School board candidates answer questions (cont.)


A continuation of the 10/26 article on school board member candidates responses to interview questions:

Amanda Martinez

Why are you running for the School Board? I love this community and my desire is to help it be successful. Pouring into our young people and helping them develop a solid foundation is one way that I believe I can serve this community.

If elected, what will be your priorities? Right out of the gate I would like to continue to improve our communication between the community and the board. I see great strides in this area already and would like to continue to open the lines of communication. Secondly, I would like to hear from our staff and see what they need in terms of support.  The last few board meetings have been very encouraging and enlightening with several teachers sharing what they have been working on with their students and how they have modified and adapted over the past few years to meet students' needs and to help improve learning, test scores and future success. The teachers have been going the extra mile, and I want to do what I can to support them so they can keep going strong.

What particular experiences and skills have prepared you to serve as a board member? My career in the medical field has a lot of similarities to today’s education system. We are constantly working creatively to meet the ever-evolving government requirements for reporting and maintaining high scores throughout the facility while simultaneously supporting our staff so they can effectively care for and treat patients, all while keeping patient safety and success in the forefront of our minds. This is not unlike the juggling act that is education today and the role of the board to oversee the standards and scores are being met, staff are being supported and students’ education and wellbeing remain the primary focus.

In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved? I have attended the majority of the school board meetings over the past year and a half. I have even offered thoughts and suggestions through their time for public comment. I enjoy supporting the students in their activities, concerts, and sporting events. Their fund-raising banquets and showcase events last year were awesome to attend and see what projects the students had been working on.

What attributes and behaviors are essential for school board members? Integrity and the ability to listen with an open mind. There are a lot of different ideas and perspectives. A representative of any kind needs to be able to listen with the intent to hear and not just respond. Then with integrity and courage, stand for what is right, even when it is not popular.

What do you see as the primary work of the board? Accountability. Administration, staff, and students should be held accountable to the expectations and policies set forth by the board. The board should be accountable to the students, staff, parents, and community in developing policies and setting expectations that will assist students in being successful.

What is the school board member's role and responsibility? How does that role differ from the role of the superintendent or administration? While there are a lot of various hats and responsibilities of the board, the board governs by policy. So, the board members are responsible for creating, maintaining, and upholding the district’s policies. This differs from admin as they are responsible for the implementation of policy.

How can a school board know if its goals are all being accomplished and its policies and being implemented? Goals should be measurable and created with a timeline which includes follow-up and re-evaluation.

What is the best way to address differences of opinion on the board or between the board and the administration? Listening with the goal to hear and understand. Often when conversing with someone of a differing opinion our mind races to produce a quick response, but if we can slow down and take the time to listen, there is often common ground to start building on.

Could you support a board decision you did not vote in favor of? Why or Why not? Absolutely. After public comment and open discussion, the majority vote is the decision that the board stands behind. In some instances, there may be individuals (including me) that disagree with the outcome of the vote, but as a board and board member, we must trust the process and support the decision that was made.

How can the board be accessible to the community? To specific community groups? In the past I have been able to access board members through their contact information from the school district’s website as well as through public comment during board meetings. I am open to ideas of further accessibility.

What issues do you believe your district needs to address in its academic program and offerings? I see a lot of processes already in place for several of the obvious pain points. The transition of 7th and 8th grades to the high school left some educational gaps, but as discussed in the board meeting a few weeks ago, steps have been taken to bridge these gaps and smooth the transition from elementary through middle school and into high school. Test scores, which is another area with room for improvement, were also addressed in this same meeting and new processes have been implemented.

These are areas that I believe need continued support from our board.

What changes would you recommend? As mentioned above, our staff has been proactive in implementing new processes in problem areas that they have already identified. The board should monitor the progress in these areas while identifying new areas that may also benefit from similar interventions.

What can be done to improve student achievement and ensure everyone who graduates is College-ready? Exposure to a variety of career options to help give students ideas about what they can do after high school is a fantastic way to start. There are a lot of opportunities out there that many high school students are not aware of or perhaps do not know how to get started in. Let’s get students excited about their future possibilities. I am a strong supporter of dual enrollment classes, especially for college bound students. I think we also need to look at certifications and work study programs for students who are looking to join the workforce straight out of high school.

What is the role of schools in teaching children about topics such as: sex education, cyber-safety, AIDS, wellness, bullying? In my opinion, any time sensitive or controversial topics are being discussed in a classroom, there should be copious amounts of communication between the educator and the parents or guardians of the students. Discussions should happen between the school and the parents or guardians in advance so that they are aware of what the student will be exposed to. These topics should not be required for students, and attendance of these subject matter discussions should be left at the parents' discretion.

What are your thoughts on your school district’s programs for special education students, English Language Learners (ELL), and gifted students? Being a smaller district, we obviously have more limited resources than larger schools and will need to be creative to meet certain educational needs. For instance, roughly 6-10% of the national student population is considered to be gifted and talented classroom students (according to the National Association for Gifted Children). In a larger school with a graduating class of 200, that would be roughly 20 students, enough to possibly fill a classroom. In our schools with class sizes being around 20 students, we may not have the same resources available for those 2 qualifying students. This is one example of an area where I think we have fallen short in the past. It’s easy for outliers to fall through the cracks and it will take creativity, communication, and teamwork to meet each student where they’re at.

What do you see as the major issue(s) facing your school district? In addition to the areas that I have already touched on in the above response, I believe that there is a substantial issue with the behavior of students in our schools. An issue that is multi-faceted and not easy to tackle, but one that I feel as a community and as a school district we need to be actively addressing.

What are your areas of concern regarding student achievement in your district? Mediocracy. This isn’t just an issue with our schools, but a growing issue across our society. Students are becoming ok with getting by instead of striving for success.

Do you have specific suggestions for improvement? Lead by example. Starting at the top with the board, through administration and into our staff. Any task worth doing is worth doing well. Halfhearted attempts are a disservice not only to one's self, but to the students and staff as well.

Sebastian Ochs:

I am running for the school board for multiple reasons. I aim to be a participating member in my community and I see the school board being a good fit. My goal is to be the mediator and promote strong, encouraging, and honest communication between our schools and our community. My other goal is to promote stronger development in our students and standards as a whole because each student deserves equal opportunity whether it be academically or in learning life skills.

My priorities belong to the benefit of the students first with the guidance of our teachers and parents to help support the best options for them and for the school district. An example of this is to help resolve an issues that parents have still and that is whether or not the school should be held on Fridays. Another priority of mine is to offer any and all support to student organizations like Speech and Debate or Track and Field that promote social and physical skills that aren’t normally found in just a basic school setting.

I believe I have multiple skills and experiences that make me a well qualified candidate. I have and still am working as a store/team manager so communication and immediate action are a requirement that I deal with on a daily basis. My line of work involves customer service and providing excellent service so I want to expand that beyond my work and make my professionalism and work ethic be in service to the schools and staff that work tirelessly in the continuing work of making our future leaders and who they become.

I’ll admit I am not much experiences with being a part of a community organization and have only been a participant at events but I am positive in attitude and am not afraid to volunteer to help if the chance arrises.

I believe an effective and a required part of being on a board that is elected by our community that works with our schools is open and honest communication to start. I know I mentioned that I am capable of immediate action but I also have the patience it will take to do this job effectively because any and all situations are unique and different in this field and I want to ensure a complete understanding is there before I jump to a decision. These are just a few example in mind that I think are essential.

The primary work of the school board is to ensure the overall success of everyone involved with our schools. That breaks down to ensuring we are not only supporting our students but also keeping up the support for the staff and administrators that work daily with the students. This goes into detail of how the best approach is determined. That is where meetings, policy changes and other work is implemented.

A school boards responsibility should go to students success first and foremost. It is the responsibility of the elected board member to be a mediator between our administration staff and the community. That breaks down the biggest point I hit across so far and that’s keeping an open honest path of communication open. Our job is to uphold what is best for the student and that means staying open minded with our parents and administrators.

A good way the board and members can ensure they know goals are met is by check-ins from teachers, administrators and students. From what I have seen I think our school does a great job at this already.

The best way to address any differences whether it be on the board or between the board and the administrators is open discussion. Not everyone wil have the same opinion and that’s great. A variety of ideas and thoughts is the best way to to approach any and all situations. I will stand in support with the board decisions even if they stand against my own vote because that is the process. Once again, goes to the variety of different ideas and thoughts that everyone can and should contribute.

The board should be accessible to the community and other groups. I see methods are already in place to keep members of the community and the school board in open communication. I myself joined multiple facebook groups and try to outreach to people to learn their thoughts and opinions so I can help best represent them if I am elected. A good example of community outreach I see already is between our school district and the local library promoting students to read more and access to resources like internet and computers.

The school is already starting to address some of the academic issues that our students have faced like lower testing scores and the different reasons why and how to monitor the situation and improve upon it. After what I have heard from the meeting on the twenty-sixth of September I believe progress will be made.

I cannot say if I notice any recommended changes from my point of view. I would like to learn more about how our school district runs and handles situations as they arise and be part of the process to ensure positive change may happen when need b.

I believe more life skills type classes should be offered to make students more ready for independence. An example of this would be finance classes that work on budgeting and how to build better credit or a class that teaches students how to be interview ready for any job. I am a believe that not every students college ready when they leave high school. I do believe that further education is important but not always towards a college route. Trade school routes and other types of apprenticeship programs could also be in benefit to some students.

The role of the school is to prepare a student academically while providing a space that also promotes healthy living. I believe schools should offer resources to help with mental health with counseling. Our counsels should be teaching our students about cyber safety and providing information to lead a healthy lifestyle. Everyone should promote zero tolerance for bullying in our schools as well.

I don’t know enough about the programs for our special education students or our gifted students to make an opinion on them. My thoughts rotate around promoting what’s best for each student and taking the time to provide the resources and guidance to ensure success.

One of the major issues i see in our school district is a break down of communication and differences of opinions between the administration and parents and other involved community members. I honestly don’t see this hindering out school district though as we all have one common thought, success for the students.

My concerns are making sure the students are ready for the bigger tests like the aCT and making sure they are ready for the life ahead of them. My suggestions would be to take the extra time with the students to be sure they are academically ready and have the tools they need to live an everyday life like those budgeting skills or learning how to get a job.

I am not familiar enough with the budget to form an opinion but with time I will learn and make choices best financially to students success with the fellow board members if elected.

A change I would like to see addressed is whether or not school should be held on Friday. I have heard form quite a few parents that they would like to see a change and maybe this issue could be met with compromise on both sides.

Amber Smith

Why are you running for the School Board? I am running for the school board because I am a proactive member of the community, and a parent, that will help encourage and support all students and staff of Niobrara County.   

If elected, what will be your priorities? If elected, I hope to build a solid and trusted relationship with students, school staff and the community.  My number one priority will be to make every decision based on facts.

In what school district or community activities/organization have you been involved? Prior to our families return to Wyoming in 2019, I volunteered in elementary classrooms in Silverdale, WA. I served as Secretary for the Silverdale Pee Wee Athletic Association for over 2 years. Silverdale Pee Wee Athletic Association is responsible for the development of approximately 500 student athletes annually, encompassing 4 sports. I am currently serving as a NCSD Board member, a member of the NCSD Booster Club, and President of the VFW Auxiliary.

What attributes and behaviors are essential for school board members? I believe that it is essential that each school board member make informed decisions that best meets the needs of all students of Niobrara County. As a board of 9 members, I feel that each person might bring something different and helpful to the table. Being able to process information and to communicate well are two valuable attributes that I feel are essential.

What is a school board member’s role and responsibility? How does that role differ from the role of the superintendent or administration? WY Statute 21-3-110 (2021) defines, in part, board member’s duties as follows:  …(i) Prescribe and enforce rules, regulations and policies for its own government and for the government of the schools under its jurisdiction….  It is my belief that the board creates policies and the Superintendent and staff implement the policies. The Superintendent is responsible to the Board and all other staff members are responsible to the Superintendent. 

What is the best way to address differences of opinions on the board or between the board and the administration? When differences of opinion arise, it is essential for each member to keep an open mind, truly listen and acknowledge the other member’s point of view. It is important that each member be given time to explain their own opinions.  Everyone needs to understand that many discussions turn into decisions that are made and that they will affect all students, staff, and the community.

Could you support a board decision you did not vote in favor of? Why or why not? Absolutely. I believe that supporting board decisions is critical. Being able to put differences aside, reach a common goal and properly communicate those decisions is very important, even if it’s not your favorite decision. You may not be in favor of the vote…but you must support the vote based on majority. 

How can the board be accessible to the community? To specific community groups? The board members are elected officials and should be able to be approached by students, staff or community members when they have questions, concerns, or observations. While there is a chain of command that should be followed, I feel that people shouldn’t be afraid to have discussions with board members. Sometimes just being heard is important. Often times discussions with board members result in being directed to the correct course of action. As an example, if I am contacted by a concerned parent about a student’s grade, I will listen and then direct them to speak to the teacher, then the principal, then the superintendent. If elected, I hope that students, staff and community members know that I will always listen and help guide them to the correct point of contact if I’m unable to satisfy the concern or question. 

The board meetings are open for the public to attend and I encourage all parents, community members and staff to attend any board meeting they are available to attend.  The board minutes and agenda are available on the website for community members to read what was discussed and voted on. Recently, the board agreed to publish “board meeting snapshots”. These snapshots are brief highlights from the meeting and usually published by the next day. 

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