Goshen County Education Association holds candidate forum

Candidates for Goshen County School District board answered questions in a forum hosted by the Goshen County Education Association at Torrington High School last week.

GOSHEN COUNTY – Goshen County Education Association (GCEA) hosted a candidate forum for members of the community to have an opportunity to ask Goshen County School District (GCSD) board member candidates questions last week.

GCEA Co-Presidents Matt Bullington and Jennifer Bravo asked the panel of six school board candidates audience and GCEA generated questions; current board member seeking election of her appointed seat Sarah Chaires was not in attendance due to being ill.

There are seven individuals running for the four soon-to-be vacant positions (in order of appearance of Goshen County Election ballots): Chris Alexander, Sarah Chaires, Simon Lozano, Bob Peterson, Wade Phipps, Jane Zulauf and Justin Hurley, who is also seeking election to retain his appointed position.

Former GCSD Board Chairman Zachary Miller resigned in October and dropped and announced he notified the Goshen County Clerk’s Elections office he no longer intends to run for the school board to keep his position, citing an increase of work responsibilities. Current GCSD Trustee Katherine Patrick chose not to run for reelection of her opening position.

In January, four of the above candidates will join Interim GCSD Chairman Michael Sussex, Board Clerk Kerry Bullington, Board Treasurer Carlos Saucedo and Board Members Matthew Cushman and Dylan Hager in a four year term on the school board in voting on district matters.

Goshen County residents across the county are allowed to vote for one, two, three or all four open positions in Tuesday’s General Midterm Election.

The following are the top questions asked of each of the six candidates available at the forum from the GCEA facilitators with the candidates corresponding answers.

Chris Alexander:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “I’ve been a business owner, manager, supervisor – I’ve been self employed and owned businesses, and I’ve been a union representative for employees of large corporations representing them and preserving their rights against corporations,” Alexander explained. “I’ve been a scout leader, Sunday school teacher and I have worked with kids on several different levels.” Alexander said his experience as a sports coach and community mentor helps him understand the needs of children better which would make him an effective GCSD board member.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: “I believe that we have a grading system that is causing problems – recorded in school board meetings, where the kids even have said that the standards-based grading system does not work,” Alexander stated. “We have parents come into the meetings, explaining the kids are not getting the grades that they need to go to college and get their scholarships (due to) standards-based grading not working.” Alexander said as a GCSD board member, he wants to tackle this issue and find a solution for the district that aligns with Wyoming standards but better prepares students in the county for trade schools, colleges, universities and/or life after high school graduation.

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “Communication is the biggest thing here – so to get everybody involved at schools and school board meetings would be vision,” Alexander said. “When people are involved in a student's education, whether at home or school or a community member, it gets children excited.” Alexander also said he hopes to bring back a more competitive learning environment and spirit in the district to continue to inspire and motivate students to strive beyond their capabilities or self-perceived limitations.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: “We need to be harsh – we need to be friendly and we need to communicate with (state and county) leaders – they’re all available. Most of us have phone numbers right to them, so we can communicate with them what our wants, desires and needs are,” Alexander said. “We need to be responsible with a budget that has more diversity.” Alexander said as a businessman who’s priority has been budgeting in his career, one of his top priorities is reassessing the district budget to make appropriate changes to better fund the district, potentially give teachers a raise but ultimately ensure a quality education for every student, which includes hiring more paraprofessionals to help with students with learning disabilities or special accommodations.

Simon Lozano:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “I was very active in the GCEA, in the Wyoming Education Association (WEA) and I served on the board of directors” Lozano explained. “I was the first person of color elected to the board before and after, just kind of appointed.” Lozano explained he served on the National Education Association’s (NEA) human and civil rights committee and has worked in the district for many years which gives him a unique perspective into the needs of the district to be an effective GCSD board member.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: “When I taught, testing was more about what kids knew, so they could memorize volumes of stuff – which is good,” Lozano stated. “Standards-based grading is more about what a kid can do.” Lozano said despite standards-based grading overcasting the first eight weeks of school among other chief parent concerns, there is a way to implement both ways of grading and teacher the district can look into in order to stay in alignment with Wyoming standards but also give Goshen County students tools they need beyond high school.

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “My vision is – that our schools have broken the cycle of poverty,” Lozano said. “They’ve overcome the drug culture and that we’re turning out kids that have a chance of being whatever they want to be.” Lozano said he sees a district that has no needs but can start addressing wants and desires but that it first must start with getting major concerns and issues straightened out first.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: Lozano said the district needs to join the WEA in its lawsuit against the state regarding underfunded schools and concerns. “We need to support it.”

Bob Peterson:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “A business background – my wife and I had investment properties in Nebraska for over 40 years,” Peterson explained. “I was also elected to the state and R and D (Agricultural Research and Development) board in Nebraska that maintained and monitored all the water use in the North Platte River – the largest natural resources district in Nebraska.” Adding his top priority in both positions was budgeting which is what he said he will bring to the GCSD board.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: “One of my great concerns is the standards-based grading,” Peterson stated. “One of the things that shocked me, when I found out, is that homework and quizzes were not weighted – so there was no accountability there. That really damages a student when they get out in the world, like college, where they don’t let you do take-over tests.” Peterson said the standards-based grading system as it is currently; it sets students up for flunking in trade schools, colleges, universities and life because it doesn’t hold a student accountable for their work nor does it inspire them to achieve what they are truly capable of achieving.

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “My vision for the schools – is a very much stronger learning table,” Peterson said. “So that, all these test scores can creep back up again. Our SAT test scores were four points lower than last year – and we need to keep improving the education systems.” Peterson noted the district added a new math curriculum this year, Eureka Math Squared as reported by the Telegram all summer long, and that “we don’t know how that’s coming out yet” in relation to test scores improving. Peterson said it’s imperative the district and community get back on track with the same agendas.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: “With the federal money there will always be strings attached that will come with it,” Peterson said. Peterson explained how over the summer GCSD had an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s School Lunch Program requirement from the President Joseph Biden Administration’s requirement to “push the LGBTQ+” agenda in order to receiving federal school lunch funding, along with other title funding for K-12s; the district opt-ed out. However, Peterson the district will continue to face similar ultimatums from the federal government and he said the best way to address this is to look at local and state funding more closely but did not know what that might include at this time, however, stated its one of his top priorities to secure funding locally and within the state to avoid needing to rely on federal funding.

Wade Phipps:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “Mostly because I’m a father – I’m a concerned family member and I want to see what’s best for these kids – preparing them is the most important job; they are our future and they’re going to be the ones that are going to run this community,” Phipps explained. “We need to teach them to do the right things – teach them the skills they need and prepare them to go out in the world.” Phipps said he would bring real-world experience and practicality to the GCSD board.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: “I thought a lot about the standards-based grading and then really looked into trying to understand it,” Phipps stated. “One thing I’ve come to the conclusion out of this is that it’s a social philosophy doomed to fail.” He said the singular factor that has kept kids in school and pushed themselves beyond their limits is achieving a good grade they know they earnestly earned, however, the standards-based grading system inhibits that drive and therefore is causing students in the district to give up. He also noted a higher percentage of students having to use summer school and alternative programs in the district to make up credits or catch up on credits in order to graduate, in the county and state. Phipps also stated there are no consequences for students because the system essentially ensures students cannot fail, unless they completely skip a class the entire school year.

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “I’d like to see a lot more parental involvement in the classrooms, out of the classrooms and at board meetings,” Phipps said. “I’d like to go back to a percentages-based grading system and my main goal is to turn out successful adults and one way to do that is with a lot more vocational programs.” Some programs Phipps offered included analysis, basic accounting and other trade programs that can be easily attainable outside of traditional college and university tracked students.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: “I think we just need to be smarter with the money that we have,” Phipps said. “It’s not our money – it’s the taxpayers money.” Phipps also explained how much of the federal money is Wyoming’s and Goshen County’s money that each paid into coming back to the state and county, but much of that is heavily weighted with stipulations from the federal government. Like Peterson, Phipps agreed the board needs to look at alternative funding through the state and county in anticipation of federal funding not always being available.

Jane Zulauf:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “I’ve been a certified substitute teacher for over 24 years in the district,” Zulauf explained. “I’ve been involved in the parent groups through the years, not only just the parent councils.” Zulauf also said her willingness to continue to cooperate with teachers, parents and community members gives her leverage in being an effective GCSD board member because she intends to strengthen communication between all groups of community members in the county with the school board.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: “One of the probably most current and talked about subjects is standards-based grading,” Zulauf stated. “I understand where the parents are coming from, I understand where the students are coming from and then I also understand where the teachers are coming from – but we need more roundtable conversations amongst the parents, students and staff with school board members so they they can come to an understanding and educate each other on what is the purpose of standards-based grading and if possible, make changes.” Zulauf said the lack of effective and frequent communication between all stakeholders is why this topic continues to be a thorne in GCSD.

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “My mission is to continue to teach your children and our wonderful school district – to be able to communicate more effectively,” Zulauf said. “I know I keep saying that word – communication – it’s so important. I feel that as a board member, I need to go and visit all schools not just one time, but several times – to get a better understanding of what is happening in that school firsthand.” Zulauf said this is so as a board member she can see what is being done and taught in schools to be able to effectively communicate that back to parents and the board when appropriate.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: “We need to let our representatives on the county and state level have a chance to address our concerns and issues – let them know what those are and give them our voice and opinions so they have a chance to sit down with the legislature to devise solutions,” Zulauf said. Adding more effective communication between the district and elected officials is the best route to ensure complete transparency, funding and accountability from school funding avenues and the district.

Justin Hurley:

Question: What qualities do you possess that would make you an effective board member?
Answer: “I bring experience from a parent’s perspective – I think, seeing firsthand the good and bad things that are going on is an action which is very important,” Hurley explained. “I’ve served on city councils and I was on executive extension council and the youth livestock competition coach.” Hurley said his greatest asset as a board member currently and potentially future board member is his ability to listen to all community members perspectives before forming an informed decision that would benefit the community.

No answers are available for Sarah Chaires due to her being sick at the time of the forum; she had planned to be in attendance.

Question: What do you feel are the biggest educational issues that Goshen County is facing?

Answer: Like other candidates, Hurley said the standards-based grading system is the biggest issue for the district because, “Immediately in the semester kids start off with a ‘D’ – so immediately, it demoralizes them and it’s like ‘let’s play catch up’ through the middle part of the semester to get to the end of the semester where it’s a panic and it’s a relief or it’s not a relief if they didn’t hit the grade they wanted or they got it and there’s a little bit of a control factor in there.” Hurley explained after being on the board this last year, he finally understands more that standards-based grading “is not preparing children for the next level – whatever level that may be, and I think it needs to be replaced with the Carnegie percentages-based grading system.”

Question: Upon being selected to the school board. What is your vision of our great school district?
Answer: “I want to bring us back together again – we’ve all been through a very rough patch and we’re coming out of it,” Hurley said. “We’ve come out of it, however, however you want to look at it – it has torn a lot of relationships apart – I want to bring us back together as a school district with the community.” Hurley said this is best done by listening and communicating with all interested parties with GCSD to make it a better place and be more effective with common goals.

Question: How will you ensure adequate funding for our school district?
Answer: “Once again, I take everything to the local level – the county commissioners are more than informed about our budgets,” Hurley said. “Secondly, we have wonderful state representatives in place now and soon-to-be, that will do fantastic work in terms of state and federal funding.” However, ultimately Hurley said the district needs to focus on what it has currently and project better what it will need in anticipation of funding woes from the state and federal levels to get ahead of it so that the district doesn’t suffer while it looks at alternative funding practices as mentioned by other board candidates.

The six candidates present were asked a range of other questions, including if they would be willing to be a substitute for the district, all responded with a resounding yes. More information about each candidate can be found in an earlier Telegram story from candidate profiles in a special section of the paper for the 2022 Midterm General Elections guide.

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