The Candidates: Teton County School District

By on November 2, 2016

Teton County School District
No. 1 board (four open seats)

Candidates:Annie Band, Curt Behle, Betsy Carlin, Emily Flanagan, Nick Grenoble, Carlyn Hunter, Kate Mead (incumbent), Patricia Russell (incumbent), Bill Scarlett

Annie Band

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Band: Our community is currently divided. However, the deal is done, and I support a new school at Munger. I wonder why the board has not used the conflict in the community as an opportunity to revise processes for the future? Discussing solid options, such as downsizing Munger to a smaller school, could build consensus. That’s a powerful argument to the state legislature to provide funding for the project. Overcrowded classrooms in TCSD are considered by most to be a serious problem. Our modular units are temporary but functional, if a compromise on school size were reached that better serves our long-term community vision.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Band: My background is science, and I believe our public schools are obligated to teach all science subjects with the highest degree of academic rigor possible. According to NASA: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

This should be represented in our science curriculum, but I believe our teachers should have autonomy in the classroom as to how that content is delivered.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Band: Sexual education is one component of a comprehensive health curriculum. I believe that cutting the full health curriculum in TCSD was a mistake. Comprehensive sex education programs, which stress abstinence, have been rigorously evaluated and shown to help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce frequency of sex, reduce number of sex partners, reduce sexually transmitted infections, and lower teen pregnancy rates. The evidence shows youth who receive comprehensive sex education are not more likely to become sexually active. Therefore I would fully support comprehensive sexual education as part of a complete health curriculum in TCSD.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Band: Despite what I believe are good intentions, in the last year-and-a-half morale appears to be declining throughout the district. Superintendent of schools is a hard job, and the board must provide strong guidance and support to the administration so that teacher productivity and student achievement are the highest goals. The board and administration together must ensure teachers are receiving professional development and support, eliminate isolation among teachers, and create incentives for teachers to excel. The board and administrators must give teachers a stronger voice in the decision making process. This can change the climate of our schools to foster trust.

Curt Behle

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Behle: I am impartial to the location, as I trust that it was a well thought out consideration as to what was best for all families and children. We do know that we need another school, and there are more concerns about dealing with the growth and placement of future needs.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Behle: Through research and data we can ask our kids to find the answers to this. Finding the delta between what is natural and what may be human created can be quantified. They will be the hope for change so let’s teach them how to think through it and discover the answers themselves, not through us.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Behle: I feel that basic human biology is important to teach, as it is science based and good for all to know. I feel that this is enough, and that parents can base their level of education beyond this to their own children catering to their family needs.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Behle: I believe in Gillian Chapman and feel that, like all of us, she is not perfect. She will make mistakes and she will learn from them. She is bright, considerate of others she works with, and loves what she does. Her ability to work with others and move with the best interests of the Teton County School District is where she is at.

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Betsy Carlin

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Carlin: I support the location of Munger Mountain Elementary for several reasons. A significant amount of money has already been spent on the Munger project and it would be fiscally irresponsible to make changes. Many of our elementary school children are going to school in modular classrooms designed to be a temporary solution for over-crowding and it is commonly known modulars are not an optimal environment for learning. Munger will allow all children to have an equitable environment in which to learn. Research indicates student achievement rises as class size drops. Munger will lower student-teacher ratios across all our community elementary schools.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Carlin: Climate change is taught as part of science curriculum and classes. I believe all scientific content, including climate change, should be taught using scientific evidence and facts. I also recognize this is an unsettled issue for some people and would support classroom discussions acknowledging that there are various points of view as students begin to learn the facts behind the science.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Carlin: Sex education should be comprehensive and science based. It should never marginalize any of our students for their beliefs, but present all evidence and alternatives based on fact. Facts, not personal perspectives, should be presented to the children of our schools. 

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Carlin: To answer this question I would be using second-hand information, gossip, and information I have gathered through the media. Until I am an elected Teton County School Board member I do not believe I am in a position to—nor do I feel comfortable with—publicly evaluate Dr. Chapman’s performance.

Emily Flanagan

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Flanagan: Whether it was funding inspired, location driven, or availability—the general public, including myself, does not have all the information. The location is not ideal but I do think we need to keep moving forward. It will continue to be more about the teachers inside the building who are making the difference in education as opposed to the location.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Flanagan: In almost all subject matter there is a way of teaching that gives the child the information but allows that child to make his or her own judgments regarding the information. Science is about data, there are ways to teach the science and yet keep opinions out of the standards. Inform children that some people believe that climate change is happening due to human involvement. Others believe it’s a natural process. And then there’s a sect that believes that it is happening because of both.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Flanagan: I believe any program should be developed in cooperation with members of the community (public health, pediatricians, gynecologists). Provide information about both abstinence and contraception. Sexual activity has potential consequences including HIV, other STDs, and/or teen pregnancy. We need to help kids identify their individual, family, and community values, as well as develop their skills in how to handle situations.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Flanagan: Dr. Chapman was not handed an ideal situation. Decisions had been kicked down the road for so many years that when she came in she had a very full plate. What seemed like hasty and rash decisions were years in the making, but we as the public didn’t know or realize it. I’m not happy with how the process went and there are things I would have fought hard to do differently. That’s one of the reasons I’m choosing to get involved in the board. The disconnect in the community is regretful and I’d like to see it changed.

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Nick Grenoble

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Grenoble: The location of Munger Mountain Elementary is the only option we have to get a school built immediately; we must move forward with construction. We all want schools that are integrated into neighborhoods and convenient to walk or bike to, but we must consider the best interest of students and the reality of the situation when making these decisions. The data indicates that the Hog Island location will reduce transportation times for students over a location in town. We should celebrate the construction of a new school, funded by the state, which will allow for smaller class sizes and reduce the transportation burden for students.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Grenoble: Critical thinking and competency with data are perhaps the most important skills for success in the information age. I lament that, in a time when we have nearly ubiquitous access to the Internet, facts are often perceived as subjective. We must empower our students to thrive in school and as productive members of society by teaching them how to critically analyze arguments in order to formulate their own conclusions. If we were to shelter students from scientific evidence because we disagree with it, we would be indoctrinating them, not educating them. This would be unacceptable for a public education system.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Grenoble: Awkwardly. It’s the only way. In all subjects, curriculum must be based on science and the best practices in the field. There is plenty of research revealing that abstinence-only education does not work. We need to defer to the experts in order to implement curriculum that empowers students and, in this realm, keeps them safe. Families can decide how they want to address this topic with their children, but public schools should base curriculum on what the research demonstrates is most impactful.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Grenoble: Dr. Chapman has initiated many impressive changes since she assumed the role of TCSD superintendent. As with most complex projects, the art is in the implementation. TCSD administration must ensure that these changes are implemented responsibly and do not negatively impact the classroom experience or overburden staff. We must empower and support teachers so that they are able to meet the high expectations we have for them. We need to evaluate curricula and outcomes in order to make improvements wherever possible. We should proactively involve community stakeholders to enhance our collaborative relationships in the best interests of our students.

Carlyn Hunter

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Hunter: A more transparent process could have avoided much of the frustration over the decision on where to locate the elementary school. The school board trustees were asked last spring for details of who made the decisions, how they were made, and who was in those committee meetings behind closed doors with no public input. So far the board has not answered these questions. Yes, we need new classroom space for our children who are overcrowded in modular classrooms. We must not lose the funding promised for the building. If I am elected, the process will always include all the stakeholders.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Hunter: Climate change is an issue that will affect young people’s lives profoundly. School science classes offer a unique and important opportunity to inform youth about this environmental problem. Accurate accounts of the sources and degree of uncertainty should be a part of all school topics, and data driven and informed discussion can help empower science students to take on the challenge of mitigating and adapting to their changing world.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Hunter: We must ensure that sex education material is medically accurate. We must instigate more comprehensive health education in Jackson Hole High School where adolescent risk behaviors are a problem, and also in traditional health content areas. Numerous studies have demonstrated that sexuality education is an effective tool for reducing risky sexual behaviors and pregnancy in teens. Teens 15 to 19 years old who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education. This current board eliminated its health class beginning the 2013-14 academic year. This paucity of education may be hurting our kids’ health.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Hunter: I believe her difficulty in feeling the mood of her many stakeholders in the community caused problems. We must create an environment of trust in the school community. If we all have the same goal, which is that the children are engaged and enjoying the process of learning, we will be able to trust our teachers and administration to achieve this goal, and the children will benefit. My view is that administrators should see staff members as capable content experts, and advocate for teachers’ freedom and autonomy in order to create more than the sum of our parts.

Kate Mead

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Mead: I support the new location whole-heartedly. There was a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees to place the school south for a number of reasons, many related to the inability to purchase property closer to town within the budget that we would receive from the School Facility Department. Also, we considered the real congestion that already exists on High School Road and near Jackson Elementary School. Finally, there are over 400 children in the area of the new school that will not need to be transported into town.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Mead: Our goal is to develop critical thinkers. All information on climate change should be presented to students from those scientists that believe that climate change is manmade and those folks that don’t. If we are doing our job, kids will come to their own conclusions.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Mead: I believe that we need more sex education in the schools. Parents, in large part, leave it to the schools to teach about human health and sex education. I was surprised to learn this. Currently, we do a bit of sex education at various grade levels. I believe that we need to start earlier in our students’ lives and provide more detail in middle school and high school. Students have suggested more Q&A in sex education, which I think would be a great and necessary improvement.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Mead: Dr. Chapman is doing a great job in her role. There have been some hiccups along the way but that is to be expected. I believe that a significant factor in the success of Teton County schools was longevity by Pam Shea as superintendent. I am hopeful that we can keep Dr. Chapman here for many years so as to continue our record of blue ribbon schools, high achievement, and excellence.

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Patricia Russell

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Russell: I absolutely support the location. We looked for land for over five years and this was the only location that the state agreed to buy for us. The new school allows us to take over 400 kids out of trailers, which is vital for them to have the best education. It’s exciting that we will benefit all elementary kids in the district because they will all have smaller class sizes. We tried to find land closer to other schools, but I’m not sure that would have been ideal given the traffic congestion that we currently grapple with on High School Road.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Russell: We should continue to revamp our curriculum with the assistance of teachers to incorporate the state standards. We should have scientifically based curriculum, and that is the goal of the district. The trustees should lead with the goal of giving our staff the best available tools and resources to educate our kids; the board definitely should not be involved in how the teachers teach.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Russell: As a trustee, we delegate such responsibilities as “what” belongs in any specific class to our administration and teachers. We also expect our instruction to be in line with and follow state and federal guidelines. As with any content area, we should be teaching age-appropriate, research-based content. Trustees are not educators and should not engage in curriculum development, but we definitely should ensure that the staff is working to utilize current best practices in creating our curriculum. Our goal is to teach students “how to think” not “what to think.” We want to develop critical thinkers.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Russell: I think Dr. Chapman is doing an outstanding job. She came into this district to find that we were behind in our curriculum, in that we were not teaching the standards set by the state. It was a tough decision to have all the elementary teachers adopt a new math curriculum at the beginning of the year, but I appreciate that she did not delay it further. She has made many critical and tough decisions, and it takes courage to do that. She bases every decision on how it affects kids. She is an outstanding superintendent.

Bill Scarlett

Q: Do you support the new elementary school’s location?

Scarlett: While Munger Elementary’s location would not be my ideal choice, it would be irresponsible to step away from the state funding and approvals to not build this school at that location. The district needs to get students out of the temporary classrooms as soon as possible. I understand this as my daughter has attended class in those buildings two out of her five years in school. As a trustee, I will work hard to guarantee that the district provides permanent and safe learning environments for all students.

Q: It’s a contentious issue in the state of Wyoming: How should climate change be taught?

Scarlett: Climate change is part of the new Wyoming science standards and will be taught as part of the science curriculum. It should be taught based on science and the scientific process. Students should be taught to challenge, gather data, and form a conclusion based on their findings.

Q: What is the best way to teach sex education?

Scarlett: Age-appropriate, evidence-based sex education should be taught. Students need to be given factual information in order to make healthy decisions for themselves. Parents (or guardians) should be notified of this instruction, have the right to review the material, and be given the opportunity to opt their children out.

Q: How is Dr. Gillian Chapman doing as superintendent?

Scarlett: Dr. Chapman has performed well during her first year of service. Dr. Chapman has aligned our curriculum to state standards, identified a location and received state approval and state funding to build a new school in order to bring our classroom sizes within state requirements, and added a new strand of dual-immersion classrooms. Our students have achieved the highest ACT scores in the state, and our high schools continue to have some of the highest graduation rates in the state. There were some decisions that have brought negative attention to our schools. I do feel those issues have been sufficiently addressed. PJH

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