size, improved technology in the classroom, maintaining current programs, increasing school employee compensation)

Technology is huge for me, in terms of where we focus our money. Why? We’re preparing adults for a future where technology is inherent to every aspect of their lives.

Whether they work a trade or become a business owner, technology will be required in some form or fashion.

Gone are the days when you can send someone out into the world knowing how to type and work an iPad.

We need to be teaching our students advanced programming skills, project management skills and software, even drafting and graphic design aren’t out of the question. 

Equally, if not more important, is getting us on a path to more teacher and staff pay. We cannot continue to lose teachers at the rate we are.

We cannot remain competitive as a school district if we can’t fill our classrooms with well-trained, excellent teachers. We must find creative ways to find more budget for this line item, period.

Making sure to preserve our homestead exemption is also on my list. We’re one of the few communities left in our area with a full 20% tax exemption. No one wants to see that go away, least of all me.

Balancing our goals with teacher and staff compensation, moving forward with technology, and making us an extremely competitive district across multiple disciplines (we already have this nailed when it comes to sports) need to be funded. We’ll have to get creative to make sure it happens.

Do you have any specific changes you want to see made in our schools’ curriculum?

I’d like to see our district begin to offer vocational and trade options, as I mentioned earlier. But more importantly, I think we need to pay more attention to life skills too.

Our students leave school not knowing how to make and keep a budget, file taxes, handle credit card debt, or turn the water off in their home if there’s a leak. 

While some of that can definitely be taught at home, it’s not taught in every home. Especially financial literacy is so important. Knowing that entering a trade is a viable and lucrative option is important so that our kids can play to their strengths and find the things that make them happy. 

I come from a generation that has seen two recessions, a pandemic, and several housing bubbles before we hit 40. Understanding how to handle those issues is imperative for our students, because then perhaps the skills we teach can help them be prepared for those occurrences, because they are guaranteed to happen at some point in their lifetimes. 

Being forewarned is forearmed. 

What is your position regarding character education/anti-bullying/diversity awareness programs being implemented at the secondary campuses? Should participation in these programs be mandatory?

I think some of this goes back to what I refer to as “adulting” skills, or life skills. When our children enter the workforce, they will be expected to act professionally, treating people with respect and kindness as a business skill.

Making a class like that mandatory would ensure we’re setting our children up for success when they leave school, and throughout their careers.

Framing it in that mindset might help older students take the advice on board a little more easily, because they’ll be able to see practical ways respectful behavior can be used in a corporate setting.

I’m lucky enough to be good friends with the wife of an anti-bullying veteran, Paul Coughlin. Paul has spoken all over the world about anti-bullying with his organization, The Protectors.

Their motto is “Freedom from bullying through courage, character and leadership.” Paul is a regular contributor on Fox News and other networks, and if we were lucky enough to have him as a guest speaker on our campuses, I believe that we should treat that just like we do any other guest speaker. 

Paul, and organizations like Paul’s, tailor their speaking engagements to the audience, whether they’re 5 or 50. I do think that bullying starts well before secondary school, so perhaps if we addressed it much earlier, in the form of kindness to everyone we meet, we might not see quite as much worrying behavior at secondary campuses. 

Teen mental health is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. 

According to the CDC, even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and 1 in 6 had made a suicide plan. Multiple experts stress that schools need to put as much effort into prevention as they do intervention.

What steps do you believe Comal ISD should be taking to combat the teen mental health crisis?  

This one is close to my heart. My own son deals with anxiety and depression and even suicidal ideation, and he is only 8. Anyone that meets him sees a bright, sweet, kind boy that just wants to help. It’s hard to see how much he struggles inside. So this topic touches my heart deeply.

There are lots of ways to address it, from simple additions to a classroom’s daily routine to providing additional support for counselors on campus in the form of additional support services staff. 

One thing that I have seen make a huge difference in my own son’s life is being part of a group, through an extracurricular activity.

I’m not saying that every student must join a club or organization, but finding ways to meet our students where they are, in things they are passionate about, and helping them grow that joy, can increase their sense of belonging, which helps mental health tremendously. 

Allowing space for big feelings in every classroom is key. Giving kids a process and a plan when they feel out of control is so important.

That happens just as often to teenagers as it does kindergartners, and I think the first step is acknowledging that, and finding ways to support a student in those moments, whether it’s through mindfulness techniques that become part of homeroom or making clubs and teams more accessible to kids of every income level and transportation requirement. 

Should teacher compensation be tied to student performance? How will you ensure that teachers are properly evaluated and held accountable?

Before we can discuss tying compensation to student performance or any other factor, we have to ensure the base level of compensation is competitive. I am very hesitant to tie teacher compensation to students’ performance. 

Looking at student growth would be a better measure. The factor with the strongest correlation to student performance is family income, which is entirely outside of a teacher’s control.

Tying student performance to teacher compensation would then essentially make it difficult for less affluent schools to attract and retain staff. 

I don’t think that is the type of environment we want to create here in Comal. This is something I would have to very carefully look into before I could decide to support it or not. 

I think the devil is in the details here, and we’d need to look at all the data metrics we have to decide what the best indicators of performance for both students and teachers is before we could come to a decision with the triad of decision makers that should be involved in a decision this big — teachers, parents, and staff together should decide what the best indicators are and work backwards from there to set baselines that we can use and reevaluate for accuracy each year.

We were provided with the video via a Google link, but I’m unsure if that is meant for public consumption. I have asked if a YouTube link will be provided and will update this post when I have one to embed.