Education

Boise school trustee candidates talk aging buildings, better readers

Three trustee candidates talk Boise School District challenges

Boise Schools must work to keep class sizes in line, do a better job of communicating and prioritize building needs, trustee candidates said at a forum Thursday, Aug. 25
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Boise Schools must work to keep class sizes in line, do a better job of communicating and prioritize building needs, trustee candidates said at a forum Thursday, Aug. 25

Boise school trustee candidates face several important questions: What to do about aging buildings? How to improve reading among students in early elementary grades? Should they expand early childhood education, and if so, how? Three candidates are running for two seats on the board. Trustee David Wagers is seeking re-election; the other seat is held by Trustee Brian Cronin, who decided not to run. Trustees are elected at-large, meaning that the top two vote-getters will be elected.

SEE THE CANDIDATES Trustee candidates speak at a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce forum at 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the chamber office conference center, 250 S. 5th St., Boise.

Here are the candidates’ responses to issues facing Boise schools:

Q: What is the top priority the school district must accomplish in the next year, beyond getting more state dollars to run the district?

Beth Oppenheimer: Reviewing the district’s recent “Facilities Audit” to evaluate current and future needs will help identify the infrastructure needed to meet student capacity. It will also help identify the necessary tools and resources needed for educators to successfully deliver curriculum in alignment with the evolving education environment. Districts across the state are expected to implement new testing, facilitate advanced professional development, and provide specialized education for students, although our classroom teachers still need basic instruments, technology, and tools in order to meet and deliver a product and experience that supports student academic and personal success.

David Wagers: Continue to focus on student achievement; complete and begin implementing the 10-year facilities master plan; ensure that the career ladder and discretionary funding continue to be addressed by the Legislature

Monica Walker: The district must address the enrollment increases in certain sectors of our city, such as the Southeast. The success of our students and faculty is dependent on reasonable class size. If the district identifies the need for expanding the existing facilities or building new, we must prepare to educate the voters on the bond required to fulfill the need.

Q: Why should voters choose you over your opponents to be a trustee?

Oppenheimer: As an experienced advocate for quality public education, my background and deep involvement in educational issues make me the best candidate to serve on the Boise School Board. Through my professional and personal service with a number of organizations that work to promote and improve public education, I have a respectable understanding of the issues surrounding advancing student achievement and student support. In addition, my family has always been strong supporters of the public education system. My children have attended our Boise public schools since first grade and my husband and I have been very active volunteers. We have a true understanding of the needs and challenges our teachers and student face.

Wagers: I am the best prepared and most experienced candidate. I have proven to be an effective team member on the current board. I have direct experience with business, finance and facilities management that has proven valuable for board discussions.

Walker: Dave and Beth are both excellent and qualified candidates. However, voters can be assured with me they will acquire a board member with a history of commitment and excellence on other boards who is willing to devote myself to continued accomplishment by our district. And as someone who lives in a union household, I will bring a unique labor perspective to the board which will be helpful in attracting and retaining our district talent.

Q: Boise District is reviewing its buildings, which could lead the district to ask taxpayers for a bond measure to build or improve schools. What would have to be done to get your support for a bond?

Oppenheimer: While the report is not yet public, I am confident that it will lead to a comprehensive long-term plan for the board to consider next steps. The challenge of aging schools, neighborhood growth and ensuring facilities will help us continue to provide advancements in educational opportunities is not unique, and it is not out of the question that support from our community may be needed in the future. But there are many steps and considerations that are necessary before any decisions can be made. I am not opposed to exploring alternative funding sources, such as bonds, but those opportunities need to be approached with thoughtful consideration and community input.

Wagers: The finished 10-Year Facilities Master Plan document will include a plan that prioritizes possible projects within the district. The board will need to study this plan and decide if the urgency of the projects justifies use of a bond, balancing the need for the best education environments for students possible with responsible stewardship of public funds. I will support a bond if I believe the plan lays out a case that a bond is essential to support our plan of continuous improvement for students.

Walker: I believe our students and teachers deserve to attend school in facilities which are safe and modern. Any reported deficiency that puts our students or teachers at risk must be addressed. And any decline in reasonable classroom size might suggest the need for new or expanded facilities. I have supported bonds for these purposes in the past and would be an ardent supporter for the same reasons in the future.

Q: About 20 percent of third-graders aren’t hitting the benchmark on reading proficiency; that’s a pivotal year for students to be solid readers. What do you think of that and what should be done to improve it?

Oppenheimer: Children who enter school behind have a very difficult time catching up. We need to invest resources in our youngest students to help them be better prepared to learn when they enter school. We should be exploring opportunities to expand a sustainable Boise pre-K program and also help our K-3 teachers gain access to early-childhood professional development. Our younger students need age-appropriate learning opportunities that give them the foundational skills they need to learn to read. In addition, we also need to expand our full-day kindergarten offerings throughout the district. Lastly, parent engagement support is critical and we need to look at how we are supporting our parents with their children’s learning.

Wagers: The Legislature appropriated funds last year to deal with the issues of students with more severe reading problems. The district will use those funds to hire reading instructors and improve the percentage of on grade level readers. The board will continue to monitor progress as we go forward. If our board and administration can successfully lobby the Legislature to appropriate the funding for full-day kindergarten or pre-kindergarten, that would be a huge step forward for improving proficiency for all students.

Walker: It all starts with early childhood education. We need to lobby the state to make all-day kindergarten mandatory and invest in early childhood education for underserved neighborhoods. We also must ensure our teachers have the necessary technology to improve proficiency. I am also excited about the Community School model the district is implementing to coordinate services for families and remove barriers to learning. So resources are at the heart of the solution to this problem.

Q: What are your thoughts about increasing early-childhood education in Boise School District beyond the pilot project with two schools that exists today?

Oppenheimer: Investments in quality early childhood programs are critical in supporting our children’s continuum of learning. Quality early learning programs help children build foundational skills they need to be successful in school and throughout life. I applaud the Boise School District for investing in pre-K programs and I support additional investments for expansion of these programs. I also believe we need to look to expand full-day kindergarten options for families throughout Boise. That being said, we need to ensure these programs are sustainable and the funding is secured prior to any expansion.

Wagers: I view early-childhood education as the best program we could immediately implement to help improve education for our children. The question is how to implement and pay for it. It would be great if we could convince the Legislature to fully fund the additional facilities and ongoing programmatic costs for all the children in the state. Without this funding we must think more creatively, phasing in early education in our community schools program and engaging all families more effectively, to help them have their children ready for school.

Walker: The pilot program is great. It’s a model of a public/private partnership. Now the state needs to step up and help the Boise district and others around the state to bring pre-K education to all underserved populations.

Q: How well is Boise School District preparing students for career or college after high school. Give one idea of what it could do better.

Oppenheimer: (Even with) an above-average high school graduation rate among our Boise schools, there is always room for improvement. The Boise schools’ expansion of the advanced-placement program offerings and increased enrollment of the AVID program (the Advancement Via Individual Determination is a college-readiness program in Boise junior and high schools) is helping to prepare students for post-high school opportunities. Having all four of our high schools listed in the top 11 percent in the U.S. is a very impressive achievement, along with an increase in the “go-on” rate. One area I believe would help us to continue our success would be to better integrate college and career counseling amongst the teachers and administrators.

Wagers: The Boise School District is giving more students the opportunity to succeed in college and career than ever before. The district has given our kids the vision that they can succeed in college by having over 60 percent of our students take AP exams. Our professional-technical program offerings continue to grow, giving more opportunities for kids to be ready for careers. The biggest improvement we can make right now is better communication of the value of these programs to students, parents and the patrons of the Boise School District.

Walker: I believe the Boise School district is doing a great job of preparing our students for life after high school. Anecdotally I can offer that my daughter entered her university at a sophomore level with no deficiency in any academic area and completely prepared for success. A high percentage of our students “go on” to a post-secondary education as compared to the rest of the state. And our technical school produces students ready for the skilled work force. We could improve on the counseling effort to prepare students on strategies for financing a post-secondary education.

Reporting contributions

Boise School District trustees will be required to report campaign donors with contributions of $50 or more for the first time since the Legislature passed the new requirement in 2014.

The first report covering Jan. 1 through Aug. 21 is due Aug. 30. The second, covering Aug. 22 through Sept. 16, is due Oct. 3. Reports will be posted at the Ada County election website. Find a link at IdahoStatesman.com

Beth Oppenheimer

Age: 47

Occupation: Executive director, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children

Children attending Boise schools: Two. One is now entering fourth grade at Liberty Elementary and another is entering ninth at East Junior High.

Monica Walker

Age: 42

Occupation: Loan officer and interior designer

Children attending Boise schools: One daughter is a junior at Boise High; one daughter graduated from the district.

David Wagers

Age: 50

Occupation: President, Idaho Candy Co.

Children attending Boise schools: Three, and one Boise schools graduate.

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