Q&A with Kelly Latterman, candidate for 4-year term on Steamboat Springs School Board
Brief bio: Kelly Latterman is the district manager for Junior Achievement in Routt County. In this role she works directly with local schools, overseeing JA’s educational K-12 programming, which promotes entrepreneurship, financial literacy and college and career readiness. Before her employment with JA, Latterman served as co-executive director at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Came and School. Formerly, she began her career in education policy working as a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures. With NCSL, she managed an education policy portfolio including school leadership, rural education, governance, teachers and free speech. Latterman holds a masters degree in political science and a graduate certificate in public, nonprofit and community leadership from the University of Colorado Denver. In addition to her work, Kelly has taken an active role in the community volunteering as a high school youth leader with Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church and Howelsen Hill Ski Patrol. She also serves on numerous boards, including Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Steamboat Springs Board of Education and the Yampa Valley Medical Center Foundation.
Q. Why are you running for school board?
A. I am passionate about our schools, an active volunteer and have a professional background in education policy. I bring a relevant skill set to the board through my expertise in governance, school leadership and rural education policy as well as navigating state level bureaucracy and communicating policy impacts to our community. Though our school district is consistently ranked near the top in Colorado, we need to be comparing ourselves as the world does, to the top performers outside of our state. The success of our school system is vital to the health and prosperity of our community, I would be honored to serve on the body entrusted with the responsibility for setting the vision for the district’s future. Our schools need to provide every student with the opportunities and support to fulfill their potential.
Q. Please describe any involvement you’ve had with the local school district or any background or experience you have with education?
A. As a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, I managed policy work in rural education, school leadership and K-12 school governance. In this role, I enjoyed connecting legislators with the resources they needed to make informed policy decisions. As the district manager for Junior Achievement, I work with local volunteers and our classroom teachers to bring project-based curriculum, focused on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness into K-12 classrooms. Recently, I served as the Communications Advisory Committee facilitator for the Steamboat Springs School District’s long-term planning initiative. In this capacity, I had the opportunity to work closely with school district staff and community members who have a vested interest in our schools. When a position opened to serve on the school board in 2019, I applied and was selected. I am now running for the first time, seeking a board seat for the four-year term.
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. The school board has one employee, the superintendent. The board needs to give the superintendent clear guidance and direction and then hold them accountable for those responsibilities. I see the relationship with principals, teachers and staff as a partnership. The school board members listen and ask questions about how they can support a better learning environment for all. They enter the schools, observe the classrooms and participate in school events. The relationship with students, parents and the community as a whole is to listen, to be responsive and vote with the best interests of these stakeholders in mind. The board represents the community’s voice in our schools, so it is critical to provide ample opportunities for engagement and reach out for feedback. The district is making progress with communication, but there is much more that can be done.
Q. How do you think schools should measure student achievement?
A. Our teachers are in our classrooms with our students daily where they are evaluating the progress each student is making. Schools should measure student achievement with a balanced approach that takes daily and long term progress into account, as well as utilizing state and nationally available assessments, which offer comparative opportunities. For the last decade, Colorado teachers have not had consistency in state standards, requirements, testing and evaluations. Standardization and consistency are a requirement for measuring student achievement. Colorado is beginning to prioritize student growth, which I believe is a positive step. Data on students’ personal growth over time is an important measure in addition to comparing students to their own grade level peers.
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. The board will always have more requests than resources, so they must distill and prioritize. Over 80% of the district’s budget currently goes toward staff. As the district’s most important resource, I believe prioritizing teacher support is imperative. Our schools are chronically underfunded, especially at the state level and have learned to operate with limited resources despite continual cuts through the budget stabilization factor at the state level. Before cutting the budget, I would first look to alternative funding sources such as community partnerships and grants to supplement core services. I would then cut non-student facing costs such as contractors and underutilized technology.
Q. What are the three greatest challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District?
A. We need to work to close the achievement gap between traditionally high achieving student groups and those who have continually been classified as “does not meet” or “approaching” in academic achievement and postsecondary and workforce readiness on the state’s district performance framework. Though the district consistently exceeds standards for the majority of students, we still need to work to close the present gaps in our student population. The board should prioritize social and emotional wellness in addition to academic achievement and growth. Our students need to be equipped with the knowledge and skill set to be able to manage and understand their emotions to function in an evolving world. The district currently has open positions because of a lack of qualified applicants. We need to offer salaries, benefits and a positive working environment that assists in recruiting the best and the brightest, so that we can continue to provide a high level of instruction.
Q. Describe your vision for a new pre-K through eighth-grade school.
Our district already has a successful model of this type of school in North Routt Community Charter School. Aptly, it has community in its name because it is a school that prioritizes building and supporting a community. I would like to see the new school provide a learning environment that embraces project-based learning, promotes STEAM opportunities and supports leadership opportunities for older learners and mentoring for the youngest. This would be a school with minimal transitions, allowing families a choice for up to 10 years in the same nurturing environment and giving students time to grow in relationships with staff and classmates alike. My vision is one where the school is seen as the lighthouse of the community.
Q. If the school bond fails, what do you think are the school district’s next steps?
The district must first prioritize the needs of the students. They will need to use the resources they already have, thinking creatively about space and function, so that students are not suffering. Once their immediate needs are addressed, we need to bring the right people to the table. Collaboration from parents, community and business leaders, and staff are critical to get a clear picture on what our community supports. We know some of our facilities require updates, so we need to gather as a community and prioritize what those are and then move forward with a clearly articulated vision with clear buy in. No matter the outcome, I will start early, communicate often and listen to voters.
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. The research tells us what makes schools highly effective: high quality instruction and visionary school leadership, high expectations for students, effective use of data, open dialogue and trust between parents and the schools, as well as a clear vision with buy-in from the community. We need to be implementing what the research tells us makes schools strong. Yes, we are ranked high in Colorado, but our state is far behind when compared at the national and international levels. To keep improving our students success, I would like to see the district prioritize the following: provide additional STEAM opportunities for our students, encourage project-based learning, embrace financial literacy at all levels, support meaningful professional development for teachers, expand career and technical education and work toward closing the achievement gap between student subgroups, especially English language learners and students with disabilities.
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