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Meet the candidates: Suzanne Smith vs. Len Englund

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 candidate for the Federal Way School Board — Suzanne Smith, Len Englund, Amye Bronson-Doherty, Evelyn Castellar, Dave Larson and Ron Walker — received this questionnaire. Answers from each race’s respective candidates will be published, with a photo, on Sept. 26, Oct. 3 and Oct. 10 (one pair of candidates per issue; answers limited to 200 words per question). The Mirror will make recommendations for voting in the Oct. 17 issue. See today’s Opinion page on A4 for more details. — Andy Hobbs, Mirror editor

SUZANNE SMITH

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

Style of leadership — Communicator.

Rather than making autocratic decisions, I try to involve other people in the process. I want to ensure that all stakeholders’ ideas are heard. I will try to involve as much of the community as possible so that the school board can make better decisions. Communication with more people in the decision making process (determining what to do and how to do it) improves the understanding of the issues by everyone involved and by those who must carry out the decisions. People will be more committed to actions when they have been involved in the relevant decision-making process. As a school board member, I will understand that the final decision on any subject is my own.

I am able to debate, clarify and enunciate my values and beliefs, communicate a strategic plan at all levels, align the budget, planning, policies and instructional programs with the district goals and vision.

I believe my leadership style will enhance the school board because I have the ability to problem-solve and make good decisions, integrate various viewpoints, identify and resolve conflict, participate effectively in meetings, and ask big picture questions and “what if.”

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

The single biggest challenge is to provide an equitable education for all students no matter what their cultural, ethnic or socioeconomic background. The achievement gap shows that it is not happening yet, and after years of reform efforts, it is still a challenge. The achievement gap widens for low-income and non-English speaking students.

Many of these students simply drop out, but an

increasing number of them are students who graduate but still lack basic skills. The impact of this manifests itself in a variety of ways; one is a lower earning potential.

At the same time, the demands of the knowledge economy and the transformational nature of information technology mean that skill requirements are rising rapidly and changing constantly. Skills are quickly becoming dated and new ones are required.

Students from all backgrounds can learn the skills they need when the right type of instruction is provided for them. With the increasing number of our students who come from diverse backgrounds, and speak a language other than English, it is increasingly important to focus on equitable educational opportunities that meet the needs of all students.

I am committed to innovations in education that are best for all of our children.

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?

I believe that parental involvement means the participation of parents in regular, two-way, and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities, including ensuring that parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning; are encouraged to be actively involved in their child’s education at school; are full partners in their child’s education.

I will accomplish this by encouraging greater involvement of parents in the education of their children; supporting and securing an effective partnership among students, parents, legal guardians, schools and the community; and by providing students and families with a helpful, respectful and friendly school culture that encourages high student academic achievement.

I will provide information to parents in a language and format they can understand. I will work to enable parents to participate as partners when setting school goals, and developing or evaluating programs and policies. I will treat parent concerns with respect and demonstrate genuine interest in developing solutions.

Measurable results should be determined by conducting an annual evaluation of the effectiveness of the parent involvement program.

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?

It is the responsibility of the board to choose curriculum and set policy on student conduct. It is the responsibility of the school staff to use that curriculum and implement the policies. The responsibility of the board is to manage the process whereby their new emerging vision becomes a shared vision.

I will review school board policies to be certain they are up to date and in place before we need them. I will conduct formal or informal opinion polls of our staff and community to determine their feelings on various issues and communicate the results.

I will solicit ideas from the community on a continuing basis.

I will work to ensure that decisions about curriculum and student conduct represent the values and desires of the entire community.

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

It is the district’s purpose to educate all students as they prepare for a productive life in a changing world. Consistent with this philosophy, I believe that all instructional programs and extracurricular activities associated with the schools should be conducted according to the highest standards of academic excellence. While there is no guaranteed right to participate in high school sports or other extracurricular activities, I recognize the importance of athletic programs and activities in enhancing the school experience for students, and the quality of life for parents and citizens. The community benefits and enjoys attending sporting events, concerts, plays and school programs. Students participate in various sports, learn chess, debate, and many other activities.

I believe students gain a balanced preparation for life through participation in athletic programs and extracurricular activities.

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

Because of budget shortfalls in state funding to our district since 2003, the district has had to make spending cuts. These cuts have resulted in eliminating elementary band and orchestra, eliminating the Outdoor Education program, reductions to the English Language Learner program, and we have reduced the number of librarians working in our school libraries. We have introduced fees for athletics and started charging the ASB funds for transportation for sport and activity buses.

I have served on the district’s Fiscal Advisory Committee during that time, and I personally know how painful every one of those cuts were to make. One million dollars sounds like a lot of money; however, it would not go very far to restore what has already been cut, and it would certainly not cover the things I would like to see restored.

Contact Suzanne Smith: ssmith4schools2007@att.net or (253) 850-8783.

LEN ENGLUND

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

My management style relies on trusting the experts. I have an open door policy and will always carefully consider all requests. I believe that our personnel are our greatest resource. I believe in treating others as you would like to be treated. It is best to build and foster good relationship professionally and personally. These attributes are a catalyst for being effective and getting good things done.

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

There are so many important challenges. One of the biggest challenges facing our schools is continuing to improve on AYP (Annual Yearly Progress). Commensurate to that is helping our students and parents realize that completing and graduating from high school is important to their future. These are complex issues and there are not usually simple answers to complex questions. Having said that, the district needs to ramp up the importance meter with the students. Students and parents need to be aware that they are making life-long decisions and understand the gravity of those choices.

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?

One sure-fire way of increasing parent involvement is to create and implement a plan for SB 5098. SB 5098 was passed in the last legislative session. This bill provides college scholarships for students in low-income families. The student must apply in the seventh or eighth grade and sign a pledge that they will achieve at least a C average through high school and not be convicted of a felony.

If communicated effectively to parents of these kids, the prospect of paid-up college provides a big incentive for parents to monitor their child’s progress from seventh grade on. Currently, Federal Way schools have a high percentage of children that qualify for free or reduced lunches.

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?

By state law, the school board is required to approve curriculum. That being said, the five members on the board are not curriculum experts. My management style is to rely on experts. The superintendent and curriculum committees of teachers are experts and need to be engaged and relied on. Every member on the board also has a responsibility to make sure every student is provided with the best curriculum and materials available. Every board member should come to meetings prepared to analyze, study and discuss curriculum issues and make informed, thoughtful and knowledgeable decisions as they are needed.

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

Athletics and extracurricular activities have a tradition in schools. They promote teamwork, goal setting and leadership. All these traits are absolutely necessary for being effective in business and society today. I think athletics and extracurricular activities’ coaches and advisors should relate the “real life” importance of teaming, goal setting and leadership traits and provide “real world” examples of how the skills learned will help in their lives ahead. There is an opportunity here to parlay how these traits and skills will help students in the real world.

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

I would make an attempt to hire back as many librarians as we could for a million dollars. The district lost librarians these past few years at a cost of over a million dollars per year. They are an invaluable asset to our school libraries. I think this would be one of the most efficient uses of a million dollars.

Contact Leonard Englund: lenforschools@comcast.net or (253) 852-0474.

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