Thursday, April 18, 2013

Still No Popcorn in the RISD Election

There are three places on the Richardson (RISD) school board on the ballot in the May 11, 2013, election.

  • Place 3: Kris Oliver (incumbent)
  • Place 4:
    • Bonnie Abadie
    • Lanet Greenhaw (incumbent)
    • Rachel Chumney
  • Place 5: Karen Holburn (incumbent)

Only Place 4 is contested, with the incumbent trustee facing two challengers. When I last looked in on this election, I said the two challengers for Place 4 "have to be considered extreme long shots. The election campaign might have a surprise in store, but I'm not popping any corn." On April 17, those three faced off before an audience of about 75 people in the RISD Administration Building auditorium in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Richardson and the Richardson ISD Council of PTAs. After listening to the candidates make their case to the voters, is it time to start popping that corn? After the jump, an update.

Is it time to start popping that corn? In a word, no. There were a few moments when the challengers said some things that could have sparked some debate, but they just didn't demonstrate the experience needed to be credible candidates for school board.

Bonnie Abadie is a dedicated advocate for gifted children. Rachel Chumney advocates for children with special needs, volunteers at her children's school and said her ten and half years as a mom is the best preparation for school board. Compare that to a list of service by Lanet Greenhaw (who is also a mother) that is the length of your arm. Advantage, Greenhaw.

When asked what experience each has working with racial or religious minorities, Chumney was at a loss for words. Abadie said she has experience as a substitute teacher in Spanish-speaking classes. Greenhaw easily pulled a couple of things off that extensive resume of hers: serving on the district's bi-racial and religious practices committees.

When asked how the district can provide the technology upgrades needed to keep the RISD up to date, Chumney admitted she wasn't familiar with the situation in the junior highs and high schools. Abadie admitted that her own junior high son knew more about technology than she did. Greenhaw explained how the funding for technology upgrades comes from periodic bond programs and explained district policy on the use of such technology for instructional purposes.

When asked for examples of advocacy for public schools, Chumney's response started, "I vote," and ended with expressing a desire to do more once she's elected. Abadie said she writes to state legislators when asked to by the PTA. Greenhaw was able to drop into her answer the fact that she was in Austin recently attending a legislative hearing on changes to the graduation requirements for Texas. Pwned.

You get the idea. If this were a prize fight, it would have been called by the third round.

Abadie and Chumney have all the traits of being single issue candidates. The issue that drives these candidates is better education for children with special needs. During the forum, there were seventeen questions, including the closings, and it seemed like the word dyslexia was worked into half of the answers. Abadie and Chumney are passionate and compelling and certainly have a lot to offer the RISD on the issue of education of children with special needs. Abadie called for more attention to students "on both ends of the bell curve" -- students with learning disabilities and talented and gifted students. Abadie and Chumney called for more training for teachers to recognize such needs, earlier screening for learning disabilities, updating the educational programs available for students with learning disabilities, including parents in an advisory role, etc. Abadie's and Chumney's knowledge and passion on this issue are assets that the RISD needs to engage, but probably not as school board trustees. A school board trustee's responsibilities are broader than a single issue candidate typically can do justice to. Moreover, an inexperienced trustee can lack the skills and influence to be effective even on the one issue he or she most cares about.

So, was there nothing worth popping some corn to watch? I didn't say that.

When asked how many school board meetings each candidate attended, Greenhaw said she's attended all but five of the 396 board meetings that have been held since she's been on the school board. Chumney said she's attended three or four, mostly since she filed to run, but she didn't think she was missing much. Oh, snap!

Chumney said middle school is awful and kids should spend as little time in middle school as possible. Abadie said her own middle school children are "strange and freaky." Neither one has children in high school. I hope they check back in with us then.

None of the questions specifically addressed standardized testing, but Chumney said one of her priorities would be to fight to get away from testing ("it's ridiculous"). She didn't say what flexibility she thinks the RISD has on this or what she would replace standardized testing with as a measure of schools' effectiveness. Abadie also criticized standardized tests, which she said were making kids stress out and giving them migraine headaches. Greenhaw didn't list the issue as one of her top three priorities and didn't address the issue in answer to other questions either.

And, oh yeah, Chumney would hand out guns to principals. Abadie and Greenhaw don't favor arming administrators and teachers. Greenhaw said that RISD's junior highs and high schools already have trained professional security officers on campus. No one mentioned it, or maybe even noticed, but the RISD had a security officer assigned to the forum.

That just about covers the disagreements, which never became in the least heated. With only a minute to answer each question and then on to the next topic, there just wasn't enough time in this forum for the corn popper to get really hot, even if any of the candidates wanted. The reasoned, respectful debate is a credit to all of the candidates. Once the election is over, I hope the RISD finds a way to draw on the talents of all of these candidates.

1 comment:

Momaly said...

Mark, being passionate about servicing 20% of children who struggle to learn to read is hardly a "single issue" candidate trait. This is a big problem that has been around for a long time. We sadly walked away from an RISD school we loved and served 9 years ago because the education and well-being of our child was paramount. We struggled to pay VERY expensive private school tuition for the last 9 years. God bless these two candidates for taking up a very serious and basic issue in public schools - to teach children to read.

Lisa Dunn