BVSD candidates talk pandemic response, achievement gaps

·4 min read

Oct. 14—Boulder Valley school board candidates answered questions about following public health guidance, reducing the achievement gap and addressing gun violence at a Wednesday virtual forum.

The candidate forum was hosted by The League of Women Voters, the BVSD District Parent Council and Impact on Education. Two of the three open Boulder Valley school board seats are contested in the November election. All five candidates in the contested races participated, as did incumbent Kitty Sargent, who is running unopposed in District F.

Three of the questions were provided by the district's Latino Parent Advisory Council, which asked about achievement gaps between Latino students and their white classmates, the district's equity work and support for Spanish speaking parents.

William Hamilton, a former bilingual elementary teacher in Dallas and current stay-at-home dad, said the district needs more bilingual classrooms, as well as more paraeducators to provide one-on-one and small group support.

He's running against Nicole Rajpal in District B to replace board President Tina Marquis, who is term limited. Rajpal served for six years on Boulder Valley's District Accountability Committee

Rajpal said addressing the achievement gap requires providing equitable access to opportunities. The district needs to dig into absenteeism and disproportionate discipline, she said, adding she supports the district's decision to provide more funding to schools with more high needs students.

In District E, Deann Bucher, Kara Frost and Beth Niznik are vying to replace incumbent Donna Miers, who isn't running for reelection after serving a four-year term.

Bucher, a retired Monarch high teacher, said the achievement gap was a persistent problem all 27 years she worked in the school district. She advocated for enrolling more students of color in advanced classes and providing more support through afterschool and summer programs.

"They will not catch up by us doing the same thing over and over," she said.

Frost, a University of Colorado Boulder instructor who described working in Florida to turn around underperforming schools before they were taken over by the government, said it's important to start by unifying the community and tending to student's mental health. Small class sizes and well educated teachers are other strategies she recommended.

Niznik, a special education regional facilitator at the Colorado Department of Education, said the district "needs to be having some really difficult conversations" about the achievement gap. Her ideas include cultural sensitivity training for staff members, more support for students, better partnerships with families and increased access to dual-language bilingual programs and credit retrieval programs.

"Equity is something that we keep at the center of our work," she said. "It's the core of public education."

When asked whether they support the school board following Boulder County Public Health's guidance in responding to the pandemic, four of the five candidates said "yes."

"Our public health partners are our guiding experts," Rajpal said. "They need to do their job, and we need to do our job."

Hamilton said having a young child learn remotely brought home the importance of in-person learning.

"If masks are the way we do it, then we wear masks," he said.

Bucher added it's important to model a respect for science for the students.

"We must do what's right and protect our teachers and our community," she said.

Frost didn't directly answer, instead saying "we need to follow the medical science." She also called the question heated and added that Lafayette police must drive by her house.

In response to a question about gun violence, Frost said the district should have school resource officers in schools. Boulder Valley is phasing out its school resource officer program this school year.

"We protect our money, we protect our government and we need to protect our kids as well," she said.

Hamilton countered that having armed officers in schools "just encourages more gun violence." He suggested a task force to explore how to handle the issue.

"I don't know if BVSD has the capacity to change our gun culture," he said.

Bucher said the district needs to work with community partners to help students access mental health services. Rajpal and Niznik, who are both endorsed by Moms Demand Action as gun sense candidates, talked about the importance of promoting gun safety.

"Seeing it as a public health epidemic is part of what we have to do," Niznik said.

School board members represent different geographic areas, but are elected by voters in the entire district. Board members serve four-year terms and are unpaid.

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