Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2017

Picard: District should be optimistic about growth

By Nicole Major, Ledger staff writer | Aug 30, 2017
Picard

The following are the responses of candidate Ben Picard, who is competing for one of three four-year terms on the Fairfield Community School District’s board of directors. The election is Sept. 12.

 

1. Please briefly explain what prompted you to run for a seat on the Fairfield Community School District’s board of directors?

As a father of six girls, “a school in its own right!”, I was compelled to review student achievement data objectively. What I discovered was that recently Fairfield’s average scores on standardized tests that all of its students take are in the bottom third of Iowa districts. I’d like to see that reversed.

In seeking a cause I discovered that Fairfield teachers are being underpaid 11 percent vs. neighboring districts, and 12 percent below the state average. I’d like to see that remedied, too.

Finally, I noted a discrepancy in that falling enrollment (at the root of the district’s budget issues) is blamed on a falling birthrate. Fairfield’s population has increased 7 percent since 2010. Females, age 20-29, have led the rebound.   We’re poised for growth in young families as a community and I prefer the district plan optimistically, based on these new facts, to grow enrollment.

I believe I can bring innovative ideas to the new board as it works toward those proposed goals.

 

2. What do you think the current board is doing right? Are there any areas that you think the board could improve upon?

I think the current board celebrates individual and team successes appropriately across the range of academics, sports and the arts while aiming for an equitable education for all. I find the district ahead of the curve regarding free and reduced lunch programs. It was nice to see this past summer’s meal program in action.

I do think that as Fairfield went through an economic depression between 1996 and 2010, that the prevailing narrative of falling enrollment really took hold. I believe the current board and administration should now let that narrative go and boldly plan for a very bright future.

 

3. If elected to the school board, what assets would you bring to the table? Please talk about both your professional and personal experiences.

I’m a Fairfield High School graduate. I was valedictorian, senior class president and cross-country co-captain. I was fortunate to get a degree in economics and math at Yale (affirmative action presumably; they needed a farm kid), and a master’s in business administration from Duke. In Silicon Valley, I started and sold three companies, so at this point, I’m a seasoned entrepreneur acquainted with adapting for growth with limited resources and versus competitive market forces.

I maintained my love of running beyond high school, completing 12 marathons in two years.   Fatherhood is more challenging than any of those. I’m not in this school board race for the sprint. I’m in it to see all of our kids off to the best educational start in life, considering each unique and capable of great things. That’s why I’m seeking a full four-year term.

4. What is your stance on the latest hot button issues, such as grade alike, Libertyville Elementary School closing, etc.?

Grade alike in principle is ideal. But in practice, it is best instituted on a central campus. Given our infrastructure, a K-8th campus bridging Pence and the Middle School, 9th-12th at the high school might have made both economic and academic sense, boosting student achievement by limiting transitions to one for the typical student on his/her educational journey.

As a businessperson, I believe Libertyville Elementary offered a competitive advantage to the district vs. a strengthening Pekin and Cardinal. The key now is transformation to a network design of facilities that will: 1) maximize student achievement; and 2) enhance the district’s competitiveness vs. its current loss of students via open-enrollment to neighboring districts and future challenge of private-enrollment when the state legislature enacts vouchers.

5. What unique thing or things about you helps to distinguish you from your peers?

My family is nine generations in Jefferson County (before the county had even chosen Fairfield as its county seat). My grandmother Mable began her teaching career at Pleasant Plain Elementary. My grandfather was entrepreneurial and idea rich. I bring new ideas that I think can help our kids, our teachers and our schools.

I believe the ability to adapt and change is critical to our district’s success, and I see tremendous opportunity for the district to syndicate its most successful programs: Guided Advance Placement courses, etc., to other rural districts for meaningful gains in student achievement and incremental revenue to solve our district’s fiscal crisis.

With the renewed ability to invest, we can re-craft the district’s image. Let’s modernize our logo, team apparel, facilities, all the while putting kid achievement first. It’s time to heal all past divisions and grow as a Trojan Community.

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