An educational debateTwo candidates vying for a spot on the Alexandria School Board talked about bullying, early childhood education, the budget, teacher evaluations, class sizes and more Tuesday night.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
Two candidates vying for a spot on the Alexandria School Board talked about bullying, early childhood education, the budget, teacher evaluations, class sizes and more Tuesday night.
The forum, which drew a crowd of more than 50 people to Alexandria City Hall, was sponsored jointly by the Alexandria Area League of Women Voters and the local chapter of the American Association of University Women.
Laura Knudsen and Angie Krebs are the candidates for the school board seat, now held by Jim Hafdal, who did not seek re-election.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson was moderator, asking questions from the sponsors and the audience.
Knudsen has two children, a 2nd grader at Carlos Elementary and a pre-schooler in the district’s Creative Learners program. She serves as president of the Early Childhood Parent Advisory Board and the Friends of Knute [Nelson] Volunteers.
She said she’s running for two reasons – to support the district’s vision statement to tailor the educational needs of each student and to build stronger connections to the GMC schools, Garfield, Miltona and Carlos.
Krebs has three children, a 3rd grader at Woodland and two twin boys that are 4-years-old. Krebs, who was educated through the District 206 system and graduated in 1988, said that serving on the school board would give her the opportunity to give back to the community
She holds a nursing degree and as a public health nurse, she worked with the district in meeting the needs of special education children.
When asked what was the biggest challenge the K-12 system faced, Krebs said it was the budget. She said the district is being asked to do more with less and has to quickly adapt to changing technology. She said it was important to have well-trained staff to help today’s “digital learners” in the classroom.
Knudsen said the district is going through a revisioning process, which is moving from an industrial, factory-type education model to one that considers the individual needs of each student. She said the district has to keep up with changes in technology, such as delivering education remotely in classrooms and giving students the opportunity to access information on their cell phones. She added that balancing the needs of the community’s aging population with limited resources is another challenge ahead.
Both candidates agree that a high priority should be placed on educating children from birth through kindergarten.
Knudsen noted that every $1 invested in early childhood education will yield educational savings of $18 later. She added that the community will also benefit with lower crime rates and better incomes.
Krebs said that children are undergoing critical brain development from birth to age 5 and a strong teacher/child interaction can positively influence their behavior.
Krebs said that great teachers should be rewarded if they are doing a good job.
Knudsen said that teachers should be held accountable and there are some pitfalls with evaluations. Teachers who receive favorable evaluations, for example, may be choosing to teach high-performing students. She added that encouraging mentorships with students may be better than tying teacher pay to performance.
Both candidates said they support collective bargaining for teacher salaries.
Krebs said that class size is a critical factor to a student’s success. Low class-size ratios of teachers to students can improve tests scores and academic performance.
Knudsen said that it is difficult to evaluate performance of large classes. She said the district should examine class sizes and try to reduce the size of those that are growing.
Knudsen said that bullying needs to be addressed by the entire community. Students who are bullied should be encouraged to report it. Students need to feel safe in school.
Krebs agreed, noting that children should be empowered to stand up to bullies. She said bullying should not be happening on buses either. She said she would welcome any ideas and suggestions from parents.
BUDGET AND LEVIES
Krebs said that more and more schools in the state are relying on operating levies because state funding for education is flat. She supports levies because without extra resources, the district would have to make cuts. She said taxpayers value education as a good investment.
Knudsen said that levies make school districts responsive to voters and she supports them. She noted that only 22.6 percent of a person’s property taxes go to School District 206, which is low. Other districts take 30 percent.
In a related question, the candidates were asked how much money the state owes District 206 because of funding shifts.
Knudsen said the number isn’t easily available and added the state needs to stop its practice of shifting payments away from schools.
Krebs said the district eventually receives full funding from the state but the payments are delayed. As of June 30, the state owed the district $8.8 million and was supposed to pay this amount by the end of October.
PRAYER IN SCHOOLS/CLIMATE CHANGE
The candidates were asked what is the proper way for the school board to act on controversial requests, such as prayer in schools and educating students about climate change.
Krebs said that this is a very religious community and it should be inclusive to all religions. Prayer should not be allowed in school.
Knudsen said that prayer can be done silently by the students.
When it comes to teaching about climate change, both candidates agreed that science teachers need to follow the approved curriculum, which shouldn’t be based on personal viewpoints.
The candidates were asked how committed they were to Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design (LEED) certification, a national standard for design, construction and operation of high performance “green” buildings.
Krebs said that green design and construction are important to pursue.
Knudsen said that being LEED-certified shouldn’t be just a public relations tactic. She said it was more important to have quality buildings that use energy as wisely as possible.
HOW CLOSELY HAVE YOU FOLLOWED SCHOOL ISSUES?
Knudsen attends as many meetings as she can and said the community should be more involved. She said the meetings appear to be very structured without a lot of discussion or adversarial debate. She said the district is doing well communicating through its website and in the newspaper and that it should consider using social media as well.
Krebs has been going to meetings the last couple of months. She said the board has already done a lot of background work on the issues away from the meeting.
The candidates were asked about their perspective on music, sports and the arts.
Krebs said she is a fan of athletics and believes that can add to a child’s education. She said there’s been an unfortunate decline in extracurricular activities. She said that studies show that high performing students are engaged in extra-curricular activities. She doesn’t want to see arts and athletics on the chopping block.
Knudsen said the district’s goal should be to educate not just one part of a child’s brain but the whole body. She said music, arts and athletics can enlighten and fulfill learners that will go on to succeed in the world.
HOW IMPORTANT ARE GMC SCHOOLS?
The GMC schools are very important, yet some don’t even know that Garfield, Miltona and Carlos are part of District 206, Knudsen said. She said the district needs to build a strong relationship with those communities and that it needs their support for referendums.
Krebs agreed that the GMC schools and the smaller communities play a big role in the district and that it’s important to have a good working relationship with them. She noted that the district has invested quite a bit of money into those schools.
Krebs said that although this community does not have a lot of diversity, it is important for each student to be accepting toward other cultures, genders and religions.
Knudsen said that the district needs to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their heritage, background or diversity issues.
Knudsen said that open enrollment has resulted in 14 percent of students leaving the district while enrollment is up about 3 percent. She said the district needs to reach out to more students by providing remote access to education. Some of the students who have left don’t feel comfortable or safe at the larger-sized high schools or middle schools. She said the district could also reach out to home-schooled students so they could take at least some classes through District 206.
Krebs said that 23 percent of the district’s eligible students are not attending school here. She supports distance learning and reducing class sizes. She likes the fact the district offers students a chance to earn college credits while in high school because it eases families’ financial burdens. She said the district should try to get more home-schooled students back on a part-time basis.
Knudsen said one way to get residents more involved in the educational system is for the school board members to attend service club meetings and other events in Garfield, Miltona and Carlos and bring that interaction back to the board. She said the board could also use social media to connect with younger parents.
Krebs said the district is good about providing district residents with quarterly reports, having meetings and updating its website. She cautioned against relying too much on social media because not every parent uses it or wants to use it. Open communication is key.