Q&A with Kim Brack, candidate for 4-year seat on Steamboat Springs School Board
Brief bio: I have my degree in psychology and spent time as an ABA therapist for young children on the spectrum, which demonstrated very clearly to me how powerful early childhood intervention is. I was also an alcohol and addiction counselor for Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, which exposed me to the legal and social consequences of those issues on the whole community. Working with schools, jails and families, it becomes clear substance abuse has a tremendous deteriorating effect throughout the community. I am the mother of three daughters going through the Steamboat Springs school system; one graduated and two still attending the high school. Currently, I am working as a ski instructor, a bookseller, a small business owner with my husband, and I am always actively volunteering in the school system and for nonprofits in the community.
Q. Why are you running for school board?
A. Frankly, I have spent 10 years volunteering and working with the schools in every way possible. With or without the passage of the bond, I believe I can be a terrific conduit between the community and schools. With the positive relationship I have developed with our educators as well as being a small business owner and property owner, I can really empathize with all sides in order to effectively move the plan forward in a way that will satisfy most principles.
Q. Please describe any involvement you’ve had with the local school district or any background or experience you have with education?
A. I spent eight years chairing the Parent Information Committee at both the Steamboat Springs Middle School and Soda Creek Elementary School. I am proud to say that along with the hard work of other dedicated parents through fundraisers, such as the Steamboat Sneak and the Middle School Carnival, we were able to supply teachers with science labs, an online curriculum, standing desks, PE equipment and classroom libraries — just to name a few. I have spent six years on the School Accountability Committee and five years on the District Accountability Committee. These are state-mandated committees, and I have no problem holding the district accountable. I was also invited to be on the Strategic Planning Committee to help design the vision and goals for our schools with measurable attainable metrics. I have participated on hiring committees that brought on new staff, including the vice principal at the middle school who is now our curriculum director. For Yampa Valley High School, I helped a former teacher procure books for a library. Finally, I am the Booster Club representative for the girls golf team at the high school.
Q. What do you believe the role of a school board member should be in relationship to administration and staff? To parents and students?
The role of the school board is to ensure that the school district is responsive to the values, beliefs and priorities of their communities. So if board members are in touch with educators, parents, teachers, students and community members, this can be achieved. I believe school board members should spend regular time in each school as well as going to community meetings, such as PIC and Rotary meetings and spending time with such organizations as Integrated Community and Board of Cooperative Educational Services, in order to have a personal physical presence and availability to all constituents. Based on past experience, people really don’t seek out participation. Therefore it is incumbent on the school board to go out into the schools and community to ensure we know the values, beliefs and priorities of our community.
Q. How do you think schools should measure student achievement?
A. The pendulum does swing on assessments. A few years ago it was out of control with constant standardized testing. Many Colorado parents opted their children out of some of the standardized testing, the state listened and has cut it back quite a bit. But if you ask many of our principals, they believe there is still too much standardized testing. There are so many more creative and accurate ways to assess our students. Canada is using something called the Creativity Index, which is a much broader measure of success in students. They have been using this method since 2013. I am not opposed to researching the success of other districts in order to use these effective tactics in our own district and modify them to fit our needs.
Q. School districts continually have to grapple with budget and funding shortfalls. Are there areas where you think the district can trim its budget?
To be honest, with the current state of our schools we can’t afford to lose anything. There are capital improvements that desperately need funding. We need safe, functional buildings for our students. We are finally fairly-well staffed in our schools and though they would survive if we cut that back (as they did before), it would be painful. Those cuts would put heavy workloads on remaining staff, and we would be at risk of losing even more wonderful educators. Our finance director is quite a magician with numbers, and if we had to trim, I would spend time with him going over the budget line by line.
Q. What are the three greatest challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District?
A. The first one is obviously the growth. Our schools are currently at 95% capacity to 14% over capacity. Best practices for school districts is to look at expansion when they hit 80%, which we did with the first bond. Now, we are way behind. I would invite anyone that doubts the dire situation in our schools to come to any school and volunteer for the whole lunch period. The second issue is educator retention. I personally know two excellent high school teachers we lost this year because they were offered jobs that actually paid a living wage. As any business person knows, there are significant costs associated with training; to lose that investment and start all over again is inefficient, costly and disruptive. The third challenge is getting the public to “buy-in” to our schools. Seventy percent of property taxpayers do not have and have never had a child in our schools. Other districts have no problem asking for money from their constituents and receiving it. I believe that a solid, functioning, high performing school district not only adds financial value to a community, it is indisputably the bedrock foundation from which the community grows.
Q. Describe your vision for a new pre-K through eighth-grade school.
A. As I stated before, the role of the school board is to ensure that the school district is responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of their communities. That being said, I would defer to the community and what it has put forward. CC4E has done a tremendous amount of work since the failure of the last bond to work with the community, the district, demographers and architects along with many others to arrive at the current ballot measure. I would defer to them and the work the district has done. I may offer input but my job is to be responsive to the community and to approve the budget with the other school board directors and that the building process transpires efficiently.
Q. If the school bond fails, what do you think are the school district’s next steps?
A. I really hope it doesn’t because I remember going to DAC meetings when the last bond failed. The facilities manager came in to plead the case for doorknobs. Apparently our whole district did not meet compliance for lockdowns and lock-ins. Watching our finance director scramble to find money for door knobs was crazy. Trust me, the list went on and so did the cuts. The community needs to understand that no means no. That means if someone is opposed to one part of the ballot question, a no vote says no to it all. No capital improvements for any of these old schools. If it fails, we will have to make hard choices and sacrifices, again. I worry about the cumulative effect of doing the bandaid solutions here and there instead of simply taking care of the problem now.
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. We have to create a positive environment for learning and sometimes that comes to a physical building. It is plainly nuts and bolts thinking, but if educators and students are not physically comfortable then academic success will suffer. Teachers shouldn’t have to give up their teachers lounge for a classroom space.
This may be pie in the sky to some but I would love Steamboat schools to join the rest of the world and become bilingual. Students that graduate high school bilingual have 92% more opportunity than their counterparts. We are living in a global economy and to set our students up for success they should be global citizens. If we can provide a physically positive and safe environment that will allow us to give our students the gift of being bilingual—we will definitely improve the academic rating.
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