Q&A with Lara Craig, candidate for 4-year term on Steamboat Springs School Board
Brief bio: I am a lifelong resident of Steamboat Springs. I am also an educator with 30 years of experience teaching middle school. I have a bachelor of arts in French and a Master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. My husband and I raised our two children in Steamboat Springs. My son, Jack, graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2016 and is now a senior in college. My daughter, Emily, attended Steamboat public schools through 8th grade and is a senior at Steamboat Mountain School. My passion for youth education initiatives and programs that promote healthy choices continues in various capacities throughout our community. I have served on the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission, the Youth Advocacy Project, and Grand Futures Prevention Coalition. Currently, I serve on the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra board, specifically supporting youth music programming. Although I have retired from teaching, I want to continue to make a positive difference for students in our community.
Q. Why are you running for school board?
I have a unique perspective to serve on the board of the Steamboat Springs School District. This past June, I retired with 24 years of teaching experience in the Steamboat Springs School District. Although it was the right timing for me personally to retire from the classroom, I look back at my years in the classroom with fondness and still feel a deep commitment to students’ academic and emotional well-being. I hope to serve our school district, its teachers and staff and, most importantly, our students through the lens of an educator. Having recently retired, I am well-acquainted with the district staff. I am knowledgeable about both the strengths and areas for improvement in our district’s programming. As a long-time resident of Steamboat Springs, I understand the unique needs of our community. If elected, I will dedicate my time and expertise to supporting our school district’s commitment to high-quality education.
Q. Please describe any involvement you’ve had with the local school district or any background or experience you have with education?
A. I have devoted my entire career to educating students in public schools. I have taught everything from choir, French and English as a second language, to language arts and social studies to a wide variety of students with diverse backgrounds and needs. My lessons focused on critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity for all students. Not only was I a teacher of content, I was also an event planner, a data-analyst and an educator of character. I led restorative practices to resolve student conflict, and I coached students to develop executive functions in order to meet the demands of the 21st century. In my experience, it is clear that our teachers and administrators care deeply about our students. Despite the challenges we face, our entire staff has mitigated these challenges seamlessly for the benefit of our students. This sort of dedication inspires me to continue to support education in Steamboat.
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. A school board member must balance leadership that supports the school district, the teachers and staff and the students. Board members must also be the voice of the community by positively representing its values. The school board works closely with the superintendent, the community and district staff to develop a vision and long-term strategic policies that support achievement and growth for all students in the district. A successful board must work as a governing team and must hold the superintendent accountable for implementing the policies, structures and programming that support the district’s vision and strategic planning. Parents are important stakeholders in this endeavor. Most importantly, a school board must support what’s best for students and must ensure that every student is afforded the opportunity to develop academically, emotionally and personally.
Q. How do you think schools should measure student achievement?
A. Our school district believes in a balanced assessment system. Federally mandated standardized assessments are useful in measuring what students should know and be able to do. Over the years, our teachers and administration have advocated to balance how much time our students spend taking standardized tests. Although standardized testing has been controversial, it helps to inform our teachers, students, parents and the community about important aspects of our instruction. However, it is also important to remember that state assessments are only one measure of student achievement and growth. A balanced body of evidence of informal, formative classroom assessments, summative assessments, performance-based assessments and even observations are often more effective for gaining a picture of the whole child.
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. Declining resources and lack of sufficient funding in our schools has made managing the district and teaching in our schools challenging, and yet our administrators have been successful in balancing their budgets while maintaining high student achievement. Even though roughly 80% of our school district’s budget goes toward staffing and benefits, budget shortfalls don’t have to come in the form of salary cuts for educators, and it certainly should not come at the expense of students and programming. There are no quick fixes but starting with knowing which programs and initiatives work is a good place to begin. That requires school districts to examine the data and consistently prioritize effective over ineffective programming. It is imperative school boards ensure the district maintains a balanced budget. However, other school districts across the nation have found creative ways to trim their budgets while maintaining and even improving student achievement in their schools.
Q. What are the three greatest challenges facing the Steamboat Springs School District?
A. Our school district is doing great things for students. Our students continue to excel and demonstrate significant achievement. However, there is always room for improvement. Three areas our district could improve upon include the following: 1) Our district must work toward closing our achievement gap and producing consistent growth for all students; 2) We need to ensure that all teachers have access to and use evidence-based, innovative practices in the classroom; and 3) We must develop a consistent and clear vision that is adopted in each school throughout our district. This can only occur when we provide teachers focused professional development to support that vision. Devoting time for teachers to collaborate will be an important step toward fostering even more academic achievement.
Q. Describe your vision of a new pre-K through eighth-grade school.
A. I envision a school where transition is virtually eliminated, and an emphasis on building a sense of community is the focus. My vision includes educating the whole child in an environment where students are well known by their teachers. It is a place where all students feel connected to fellow students through collaboration across content areas and grade levels. This model supports problem-based learning initiatives, which allow younger children to benefit from being paired with older students, and older students are empowered by the value they model for younger students. A pre-K though eighth-grade school encourages continuity of programming from preschool through middle school and makes it easier to align curriculum preventing gaps or overlaps of content for nine consistent years of academic preparation.
Q. If the school bond fails, what do you think are the school district’s next steps?
A. If the school bond fails, the school district’s only recourse is to go back to the drawing board. It will be necessary to examine the data to understand why it failed. It will be important to determine our community’s reluctance to fund safe and appropriate facilities for our children. Our town is growing — that’s clear in our new recreation facilities, the current housing projects that are proposed and in progress, and even in our traffic woes. It will be incumbent upon the school board to bring together the stakeholders once again to solve the critical problems of facilities and overcrowding in our schools. The school board will need to support teachers and administration to ensure that they are able to safely and successfully educate our students in the current facilities, which do not sufficiently support our programming and safety needs.
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. Research shows that there is no single initiative a school can implement to ensure high student performance. Instead, the research demonstrates high-performing schools have a number of common characteristics that work together to create quality educational experiences for students. Our schools create supportive learning environments. We have a high level of parent and community participation. Our district has effective instructional and administrative leadership that promotes excellence in the classroom. However, there are areas for improvement. Defining and adopting a clear shared vision districtwide would allow for greater academic achievement for our entire student body. This vision would encourage all schools to commit to collaborative goal-setting for elementary students through high school. Furthermore, we need to dedicate resources to provide all teachers with professional development to support evidence-based practice. This would ensure all students are offered a rigorous educational experience at just the right challenge for individual student needs.
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