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School Board candidates tackle issues facing education in Hudson

Hudson School Board candidates, clockwise from top left: Jim Schrock, Jeanette Kunz, Bruce Hanson, and Jamie Johnson. Photos by Margaret Ontl

The Hudson Star-Observer posed several questions to the four candidates for two seats on the Hudson Board of Education in the April 2 election. The four candidates are Bruce Hanson, Jamie Johnson, Jeanette Kunz and James Schrock.

What option do you support to meet the Hudson School District's Secondary space needs?

Hanson: We owe it to our students and community to have all of the information to analyze before making a decision. Five options are currently under review and none include the full details of a building combined with the land in which to build on. Specifically, I would push our board to promptly get more community input, work with various county, city and town officials to get clarity on our land situation, and ultimately bring a proposal forward that gives our community a referendum with a complete solution. I have an open mind on a final building option and willing to listen to all sides, however we need to act quickly with the facts we collect and take action to get the capacity issue behind us.

Johnson: I will support the option that most cost-effectively addresses the long-term space needs and has the community support to be approved in a referendum. I have not pre-judged all of the options being considered by the board, but I am ready to listen and evaluate the pros and cons of all viable options. In selecting an option, we must abide by the criteria recommended by the 2004 Facilities Task Force and approved by the board last October. Chief among these criteria are: 1) appropriate and responsible use of current facilities; 2) balancing the learning needs of current and future students and cost; and 3) flexibility in addressing needs beyond 2025. I support involving the community in an evaluation process that is deliberate and transparent.

Kunz: I would support an updating and refreshing the current high school to include some additional classroom space. If chosen to serve on the board and the only options in front of me are building a new type of school, I would focus on the one with greatest buy-in from the community, which may be a compromise of the two extreme positions. I would not support a mega school that could cost us $60 million. I see that as overbuilding, wasting resources; increasing taxes more than necessary; and not in the best interest of the students since some studies show mega schools have a higher incidence of suicide. Finally, I would ensure a focus on technology enrichment which enhances the teachers' ability to inspire and stimulate young minds.

Schrock: If all options are currently on the table, with no more input, I feel that there are a combination of ideas that could readily work. The STEM approach, when executed properly, seems to be a great way to prepare students for the challenges of the workplace or further education. We cannot ignore the changing needs of what was once advanced technology that has become common. With the oncoming Freshman Academy, I also do not believe that we have exhausted options concerning added space to the current high school on the west side; this could create a safe and a unique place for freshman. If that is done, that eliminates about one quarter of the hall congestion.

As a school board member, how would you promote cooperation and consensus building to achieve the goals of the board of Education?

Hanson: Cooperation and consensus building begins with trust and a willingness to listen to all parties on the board. Stephen Covey has written many great books on leadership and in his book Principle Centered Leadership, he describes three behaviors that are essential to clearing communication lines. First listen to understand, next speak to be understood and finally, start dialog from a common point of reference or point of agreement, and move slowly into areas of disagreement. These three behaviors have become a habit and are part of my normal communication style. I genuinely have respect for other people and will work hard to establish a trustworthy relationship with all board members. Additionally, I will take time to research facts and be prepared to move us forward.

Johnson: I would promote cooperation and consensus building through respectful communication which primarily means actively listening and promoting mutual understanding of the positions of those with differing viewpoints. I will promote cooperation by practicing fundamental values of respect, honesty and integrity. Understanding an opposing viewpoint does not mean adopting it, but it is a step toward finding common ground between positions and ultimately solving problems. We must promote respectful communication and mutual understanding not just among board members or with school administration and teachers, but also with the business community, taxpayers and other governmental units.

Kunz: The Board of Education can promote cooperation and consensus building by allowing different viewpoints to be heard from the public and other board members. I would encourage the board to withdraw the new policies recently implemented that discourage dialogue with the staff and public. Open and proactive communication with the public, city, and county entities is the key to consensus building and will accomplish goals that neither could achieve alone. I would encourage board members to independently research solutions and ideas outside of board and committee meetings and bring their research forth for discussion. I will continue to listen to all stakeholders, mobilize untapped resources, and stand with conviction to my moral compass. This is essential to creating strong, viable partnerships that provide models for the students.

Schrock: The board has to have open ears, eyes, and hearts to all stakeholders: teachers, parents, administration, and citizen taxpayers. Past behaviors of stifling and lack of freedom to express oneself at meetings and other venues have been clearly shown to be divisive and demoralizing. The new policies regarding having to report all citizen conversations to the superintendent need to be revised, if not abolished, to maintain clear levels of communication with all stakeholders. Clear and democratic exchange of ideas is fundamental to good decision-making.

Would you support increasing class size guidelines as a way to address school budget cuts?

Hanson: This is a hotly debated subject with credible studies to support both sides. Many studies support lower class sizes in the elementary grade levels which improves student learning, but its impact is more difficult to quantify in higher grade levels. Aside from student learning, another major consideration is the teacher's capacity to provide appropriate attention to varying student needs. Hudson's current student-to-teacher ratio is approximately 26.4, so adding one student probably wouldn't have a negative impact on teacher involvement nor student learning, but I would like to see more data before supporting an increase of 3 to 5 or more per class. Without all the variables and facts, I would be hesitant suggesting increasing class sizes as our best solution to address school budget cuts.

Johnson: Generally, I would not support across-the-board increasing of class size guidelines; certainly not as a method of "first resort" budget cutting. I believe the community supports our current guidelines. In some cases, limitations on facilities and equipment simply do not allow for more students beyond guidelines, such as art, computers, tech-ed and science. By the same token, I don't think the School Board should be precluded from looking at nominal class size increases under circumstances when all other options have been exhausted, but only where the integrity of the learning process can be preserved. Class size guidelines are expressed in ranges for a reason: to allow flexibility when circumstances warrant.

Kunz: Research shows that smaller class sizes in the early grades helps students achieve more. With this model teachers generally have better morale and are less likely to feel overwhelmed when faced with various student backgrounds and achievement gaps. As a result there is a higher likelihood that teachers can provide a supportive environment for students who are still learning coping mechanisms for education expectations. Class size is not the only indicator of success in school; parental involvement and teacher experience level are critical factors as well.

I doubt many parents in the Hudson School District would propose we increase class sizes. For the aforementioned reasons I would listen to the parents and not seek to increase elementary class size guidelines as a way to address school budget cuts.

Schrock: Not as any long-term policy or solution. Without having a full and itemized understanding of the magnitude of the cuts, it would be a disservice for the students and teachers to be singled out. Are the referred cuts to the operating budget or capital budget? When making cuts, one does not go directly to the muscle, aim for the fat and waste. Are funded programs adequately supported and if not, should be targeted for right-sizing. Making changes to class sizes would not be where I would focus and would not support this approach, unless it was an interim-based solution and exception.

Terms for Hudson Board of Education members are three years. There are no incumbents in this year's election. New board members will take their seats at the May 14 school board meeting.