Assembled by Stuart Jenner

There are two seats in the Highline School District board of directors with three candidates for each position running in the Aug. 6, 2019 primary.

All residents of Highline can vote for any school board seat in any election, there ís no district or zone restriction for voters. The King County Elections website has official voter guide statements and contact information for each of the candidates.

The original questions:

  1. Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 as top, how transparent do you think the Highline School District is? If you’re elected, what would you do to improve this transparency?
  2. Screen time for students seems to be increasing, with many books and assignments done on a computer or Chromebook. What would your sources be to check how much screen time is appropriate for children and whether learning on screens is effective? Do you have a limit of time per day, per week, or per subject you would prefer?
  3. As a part of moving sixth grade to middle school, all sixth grade students will only be able to take a semester of art or music during the school day. They will not be able to take a full year. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? Why?Do you think this type of decision is something that only the superintendent and staff should determine, or should the school board also discuss this and provide advice during an open school board meeting?
  4. Highline school board meetings are not broadcast on TV, on the internet and are also not recorded in audio that is placed on the district web site. Do you agree or disagree with these decisions? If you disagree, what would you like to have happen?

Here are the responses for Position #1 with candidates listed in the same order as on the King County Elections Voter Guide:

Position 1:

Aaron Garcia

Aaron is at a family wedding out of town and did not have time for a full response. He invites voters to look at a press release that highlights some issues he heard of from parents and community orgs. Contact info is on his website.

Spanish: https://www.meetaarongarcia.com/elasunto

English: https://www.meetaarongarcia.com/issues

Tracy Castro Gill

Campaign website with contact info: www.teacheractivist.com/tracy-castro-gill-for-highline-school-board

Q: Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 as top, how transparent do you think the Highline School District is?

A: I would say HSD is a 5 on transparency. I think this is typical from public school districts. As a current employee of a school district and former classroom teacher, I have seen first hand how far educators and administrators will go to cover up information that might shine a negative light on educators and leaders. I understand the need to celebrate successes, and I understand that issues cannot be resolved if all stakeholders don’t know about them, or don’t have full access to the details.

Q: If you’re elected, what would you do to improve this transparency?

A: I think it takes an educator to know the system of education. I have seen skilled, intelligent school board members who could do so much more if they knew the right questions to ask. Even when district administrators don’t have some nefarious ulterior motive, valuable information can be lost between those who know the jargon and those who don’t. I have been a classroom teacher and a district administrator, and now I’m working on a PhD in education. I have the education, experience, and language to know the questions to ask to increase transparency. I’m also a parent and grandparent who has had several children with special education needs, so I am the best candidate to work as a liaison between the system and community to share the information that comes to light.

Q: Screen time for students seems to be increasing, with many books and assignments done on a computer or Chromebook. What would your sources be to check how much screen time is appropriate for children and whether learning on screens is effective? Do you have a limit of time per day, per week, or per subject you would prefer?

A: There are a lot of emotional opinions about this, so I turn to social science to help answer this question. Data are emerging that tell us some things are done best the analogue way, including writing and drawing. Students do better at retaining information when they write notes, as opposed to typing them, for example. There’s also data indicating students lose fine motor skills from relying too heavily on tech instead of print. That being said, there is also a need for students to be technologically literate, and the State of Washington has recently adopted tech. literacy standards that span from kindergarten to the 12th grade. Your readers are reading my response thanks to technology. Studies indicate the majority of Americans get their news from social media. Entire social movements have started with a hash tag on Twitter. Another reality is that many of our low-income students don’t have access to personal computers at home. Not teaching students tech. literacy increases disparities in access to quality education for many of our students. Computers are a technology like books are a technology and each can be used well or poorly. We need to study the data and reduce any harm that excessive screen time may cause, and we need to provide professional development for educators on the most impactful ways to include technology and directly instruct students on how to use it responsibly. This applies to all subject areas.

Q: As a part of moving sixth grade to middle school, all sixth grade students will only be able to take a semester of art or music during the school day. They will not be able to take a full year. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? Why?

A: This is an horrible idea. This is an example of how school districts say they are “data-driven” then ignore the rich data social science provides us on this exact topic. When districts say “data-driven” they really mean standardized testing data. I want to shift the focus from this deficit approach to data-driven decision making and broaden how we define and use data. Again, research tells us how arts increase academics for all students. Art has the capacity to engage the most hard to reach students. Art and culturally responsive teaching go hand in hand. When done correctly, art can be the glue that binds all of learning together, weaving sciences and humanities into poetry, song, and prose. Art improves self esteem and mental health. Art is a way students can explore, share, and value their own identity and the diverse identities of their peers and community members. This decision is bad on multiple levels.

Q: Do you think this type of decision is something that only the superintendent and staff should determine, or should the school board also discuss this and provide advice during an open school board meeting?

A: There is no decision that the superintendent and staff should determine alone. Every decision needs to be made in community, not just with the school board, and in such a way that centers marginalized communities, especially communities of color. The school board should act as the facilitators and arbiters of such decision making, but the bulk of the process belongs with families and students.

Q: Highline school board meetings are not broadcast on TV, on the internet and are also not recorded in audio that is placed on the district web site. Do you agree or disagree with these decisions?

A: I do not agree with these decisions. School board meetings need to be made more accessible, not less. We often hold them at times that are inconvenient for families and don’t provide services that would attract more attendance, like childcare and translation services.

Q: If you disagree, what would you like to have happen?

A: The very least that could be done immediately is transcription and translation of school board meetings. Some districts record and post board meetings on Youtube, but with today’s technology, live feeds are as easy as creating and logging into a Facebook or Instagram account. There is absolutely no excuse for not making the board meetings public, and no reason why it shouldn’t start at the next board meeting.

Michael Lewis

Campaign web site with contact info: www.lewis4learners.org

Q: Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 as top, how transparent do you think the Highline School District is?

A: Coming from Kent, where I am not only a teacher, but an appointed member of the Fiscal Recovery Task Force, I can honestly say that the highest a district really goes is about a 6. A school district budget is not only enormous, it is multi-faceted with completely different rules dependent on the money in and out of the district.

Q: If you’re elected, what would you do to improve this transparency?

A: I really believe, because very little of the money coming into a districtís budget comes from private funds, that every district should be at a 10. The Board of Directors only hires and controls one employee, the Superintendent of Schools, and they are the sole fiduciary stewardship of all of the money that comes into the district. Considering that most of this money is from public sources a district owes it to their constituents to be transparent with the publicís money.

Q: Screen time for students seems to be increasing, with many books and assignments done on a computer or Chromebook. What would your sources be to check how much screen time is appropriate for children and whether learning on screens is effective? Do you have a limit of time per day, per week, or per subject you would prefer?

A: First off, I agree that screen time is increasing and quite frankly, it scares me. There is absolutely no reason for a student to need to do every aspect of their day using technology. In Kent, where we have a one-to-one laptop program with grades 6-12. I can only imagine from being a middle school teacher, the damage and repair costs associated with this program. Looking at the question, I think learning on a screen is effective, but what we canít control is what happens at home. I look at things this way. In classrooms and subject areas where technology is crucial because of logistics, I canít imagine doing my job any other way. I canít even remember a time where we werenít interacting with technology in the music room, because as one teacher you simply canít recreate a symphony, or musical, or choir, or any other aspect. This would be the same in the art classroom. I utilize technology in almost every aspect of my teaching day.

This might sound biased, but I am not sure you need to use video technology (outside of a SmartBoard for demonstration) for students to learn. There is something quite authentic about each student having a copy of the text so that they can complete their assignments using good ole ìbrick and mortarî pedagogy.

Regarding a time limit per day, per week, or per subjectÖ.I think this is a hard one to regulate, even as a Board of Directors. It would be difficult to ask a teacher to refrain from technology use when the school district provides $X,XXXX.00 amount of money for technology in each and every room across the district. My other struggle is that we canít control what happens at home. I look at it like thisÖ.I teach a subject that has increased student engagement with technology; Iím going to use technology. In a music room, I donít have desks or up until this coming year, chairs for students. Sitting on the floor changes learning.

Q: As a part of moving sixth grade to middle school, all sixth grade students will only be able to take a semester of art or music during the school day. They will not be able to take a full year. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea? Why?

A: This is an awful idea. It forces students to pick and choose between the things they are there for every day. My background exists thanks to large urban middle schools, where I have been an educator for most of my career. Most recently, I was the choir director at MLK Middle School, with a student population of about 2200 6th-8th graders. My first success in this environment was to make solid relationships with my physical education staff, where students did see class for the entire year. From this relationship we had an agreement that we wouldnít deny students to sing for the entire school year in a grade level. Visual art, technology, and industrial arts were also all offered for full year rotations.

This is a great idea for the simple fact that the arts teach so much more than just doing art, they teach creativity. Creativity in developing solutions for the worldís problems in a world that they will shortly inherit from all of us. It is also a great idea because it teaches perseverance in sticking with one choice or another. Lastly, one of my biggest worries is that we are testing the creativity out of our students. This leads back to the previous question, because these tests are given on technology. I am sure we could all agree that taking a test in pencil and paper vs. on a computer is completely different.

Q: Do you think this type of decision is something that only the superintendent and staff should determine, or should the school board also discuss this and provide advice during an open school board meeting?

I 100% believe that the school board should discuss and provide advice. When I am elected they will have a director who passionately supports this endeavor. Additionally, it is critical that a district of Highlineís size have an Arts Coordinator and one that solely coordinates for the Arts. Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than not having a solid resource above you to go to for any assistance.

Q: Highline school board meetings are not broadcast on TV, on the internet and are also not recorded in audio that is placed on the district web site. Do you agree or disagree with these decisions?

A: I disagree.

Q: If you disagree, what would you like to have happen?

A: Subject to Open Public Meeting Laws, which must be adhered to completely, it is also important that in the dawn of technology board meetings or any public meeting is recorded to YouTube for the public to access. This protects the Directors, the District, and the Public. In my mind, it is also a pretty simple step that extends so much toward building better relationships across the Highline School District.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Highline Public Schools asked us to include the following clarification:

“Audio recordings of school board meetings are available to the public. Please visit this webpage for more information. Audio recordings are not posted on the district website because they are not compliant with federal accessibility requirements. Highline Public Schools is in the process of updating its website to ensure it is fully accessible to users with disabilities.”