The Cultural Empowerment and Development Foundation held its first of three local candidate forums Wednesday, giving present contenders for the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education the chance to introduce themselves to the public.
Candidates Dana Nanninga, Jennifer Standley, Geovannie Gone-Macias and Mark Rude sat before a handful of onlookers in Horace Good Middle School's Clifford Hope auditorium earlier this week, selecting concealed questions on a board to answer in front of the audience. Four seats on the board are up for re-election this fall, with current board members Nanninga, Standley and Rude running for reelection. Alex Wallace, Janene Radke, Allie Medina and Elda Menjivar are also running.
The forum’s format allowed different candidates to answer questions about a variety of different topics. Here are the big takeaways from each candidate.
Nanninga, Garden City native, USD 457 parent and current school board president, said she had spent much of her first term learning and asking questions. If re-elected, she said, she wanted to continue forward in a job she better understood to serve students and their families.
• When asked whether the district’s budget committee meetings should be made public, Nanninga said she thought the annual process as it stands now, including public updates from USD 457 finance officer KJ Knoll that are streamed on the local TV channel and online, is already adequately available to the public. She said she wasn’t sure whether making the committee meetings public would make a significant difference.
• Nanninga responded to the district’s use of technology in the classroom. Providing students access to technology is important, she said, but there should be limits for different age groups. She said both teachers’ and parents’ opinions should be included when deciding how technology can best be used in the classroom.
• She said the best way to attract quality to teachers was two-fold: foster a positive work culture that teachers want to be a part of and continually making an effort to raise teachers’ salaries.
Standley said she first got interested in school board policy as a parent, attending meetings and bringing up concerns with aspects of the curriculum.
• Moderators asked Standley to respond to the board’s decision to deny teachers due process in their contract. Standley said that while the district differs from the state on their due process policy, she believes elements of the policy are still present in teacher’s contracts and that teachers still have protection.
• In regards to opening a second entrance at Garden City High School, Standley said that she think she traffic flow system works at the high school and would trust staff and administrators’ guidance on the subject. At the moment, she suggested the entrance remain closed at this time.
• When asked about her stance on mandatory vaccinations for students — and whether she vaccinates her own children — Standley said she does vaccinate her children but encourages parents to do their research. She said the board should stand by state regulations regarding student vaccination requirements.
Gone-Macias said her experience with the local school system is personal. In 1996, she immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a high school freshman, enrolling in Garden City High School’s English second language program. She would eventually graduate high school, college and grad school, ultimately earning her master’s degree. She said she’s served on local boards for the Garden City Police Department, YMCA and the City of Garden City’s cultural relations board. Education is one of her passions, she said, and she was running for the chance to give back and bring her personal experience to the district.
• Gone-Macias said that if elected she would address childhood obesity by focusing on nutrition education and physical activity and play for students.
• She said that the district benefited from current partnerships with LiveWell, the Garden City Police Department and other organizations and that she would prioritize continuing those partnerships.
• When asked whether she would be in favor of a task force to recruit teachers of color, she said she did not think the district needed a task force, and that the district should devote its time to recruiting quality teachers rather than focusing on a teacher’s appearance.
• She said that she hoped to revise the districts’ athletic policies to include more students and, in the wake of struggling students and a recurring number of student threats against district schools, focus on supporting students’ mental health.
Rude, currently rounding out his second term on the board, said he first got involved with the district because of his children. He said USD 457’s strength is its diversity and he is running to further help the district communicate with the community and improve.
• When asked whether the district should remove furlough days in the schools’ calendars, Rude said that the time is a necessary tool for the school board during the budgeting process.
• Regarding an emphasis on testing students on a standard curriculum, Rude talked balance. The district needs a standard curriculum to get usable data about the status of students’ academic success, but those lessons should be carried out and that data studied with care, not blindly, he said.
• Moderators asked Rude about the length of USD 457’s school year, pointing to shorter school years in other southwest Kansas schools. Should the district shorten its school year and lengthen the school day, they asked? Rude said the decision came with trade-offs. A longer school year maximizes students’ time in front of teachers and longer school days would affect the curriculum and extracurricular activities. He ultimately said the calendar committee would be the body to more thoroughly review any potential changes.
Election day is Nov. 5, 2019.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.