Q&A: Banks School Board candidates
Ballots go out later this month for the May 18 election, and Banks-area voters will choose three school board members for the Banks School District.
The News-Times reached out to all six candidates with a short list of questions and received responses from five (four before our print deadline). Those responses are printed below in full, with only light editing for grammar and clarity.
Chad Mueller has filed for Position 1, but he is asking voters to write him in for Position 2, where Corissa Mazurkiewicz is otherwise running unopposed. Mueller will appear on the ballot alongside two other candidates for Position 1.
Mazurkiewicz responded to this questionnaire after our print deadline had passed. Her full responses appear here alongside those of the other candidates, but they were not published in the April 1 issue of the News-Times.
What do you see are the biggest issues coming before the Banks school board over the next few years? How should the board address these issues?
Jodi Hailey, Position 1: I am deeply concerned about the ideological direction of our public schools. School districts across the country are enthusiastically embracing programs and curricula deeply influenced by Marxist ideas — foremost among them those related to critical race theory — and I believe these ideas must be directly and forcefully rejected by the Banks school board as neither healing nor empowering but incredibly damaging to our children.
The purported aim of these programs is to promote "equity," but in fact they perpetuate inequality. These intolerant ideologies teach our children to see themselves in rigid categories — either as victims or as oppressors — and to think in ways fundamentally opposed to our American ideals. Rather than emphasizing our common humanity — beginning with the truth that we are all created equal, regardless of race, class, gender or religion, and that the content of our character matters more than the color of our skin — these ideologies prioritize our differences and indoctrinate our children to believe that we are fundamentally unequal, instilling in them a sense of fatalism and creating resentment, anger and hopelessness. These ideologies are couched in deceptively appealing language, but in truth they are destructive to the hearts, minds and souls of all of our children — of every creed and color.
I believe that the Banks school board must take this ideological threat seriously and commit itself to promoting curricula that emphasize the principles and ideals upon which our country was founded. We should be seeking to build in all of our children a sense of the greatness, promise and hope of this country and the part each one of them is called to play in making the American Dream a reality for every single American. As opposed to adopting curricula that center issues of identity, "systemic racism", "structures of oppression", and other Marxist ideas (curricula related to "The 1619 Project" or the Black Lives Matter movement, for example), our school district should adopt courses of study that center fundamental American values and challenge our children to pursue justice, truth and goodness as a part of the effort to live out our American ideals together (programs such as those being developed by the founders of the 1776 Unites Campaign or the newly founded civil rights group FAIR, Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to "advancing civil rights and liberties for all Americans, and promoting a common culture based on fairness, understanding and humanity.")
I am also deeply concerned by the cancel culture that threatens open and public discourse in our schools. I have spoken with Banks students who have told me they are afraid to speak and write about their conservative views. This should not be, just as students with liberal views should never feel pressure to remain silent. Pressure to conform to accepted orthodoxies and narratives, and the self-censorship our children are practicing in order to cope with that pressure, are serious problems.
As a school board, it is part of our responsibility to ensure the protection of our students' constitutional rights to freedom of thought and speech — particularly with regard to religion and politics — and to champion their efforts to think broadly and critically in their pursuit of truth, even if that takes them outside of what is considered acceptable opinion at this moment. Only when we return to the ideals and principles that make our country so exceptional will we create a path for all our children toward a future in which those ideals can be fully realized.
Leslee L. Sipp, Position 1: Banks is a wonderful school district. I have worked for this district for over 35 years and have been fortunate enough to work with a great staff, administration and students. Of course getting kids back into school safely is important. The staff in all three schools have worked diligently to keep education running smoothly during this time of distance learning.
I see the biggest issues in the next few years are making sure our students are ready for the world, whether it be going to college, entering the trades or military.
The board should be looked to as supportive for the staff, and I would like to see a strengthening in relationships between the board, administration and staff.
Corissa Mazurkiewicz, Position 2: According to the NSCH (National Survey on Children's Health, 2013), nearly half the children in the U.S. have experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma. In addition, the Oregon State Health Assessment (2018) found that Oregon has the highest prevalence of mental illness among youth and adults in the nation. These are pre-COVID findings, and I believe after what we have all experienced in the past year those statistics could be even higher today. Therefore, addressing the mental health needs of our students must be the starting point as we move to reopen schools.
Trauma informed practices focus on creating a safe environment, building relationships and connectedness, and supporting and teaching emotional regulation. Our school board can address these needs by ensuring teachers and staff have access to trainings around mental health and trauma informed practices. In addition, our district needs counselors, social workers and or school psychologists who can support both students and staff. Commitment to a trauma informed approach will have a huge impact on our students, our schools and our community in the next few years.
Chad Mueller, Position 2 (write-in): I foresee the biggest issue the board facing is future mandates that might try and close schools down again, so we need to make sure that students have the option to be in the classroom for five full days.
Curt VanBlarcom, Position 4: How to address the condition of the high school. It's time to look at the options for a new high school. Increasing the access to technology and an expanded curriculum to include more options in math, science, and vocational education. ESSER funding isn't enough, additional grants need to be looked at for more funding from the State and Federal sources. Community involvement, fund raisers, and support from local and surrounding business. Our kids need the tools to be successful in life, regardless if they are going on to college or working a trade right out school.
How do you feel about the current direction of the district? Are there areas the district or school board should focus on, but aren't?
Jodi Hailey: Very simply, we have to get our doors open and kids back in school full time. What has been lost this last year in terms of learning and development for our children — especially the most vulnerable — is unacceptable, and it should be the school board?s first priority to move our district immediately from "hybrid" education to full in-person instruction. The educational and mental health emergencies many of our children are experiencing are a direct result of the failure of online education, and to fail to respond with urgency to their obvious need is a clear dereliction of our duty to our children.
I believe BSD must recommit itself to the core mission of public schools — to put the protection, education and flourishing of students first — open its doors to five full days of in-person instruction and remain open. If the current school board does not accomplish this by the end of this school year, I sincerely hope that voters will elect school board representatives who simply will not accept anything else in the fall.
I know that an immediate return to full, in-person instruction is the unequivocal commitment of Chad Mueller, who is running a write-in campaign for Position 2 (rather than running for Position 1, as he originally filed), as well as Curt VanBlarcom, who is running for Position 4. I sincerely hope that it is the commitment of the other candidates as well, and that this will be a non-issue long before September. If it is, we will have the freedom to turn our attention to other pressing issues, beginning with assessment of the academic losses our students have accumulated this past year and formulation of a strategy to make up for those losses. That might include options such as new afterschool tutoring programs or in-class time with additional instructional assistants or substitute teachers, to be paid for with money allocated to public schools in the federal relief bills. We have a responsibility to use our money wisely, which I believe entails administering it to the direct good of our students. I am absolutely committed to transparency in this and promise to make information about the use of these monies easily and publicly available.
Finally, my priority at the high school level is to encourage the expansion of curricular opportunities through development of robust independent study and trade school programs. Because ours is a small district and not affluent, we do have limitations in our course offerings. But there is no reason that motivated students should not be more strongly encouraged to develop — and be mentored through the process of developing — their own courses of study across a wide range of subjects, whether that involves a deeper exploration of animal studies or practical experience in homebuilding. By offering high school credit to students who make this effort, we will encourage them to develop relationships with professionals, businesses and organizations that do work they are interested in and help make it possible for them to gain significant real-world experience that will prepare them for adulthood.
Leslee L. Sipp: The direction of our school district is on the right track. We are all life long learners and through our learning we can nudge our students into challenges and helping them on their way to have success in life. Our students graduate and do so well in higher learning. The areas I would like to address is to encourage and help students who want to go into the trades.
Corissa Mazurkiewicz: I feel the district worked incredibly hard to navigate uncharted waters this past year. The constant uncertainty and minute-by-minute changes forced a kind of flexibility and creativity never before seen in our school systems. I like the analogy of trying to build a plane while flying it. Our administrators, teachers and students faced unprecedented challenges this past year and I am incredibly proud of all of them.
As far as the current direction, I think we are still trying to recover from a storm that has not completely passed us. The future direction of our district must be firmly rooted in the needs of the students, and at this
time, it may be too early to determine exactly what that looks like. There is no quick fix to recovering from a global pandemic. We have all lost a great deal this past year, and our children are no exceptions. The process of healing has just begun, yet we are also provided with an opportunity to come together and thrive like never before.
Chad Mueller: I feel that the district has done amazing work for our students, but due to the current climate of society, this could change. Some areas of focus should be ensuring that all members of the district have a voice that is heard. Also, the aging structure of the high school should soon become a top priority, and preparing to build a new one.
Curt VanBlarcom: I feel the current direction of the district should be focused on getting our kids back to in-class, full-days, in-person for the remainder of this year. Focus on the safety of the kids and staff while giving our kids the education experience they deserve.
What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the district, and how can it best address the weaknesses while accentuating its strengths?
Jodi Hailey: Our Banks community is exceptional. Within our community there is a deep sense of shared values — love of small-town life and traditions, as well as a genuine embrace of diversity and the desire for every single child to flourish. There is also real concern for each other, sincere love for our teachers and pride in our excellent schools. I believe that as we navigate the years ahead, we need to draw on and nurture this sense of community, committing to assuming the best in each other, listening well to each other and working together to pursue the common good. As a school board, that means we must honor our duty to be responsive to the values, perspectives and desires of Banks parents. My observation is that this past year has unfortunately highlighted a failure in our district to do this well.
We all recognize the power that state leaders and education unions have taken in this situation, but I believe BSD could and should have listened better to the desires of Banks parents and used the power invested in local school districts to push back against policies and mandates so clearly detrimental to our children. The unequivocal recommendations put out by the CDC in July 2020 should have been used by the school district to advocate for and act in the best interests of our children, to formulate decisions about direction and to help ameliorate the sense of anxiety felt by some parents and teachers.
Going forward, our school board must commit itself to doing a better job of inviting and facilitating public dialogue. It is a core duty of elected school board members to faithfully represent the will of their constituents, and I strongly support and commit to enabling public comment and testimony by parents to the school board and to promoting open and robust discussion of difficult issues. I believe we can find solid common ground in the broad set of values we share as a community, especially as we recommit our district to putting the needs and interests of our children before all others, and I commit to being a trustworthy and strong voice for Banks parents and students.
Leslee L. Sipp: The strength of our district is staff, administration and volunteers working together to create a strong learning environment and to work on weaknesses together to make them strong.
Corissa Mazurkiewicz: Our weaknesses and strengths are two sides of the same coin. We are a tiny district, which comes with less funding, fewer extra-curricular opportunities and less diversity. However, these limitations also provide opportunities for creativity and innovation. Banks is an outstanding community. Our schools have amazing, dedicated and caring staff. Having all three schools within walking distance of each other allows for collaboration, leadership and mentoring opportunities.
Our physical location affords us proximity to incredible natural resources and opportunities for project based learning. For example, the fourth-grade trip to Fort Clatsop is one of the most memorable for elementary students, in addition to outdoor school in fifth grade. I believe we can expand these off campus experiences to include the Tillamook Forestry Center to study fire ecology, the Oregon beaches for marine biology and the Wilson River for units on water systems. We also have relatively close proximity to Mount St. Helens and the Columbia River Gorge, which provide more incredible project based learning options.
Connecting students to their natural environment and their community provides strong opportunities for engagement and hands-on learning. We live in an agricultural area, which also provides students the opportunities to learn from our famers. I would like to see strong school community partnerships and connections develop over the next few years so we can take advantage of the local wisdom that exists right here.
Another strength is that we are Braves! We are allowed to use the mascot of the Braves as long as we commit to teaching students the history of the Tribes of the Grand Ronde and other indigenous knowledge such as traditional medicinal plant use and foraging. This acknowledgment and collaboration is an opportunity for us all to learn about the complex, deep and interconnected roots in this amazing corner of the world.
Chad Mueller: I believe a strength of the district is the tight bond between the school and the community. A weakness is the limited options for advanced vocational and elective courses. The district can best address this by using local resources to introduce more varieties of these classes into the curriculum.
Curt VanBlarcom: The strength of the district is our community. The community has always been such a huge impact on our kids, everything from sports, education, etc. Our weaknesses are that we are a small community and it takes a higher level of involvement from everyone. Funding for better schools, technology, expanded curriculum, local business support, community input, it all takes more work and input from our community.
With distance learning still a factor, in at least a limited way, what do you think can be done to aid its effectiveness if need be going forward?
Jodi Hailey: My fervent hope is that BSD will listen to the unambiguous science on this issue and reopen all of our schools fully and immediately. It has been proven safe to do so — both by public schools across the country and by private schools in Oregon — and it is harmful to our students not to do so. Educationally, emotionally and socially, our children have suffered incredibly in this last year, and it is not safe, reasonable or responsible to force them to continue in distance learning. Especially given the newest distancing recommendations of the CDC and the fact that our teachers have received the vaccine, there is absolutely no further reason for our district not to simply unlock the doors and allow our students to return.
Further, as someone who cares deeply about inequality and achievement gaps in education, I believe we must confront the fact that the harm that has been done this year, and is continuing to be done, has fallen disproportionately on those children who are least privileged. We cannot both speak earnestly about how much we value equality and about our concern for the poor in particular, and at the same time continue to deprive these children of their right to in-person public education. If, in the short term, our district needs to allocate staff specifically to providing remote learning for a minority of students who wish to remain in CDL, BSD should use relief funds to cover those costs. If, in the longer term, CDL is to be continued, I believe it should be offered by the Oregon Department of Education rather than by individual school districts.
Leslee L. Sipp: I believe our district has done the best they can in distance learning. We have a very large district boundary, and I was happy to see at what lengths our school district went to ensure learning would continue for all students. Going forward, we may need to address additional challenges for our students' well-being.
Corissa Mazurkiewicz: I have experience teaching online courses and also supporting student teachers virtually. It is a very different method of instructional delivery, but it does have its own merits. My own children have been quite successful in CDL as third- and sixth-graders, and I have witnessed some incredible creativity and innovation on the part of my student teachers. I have seen some students, particularly those who are impacted with learning and behavior challenges, who are actually experiencing more success in the virtual classroom.
Moving forward, we can focus on the strengths of this model, such as the forced implementation of universal design for learning. A model which provides access to content for all students from our struggling students to our accelerated learners. A teacher has no choice but to utilize multiple modalities in order to engage students. Teachers incorporate videos, visuals, small group break out work and partner work. Teachers have done an outstanding job this past year learning an entirely new system and way of teaching, with no map to follow. There is also the fact of location (CDL can be accessed from almost anywhere), flexibility (some work can be completed at different times), and increased student responsibility for their own learning.
In order to strengthen CDL, we need to focus on building strong online communities of learners. We have to emphasize the very real need for human connection. Allowing students unstructured "down" time, to laugh and share, is an essential part of schooling and one they have missed out on without recess and lunch together. Providing more options for small group projects and work time is another way to strengthen social connections among peers.
Chad Mueller: Full-time in-person learning should be a top priority for our students. The consequences that come from the isolation of distance learning far outweighs all other risks. In-person check-ins are very effective to fight the negative results of distance learning and bring awareness to the physical and mental health of all students.
Curt VanBlarcom: Distance learning should only be a supplement to full-time in-class learning. The school board needs to focus on how we get the kids back in class. We can still build on important issues like technology and connectivity issues, but those should be part of the overall changes and enhancements the district needs to address. Kids should have access to tablets/laptops for in-school learning, and the infrastructure of the schools should be able to handle the increased traffic.
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