QandA with Caldwell trustee candidates

Three of five seats on the Caldwell School Board are up for election this November — and six candidates are vying for the vote. Incumbents Manuel Godina , Travis Manning and Andrew Butler each face one challenger: Ray Horrel, Nicole Trakel and Nicole Hyland. Each seat is a four-year position.

How do school trustees fit into the web of agencies and individuals that oversee what happens in Idaho classrooms? Check out our graphic to find out.

With the Nov. 7 election day approaching, EdNews reached out to each candidate to ask about their campaign priorities and strategy for serving on an elected board.

Here’s what they had to say.

Why are you running for a spot on the Caldwell School Board?

Manuel Godina, Incumbent (Zone 2): I am running because I have a heart of service. I care about the place I live and the people who live here. I care about the children of our community and am committed that they grow up to be contributing citizens. Having been on the board for the past four years has provided me with knowledge of how our education works and what our state constitution requires of a school board when it comes to local governance; which is to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

Ray Horrell, Challenger (Zone 2): Obviously, the current board of trustees is not getting the job done. 2022-23 Caldwell school stats: Reading proficiency = 31%, Math proficiency = 17%, Meeting college readiness benchmarks = 11%.

Travis Manning, Incumbent (Zone 3): I am running because I care deeply about my community and making sure all kids receive a quality education. I want all kids to attend strong schools with safe, focused learning environments. We need teachers and staff who all feel supported in this important work. Being a teacher is a challenging profession. I know from firsthand experience.

As a parent and educator myself, I’m also running to be a common sense voice for public schools. I have a lot of insight into how to best help maintain a strong public school system. It’s an important responsibility to help prepare and mentor the next generation of community, nation and world leaders.

A strong Caldwell School District means a strong Caldwell community. Well-prepared kids are more likely to create stronger families, the backbone of society. We cannot create this stronger society alone; we must work together.

Nicole Trakel, Challenger (Zone 3): I am running for Caldwell School Board Trustee, foremost, because I have three children, two of which are currently enrolled in Caldwell schools. I have been attending nearly all the board meetings for over three years now. I had been thinking about running when I learned of an awful thing that had happened. A lady who had been teaching preschool to developmentally delayed children was abusing non-verbal 3 and 4 year-olds. The board has had at least three parents, myself included, and I’m sure some requests through email, ask for cameras to be put into the developmental preschool, yet the board has not even acknowledged the request during any meeting where it was brought up. Parents need to be listened to and acknowledged; time and time again over the last three years I have seen them being ignored.

Andrew Butler, Incumbent (Zone 4): My reason for running is simple. It is because of my kids. I want to make sure that they are getting the best education possible. That they have the same opportunities or better opportunities than I did when I was in school. Knowing that the decisions I make in the boardroom directly affect my family and the hundreds of families in Caldwell is what keeps me focused.

Nicole Hyland, Challenger (Zone 4): I am seeking the Caldwell School Board Trustee zone 4 seat because I believe that I can and will bring a fresh attitude and perspective to not only the school board but to the students and the staff. I am seeking to restore quality education in our schools and integrity in our administration.

What do you hope to accomplish as a trustee? What are your top three priorities?

Godina: I want to continue the collaboration we have between our board, our district office, our educators, all school personnel, and our patrons. We have set a mission of nurturing growth, eliminating obstacles, and strengthening our community.

The goals I will always strive for are to 1) recruit and retain educators, 2) increase our graduation rate and 3) add to our CTE programs. It is important for our students to have options to be successful after graduating from high school.

I care about our students struggle with academics, the increase in depression and anxiety our kids are facing, the behavior challenges that are being experienced in our classrooms. I will strive to work with the board to address these issues.

Horrell: I hope to return to a quality education free from anti-family and anti-American curriculum. Ensure that the parents are involved in all situations regarding their children. Nothing will be hidden from the parents and they will be given the ultimate authority over all decisions regarding their children. We need to use our tax dollars wisely and frugally. Cut all unnecessary expenses and overhead.

Manning: Early learning. Caldwell offers full-day kindergarten for all families who choose it. It’s critical our youngest children learn how to function in a school setting and begin learning the basics. CSD preschool programs also provide extra support for many kids in need.

Building student leaders. Whether it’s the Caldwell Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council or Future Hispanic Leaders of America, Everyday Leadership or TechGirlz, it’s critical to help our kids learn to be leaders and contributing members of society.

Community partnerships. In collaboration with our schools and families, CSD works with dozens of community stakeholders to help our kids and families.

Trakel: My top three priorities at a trustee would be: improve academic achievement, increase parental involvement at the class, school and district level and to use precious tax dollars wisely in order to get the maximum benefit for the dollars spent. We have to do better for our graduates than sending them off into adulthood with only 11% being considered college/career ready. There are several benchmarks Idaho uses to assess college/career readiness. Caldwell spends more than the state average per student yet their assessment scores continue to fall way below the state averages. We are consistently told money fixes low test scores but I believe parent involvement plays a huge roll. I want to help schools and classrooms create opportunities for parents to volunteer, share a skill or talent, and overall be more involved and invested in their child(ren)’s education. I also want to revaluate our budget and curriculums to be sure we are making the most of each dollar and that those precious tax dollars are making it all the way into the classrooms where they most benefit the teachers and students.

Butler: I am proud of the work that was accomplished the past couple of years on the Caldwell School District’s Strategic Plan. We had an amazing group of parents, patrons, business owners, educators, students, and trustees work on what the next 5 years Caldwell School District needs to focus on. I believe that is where our focus needs to be. With that being said a couple of points that I feel are important are: ensuring every student has opportunities for success, providing strong stewardship of taxpayer investments, and preparing every student for future success.

Hyland: As the next CSD zone 4 trustee, I hope to accomplish direct working relationships with all students, teachers and staff and the current district administration. My top 3 priorities are/will be:

1) Getting Parents and students involved more. Including future workshops and better School board meeting attendance and parental input. Parents are the FIRST and should be the only stakeholder in their children’s education.

2) Drastically improving student success and test scores- right now only 17% of CHS graduates are proficient (at basic levels) in Math and 31% are proficient in Reading.

3) Restoring quality education in the classroom- right now Caldwell schools are distracted by woke ideologies and inappropriate books and propaganda. Caldwell School District needs a complete redesign, and, in these situations, the best avenue is to start over with the basics and find out what works and move forward. This should be a priority for all parents.

How do you plan to help the Caldwell School District navigate difficult conversations and controversial issues?

Godina: I am the incumbent and take seriously the training provided by the Idaho School Board Association to better understand the duties of a school board trustee. I do not promote fear and extremism. I understand what programs are funded by federal monies and the need for federal funds. My goal is to sit at the table with my fellow trustees to work on solutions to reach attainable goals especially those set out in our Continuous Improvement Plan. I aim to focus on students’ needs. We can achieve this by making decisions based on evidence, research, and the needs of our kids versus political ideology or partisanship. I strongly believe in open communication, transparency, accountability, diverse representation and most importantly, RESPONSIBLE GOVERNANCE.

Horrell: Listening to all parties involved, especially the parents and students. Hear all sides of the story. Recommend proper help on a case by case situation. One size does not fit all.

Manning: Partisanship has no place in governing public schools where kids are the main clientele. Focusing on student academic growth and development is, and should be, the main focus of school trustees; it has been for me. It’s unfortunate that some have attempted to hijack school board meetings for partisan purposes. Political grandstanding has no place in the governance of our local public schools. I will do as I have done my past two terms in office and remain focused on making sure our kids, teachers and schools have the resources they need to maximize their growth and potential.

Trakel: The first part of my plan would be to listen. I would read and respond to as many emails as I could. This is huge given my experience and that of many others I know, who have tried emailing board members. If there was a topic which necessitated its own meeting in order to give parents and community members time to share their thoughts, I would encourage the board to host a special meeting at a bigger venue. This would allow time for people to weigh in on the issue. I would reach out to people on both sides of an issue to learn as much as I could.

Butler: One of the things that I feel I have done well as a trustee the past 4 years is being able to listen to all sides of a situation before making a decision. Being able to hear another point of view that challenges your own is the best way to navigate difficult situations to find solutions. Making decisions based on emotions or outside influences is a recipe for disfunction. All I can promise is my own actions and continue to be respectful when disagreements arise. I think this is something that our current board has done very well.

Hyland: Parents! Parents are the common denominator in this broken equation. In my opinion, CSD has treated district parents like a numerator that gets pushed all over the place. I truly believe that if parents were knowledgeable or were encouraged to take their seat at the head of the table, the district would have an easier time communicating during any conversation to be had. So, I do plan to incorporate parents (as much as possible) back into the equation.

I would like to see positive changes with how the CSD communicates as a whole, which would include open dialogues regarding difficult topics- including controversial subjects. It is important that we, as a board, promote an open and friendly line of communication between our district students, teachers/staff, and administrators. I think one of the reasons why CSD schools are struggling is because of the lack of meaningful and diligent conversations between the current school board and the school admin directly. Therefore, I do plan to ask a lot of questions of teachers/staff/admin and of parents too. After all, parents just want to know their concerns/comments are heard.

I want everyone to know that I WILL listen to you, but more importantly, I will hear you!

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber, a former reporter with Ed News that focused on K-12 policy and politics. She is a College of Idaho graduate, born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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