Q&A with Chresta Brinkman, candidate for 2-year term on Steamboat Springs School Board
Brief bio: Bachelor of Arts from University of Kansas with a major in psychology; Master of Arts from the University of Northern Colorado with a major in moderate needs special education; related coursework in early childhood and severe affective special education. Volunteer experience includes: Soda Creek Elementary School classroom volunteer; Parent Information Committee president, committee chairs and volunteer; Challenge Fund Committee; Steamboat Springs Middle School and PIC; Steamboat Springs High School PIC and Drama Troupe; Steamboat Springs School Accountability Committee; Steamboat Springs School District Accountability Committee; Steamboat Springs School District Strategic Planning Participation; Steamboat Springs School District Master Planning forum and focus group participation; Steamboat Springs School District site visit participant; Junior Achievement; Referendum 2B Campaign. Current community involvement: Junior Achievement of Colorado Board; BookTrails board; Historic Hayden Granary board; Holy Name Pastoral Council board; Junior Achievement volunteer; and United Way Tocqueville Society Member. Occupation: unilateral hearing loss parent guide for Colorado Hands & Voices.
Q. Why are you running for school board?
A. I am running for Steamboat Springs School Board because I am passionate about all aspects of public education and the people within it. After so many years working with children and volunteering on many levels, I believe I can make a positive impact on our school board. With four of five open seats on our board, combined with the upcoming bond, it is imperative that we have people on the board who are invested in and understand our district and community. I believe that I would be an asset in supporting an excellent school district, which helps make Steamboat Springs an even stronger community.
Q. Please describe any involvement you’ve had with the local school district or any background or experience you have with education?
A. I began my career in special education. After having kids and having a child who is deaf in one ear, I became a parent advocate providing support and advocacy for families who have children with hearing loss in Colorado. I have personal and professional experience with children who have unique learning needs. Over the last 10 years I have spent a lot of time volunteering in our schools and community serving on various boards and volunteering in our schools and classrooms. I have four children in our elementary, middle and high schools, and I have participated in the Parent Information Committees, School Accountability Committee, District Accountability Committee and have participated in the District Strategic Action Planning and Master Facilities committees. I know our staff, schools, students and our district. I am passionate about meeting the needs of the whole child and am committed to our students’ success.
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Q. What do you believe the role of a school board member should be in relationship to administration and staff? To parents and students?
A. I believe a board member’s role is to serve with the other members as an overall guiding body of the district as well as to provide strategic input and feedback. I welcome open communication with all community stakeholders — parents, students, staff, administration and residents — and will listen to what is shared with me to help form a well-balanced perspective of our community. I am committed to respectfully following the appropriate chain of command and will always encourage a conversation with the pertinent people, when applicable. I feel an integral part of my role as a board member is to honor and represent the residents of our school district to guide and shape a well-rounded perspective at the table.
Q. How do you think schools should measure student achievement?
A. Obviously prestigious awards, high test scores and other measures of quantifiable data are generally good indicators that the schools and students within are doing a good job, which can be used as a measure of student achievement. However, I also feel that a district that attracts and retains high caliber administrators, educators and staff typically begets not only academic success and higher student achievement but also creates a culture that supports the needs of the whole student — mentally, emotionally, academically. I feel that meeting the whole child with this approach will also lend to supporting the unique social/emotional/educational needs, and this will lend to students being set up to succeed and achieve all around.
Q. School districts continually have to grapple with budget and funding shortfalls. Are there areas where you think the district can trim its budget?
A. It is my understanding that a small percent of our revenue comes from the federal government. I know that this, in addition to our state and local funding, does not afford for us to accurately meet the educational needs of our students. Colorado is ranked in the bottom 10% of state education for per-pupil funding. I look forward to understanding more about and being involved in our budgeting process. When on the board, I will strive to create a balanced budget where I will support small class sizes, appropriate facilities, attracting and retaining high caliber staff as well as support the mental health needs in our district.
Q. What are the three greatest challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District?
A. I asked over 100 people to sign my petition for candidacy and I asked, “What is something that matters to you that you for me to know if I get elected” and there were three top items. The first: teachers/classified salary. I was a teacher, and I personally understand the challenge of earning a livable wage and allocating toward savings. Increased salary will attract a high-quality staff. The second: class size. With four children in our district, I have volunteered for almost 10 years at all levels. I’ve seen the growth over the years in our student population. Having worked with students with unique learning needs, I see how these sizes and spaces impact kids, especially those with non-traditional learning needs. The third: facilities. Being involved has allowed me to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the extraordinary efforts made to allow for the successful outcomes in our district.
Q. Describe your vision for a new pre-K through eighth grade school.
A. I was grateful to accompany a group that toured other schools comparable to those in our district. To be candid, before this trip, I was not sold on the idea of this model. However, toward the end of the day, we visited a pre-K to eighth grade school. I was captivated by the structure, flow, culture, support and continuity of this approach. On the drive home, I realized that, just as I appreciate unique learning needs of students, I also appreciate adding another model and therefore option for our families to choose from. I believe this model could be an incredible asset for our families and district. I feel that all of our schools have wonderful and individual cultures and adding a pre-K option expands the options for our families as they decide what best meets their needs.
Q. If the school bond fails, what do you think are the school district’s next steps?
A. As a community, we would need to go back to the drawing board. It is incumbent upon the board to understand why the bond didn’t succeed and come back to the table to have continued conversations with our educators and staff. Currently, these needs have been extensively identified from our educators for supporting the best possible learning outcomes for our students and what that looks like. The board would need to consider these identified needs from our educators, reevaluate them and then work together again with our community stakeholders to see how these district needs can align with greater community support.
Q. The district continues to be ranked among the top 10 districts in the state academically. In what ways do you think the school board can foster even more academic achievement? Where would you like to see improvement?
A. Our achievement, awards, outcomes of student success and our staff members are many of the indicators of our highly successful district. Earning a top 10 ranking among our state’s 179 districts academically is absolutely an honor and a strong measure of a district striving for excellence. As a board member, I would like to continue to evaluate the contributors to these successes and ensure that these are supported and enhanced. In addition, I would like to check in with other similar districts to continually evaluate and work diligently to ensure best practice that makes sense for our students, staff and schools, while striving to meet the needs of all our students not only as learners but as whole individuals.
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