Quality Bainbridge Proposed Questions to BISD Director Candidates: Andy Ewing, Director District 4 Candidate Answers
1. What is the proper role of the School Board in relation to the teaching staff and the school administrators? How much managerial authority should the School Board exercise in connection with the day-to-day operations of the schools?
One of the primary functions of the School Board is to evaluate the performance of the superintendent. The superintendent, in turn, exercises the most control with the day-to-day operations of the district, and the school administrators follow at the level of the schools and other programs. The proper role of the Board is to establish a clear mission that guides the superintendent and staff. The School Board best serves the community through setting transparent goals for the district staff to achieve.
2. What would you propose as the three most effective steps the School Board take in the next four years to respond to budgetary challenges?
One of the most effective steps to respond to budgetary challenges would be to look at ways to achieve economies of scale wherever possible to reduce redundant spending. An example of this would be to consult all the potentially relevant stakeholders, such as school personnel, district personnel, and even State personnel, when making large purchases (such as technology) to ensure it efficiently benefits the entire student population. From personal experience, it was incredibly useful and frugal to involve an Educational Service District Audiologist when discussing new audio equipment at Blakely.
On the revenue side, we are still coming to grips with the new realities of a post-McCleary world with the promise of more state funding, but less ability to raise funds through levies. The truth is we will not completely understand the net impact for a few more years. I believe the best way to deal with this uncertainty moving forward is to increase our work with existing non-profits such as the Bainbridge Schools Foundation and the PTOs to raise funds and direct them to the areas of greatest need.
Finally, I think the District Budget Advisory Committee has a unique opportunity to help identify areas where we may have higher overhead costs than necessary, in order to avoid unnecessary reductions in programs and staff that greatly benefit our students.
3. What are the biggest operational challenges facing the School District in the coming years?
I see three major challenges in the coming years: attracting and retaining quality teachers, dealing with the funding impact of declining enrollment, and ever-present economic uncertainty. All three of these challenges are closely intertwined.
Bainbridge Island is in an interesting situation when it comes to attracting and retaining good teachers. We have a cost-of-living on par with the greater Seattle area, and we need to make sure our salaries reflect a living wage. Many of our new teachers and staff are stuck with difficult decisions about commuting from more affordable places, decreasing their quality of life and making it hard to retain them. We need to incentivize them to stay by offering as many professional development opportunities as possible.
As enrollment declines, we need to come up with strategies to use our resources effectively and deliver the same quality education to a smaller student population. These strategies may involve combining programs that have similar goals.
Finally, with a possible recession coming in the next few years along with the need for levy renewals, we need to tread carefully to ensure that the entire community is ready and willing to support the District Improvement Plans.
4. What criteria should be used in deciding what new programs should be added or making other curriculum changes? What, if any, curriculum changes should the School Board review?
I believe the School Board should support innovation from our students and teachers and let them lead the charge on adding new programs and making curriculum changes. Both the students and the teachers are not only experts in their fields, but also have the most passion for seeing change in the right direction. For new programs, the major criteria are making sure that the program aligns with the mission of the District, that access to the program for our students is fair, equitable, and transparent, and that there is a clear allocation of funding as needed. Curriculum changes are already handled with an established curriculum review committee, which involves a subset of the Board. Any controversial changes to the curriculum, such as a wholesale change in a course to a new learning approach like problem-based learning, should be reviewed by the full School Board.
5. What is your approach to alternative educational pathways in our School District?
One of the primary goals of the School District is to ensure that as our students exit, they are well prepared for an ever-changing world of work and an increasingly complex society. For some students, the more traditional pathway works fine, but for many it does not. I think the District has a great start with the Options programs they have set up, but we can do even more to make sure each student has a pathway that is tailored to their needs. My approach would be to incorporate a new alternative pathway in much the same way we would add any new program. Involve the students, teachers, and parents to find the best solution and the best new direction.
6. What is the district’s responsibility to educate young people about critical social and environmental issues that affect their communities and lives, such as the climate crisis? What does educating young people about such issues look like at the school district?
I believe that when an overwhelming consensus from scientific experts emerges on a topic that literally impacts every single human like the climate crisis, we as a District have a responsibility to incorporate that into the curriculum, front and center. It has become a core issue of our time for which everyone should have baseline knowledge. This is a great example of where curriculum reviews over time can incorporate new scientific consensus.
With an increase in hate-related crimes across the country and even close to home, I believe the District should take the lead and work with teachers and community members to implement programs that educate students from an early age in appropriate anti-hate and anti-bias training. The Anti-Defamation League’s No Place for Hate program is a good start.
7. Are there any additional strategies the School Board would support an environment in which all students and staff feel both physically and emotionally safe?
I support the League of Education Voters push to get the WA State Legislature and school districts across the state to implement a multi-tiered system of support to ensure our students can access the right resources to feel emotionally safe. We as a District need to always remember that an incredibly large chunk of a student’s day-to-day life is spent with our staff, within our facilities. We are not only responsible for their academic well-being, but their physical and emotional well-being too. We need to use best practices in conjunction with the State to ensure a safe, secure environment where all students can learn.