Berkner High School hosted a candidate forum for the first-ever Richardson ISD single-member district election for board of trustees. The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Richardson and the RISD Council of PTAs. Steve Mitchell, council member of the City of Richardson, moderated the forum. About 35 members of the public were in attendance.
Beginning in 2019, RISD has five single-member districts and two at-large positions. The candidates for RISD single-member District 2 are Eron Linn (incumbent) and Vanessa Pacheco.
Asked what he hoped to accomplish for his single-member district and for RISD as a whole, Erin Linn pointed out that District 2 crosses the attendance boundaries for both Berkner and JJ Pearce High Schools. He wants great teachers, each school safe and secure, and as many children as possible reading at grade level by Grade 3. Vanessa Pacheco hopes to offer pre-K for all children, programs focused on mental health, programs for diversity/equity/inclusion in all schools, and better community engagement.
Asked for their plans for campus safety, Linn says RISD has done a great job on security with double buzzer vestibules and school resource officers at most campuses. He says a security audit suggested improvements are needed in lighting and signage. Pacheco says RISD has done a great job checking IDs and using buzzers at doors. Improvements could be made by adding more peer mediation programs and seminars on conflict resolution and tolerance, thus keeping violence from emerging in the first place.
Asked whether RISD has the right emphasis on athletics and fine arts, Pacheco says she's not worried about athletics, that schools all over Texas put a lot of emphasis on athletics, but we could benefit from more emphasis on fine arts. Linn says there is a place for everyone: dance, drill team, band, football, basketball, etc.. Having options for kids is critical to focus on the whole child, not just reading, writing and arithmetic.
Asked what lessons learned from the ACE program (Accelerating Campus Excellence) which is used in four low-performing RISD schools, can be applied to all schools in RISD, Linn says we can take the leadership model to other schools and train the campus leaders in best practices. Pacheco says ACE program is amazing at addressing the stressors that negatively impact academic performance with programs like offering meals after school, and help with homework and tutoring. Some of this can be of value in all schools.
Asked how they view RISD's special education services, Pacheco says RISD has done a good job at special education, but would like to see student/teacher connections last longer, perhaps by extending rotations. Linn says he was told services were adequate, found out they weren't, and advocated for increased funding. He says the program now has a "fantastic" leader. He would like to see a policy of not pulling supports away from children when they progress to grade level, but instead keep them in place as long as parents want them.
Asked how to increase parent engagement, Linn says he's a member of PTA and Dr Stone has a high goal of PTA membership and engagement. Pacheco says thee are 150 languages spoken in RISD and would like to see the district have the ability to speak to parents and the community in their own languages.
Asked how the RISD, without the ability to raise teacher salaries, can curb teacher turnover, Pacheco suggested adding benefits like in-house day care for teachers. Linn said, "Wow if I had the answer to that question." Linn said RISD has been asking that question since he joined the board in 2015. He suggested changing the culture, like what's being attempted with the "RISD Say Something" initiative to help raise the spirits of students and teachers.
Asked what steps could be taken to implement diversity and inclusion, Linn pointed to the RISD's new equity policy, which creates a lens through which RISD views all decisions. Pacheco said she was surprised to learn that an equity policy didn't exist until this year. She would like to make sure it is deployed across the district through continuous teacher and administrator training. She also wants to hire a more diverse workforce.
Asked how to achieve academic success, given that 29 of RISD's approximately 40 elementary schools had their state scores go down last year, Pacheco suggests reducing class sizes and moving to longer class time blocks. Linn says every school is different with different needs. The curriculum didn't always match the rigor of the standardized test and was overhauled last year. Training and adoption is in progress and will take time.
Asked if they support technology in the classroom to allow students to advance at their own rate, Linn says he "100%" supports technology in the classroom. Our kids need to be trained in the technology of today to be ready for the technology of the future. Technology also allows a teacher to more easily keep track of the uneven progress made by different students in the same classroom. Pacheco says she supports technology. If technology allows students to advance, we should allow it.
Asked what the highest priority for the next bond program ought to be, Linn says we have some serious structural issues in some buildings. We have facilities approaching 70 years old. The next bond will have to do more than just replace A/C. Pacheco wants to see school renovations, school expansions for added students for pre-K, and new equipment for STEM and career certificate programs.
Asked if it's time to rethink RISD's neighborhood school concept, Pacheco says the neighborhood concept works. Once we get parents engaged, they can more easily attend their child's neighborhood school. She says we need to create more neighborhood schools and/or add space for additional programs like pre-K. Linn says it's "absolutely not" time to rethink the neighborhood school concept, although he cautioned that RISD does not, in fact, have a neighborhood schools policy; we have school boundaries that create neighborhood schools. He says RISD needs to develop strategies for supporting our neighborhood schools and define policies for handling boundary changes and capacity and overflow situations.
You can learn more about these candidates at the League of Women Voters website Vote411.org.
Early voting begins October 21. Election day is November 5.