January 26, 2013

Candidates show down over scholastic issues

Jessica Lane, Staff Writer,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — Two candidates for the Chickasha School Board, Office No. 2, attended a question and answer forum at the Chickasha Public Library on Thursday evening. Two of the candidates, Bruce Storms, current Chickasha School Board member and Ryan Copeland, Chickasha Public Schools educator were in attendance. The third candidate for the position, Michael R. Ibsen, was not able to attend. The forum was moderated by Bruce Treadaway with the Oklahoma Education Association.

Meet the candidates

Storms said that he has been on the Chickasha School Board for 12 years, and has enjoyed it. He has two daughters who are teachers, and has had a lot of exposure to the education system.

Copeland, who has been a Chickasha Public School educator, said that, from the outside, he sees room for improvement.

"It's time for some change and I hope I can bring that," Copeland said.

Chickasha's "C" grade

Storms said that the new system has been an adjustment and that grading systems often come with changes. For instance, with the new system, attendance played a larger role, with attendance being counted for both teachers and students.

Storms said he expects the system to be tweaked over the next two or three years. Currently, the schools in Chickasha have implemented strategies to prepare students for the tests. Overall, Storms said he feels the school system has made great strides in the past five years.

Copeland said that the testing systems and standards that are handed down are not always created by educators and that things that look great on paper don't always work in the real world.

Everyone needs to work together, Copeland said, to make the system work. He suggested that a five year plan may help educators as well as board members to keep up with changes handed down from the top. Copeland proposed that a recording system, in which teachers note changes or needs for improvement, may be a useful ongoing tool.

School funding

Copeland said that he is willing to go to the capital to address the school funding issue with elected officials.

Storms said that he has made many trips to the capital for educational as well as medical issues and has developed relationships with elected officials.

Communication with educator employment groups

Storms said that during his time serving on the board, he has never used a reduction in force strategy (RIF) on a teacher.

In 2011, when six principals and assistant principals were facing a possible RIF, the board decided they did not agree with the superintendent's suggested solution.  

"That was the black point in the negotiations," Storms said.

Storms added that he hoped hurt feelings in the past can be made better and that good relationships can remain.

Copeland said that RIF situations shouldn't get to that point.

"Communication is key," he said. Copeland said he also disagrees with letting a teacher go.

"It's like a team. You start cutting out team members, you have a problem," he said. "If we have to RIF teachers, what are we doing?"

Division of academics and extracurricular activities

Academics have to come first, Copeland said. He said that athletics do have value in the development of young people, but that only in rare cases do athletics put food on the table.

Copeland said that fortunately there is a system in place which helps students prioritize academics even while being involved in athletics.

"If you don't make the grade, you don't play."

Storms said that the school's primary job is to teach students, however athletics are important as well and may even facilitate learning for students who may otherwise drop out.

"We have about 10 to 15 kids every year who, if not for sports, would not have stayed in school."

He added that most of the funding for athletics comes directly out of funds that the athletic department raises.

Monitoring the school budget

Storms said that school board members need expertise in school finances. Every month, the school receives a 40-60 page finance report and that he spends about six hours a month going through it. Due diligence is required, Storms said. He added that the school's audits have never had any major glitches, but that "there is always more want than there is money."

Copeland said he expects to see financial reports every month and is willing to put the time in going through them. He said it is important to review the budget and to question the budget as problems arise. Reviewing and planning ahead would be important, Copeland said.

Top three pressing issues for Chickasha Public Schools

Copeland said addressing the grade "C" is an important issue. He said that public understanding of how the school got the grade is an issue as well addressing the grade itself. Classroom support is another issue that Copeland plans to address. He said he would like to see teachers receive the materials that they need to succeed in their classrooms. Making sure the whole district is on the same page is also of importance, Copeland said, with regards to new technology. As well as making sure that teachers have the proper training.

The overall academic standing of the Chickasha Public School district is a big issue, Storms said. Academic meetings and regularly working toward better ways as well as enhancing facilities are some of the strategies currently being used, Storms said. Continues maintenance on school sites is also important, he said, rather than waiting until repairs get unmanageable. Storms also said that since the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, the safety of students has become a major focus and that drills and communication with law enforcement was already underway. Storms added that safety included not only the possibility of an attack, but natural disasters as well.

Communication with public

Storm said that his phone number is published. He has taken calls from home and makes himself personally available to discuss issues. During school board meetings, visitors are welcome to discuss issues with the school board. If the discussion item is not on the agenda, Storms said the board cannot respond during the meeting, but that he makes an effort to contact the visitor on his own time to discuss the issue.

Copeland said that he would like to set up more public forums such as the one taking place during the candidate question and answer session where people could express their concerns. Copeland said he recognizes that not everyone is comfortable with speaking in front of the school board. He said he plans to use social media to allow these people to have a voice as well.

"If no one ever says anything, no one ever knows," Copeland said.

Vision for Chickasha Public Schools

Copeland said that his goal is to make Chickasha Public Schools a premier school district in Grady County. He said he wants others around the state to recognize Chickasha Public Schools and to hold the district as a standard.

Storms said he would like to nurture an ongoing vision, including improving the school sites Grand Ave. and Lincoln.

"That vision is a vision of growth, of seed planting, so there will be trees for your grandchildren and my grandchildren."

Closing remarks

One day, children will be our future, Copeland said, and it's important to invest in that future now. Copeland said that his experience as an educator gives him insight as to what it is like for teachers in the classroom.

"Everyone has a job to do … I don't want teachers to have to worry about their jobs," Copeland.

Storms said that his understanding of school finances are a benefit for the school board. Storms said he was concerned with the high turnover of the school board members and that two new members would already be taking seats on the school board since Joe Alford left and Karen Horn would soon be replaced. Storms said that this would probably be his last term, but that there were things that needed to be completed.

"I plan to continue to move forward."