Boise trustee candidates share their ideas for improving schools

Good luck to voters in the Boise School District.

Seven candidates vying for two seats on the district’s Board of Trustees agreed on most every question asked of them during a Tuesday morning forum hosted by the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

There were not a lot of differences on answers to help voters make clear choices. Plus, candidates received the questions days earlier so they had time to prepare and rehearse answers.

No one was caught off guard. All seven appeared comfortable and quite agreeable with each other.

“You stole my answer,” teased incumbent Nancy Gregory after Brian Cronin talked about the challenges of making post-secondary education affordable.

All seven said they support Idaho Core Standards and there was consensus on this spring’s test of the standards. Most were concerned that the test will take too long and the “jury is still out” about its effectiveness, Gregory said.

“We need to refine it,” said candidate Travis Jones about the spring test.

All candidates support the idea of early childhood education.

Gregory said it should be offered but voluntary. Doug Park said it adds a tremendous amount of value but that the “challenge is in finding a source for funding.”

Grant Walden and Jones said their district should offer all-day kindergarten at all schools.

All the candidates support Idaho’s goal for 60 percent of students to earn a post-secondary degree or certification. Most said the goal’s too low.

“Where is the 100 percent vision?” asked John Hruby.

The two incumbents defended the district’s strategic plan, which they helped develop, while some of the challengers criticized its lack of measurable goals and said it didn’t have a better emphasis on communication.

“Of the 40 people I talked to yesterday, only two knew there was an election,” Walden said. “How are you engaging stakeholders?”

Here are some of the questions asked at the chamber forum and highlights of their two-minute answers:

What are your views on the Idaho Core Standards and specifically the implementation and use of the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) exam?

Nancy Gregory: Idaho Core Standards are a step ahead for the students in our districts. Our strategic plan is focusing on improving the work. I think the jury is still out on SBAC. We are in favor of assessment. The test needs to be reasonable and give informative data.

John Hruby: The standards are admirable … the higher the standards the better. We need to hear the voice of the parents, students and taxpayers.

Doug Park: The standards are a part of what we do and we go beyond those. The SBAC pilot last year showed it’s costly, takes too much time and takes time away from instruction.

Tony Shallat: I support the standards. Ultimately, it will give us a good benchmark. It’s going to be a good thing for our state.

Grant Walden: I support the Common Core. Any change you make you have to measure. The test is too long.

Brian Cronin: We need to allow Common Core to run its course and we need to stick with it. And we shouldn’t be obsessed about the test results.

Travis Jones: I support the standards. We have to find a way to help our children be challenged. We need to make sure we work with the program and refine the test.

The Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education has three work teams currently meeting: Fiscal Stability, Structural Change and Effective Teachers and Leaders. Out of these three issues, which one most interests you and why?

Gregory: With tiered licensure, I’m concerned the devil’s in the details. My vision is that the evaluation of teachers is an investment in teachers to help them improve.

Hruby: Effective Teachers and Leaders has a personal interest to me (Hruby’s daughter is a new teacher in the district). How do we hire and attract and retain the best teachers and how do we reward the best performances? How do we go from good to great?

Park: I have concerns about tiered licensure. (Creating) metrics linking to individual evaluations are extremely difficult. Tiered licensure could be another unfunded mandate.

ShallatMentoring our young teachers. A tiered licensure must be adequately funded and administered or it will be unfair to our teachers.

Walden: Innovation and collaboration team interests me the most.

Cronin: Mentoring is critically important. Professional development will make good teachers great. Create a culture of collaboration and really improving their craft.

Jones: I like the idea of getting mastery of the content. We need to make sure career counseling is something we focus on.

What are your thoughts on early childhood education? How do you feel is the best way to prepare children for success in school?

Gregory: I support voluntary early childhood education. In order to provide that, we have to change the Idaho Constitution. Intervention (at an early age) can be essential. We have a need here.

Hruby: Early childhood education is critical for getting kids a foundation. We still haven’t solved full-day kindergarten. I would suggest making small changes at the grass roots level.

Park: Data is overwhelmingly clear that early childhood education adds a tremendous amount of value. The challenge is in finding a source for funding and making change in legislation.

Shallat: Early childhood education is definitely a priority and that’s going to require more state funding. We need to work with our local government partners. This is a citywide and statewide concept.

Walden: I support early childhood education. The easiest and quickest way to implement this is to have full-day kindergarten at all of our schools.

Cronin: (Early childhood education) is the best investment of public dollars we can make. The fact we still have this conversation is absurd. It’s an obvious investment we need to make. It’s the job of a school board member to stand up to the Legislature and say now is the time. (Cronin is an owner of a private pre-school).

Jones: The state and district should agree to find a solution … I agree with full-time kindergarten. We need to look at partnerships — how can we team up with pre-K entities and pool resources with public and private?

At the Boise School District open meeting last week, both Superintendent Don Coberly and Chairman A.J. Balukoff spoke about the district’s strategic plan. What part of the plan do you feel most resonates with you and why?

Gregory: We are working each year to reevaluate and reassess. I love to talk about something I’ve spent so much time on.

Hruby: What I would offer is something more bold and visionary … something we can measure. What’s wrong with striving to be one of the top 10 districts in the nation? I would suggest a more measurable strategic plan.

Park: We have improved on student achievement year after year. This current group of people led by Dr. Coberly under the leadership of the trustees has created a remarkable strategic planning process. I’m very proud of what we’re doing in our strategic plan.

Shallat: Two things (I would improve on) — a lot of employees have been marginalized (non-educators like bus drivers and cooks); engaging on the stakeholders.

Walden: Goals, strategies and action plans. Of the 40 people I talked to, only two knew there was an election. How are you engaging stakeholders (communication)? We need to have goals we can measure.

Cronin: I like the strategic plan — this is an actual working plan and there are, in fact, measurable goals. The current board should be very proud of the work they’ve done.

Jones: I would focus on the communication side of the strategic plan, there’s a lot more things we can do. Engage the public in a face-to-face way. Engage our parents.

Leaders in Idaho have set a goal for 60 percent of Idahoans to earn a post-secondary degree or certification. What do you think of this goal and its possible impacts to our community?

Gregory: We have to look at affordability. Do they have access? Put power of the counseling piece that helps kids through the pathway — same thing our AVID program does. (The 60 percent) is appropriate and high for much of the state.

Hruby: What about the other 40 percent? Where is the 100 percent vision? What about service for our country? Let’s be able to help young people create a life plan.

Park: It’s a tremendous goal and we’re tracking it and we’re making progress on it and I think we can do more on this one.

Shallat: Sixty percent is very ambitious, but it’s good. Why stop at 60? I am concerned with equity. We need to zero in on high schools that aren’t hitting the mark — zero in on our problem areas. Some schools are doing great and others can do better.

Walden: I support the 60 percent goal. Education is the key to high paying jobs. I think the tool to do it is AVID — it is the culture at Fairmont Junior High.

Cronin: Sixty percent is ambitious; (the Boise School District) has already met the state goal. You can’t have a conversation about go-on rates without talking about affordability. Cost is a key barrier as well as preparedness.

Jones: I take exception to the 60 percent goal. I like the idea of the business partners (Treasure Valley Education Partnership) and their goal is 80 percent.

Facts on the election

The Boise School District’s election for trustees is Tuesday, Sept. 2. Five candidates (Gregory, Walden, Shallat, Park and Hruby) are seeking two available six-year seats on the board, while two other candidates (Jones and Cronin) are running to finish up one two-year term.