District 206 School Board Candidate: Laura KnudsenRunning for District 206 School Board
Q: Please list your background and specific qualifications for this position.
A: As an active community member, I have served on several local boards, most recently as the president of the Early Childhood Parent Advisory Board for District 206 and as the president of the Friends of Knute Volunteers through Knute Nelson Care Centers. Being engaged in both the issues of our aging population and education has given me a unique understanding of the challenges facing our community.
My husband and I are the parents of a second grader at Carlos Elementary and a preschooler in the district’s Creating Learners program. As a parent from a GMC school, I am in the position to work to improve the connection between our district and the Garfield, Miltona, and Carlos Elementary communities. Our GMC schools currently have no representation on our school board. My experience as a parent participating in our district’s early childhood programing will allow me to share important insights to early learning. Our district has an excellent early childhood and preschool program that positively impacts our community in numerous ways.
I am a lifelong learner, with a bachelor’s degree in media from the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. The technological changes that have occurred in the industries of media and communications have been swift and dramatic. I have experienced first-hand the challenge facing our students in a future with rapidly advancing technology. I understand the need to empower our students with 21st century skills including critical thinking, adaptability and self-direction.
Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the school district right now and how would you deal with it?
A: Meeting the educational needs of our students in a period of increasing cost, decreasing resources and a rapidly changing future is the challenge facing all schools. Meeting this challenge will require commitment from our community. Our school board and district must increase communication to educate our community about these challenges.
We must engage our community in advocating for our schools with local, state and national leaders. Special education funding reform, deferment of payments to schools and the disparity between funding of districts statewide are all political issues that impact our schools but are not controlled by our district.
It is important that we “think our side the chalk board” to look for new approaches to education. We need to use technology, engage community stake-holders and partner with Alex Tech to ensure we are making the most of the resources that are available to us from right here in our community. Change in education can be difficult to accept because we all have strong emotional ties to our own school experiences. However, now more than ever we need to approach the future of education with an open mind.
Q: The district’s current levy referendum expires in 2014. Do you support calling for a new referendum? Also, explain any cost saving ideas you have for the district.
A: The referendum will expire in 2014, which means our community will need to vote on school funding. Unlike city and county organizations, the school board must ask for funding approval directly from voters. The upcoming referendum will either ask our community to maintain current funding levels or increase support for our schools.
I support the district’s commitment to meeting each student at their educational level through individualized learning plans that track a student’s needs and interests from kindergarten through 12th grade. This is necessary to prepare our students for their future, as well as meeting the increased standards mandated by state and federal governments. In order to meet these goals, we must lower the number of students in the classes that have seen increasing enrollment. Support must be given to teachers to give them the resources to track student achievement. We must also provide education to our district families on the rising expectations in our schools and empower them to support their children.
Whether we can achieve this without asking voters for an increase in their financial support will depend on several factors. First, decisions made by state and federal governments in upcoming sessions regarding funding and educational mandates. Second, the district’s ability to recapture students who have left for alternative learning environments and neighboring districts will impact the budget. Recapturing even 100 students could have a positive effect on our school funding. Lastly, in any budgeting issue, ensuring you are spending wisely must be taken into consideration. Selecting specific cost saving measures without the complete knowledge I would have as a board member would be a guess that I could not commit to now.
Q: Describe your leadership style. How do you make tough decisions?
A: I am an enthusiastic, committed and positive leader. Making sound decisions in difficult situations involves listening, learning and engaging others. As a member of your school board, I will build relationships with community stakeholders, including district staff and parents. I will work to empower our community in their continued support of our schools. I am committed to the vision of creating a premier school district that leads in educational excellence.
Q: According to the district’s strategic plan, special education services continue to grow while reimbursement is disproportionately low. How would you address this problem?
A: The needs of special education continue to grow while reimbursement levels remain disproportionately low. Reimbursement is low because of unfunded mandates from state and federal government. The difference between funding reimbursements and expenditures is made up through general fund dollars. This is not sustainable and will have a negative impact on all our learners. All students across the spectrum of learning deserve the opportunity to meet their full potential.
Currently, 24 percent of our student population receives special education services. Special education comprises 22 percent of the district’s budget and has nearly 75 full-time instructional staff. Our community will need to partner with our state and federal governments to reform the reimbursement model. Our district will need to evaluate our programs to ensure we are delivering cost-effective education focused on student achievement. I believe the district’s adopted vision of focusing on individual learning needs of students will benefit all students.