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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 20, 2017

School board candidates answer questionnaire

By Nicole Major, staff writer | Aug 29, 2017
Photo by: submitted Plum

This year, 15 contenders are in the running for seats on the Fairfield Community School District’s board of directors.

The Ledger will showcase each one of those candidates with a mini-profile to run from now until just before the election on Sept. 12.

Candidates were given the opportunity to respond to five questions. Today’s showcase features Debi Plum and Barry Waugh, who are competing for the three four-year terms up for election.

 

Debi Plum

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

I am a retired high school math teacher. I have always entertained the notion that, upon retirement, I would like to be a school board member. Public education is my passion and it seems that our country has been valuing teachers and public education less for the last decade or so. Public education is part of what sets our country apart from the rest of the world, and I want to see it be as strong as possible. Strong public schools make for vibrant communities. I plan on retiring here and want my community to be as vibrant as it can be!

 

2. What do you think the current board is doing right?

I think the current board has had some tough decisions to make recently. In particular, tough budget decisions. Closing a school is never an easy decision to make.

And the board did not make that decision all on its own, they sought input from a cross section of the community, held meetings, and discussed their options. After those meetings, the committee voted and sent their recommendation to the board, who then also voted on the decision.

That decision may not have made everyone happy, but a wide variety of people had input, and a democratic process was followed. That is always the way to make those tough decisions in my opinion.

 

3. Are there any areas that you think the board could improve upon?

In every organization there is always room for improvement. I would like to see all board members visit schools, during the school day and see what is happening. Have meetings with various groups of staff. Talk to students with varied interests and varied backgrounds. I think we also need to look for ways to expand our available funds for the schools. Writing grants, utilizing federal dollars, creative scheduling are a few ideas that come to mind. I am not one that thinks the current board is doing a horrible job, but as I said, there is always room for improvement.

 

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

In the course of my 22-year career as a public educator I taught all levels of math, from math reasoning for struggling students, through advanced placement calculus and everything in between. I was also the district math curriculum coordinator where I helped develop curriculum and was responsible for providing and/or arranging professional development for math teachers.

As math standards changed and more students were required to take more math, I also provided workshops for paraprofessionals who worked as aides in the math classrooms. In those workshops, I taught them the mathematics as well as various methods of helping the students.

I was Title 1 coordinator at my school and started a before and after school learning center for students to use. It still is going strong today. As Title 1 coordinator and as curriculum coordinator I became much more familiar with the complexities of school budgets. I am no expert by any means, but am at least familiar with some of the complexities.

As a teacher, I taught a wide variety of students and adults, teaching approximately 3,000 people in the course of my career. I also am mother of two grown daughters, one of whom was in special needs classes in elementary school. And I am grandmother of five. I know how diverse children are on both a personal level as well as a professional level!

 

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

I was not a part of those decisions, as I do not have children or grandchildren in the Fairfield schools. However, as I stated earlier, I feel these decisions were made using a democratic process that involved all stakeholders. That said, I think the future board has to keep a close eye on how implementation of grade alike goes. Collect data and listen to the data, and give it a chance to work.

However, if data shows it is not good for kids, we should look at alternatives down the road. All decisions should be made based on what is best for ALL students. We also will need to make good decisions on how the Libertyville property should be used in the way that is best for the community as a whole, while being financially responsible at the same time.

 

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

I grew up in a variety of places across the country. My dad was a pilot in the air force. By 6th grade, I had gone to 5 schools. As an adult, I lived in south Florida, Arizona and Nevada. My children were educated in both Florida and Arizona. Hurricane Andrew devastated our community in Florida and that is why we moved to Arizona. I believe this gives me a unique perspective on life as well as education since I have been a part of such a wide variety of communities. My professional career was all in Arizona where our schools were full of many diverse students from all over the world. My professional career itself was fairly diverse having been at 2 different high schools and at district office. I think what I share with my fellow candidates is a passion for kids and public education.

 

Barry Waugh

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

The most important reason I am running is for my 8-year-old son, Kerrick. My wife, Kara, and I chose to move back to Fairfield six years ago after nearly a 20 year hiatus to provide Kerrick with the educational and extracurricular opportunities we experienced. I was prompted to run by teachers and it was time for me to become more involved and engaged. I fully support public education and intend to serve students, teachers, and parents of the community to the best of my ability.

 

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

I believe the current board is doing many things right. The board managed a challenging budget situation to the best of their abilities. Members are doing their best to ensure each student receives a well-rounded, quality education with as many curriculum opportunities as possible. In addition, the Board made the decision to negotiate a contract before the implementation of legislative changes. I feel this helped to provide some comfort against future unknowns. We must retain teachers and provide a competitive benefit package.

There are two specific areas I feel the board could improve: communication and root cause analysis. We live in the information age and there is lots of it. Everyone’s attention is being pulled in multiple directions. For the most part the district is relying on the “pull” method to communicate to parents and the community. (Make the information available and they will find it and read it.) I believe we need to expand the outreach to parents. We can begin using text messages (it works for snow days) and expand our use of Social Media in addition to utilizing traditional methods such as the Fairfield Ledger and the district’s website to reach more parents.

The other area of improvement is identifying root causes in problem solving. I’ll use the example of the board making a decision on the grade alike proposal. I attended the board meeting and I listened to comments regarding improving collaboration and fixing socio economic differences. While these are noble endeavors, the reality is these are correlations, rather than causalities. In order to make a true difference time must be spent identifying root causes in order to identify gaps, make improvements, and generate solutions. In addition I heard “we have to do something.” In reality, if a root cause has not been identified, doing “something” could actually make situations worse. I will address more on this topic in question 4.

 

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’ll start with my personal experience. I know the meaning of hard work and what it’s like to grow up in challenging economic conditions. We didn’t use conditions out of our control as an excuse. I like to think this stems from my family and, more specifically, my grandmother, Pearl Waugh. Grandma was a bus driver in the Fairfield school district for 23 years. She raised 12 children on her own when she lost her husband in 1957. She used 6 acres of garden, her small wage from driving a bus, and occasionally assistance from neighbors to ensure her children were fed and educated. She is the definition of a hero to me.

I’m not sure any of the rest really matters. I’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in Management from Simpson College and a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Iowa. I began my career as an underwriter. I calculated insurance premium rates for businesses: Life, Medical, Dental, Vision, and Disability. I’m well versed in group insurance benefits and challenges with increasing rates, which have been a significant concern since the early 1990s. I’ve been in formal leadership roles for 20 years. I know how to set expectations and influence accountability, while maintaining great relationships with my co-workers.

I know the importance of budgeting. As a Project Manager, I’m often faced with new challenges with limited, to no, prior knowledge. I bring teams together with different backgrounds and expertise to set the appropriate plan to achieve objectives for large initiatives. I’ve managed projects with up to an expected expense of $50 Million. In addition to project management I’ve had the opportunity to train and use continuous improvement techniques to improve processes, create efficiencies, and reduce expenses.

I have experience serving on several boards: Premier Credit Union, Fairfield Cougars Baseball, and Simpson Alumni. I am the current Vice President for the Fairfield Education Foundation and current President of the Fairfield Bowling Association.

We live in a diverse community, which is a rarity, and a positive, for a rural Iowa town. I have a great appreciation for it. A prior employer was focused on diversity and I have taken a lot of training and grown to appreciate a variety of cultures. I do not strive to be tolerant, I strive to be accepting.

 

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

There were definitely some hot button issues in the prior year. I’d like to begin by stating I have no plans, or agenda, to alter or change those decisions. Our children, and district, have been through enough change in recent months. I will hold myself, the Board, and the administration accountable for our decisions by evaluating impact, success, and lessons learned.

I attended Libertyville Elementary School when enrollment was thriving. I have fond memories as a student. I feel we had some of the best teachers in the district during that time. Unfortunately, times changed in the rural communities. There are not as many small family farms providing the enrollment necessary to maintain schools like Libertyville, given current budget constraints. I saw many options presented in an attempt to continue Libertyville. However, my feeling at the time was these were merely short-term options leading to an inevitable closing. In addition, I didn’t feel taking away any existing opportunities for activities was a viable solution in the long-term for all students in the district.

I used grade alike as an example for improving root cause analysis in question 2. Please allow me to clarify — I am in favor of grade alike. I do not believe there was a short-term crisis requiring an immediate change. There was a statement made that there were differences in curriculum between our elementary schools. This was the key statement requiring additional questions to determine root causes. I feel the timeline was rushed and most parents were excluded from committee discussions. A vote occurred focusing on symptoms and without a plan to implement. There were many logistical questions remaining to be answered, including infrastructure and transportation. Moving forward without a root cause analysis offered no “baseline” for success criteria related to student achievement — whether scores decrease or increase in the future. I would like to point to a recent example — two years ago, after much discussion, Charles City chose to move to grade alike claiming consistency and focus would be brought to the district. Student achievement scores dropped 4 points after moving to grade alike and their elementary school received a “needs improvement” status.

I believe, as a community, we should have established a 20 — 30 year vision for the district, evaluated where we are currently, and then made steps to move in the approved direction.

 

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

I truly believe all candidates have an interest in providing the best education to our children. I am one of the few candidates with a child currently in the school district. My son, Kerrick, will be attending 3rd grade at Pence this year. I feel this does provide an advantage. As a parent I have been very engaged, listening to concerns expressed by my son’s teachers and other teachers and parents in the school district. I feel teachers are on the “front lines” of the current issues faced by our students and parents. We need to listen to teachers first to best understand problems, and the root causes of those problems, in order to formulate the best plan to proceed toward solutions.

An idea I believe is worth more research for feasibility is establishing a community public school endowment for the Fairfield District. If feasible this may significantly lift the burden and reliance on legislative restrictions when it comes to our children’s education. Rather than create a new entity it may be possible to incorporate a new mission within the Fairfield Education Foundation Board. We are missing valuable opportunities to engage the business community and create new public / private partnerships, not only financial opportunities, but mentoring and employment opportunities as well. Creating opportunities for individuals to financially support aspects of the school district through charitable giving can help fill in gaps, provide new programs, and provide tax benefits to the donors.

I believe we also need to work more closely with the City of Fairfield, FEDA, etc. to continue to promote Fairfield as a community people desire to live and raise their families. We need to evaluate why so many people who work in Fairfield choose to live in other communities and send their children to schools outside of Fairfield.

 

I appreciate any, and all, support. More importantly I want to listen to your ideas for improvement. Together we will make our district Trojan Strong.

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