BY FREDA MIKLIN
Between September 14 and October 7, the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) will have held six separate candidate forums at six of its public high schools. We previously reported on the first one. In this report, we share some of the highlights from the forums held on September 21, 22 and 28.
The candidates for Director District D of the CCSD board of education are Kelly Bates, Jennifer Gibbons, and Schumé Navarro. Competing to represent Director District E are Kristin Allan, Bill Leach and Jason Lester. Gibbons is a doctor of audiology, Lester holds a Ph.D, and Allan is an attorney. Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Perry moderated the forums.
At the beginning of each forum, two particular questions were asked of the candidates. On the subject of donations, it was brought out that Bates and Allan received donations from the teachers’ union. They both explained that CCSD has long worked closely with its teachers’ union because that benefits the students.
When asked if they had attended at least three CCSD board of education meetings in the year leading up to their announcement that they were running, Leach and Lester indicated that they had not, while Gibbons, Navarro, Bates and Allan indicated that they had.
On September 21 at Eaglecrest High School, Navarro did not participate in the forum. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “I believe CCSD provides an excellent academic environment for our children, Gibbons, Bates, Lester and Allan indicated agreement. Bill Leach did not. Leach was also the sole candidate to disagree with the statement, “I support the idea of investing additional district resources where there is the greatest need.” All agreed that charter schools in CCSD should meet the same high academic standards as regular public schools.
Gibbons did not agree with the statement, “I support the district’s efforts to continuously collaborate and build relationships with our teachers union and other employee groups.” It was unclear whether Leach did or did not agree, but Allen, Bates, and Lester agreed.
In explaining their answers, Gibbons pointed out that she and Leach, who are campaigning as a team, would not accept donations from the teachers’ union. Allan noted that, in addition to the teachers’ union, she has also been endorsed by four former CCSD superintendents.
In responses to questions which Perry described as having come from various parent and leadership groups, as well as the audience, Bates said that it is important to have teachers who are diverse not only in their heritage but in their learning styles so that students will also have the opportunity to see that aspect of themselves in their teachers.
Asked if CCSD should comply with all public health orders, Leach said yes, but added that, “I’d really hope that those decisions are truly being made on the merits and science and not an agenda.”
To the question of what specific work they would support to improve outcomes for underperforming student groups, Allan pointed to a core and supplemental science- based reading program to bring the reading proficiency levels of black and brown boys in CCSD up from the current level of 39% to at least the overall CCSD rate of 50%. Leach pointed to the need to “drill down” using more “parameters” and “data points” to better understand the differences in performance between groups. Lester recommended mentoring, something he has done with excellent results. He recommended mentoring particularly for children without dads or being held in the Foote Youth Detention Center.
At Cherry Creek High School on September 22, all candidates except Navarro again participated. When candidates were asked to agree or disagree with statements Perry read, only Allan, Gibbons and Bates agreed with, “I have proactively sought out leadership positions in the district prior to running for the Board of Education.” All five candidates agreed that CCSD should invest its resources where the needs are the greatest, that they support school resource officers, and that they support the goal of hiring more teachers of color to reflect the student body more accurately.
At Grandview High School on September 28, Perry announced that Navarro had asked to be able to participate in the forum virtually since all schools required masks and she chose not to mask. Although a monitor was set up for her to do so, Navarro did not participate virtually in the forum. At one point, Gibbons appeared to tell Perry that she received a text from Navarro indicating that she was experiencing technical difficulties.
On the question of the role of the school board in developing curriculum, Leach said that the board should be a conduit from the community and the parents to the district, and that changes in curriculum should include listening sessions with the community and the parents. Allan said that Colorado law requires district policy to align with academic standards identified by the state board of education, something the school board must ensure, in addition to making sure that staff has the support they need, adding that children should be taught in a way that they can see themselves in history. Lester said that the board should set the standard that excellence is to be achieved and that students go away knowing something and being able to educate others. He also said that staff should establish partnership with the community and focus on equity so that students get what they need. He added, “It’s important that we tell the truth about history but it’s also important that we do not make people feel bad because of the home that they come from.”
Asked what policy they support regarding mask mandates, quarantines and vaccines, Gibbons said, “Parents are split…There’s data on both sides…Whether you like it or not, there are opinions on both sides…” Most importantly, she said, “Let’s do whatever we need so that kids can be in school (including masking).” She said she felt that vaccines are working for adults but will wait for the data on vaccines for kids. Bates said, “We need to follow what our health care providers tell us…When we know there’s a safety risk to our students, we should be following that (mask) mandate.”
Next week, we plan to present highlights from the last two CCSD candidate forums. To watch the video from the complete 90 minutes from each of the six forums, go to https://www.cherrycreekschools.org/Page/13757.