The League of Women Voters of Richardson and the RISD Council of PTAs hosted a candidate forum for the RISD school board candidates Wednesday evening. With only an hour available for six candidates to cover only seven questions, including an opening question (reason for running) and closing statement, it took effort to find something to distinguish the candidates. Nevertheless, I managed, weakly.
All six candidates agreed that teacher retention was an important issue. Kristin Kuhne said it was an issue the board has worked on, but more work is needed. Karen Clardy thought pay was a part of it, but overload was, too. Ben Prado said it's not just about pay. Joseph Armstrong said he hasn't heard the subject of money come up. Eric Eager identified leadership, workload, and career development as factors. Lynn Davenport said she doesn't have a solution, but she will listen to teachers.
All six candidates highlighted their business skills. Clardy mentioned her involvement in managing the budget at Lake Highlands High School. Eager is a CPA and senior executive of a local software company. Armstrong is the president of a construction contracting company. Prado is a managing consultant for a contracting company. Davenport has experience in HR and recruiting. Kuhne has a degree in Finance and work experience as a financial analyst and is currently a director at a education research non-profit company.
All six candidates agreed with the value and need for technology in education. Kuhne says it shows great promise and is excited about the plan to make available to every high school student a Chromebook. Clardy agrees that the planned Chromebook is a great start. Davenport says tech is good, but we need to vet the products and not eliminate traditional teaching methods. Eager is very excited about the time savings tech can provide teachers. Armstrong says tech is not a matter of "if" but of "when." Prado says from his experience, RISD is 3-4 years behind.
All six candidates said RISD must provide paths for both college and career readiness. Armstrong: "both." Prado: "balance." Clardy: "hand-in-hand." Kuhne pointed out that 60% of jobs in the future will require some kind of post-secondary training. Davenport redirected her answer to the need to teach the three Rs.
All six candidates supported 30 minutes of recess. There does seem to be a lot of interest in the topic, judging by how often it was a topic on social media in the last year, but for the 2016-2017 school year, RISD extended recess from 20 to 30 minutes for grades K-3, so the issue has already been addressed by the district.
Ben Prado didn't help his candidacy by failing to provide input to the LWV voters guide. As he himself put it, "I forgot to do my homework."
Joseph Armstrong and Eric Eager are both appealing candidates, and maybe it's just me, but I am having a hard time distinguishing between their candidacies. I can't vote for both. Maybe flip a coin?
At an earlier forum at Pearce High School, I thought that Karen Clardy "saw everything narrowly, like how I'd expect a school support staff member to see it." That impression stayed with me in the LWV forum. She's still an appealing candidate. Maybe I just need to view her unique perspective as a strength, not a limitation. Her viewpoint could be an asset to round out a seven member team.
At that same earlier forum, I viewed favorably Lynn Davenport's nuanced view of issues. In the LWV forum, that ability to see both sides worked against her. Instead of saying how she would use technology to improve education, she warned that technology shouldn't be used to detract from traditional methods. On college and career readiness, she used her time to advocate focusing on the three Rs. On a question about personal business skills, she talked about the dangers of Project-Based-Learning and "experimental pedagogy" (?). I began to suspect that what I praised as nuance in the first debate could be more a case of Davenport seeing every half-full glass as half-empty.
Kristin Kuhne, the only incumbent in a contested race (Justin Bono is running unopposed for Place 6), showed her experience and knowledge. The questions may not have been challenging for even new candidates, but nevertheless I noted that Kuhne demonstrated as good a command of the issues as any candidate in this forum.
The only fireworks of the evening, such as they were, came in the closing statements. Davenport said change was needed, as RISD has five failing campuses, declining academic ratings and high teacher turnover. Incumbent trustee Justin Bono, who immediately followed her in closing, said RISD has no failing campuses and teacher turnover has been declining for the last two years. For a more detailed airing of the issue of failing schools, see "RISD Candidates on RISD's PEG Schools." Spoiler alert: Davenport and Bono are talking about the same data, but different time periods. Bono's data is more current.