Three Meeker candidates run for one two-year school board seat

MEEKER I There are three candidates for one two-year term on the Meeker Board of Education. Each candidate was asked to provide a brief biographical description, answers to five questions and a photo. They were asked to keep each answer to about 150 words.
The Herald Times ran the answers from the six candidates for the three four-year terms last week.
All candidates participated in a public forum Thursday night at Meeker High School, hosted by the Meeker High School Student Council and National Honor Society students. Coverage of the forum can be found on page 1.
Mailed ballot voting began last week and continues until Election Day, Nov. 3.

Candidate bios:
Richard Brooks: I have lived in Meeker for more than six years, working for the BLM as a GIS specialist. I served more than 20 years as a citizen-soldier in the Army National Guard and earned a master’s degree in spatial science from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2009. As a teaching assistant, I have seen and aided many students academically. Though my children are adults, I have seen many Meeker students well-prepared for higher education. These children are our future leaders.
Mindy Burke: I was born and raised in Meeker and was graduated from Meeker High School in 1989. I attended Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction, Colo., earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. My older daughter was graduated from Meeker High School in 2014 and is in her second year of college. My younger daughter is currently a junior at Meeker High School. I have been employed by the State of Colorado as a probation officer for 17 years.
David Smith: My name is David W. Smith. I’ve lived most of my 62 years in Meeker. I was graduated from Meeker High School, attended CSU and returned to Meeker to be a rancher. My wife, Laura, and I have two daughters, Brittany and Meghan. Brit graduated this year and Meg is currently a junior. I am, and always have been, active in my community.

QUESTIONS:
What do you offer as a candidate that should make voters choose you?
Brooks: My belief is that education should be financed and contained as locally as possible. Local control begins with parents and the community.
Burke: I offer the most experience in serving on the Meeker School Board compared to any other candidate, having served for nine years. There is a definite learning curve as a new member to the BOE (Board of Education), and, if re-elected, I can continue to fulfill my responsibilities as a board member without spending time learning the position. Additionally, I am the only female candidate, and, if re-elected, will be the only female serving on the seven person board. I believe a female perspective is vital.
Smith: As a candidate, I offer experience. I have served on the Fair Board, Stockgrowers, church vestry and the Republican Central Committee. I am currently serving on the Yellow Jacket [Conservancy District] Board and two ditch boards. I have always been active in supporting and participating in the activities in which my girls have been involved. From my experience, I have learned to work with different groups of people to accomplish a common goal. I am honest, fair and I work hard. I try to listen to other people’s ideas and incorporate good suggestions into common sense solutions.

How would you ensure our Meeker students are adequately prepared to pursue their post-secondary education choices or work force options? How should we measure the quality of K-12 education in our Meeker schools?
Brooks: Teaching students to take tests does not aid them in learning; it only prepares them to follow orders and assemble parts. Students are best prepared by teaching them to think critically and ask questions. The Board of Education is responsible to the people for hiring the staff that will educate our students. Quality of education is best assessed by the instructors with input from parents and students.
Burke: The most important job for a BOE is to hire a high quality superintendent and then support him or her to do the job to the best of their ability. The current board hired Chris Selle, and, in the short time of him leading Meeker School District, he has clearly communicated his central focus to the entire staff: quality student learning. This focus translates into higher student achievement and measurable growth, which helps prepare students for post-secondary education or entering the work force after graduation. The quality of K-12 education in Meeker schools could be measured in many different ways, from our current state-mandated testing (PARCC) to local utilized tests (MAPS and DIBELS). In addition, ACT test results in our high school are a good measure of the quality of education received and something that the current high school staff has committed to focus on improving scores of our students. Although it is important to assess students through testing, I believe the mandates in Colorado over-emphasize testing. Hiring and retaining quality teachers and allowing them to teach will best prepare students for their future.
Smith: We need to hire and keep qualified people who teach and guide our students in obtaining quality information that allows them to make knowledgeable lifelong decisions. We should offer as many subjects as we can with the funding available. Some of these include college classes, college fairs and any workforce opportunities that are accessible while holding our standards as high as possible. Also, looking for additional opportunities to enhance learning from other programs and resources would be beneficial to our students. The quality of K-12 education is measured largely by standardized testing and requirements from the state that do not necessarily reflect our students’ successes. We need to survey our graduates to determine what programs have prepared them for post-secondary education or the work force.

Should there be a better effort to balance student experience between athletics and academics?
Brooks: The primary function of public schools is academic education. Schools should provide opportunities for extra-curricular activities. It is up to the students and parents to determine which extra activities they will use and monitor academic success.
Burke: I believe our community has many extra-curricular opportunities for all ages of students to be involved. These are offered through Meeker School District, Meeker Recreation Center and our local 4-H Extension office. Not only do these activities include athletics but also including dance, drama, pool parties, 4-H clubs and field trips. Having said that, due to budget cuts in the school district, we have lost some academic programs I believe are important to bring back when the funding issue is resolved. This includes high school business courses, middle school art and elementary technology courses. We have hard-working and extremely dedicated teachers and staff within Meeker School District who miraculously seem to be doing more with less in the classroom. If and when the school funding crisis is resolved, I believe putting programs back into the district that have been cut will help all students in Meeker. Currently, I believe our teachers are balancing student experience between athletics and academics the best way possible with the limited budget.
Smith: I believe there is a balance between athletics and academics currently. If academics are not maintained, then students are not allowed to participate in athletics.

As a school board member, what does “accountability” mean and how would you live up to it?
Brooks: As with any elected office, I am accountable to all the people. I must see to it that all public property entrusted to me is used wisely and efficiently.
Burke: First, I believe that accountability as a school board member means being prepared for all school board meetings and/or work sessions and attending them. In addition, the same preparedness and attendance should be considered essential with BOCES meetings held in conjunction with the Rangely School Board. I believe in (and have attended) numerous regional and statewide meetings related to issues surrounding rural schools in my nine-year tenure. Second, I believe I am accountable to the constituents of the Meeker School District to make the most informed decisions as a board member. This includes putting in extra time and effort to gain knowledge of issues affecting the district at the local, state and federal level. Finally, I believe that all decisions made by the BOE should be capable of being explained to the community whenever legally possible.
Smith: Accountability, as a school board member, means being answerable, honest and fair with students, personnel, parents and the public. I would be accountable by working together with the board to make correct and informed decisions. Matters of confidentiality must be respected.

If elected, what will be your priorities as a school board member? Why?
Brooks: As this district is running with limited funds, my priorities are fiscal planning and educational materials. We must budget funds by necessity and priority, reducing and eliminating wasteful spending. Our educational materials should reflect our community values and needs.
Burke: My biggest priority if re-elected will be to continue to fight for school funding reform at the state level. I am convinced that the current state education funding formula is defective and must be revamped, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling (Dwyer vs. State). After attending a regional meeting in Craig hosted by Building a Better Colorado last month, I am hopeful there will be a ballot measure in November of 2016 which, if passed, should help the funding issue. Along those same lines, I continue to believe that our community must take our destiny into our own hands and pass a local mil levy override. Finally, another priority, if re-elected, will include continued partnerships with other taxing entities in Meeker (i.e., Meeker Fire District, Meeker Recreation District, Meeker Cemetery District and the Rio Blanco County Commissioners) that have been so generous to the Meeker School District in tough economic times.
Smith: One of my priorities would be to look for additional ways to increase funding for the Meeker schools. Without funds, we will be unable to adequately sustain our educational system. Another priority is to find ways to continually prepare students for the future by offering a high quality curriculum. Finally, I would attempt to conduct the business of the school system in a manner in which people could contact me and feel that they were welcome to participate.