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Meet the candidates: Walker vs. Larson

To educate the public before the Nov. 6 election, The Mirror is giving candidates an opportunity to answer questions regarding important issues facing the Federal Way School District.

Each of the six candidates for the Federal Way School Board — Suzanne Smith, Len Englund, Amye Bronson-Doherty, Evelyn Castellar, Dave Larson and Ron Walker — have received this questionnaire. The answers from each race’s respective candidates will be published, with a photo, in The Mirror on Sept. 26, Oct. 3 and Oct. 10 (one pair of candidates per issue).

On Oct. 17, The Mirror will announce its endorsements of school board candidates.

RON WALKER:

1. What is your style of leadership, and how will that enhance the Federal Way School Board should you get elected?

I look for the good and champion it. I envision the ideal and create ways to achieve it. I see life in artistic terms. What is broken? How can we fix it? What is working? How do we make it even better?

One of my favorite quotes is by Zig Ziglar: "Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully." And that is what I desire to do on the school board — make our district function beautifully.

My main responsibility as a leader is to determine the general or specific outcome that is desired and endeavor to give the clearest roadmap I can to get the task done. Then I would recognize and maximize the individual strengths of the team leaders or team members. People have talents and passions. If I can release a person in their talent, then their passion will carry them along.

To summarize, what I bring to the School Board is visionary leadership: identifying root problems, determining the ideals, empowering capable individuals, working through viable means or solutions and then creating a plan that will hit the target.

2. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Federal Way schools today, and what do you plan to do about it?

The biggest challenge facing Federal Way schools today is the same challenge facing many public school systems in America — that is, we need a miracle. Educate both the highly capable and the struggling; the highly motivated and the apathetic. And do this while taking into account involved parents and uninvolved parents; backed with a lot, a little or no money and toward moving academic targets that get larger or smaller at any given time. Public education has so many responsibilities on it that it is slowly becoming like a garage — packed with lots of "good stuff," but no car. The main responsibility, that of producing an educated, ready and able new citizen, may be sitting out on the driveway.

Our main focus should be on quality education. What I would bring to the board is to help us take inventory. What can be written in policy that actually gets us to where we want and need to be? How can we disseminate some of these responsibilities by building even more partnerships? How do we correct and refine "the system?"

3. The Federal Way School Board places great importance on increasing parental involvement in schools. How will you help implement that philosophy, and what measurable results can you achieve in this area as a board member?

A parent's involvement is absolutely paramount to the success of their child in public school. More than any other single factor, an involved parent/guardian will make or break the outcome of a K-12 journey. The school district doesn't have any children of its own; it has other people's children and therefore the district needs these other people's input. The district should not make decisions for parents and guardians concerning their children's educational trek. The district should be carrying out the educational plans of parents because the district's clients are not the students, but the parents. Through taxpayer dollars, parents hire a collection of professional educators who act as agents for parents who have a desire for their children to be educated, but do not have the skill, time, aspiration, etc., to do the educating themselves.

This being said, in order to increase parental involvement, the district must make a concerted effort to reach out to all because all are the district. I would advocate for the development of cultural and language-based PTAs in order for ethnic groups to build better connections to schools. I would advocate for shorter, more streamlined board meetings to encourage parental participation. These are measurable.

4. How much involvement do you think the Federal Way School Board should have in making decisions about curriculum and student conduct at the school level?

I believe that making decisions about curriculum is one of the most vital responsibilities of the school board. Curriculum decisions build congruency across the district. They ensure standards that are consistent and fair, and they help make certain that all students are receiving an equal educational opportunity. The curriculum is what is taught. "How" it is taught is up to the skill of the teacher. Most obviously, there should be vast amounts of input and data. The board should rely heavily on the work of Dr. Jewell and teachers because they are down in the trenches, but the final responsibility of curriculum for our students should rest with the board.

In the same way, the board sets the guidelines for student conduct. When that conduct is applicable across the district, then the board should intervene. But when the conduct is a specific situation relevant only to a certain school, then the conduct should be handled at the school level. For example, I believe requiring middle school uniforms should be a board decision with guidelines to follow. This is the "what." But within those guidelines, the specifics of how the young people will be appareled, is school level decision.

5. What is your opinion on the importance of athletics and extracurricular activities in Federal Way schools?

Extracurricular/athletic activities assist in rounding out the student in ways that pure academics cannot, and they also help to keep kids connected and motivated. These extras are also able to give young people concrete applications of teamwork, goal setting, discipline, leadership and, most importantly, how to correctly handle conflict and disappointment.

In the movie by the same name, Coach Carter used athletics as a motivating factor to affect academic achievement, and he garnered much success. But give too much focus on extracurricular activities and rigorous academics become easier to push to the wayside. Thus there is a fine balance between the two — academics for the mind and extracurricular activities for the mind, soul and body. The two cannot be separated because they are part and parcel of the human experience. This being said however, the school district has a mandate to academically educate, and until the state modifies the definition of basic education, this present mandate must be followed. So inasmuch as "the main thing is kept the main thing," then extracurricular pursuits do wonders for enhancing, augmenting and reinforcing basic education.

6. If the district suddenly received $1 million to do with whatever it pleased, how would you choose to spend that money?

I would choose to spend the money on what the district's teachers deem critical. I would contact all the teachers in the district and ask them what they see in their 360-degree world that desperately, desperately needs money. And then, as a board, review the replies and decide where the money should go.

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DAVE LARSON:

1. What is your style of leadership, and how will that enhance the Federal Way School Board should you get elected?

I just try to serve my community in the best way I know how. First, I humble myself to the task before me because my job is to represent the public, not impose my own personal opinion on others. Second, I need to listen. I cannot accomplish anything if I do not know what needs to be accomplished. Third, I need to speak with integrity. That is the only way people will really know where I stand. Fourth, I need to think of the big picture. Solving one person’s problem may cause many more problems for many others. Fifth, I need to show respect to others because it helps me earn their respect. Simply expecting or demanding respect because you hold a position of authority never works in the long-term. You always need to earn respect. Sixth, I rely on common sense and logic. Finally, I will never make everyone happy, but at least people know that I care about doing what is right for all of us. I believe I have lived the above as a member of the school board and will continue to bring what I can to the table to serve our schools and children.

2. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Federal Way Schools today, and what do you plan to do about it?

The biggest challenge is the complexity of ever-changing requirements and the lower priority education gets sometimes in our present-day culture. Most children come to school ready to learn, but most problems are caused by the lack of priority education is given by some. Yes, we have a financial crisis and I am a person leading the fight to sue the state for a more equitable funding system. But, funding alone is not the answer; the answer is to inspire a higher level of commitment to education by those who do not presently value education as highly as they should.

The board needs to be a calming force in our schools, provide vision and provide programs that serve the entire range of needs and skills our students possess. Students should be able reach their maximum potential through the opportunities we provide, but it is up to them to take advantage of those opportunities. We now have Cambridge and IB for honor students, AVID for mid-range students wanting more out of their education, and great voc-tech programs. I would use these programs and others as the vision to keep students engaged in education so they can make the most of their lives.

3. The Federal Way School Board places great importance on increasing parental involvement in schools. How will you help implement that philosophy, and what measurable results can you achieve in this area as a board member?

Making schools “user-friendly” for parents is my top priority. A student’s success is dependent upon the partnership between student, teacher and parent. The board should inspire parental involvement not just through policies, but also through outreach and education on the priorities of education and the need for parents to contribute to the success of their children. I have proposed the use of technology to allow for maximum awareness of the parent on the progress of their child with the convenience of 21st-century technology. I am proud to say that the district is about to implement a program that will automatically advise parents if their child’s grade falls below a certain level, is tardy or absent, fails to turn in an assignment, and also update parents on activities at school. I have proposed broader use of parent mentors to help other parents learn to navigate the system, help them understand their child’s education options, and help them build healthy relationships with teachers and staff. Students are the number one focus, so I have also proposed the broader use of advocates for students whose parents cannot or will not engage in crucial decisions about the student’s progress and course of studies.

4. How much involvement do you think the Federal Way School Board should have in making decisions about curriculum and student conduct at the school level?

The board should be concerned first with defining expected results through its strategic plan and policies and, second, seeking accountability as measured by those stated strategic plan goals. School personnel should be concerned with implementation and performance for the maximum benefit of the students in their building.

The school board is charged by law to make choices on curriculum for all levels of school. The board utilizes committees to screen and recommend curriculum that will best serve our students' needs. The board is also charged by law to develop policies and rules regarding student conduct. The board is also charged by law to rule on student appeals from disciplinary action taken at the school level.

The superintendent is charged by law to implement board-adopted policies and to carry out the curriculum choices of the board. The superintendent performs these functions through the supervision of principals and staff.

Principals assure that curriculum choices and policies are followed at the school level. Board members should not interfere with the daily operation of schools, but should expect accountability to the policies and curriculum choices made at the board level. This assures an orderly education process and prevents an arbitrary approach to education.

5. What is your opinion on the importance of athletics and extracurricular activities in Federal Way schools?

Athletics and extracurricular activities use less than 1 percent of our budget, yet benefit nearly half of our students. Book learning is essential, but activities help students become well rounded and help them learn life skills through teamwork, determination, patience, practice, achievement, respect, enthusiasm and excellence in a safe and organized environment. In many cases, the coaches, mentors and teachers in these programs serve to reinforce good character traits expected by parents. Sadly, they are the closest thing to a good parent some students have.

From my own experience, there is not a day that goes by that I do not use the lessons I learned in sports and activities to help me be a better lawyer, person, husband and father. I suffered from depression as a teenager and sports helped me. I would not be the success I am today if it was not for the mentors and coaches that affected my life in innumerable positive ways. My own parents were great, but sports gave me a different perspective on who I was and who I could be. I am confident that these activities are touching kids today the same way they touched me over 30 years ago.

6. If the district suddenly received $1 million to do with whatever it pleased, how would you choose to spend that money?

With $14 million in cuts in six years, this money would sadly not make a meaningful dent in restoring the cuts we have been forced to make. Nevertheless, I would follow the leadership principles I set forth above and try to make the best choice possible. Humility, active listening, big picture thinking, respect to all of the competing interests vying for the money, and common sense will lead to a decision that I know would be right. However, I am definitely positive that not everyone would be happy.

Bottom line, I would probably recommend an endowment that would pay out the interest over many years. The amount available per year could be higher if the principal balance was depleted over 5-10 years too. This money could be used year to year to reduce higher student fees paid by parents, buy books for libraries, buy new or more textbooks for classrooms, strengthen arts and music education, or fund a staff position or positions. I would have an open mind for all suggestions, and not pretend to know the answer as to exactly how this money should be used, but maximum benefit on a long-term basis would be the key for me.

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