Federal Way School Board candidates face off at forum

Federal Way School Board candidates, from left: Angela Griffin, Bill Pirkle and Ed Barney. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
Federal Way School Board candidates, from left: Angela Griffin, Bill Pirkle and Ed Barney.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

At a forum Sept. 30 at Federal Way High School, candidates in the school board race answered questions from the audience.

There are two contested races. Running for position 1 is incumbent Ed Barney and Bill Pirkle.

Running for position 4 is incumbent Angela Griffin and Steve Skipper. Skipper was unable to attend the forum.

Tony Moore is running unopposed for position 5.

Barney has served on the board for eight years, but has been attending board meetings since 1985. He has had five children grow up through Federal Way schools and now has grandchildren in the district.

Pirkle is a retired computer programmer who has been a substitute teacher in the district for three years. He wants to shake up the board and was upset that the board did not let issues he brought to them be addressed publicly.

Griffin was appointed to the position a year ago and is hoping to retain her seat. She is works at a nonprofit organization and has been in teacher in South Central Los Angeles.

Here’s a recap of the questions and answers.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the school district and/or school board?

Griffin: “We have a good team and are working together to do some great things. I wouldn’t say we agree about everything, but we support each other.” She also said she would like to change how the personnel looks districtwide and add some more diversity.

Pirkle: “I think it’s sweet the school board works together.” Would like to see some more adversarial relationships, more debates, that’s how democracy works. School board meetings should be exciting.

Barney: Would like to see every student passing the WASL and be at grade-level expectations.

How can the district engage fathers in schools?

Pirkle: There are a lot of absentee fathers. He would like to make sure that the district has all fathers’ mailing addresses and mails report cards to both parents.

Barney: Would like to see more programs that involve parents, like the Watch DOGS program at Lakota Middle School.

Griffin: More open communication and parent involvement.

How will you address school violence and keep kids safe?

Barney: The district has a good working relationship with the police. When schools have been closed down, the district has known about the need for the closed campus quickly, and that allows police to either enter the school or move the threat away from the campus.

Griffin: Violence in Federal Way isn’t as bad as some of the areas that she has experienced firsthand. However, the district does need to be proactive to keep the district safe and needs to continue the relationships with law enforcement and students.

Pirkle: Have drug-sniffing dogs in the school to prevent students from bringing the drugs in the first place. Violence is caused by drugs.

Do you support an off-campus lunch policy?

Griffin: Anything is possible, but it would depend on the community, and if students could safely leave and come back.

Pirkle: The issue is a legal one. Schools are responsible for safety.

Barney: It is a legal issue. There is the option of bringing in outside fast food to the school.

How will the school board address language and ethnic barriers between teachers and students?

Pirkle: A lot of parents make the mistake that they want their children to speak their (native) language. They often think the school will teach them English. They start off in kindergarten not speaking English and fall behind. A better rule would be, why don’t you teach your child English and let the school teach them another language? “I am all for having language in elementary schools.”

Barney: Currently there is an ESL program. However the state pulls students out of it once they are testing at a 60 percent level. There is a lot of diversity in Federal Way and all students need to learn.

Griffin: The dual language program is coming and there has been a lot of research to show that it is successful. There also needs to be programs to support those students.

What is the job of the school board?

Barney: The main function is to hire the superintendent as well as approve the curriculum and budget.

Griffin: In addition to what Barney mentioned, the board also sets expectations, civil expectations and expectations for parents and the community.

Pirkle: Agrees with both. However, the board must also make sure the superintendent is doing his job and that the principals are doing their jobs.

What is the purpose of all the new school construction?

Bill: Doesn’t think that kids’ learning is affected by architecture. Schools would last longer if properly maintained. “We apparently build a lot of schools in Federal Way.”

Barney: The new buildings also help bring in new technology, which isn’t feasible in the older buildings that don’t have the capacity for it. The technology is needed for education.

Griffin: Continue to build when there is an opportunity and funds.

How will you improve the reputation of Federal Way academic achievement?

Barney: Helped bring Cambridge, pre-IB and AP classes to the lower levels and continually upgrade books and online programs.

Griffin: She is an advocate for early learning and thinks the district needs to start earlier. Likes that AVID has been moved down to the elementary level.

Pirkle: Thinks parents should sign all tests on a weekly basis and bring them back to teacher.

Should the school board push for more early learning programs?

Griffin: She will continue to push legislators to put early education as part of basic education funding.

Pirkle: The younger students were his favorite to teach. They “are just angels” at that stage.

Barney: Let parents know about more of the free online programs for early learning.

What skills are required for a successful school board?

Pirkle: Knows how to think logically and likes to put forth a logical argument.

Barney: Good listener who listens to all sides and works for what is best for all kids, not just a few of them.

Griffin: “I start in my home. There are six of us and we are a team. We all help out to make it a success.” Works for a non-profit where teamwork gets things done.

Student input for lockdowns? Should windows be covered?

Barney: In a lockdown, all blinds are to be closed. It’s important to secure the school so no one can see inside.

Griffin: Students should be covered from view, either down low or out of there.

Pirkle: Thinks that the paper over the door that teachers often cover should be taken down so teachers can tell what is going on.

Why is a fine arts credit required to graduate?

Griffin: Fine arts help students become well rounded, and some students really need that.

Pirkle: It’s required because the school board decided that. Fine arts are a big part of life and understanding life.

Barney: It’s a state requirement. His own kids were involved in fine arts and loved exposing their artistic side.

How can the board better distribute funds among programs and activities?

Pirkle: School board would discuss it, but he believes that currently there are too many special programs. “Every time we have a problem, we start a special program.”

Barney: The funds are distributed among current programs in the district and for new programs that are proven effective.

Griffin: The board determines which programs are effective for the district and allocates accordingly.

Should programs reflect different learning styles?

Barney: A lot of the programs do that already. They provide a mix of classroom lecture, online and hands-on learning, and students can work individually, in small groups and teams. Everyone learns differently.

Griffin: It takes our district accepting that there are different learning styles and being willing to teach that way. The parents also have to know their learning styles and place kids in the school that is best suited to that. Griffin has three students in three different schools they picked based on their styles.

Pirkle: A teacher should blend all learning styles, but the district should be shaping the students instead of shaping the schools.

What’s the difference between you and your opponent?

Griffin: She said she doesn’t know enough about her opponent to judge.

Pirkle: “I have actually taught in these schools.” “We need some fresh thinking.” “School board is not supposed to be a political career.”

Barney: “I have been here eight years.” Offers some stability. “The adversarial position we have had in the past created some problems.”

What do you think of the board’s policy management?

Pirkle: The board spends too much time looking at how a board should work. You don’t have to like each other, you don’t have to be a team. “It’s motion substituted for progress.”

Barney: The board works better cooperatively. A board that is constantly fighting makes good press, but it doesn’t help education.

Griffin: Now we are looking at the issues and the date and strategies together as a team, we don’t spend a lot of time arguing. We put on the table what needs to be done.

How can schools’ atmosphere of discipline be changed to allow better teaching?

Barney: We have discipline programs in place. Larger schools and classrooms make it more difficult, as is the transient nature of the district.

Griffin: There is a policy in place, however, children are going to misbehave. The district needs to find ways for the teachers to get to know their students in order to understand why they are acting out.

Pirkle: Put the parents on the phone while the student is in the principal’s office.

Closing statements

Barney: Moved here because of the schools. We have improved education, we have people coming from out of district because of the programs we offer here. Adversarial boards have gained us national attention and were not beneficial. We have shown that programs here in Federal Way have been adopted in the state.

Pirkle: This election is about change versus status quo. Supports teamwork but there is nothing bad about adversarial relationships. It’s a very logical process. “I am not in favor of a lot of teamwork. I will be the change agent.”

Griffin: “Every single child can succeed in life if they apply themselves and have the right resources and opportunities.” Every student has the right to receive the best opportunity to learn. Sits on the board with the intention of making sure we have policies and expectations, that we don’t settle with status quo and continue to bring in nationally recognized programs. An adversarial board will hinder progress.

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