Tiffany LaFontaine and Quentin Morris. Courtesy photos

Tiffany LaFontaine and Quentin Morris. Courtesy photos

Q&A: Federal Way Public Schools Board of Directors District 1 candidates

Tiffany LaFontaine is facing Quentin Morris.

The Federal Way Mirror asked the Federal Way Public Schools Board of Directors candidates a few questions about their priorities and plans if elected. Read their responses below.

The Mirror’s 2021 candidate debate is from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13 at the Twin Lakes Golf & Country Club. The event will be in-person and live streamed. Masks required.

Federal Way Public Schools School Board Director District 1 candidates:

Tiffany LaFontaine

Brief description of yourself: My name is Tiffany LaFontaine and I am running for FWPS School Director, Position 1. I am a long-time resident of Federal Way, a parent with two kids in the district and a preschool teacher in the community. I enjoy being involved in the Federal Way community, especially youth engagement. I do this service in many different ways including Girl Scout troop leader, church youth group leader, and my children’s school PTSA and various school parent committees. Since enrolling my first child in the district nine years ago, when my oldest started Kindergarten, I have cultivated relationships and seen first-hand the in’s and out’s of daily school life. It has given me insight into the positive things our schools and district are doing and also what improvements could be made.

Top three priorities, if elected: If elected, my top three priorities would focus on what our district looks like in a post-pandemic world. We know the last 18-months have been difficult for everyone and ensuring we recognize the strain it put on our students and their educational outcomes. Teachers must be given the opportunity to meet students at their individual level. First, we need to ensure our current students are on track for graduation. The district is offering free online tutoring, but I would suggest funds should also be allocated to putting more para-educators in classes to support students and teachers. At this unique time in history we should also look into adding additional counselors and nurses to help our kids be the best they can be mentally and physically. In addition, access to technology for all students is an absolute must. In order for our kids to be successful they must have continued access to laptops, broadband and hotspots. We know it can be done and our kids deserve to have the same opportunities for growth as kids in other districts. Lastly, we need to ensure our adopted curriculum is helpful in creating a healthy learning environment where educators are allowed space to teach students as individuals.

Why are you seeking a position on the Federal Way Public Schools Board of Directors?

I am seeking a position because as a parent of current students, the wife of an educator and being an educator myself, there is nothing more pressing for our community than the state of our schools. I know that Federal Way is a district filled with amazing students and incredible staff, but like any district we have our problems. I have seen the inequities in teaching, learning and discipline that mainly affect children of color. I would like to see the district reaching out to our marginalized communities and using the school board as a bridge to engage with all of our families (including BIPOC & LGBTQIA families) as well as the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, whose ancestral lands our community sits on.

What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting Federal Way students and families, and what do you intend to do about it?

There are many issues facing our students and families. One pressing issue I see currently for our students and families, in an uncertain Covid world, is mental health access. Our students are returning to classes after 18 months at home. They are entering into the unknown. What do our schools look like for the future? Questions of masks, health mandates, quarantined classrooms and other things kids and families have to deal with should not be shied away from. The solution is to bring in extra counselors to lighten the caseloads of current counselors, para-educators to support teachers in the classroom, and nurses to free up administration and office staff. Additional resources should be spent in the community to help families deal with the same issues at home. Utilizing our local resources, such as SeaMar or local counselors could help families take that important step in recovering from the effects of the pandemic.Also, an issue we must address, long-term, is student success in the classroom and preparing them for life after graduation.

The Federal Way Public Schools district operates a budget upwards of $363 million. What areas do you believe are unacceptable to face budget cuts and why?

At this time, I would say building staff should be protected above all. Our classroom sizes are expected to continue to grow and we need to ensure we have the staffing to currently keep our classroom sizes low because of Covid restrictions. That being said, our current situation is fluid and budgets need to be reviewed and reflect the needs of the different schools. Each school has budget needs that may be different from the other schools in the district.

Do you agree with the state and OSPI’s guidance for schools in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not?

As nervous as I was, as a parent, to send my kids back to school, I am happy with how the year is going so far and the protocols in place and safety precautions in place. I believe that OSPI’s guidance is based on the application of science and our children have returned with success. There seems to be a difference in how quarantines and illnesses are being handled school to school and that is a district issue. If there was one area I would say we didn’t succeed on, it was not allowing our student’s access to the district provided laptops over the summer. By taking away the access to laptops, our children were put at a disadvantage and it only made it more difficult for our kids to catch up or pull ahead, post-online learning.

Quentin Morris

Brief description of yourself: I currently reside in the city of Federal Way, my home for over 30 years. After retirement from an accomplished career as an engineer and business executive, I feel it is now time to serve the community that served me so well. This life has provided the formative basis for my mission in the performance of the School Director’s role and activity as shared below. I have been a mentor, a business advisor and a tutor. As a world-traveler and business ambassador of our country’s major aerospace company, I am witness to the value of skill and proficiency in English, communications, math and sciences. In these roles, I have seen first-hand the challenges and costs created by a substandard education.

Top three priorities, if elected:

The Mission Statement for my term as school director includes:

  • Support and promote transparency and openness in the interests of the entire community of Federal Way Public Schools’ stakeholders, especially parents. The School Director has an obligation, responsibility, and duty to provide consistent and open office hours to and relay community voice to the administration on issues of policy and performance.
  • Reinforce a curriculum that empowers the student to become an engaged, respectful, functioning and literate contributor to the community. It is the priority of the public school system to ensure students advance and graduate with the requisite skills to be knowledgeable and fluent in the skills required to meet everyday life.
  • Monitor and promote sound business practices that ensure quality, effective and measurable performance of FWPS. The community pays a price for the results of FWPS performance. All stakeholders in the community contribute to the school system. Elders, non-parents, and businesses pay the fare in terms of taxes. Parents invest their trust in the expectation of quality returns measured by the intellectual, personal, and civic growth in their children.

What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting Federal Way students and families, and what do you intend to do about it?

The most immediate and pressing concerns at FWPS are the security and safety of our students. Children and their parents should feel confident that FWPS has their best interests in mind. In the past weeks we have witnessed vandalism, bullying, violence and the retention of staff that violates the trust required of them to teach our students. Parents are rightfully concerned with the trend. At-risk students have specific funds dedicated by the state. We need to assure that these funds are applied, and these students gain the dedicated resources they deserve. At-risk students should never be co-mingled with special needs students.

The Federal Way Public Schools district operates a budget upwards of $363 million. What areas do you believe are unacceptable to face budget cuts and why?

Due to the overwhelming demands for funding, FWPS budget can be only marginally controlled by the School Board. However, of the discretionary budget, there can be no compromise in assuring that safety and security are fully funded. With the return to an academics-based curriculum, the budget for 3 rd -party consulting for any agenda-driven curriculum that deviates from one of student empowerment should be challenged. Further, there is no need for carrying any portion of the burden of the former superintendent’s salary; it is time for the separation. For the savings, at least three or four teachers could be added to the staff. Based on my observations, I have full confidence that Dr. Dani Pfeiffer’s capabilities are up to the task. Further, our focus should be first and foremost to ensuring equality of opportunity.

Do you agree with the state and OSPI’s guidance for schools in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not?

OSPI’s agenda in response to COVID seems to be unsteady and in continual revision. For an institution that bases itself on learning and academics, OSPI seems inclined to ignore applied science and instead embrace political science. I recall when I was a child these years of K-12 were times of joy, play, and exploration. We clearly find ourselves in more challenging times. Perhaps the pressure to push to in-person learning was too great. Sending students back into the classroom has proven to be costly and risky. Parents are afraid. There is uncertainty with COVID. Yet most detected juvenile and adolescent cases of COVID are asymptomatic or mild and bear no more health risk than the originally dominant seasonal flu. It is documented by front-line and engaged physicians and scientists. Sadly, the population least vulnerable to the virus but the most vulnerable to the mask-borne conditions of recirculated breath, streptococcal pneumonia and other diseases related to masks. The social and psychological consequences are substantive as well. I am forced to concede that we observe the mandated protocols. But only open, respectful and constructive dialog will lead us out of this challenging condition.

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