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Meet the candidates: Bronson-Doherty vs. Castellar

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. — Andy Hobbs, Mirror editor

AMYE BRONSON-DOHERTY

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

I like to work collaboratively with all parties involved or affected by outcomes. When people have a say in the decision-making process, they are more apt to step willingly into ownership of the implementation and results.

As a school board member, I will be a leader who provides oversight and final review and approval of district policies. These actions should represent collective decisions developed through conversations with the various groups who will live with these policies. That said, I believe my interactions with staff, families and community stakeholders outside of board meetings will be the most important part of my job.

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

Hope. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines hope as “to expect with confidence.” In a world of instant information, globalization and constant change, we have discovered many sources of fear and doubt about our children’s futures. I have seen the results of these concerns creep into our schools. At the least, they discourage our children and all of the adults who care about them. At their worst, they can paralyze us to the point of giving up. If we approach our goals for Federal Way students by focusing on fears, doubts and outside pressures, we will destroy our trust in each other and our children’s trust in their future.

I want to be a part in creating a districtwide approach to education that focuses on building on what works, supporting parents, trusting teachers and helping each child recognize his or her potential and how to use education as a tool for success. I will strive to model these principles in my interactions with others and my approach to policy review and approval.

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?

The relationship between student, teacher and parent is at the center of everything we do as a district. When that relationship is strong, the student is far more likely to learn, progress, graduate and have a plan for what to do next. What we’re looking for here is to have all of the adults involved in a child’s life working together to actively support that child’s educational efforts. For this to happen, parent involvement must be addressed at the school level.

The board has a districtwide parent involvement policy with the measurable result being all (or 100 percent) engagement. Can this actually be enforced, much less measured? Measurable results of parent engagement are reduced truancy and discipline issues, increased scores on tests and increased graduation rates. However, parent engagement is only one factor influencing these results. I think the true sign of increased parent engagement is increased community confidence in our schools.

As a board member, I will be listening in particular to parents/guardians and school staff about what they’re doing to help their students learn, what they need to do to be more effective, how they can work together and how the district and the board can support their efforts.

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?

Curriculum selection and implementation is the responsibility of educators. This is what they are trained and paid to do. By the time textbooks and other programs and materials are put before the school board for adoption, they have gone through extensive review and analysis. Board members represent the community’s expectations for our schools. My expectation for curriculum is that our staff will select the most effective materials and programs for our children.

As for discipline, our districtwide set of basic standards of conduct for both students and adults in schools, as well as clear consequences for misconduct, should be developed by staff, with final approval given by the board.

District standards of conduct should focus on the broader ideals that apply to everyone, all the time, such as treating others with respect and zero tolerance of weapons, drugs and physical violence. Beyond these standards, the board should support each teacher’s authority to develop and implement his or her individual classroom’s rules, and to address infractions at the classroom and/or school level.

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

Extracurricular activities are often the means by which our children’s development is rounded out. I don’t think these activities have to be sponsored by the school district to be effective, but offering them through schools has made them convenient and affordable. Of course, public schools were created to offer academic education to every child in our country. If pushed to the wall, I would naturally sacrifice funding for extracurricular activities before academics.

However, I would never propose eliminating extracurricular activities. We live in a city that is very supportive of athletics, the arts and leadership development. I believe that between Federal Way’s parks and recreation programs, local organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs, the Federal Way Symphony and Centerstage, sports clubs, art and music schools, church youth groups, youth leadership programs and vocal families who want their children to benefit from extracurricular activities, we can find creative ways to offer — and fund — these programs.

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

I would recommend dividing it equally among the schools to supplement their site budget for the year. I’d like to see it used in a way that benefits kids across the district. Each school has its own population, needs and goals. With this relatively small amount, allowing it to be used at the school level would give us the biggest bang for our one million bucks.

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EVELYN CASTELLAR

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

As a school board member with the responsibility to base decisions on the public good, integrity and honesty are indispensable keys to good leadership. Honesty and integrity in leadership require more than doing what one thinks is right; it requires study, research, due diligence and a willingness to be affected and, yes, change if necessary based on the outcome of such investigation. Occasionally, leadership asks that we face the music even when we don’t like the tune.

My style of leadership is to trust but verify or referred to as “participative.” To be able to verify requires knowledge, which in turn requires study. For me, leadership and learning are essential to each other.

My belief in due diligence and my past history of in-depth research has helped to encourage the board into bringing best practice programs to our district (i.e.: NATEF, Latino Night School, Cambridge, K-8, an effective 13th year plan, choice schools, a more rigorous curriculum, etc.). I also helped in adding awareness to the disparity in our state funding as compared to other districts. I will continue to study and bring solid, accurate research to the board table to enhance the Federal Way School District.

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

To meet the needs of “all” the students and to provide them with excellence in education is especially challenging in a diverse and compassionate society that embraces freedom and calls out to other nations with this invitation found on our Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

To meet this challenge we need the help of “all” which includes parents, family, extended family, the City of Federal Way, the police department, the fire department, the surrounding cities with students in our schools, the news media, all the assorted community groups, businesses, charities, churches, the young, the retired, the rich, the poor, the strong, the weak, etc.

We are working with the Federal Way Education Foundation and Communities and Schools to build a Coordination of Resources (COR) program. This program brings together the above groups for the success and safety of our children. I did much of the research, met with leaders from cities where this is successful and helped to bring this program to the district.

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 new large-scale empirical study soon to be published found that three quarters of the variation in achievement in our schools was at the student level (76 percent) and separate from the variation between schools and students. The study declares that “It is likely that a good deal of that unexplained variation resides in factors pertaining to a student’s parents and their home environment.”

We need to recognize that parenting is parental involvement. I am grateful to our parents and appreciate the wonderful children they send to our schools. Perfect? No, but one needs to look at the circumstances of each family unit. Is there only one parent and is that parent the sole bread winner? Sometimes the parenting is done by a grandparent, relative or an appointed guardian. Is there only one child or are there four or five children, and does the parent understand English?

We need to support our principals when working with their school community to seek creative, tolerant and effective ways to reach out to the less engaged. Inclusiveness, charity and open communication go a long way to help over stressed and over burdened parents feel welcomed.

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?

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 28A.150.230 district school directors’ responsibilities: "Each common school district board of directors shall be vested with the final responsibility for the setting of policies ensuring quality in the content and extent of its educational program ……..

(e) Establish final curriculum standards consistent with law and rules of the superintendent of public instruction, relevant to the particular needs of district students or the unusual characteristics of the district, and ensuring a quality education for each student in the district; and

(f) Evaluate teaching materials, including text books, teaching aids, handouts or other printed material, in public hearing upon complaint by parents, guardians or custodians of students who consider dissemination of such material to students objectionable."

This is one of our most important roles at every level in the district and every child in public education in the U.S., not just Federal Way, should be getting the best, most accurate, instructional materials our nation has to offer. School district boards of directors are vested with that final responsibility.

Student conduct at the school level is the responsibility of that school community; however, boards do set broad policy.

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

In 2004, a study on the effects of athletics in this era of education reform was completed by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). The study found that athletic programs support student academic achievement.

The NASBE report reviewed the relevant research from the 1960s to today. The report found that student who participated in athletics had:

• Greater academic success

• Higher aspirations for college attendance

• Higher academic self-esteem

• Higher sense of self-worth

• Lower dropout rates

• Fewer discipline problems

• Positive social effects

The results of this NASBE report were reaffirmed by a study conducted through the University of Texas in 2004. As reported in this study, the benefits of students participating in extracurricular activities such as music, arts, student clubs, etc., include:

• Increase in performance on standardized tests

• Increase in attendance rates

• Decrease in drop-out rates

• Decrease in the number of discipline referrals

Since the key mission, goal and purpose of every public school board member is to “improve student learning,” I must support athletics and extracurricular activities and I do. I also believe that the cities should become more involved with our school athletic programs and extracurricular activities by providing coaches, fields and money.

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

I would use it to restore programs that have been cut because of the inequity in state funding that has beleaguered our district.

When the 2006-2007 budget recommendation was given to the board, we were asked to cut 27 teacher-librarians. I was the board president at the time and suggested to my fellow board members and to Superintendent Tom Murphy that we hold back on restoring our fund reserves and keep a ratio of a minimum of one librarian for two elementary schools. I was able to present a strong case for this and we were able to save eight librarians from being cut.

I would like to see us offer a second language to all our children at the primary level. This is when learning another language is most effective. Being bilingual myself, I know of the advantages in my personal life, in business and in serving the community. I would wish for that for all our children.

Ideally music in some form, singing, planning instruments, composing, dancing, directing, etc., should be available to our children at every grade level.

Alas, $1 million divided by 22,000 students is less than $50 dollars each.

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