Christina Wakefield, School Board Candidate, District 5
Candidate Questions posed by Quality Bainbridge
1. What should the School Board do in the next four years to respond to budgetary challenges?
The starting point of any strategic response to budgetary challenges is carefully defining a vision and then prioritizing according to that vision. Arbitrary slashing of programs or hastily making decisions to temporarily balance a budget results in mistakes that compromise our district’s core promise to its students—an excellent education that leaves them prepared to thrive in the rapidly changing 21st century. More specifically, I believe once prioritized initiatives are fully funded, taking a little out of remaining activities is frequently a smarter response than eliminating programs altogether.
2. What are the biggest operational challenges facing the School District in the coming years?
Although I acknowledge the challenges and difficulty in effectively managing the pending infrastructure development and the continuing budgetary constraints, I believe that one of our biggest challenges as a district is not operational at all, but starts with re-looking at our community culture, both in-school and out.
In school, this starts with carefully nurturing honor, integrity, ambition and leadership in our students from the earliest age. Many districts have fully-integrated social-emotional learning curricula that address the root causes of some of the challenges we are seeing in our middle and high-schools. BISD should thoroughly investigate these programs and then implement one. In lower grades, these might include activities such as Roots-of-Empathy. In higher grades, programs like the Green Dot Bystander Training for stopping sexual assault and coercion have seen tremendous results in participating schools.
Out-of-school, the challenges include bringing a greater element of transparency and openness with the community about the issues and challenges the district faces, including the budget and corresponding negotiations. This process also includes soliciting the rich expertise of our community for solutions to seemingly intractable problems. The 5-person school board does not have to have all the answers. The board must facilitate the process of finding the right answer.
3. 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?
I believe that the role of a school board, as with any effective board, is to set the vision and hire the right senior management to implement that vision. Therefore, I do not believe the school board should have much, if any, direct authority in day-to-day operations of schools. We have immense teaching and administrative talent in our district, and we do not need additional managers. What we need is a more strategic, bold vision for how our district can deliver on the promise of not just good, but excellent education grounded in critical reasoning, project-based learning, leadership development and a strong emphasis on social-emotional skills.
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?
First, in education today, there is a wide-variety of extremely innovative, exciting teaching methodologies in addition to the actual information and skills taught. Some districts, for example, mandate that all seniors graduate with a life-plan, carefully researched and thought through with the counsel of advisors throughout their final two years of high-schools. Other schools have instituted an entire project-based math and physics curriculum, where students use math, physics and team-building skills to design and then actually construct a house. While BISD does have many examples of this kind of innovation from individual teachers, we do not have a wide-spread, systematic way of bringing cutting edge ideas in education into our classrooms. The benefit of these types of programs is proven, and I believe BISD should push ourselves to re-examine ALL of our teaching through these types of lenses, using the resources we already have in the teaching faculty and administration to identify what works.
Second, I believe we need to help our students better understand the broader world. Bainbridge is a lovely harbor for most of our students, but exploring, for example, a mandatory service-learning component for graduation for all students would help ensure that the broader social problems of our time are understood and that our students feel equipped to be a part of solutions to those problems.
5. Do you approve of judging and rewarding teachers based on their students’ performance on core curriculum tests? Do you support the current high school graduation testing system? If not, what changes would you recommend?
Truthfully, there are many sides to this issue. I believe we do need some kind of common performance standards to measure our progress and overall success. However, an individual teacher cannot be solely responsible for the entirety of a student’s success, nor is high marks on a standardized test in any way indicative of a teacher’s talent. I believe we can look to private environments, where parent, student and peer evaluations are used to reward teachers to create a system of teacher motivation that goes beyond equating standardized tests with good teaching.
6. How would you reconcile or balance the needs of aging school buildings with the reality of fluctuating enrollments and revenues?
Study after study indicates that for students to maximize their learning potential, the learning environment is critical. Far beyond being simply safe, warm and dry, such environments serve as a source of inspiration and a reminder of the importance of integrity, honor and pushing oneself to one’s own best outcome. Mediocre buildings inspire mediocre students. The community voted on specific plans and ideas. BISD’s job is to find a way to make that vision visible. To manage the budget shortfall for these projects, BISD must not take a short-sighted view. Improvements like a geo-thermal well, a commons area and an interior walkway are critical features that will pay off in the long run in terms of cost-efficiency, student culture and security. Instead of cutting integral features like these, we must consider reductions in finishes, landscaping and other more superficial features, as well as investigate all avenues to generate or allocate additional monies to these projects.
7. What is your approach to alternative educational pathways in our School District?
Much of the Commodore building is currently condemned and the rest is run-down to the point that it does not ensure a safe, healthy and stimulating learning environment for its students. I therefore do support moving the program, but it must be done in a way that preserves its integrity. I also support the idea of adding further, more differentiated options, including STEAM, performing arts or others that better address the needs of students with diverse talents and interests. That said, I also support mainstreaming the best practices of the options and alternative programs, such as student-led goal-setting, leadership development, social-emotional learning and stronger family engagement, across our district.