Election 2021 Q&As: Douglas County school board

Colorado Community Media
Posted 10/6/21

In the election that ends Nov. 2, Douglas County voters will elect four members of the county school district’s Board of Education, a majority of the seven-member panel. Ballots go into the mail …

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Election 2021 Q&As: Douglas County school board

Posted

In the election that ends Nov. 2, Douglas County voters will elect four members of the county school district’s Board of Education, a majority of the seven-member panel. Ballots go into the mail starting Oct. 8.

Amid contentious debates over COVID-safety rules and equity in education, two slates of school board candidates have emerged, one in line with the direction set by the current board majority and the other saying it’s time to follow a new path.

The school board members represent different parts of the county but they are elected “at large” by all county residents. District B includes the west and southwest parts of Douglas County, including the west Castle Rock area, Roxborough and Larkspur. District D in southeast Douglas County includes Castle Rock east of I-25 and Franktown. District E in the north-central county includes Castle Pines and parts of Lone Tree. And District G covers far northeast Douglas County, including north Parker and Stonegate.

Colorado Community Media sent questions to each candidate to help voters learn more about them. We asked why they’re running, what qualifies them for office, and what their priorities would be if elected. Here are their responses, edited for clarity.

SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT B

Mike Peterson

Occupation: Co-founder of Spartan Training & Performance LLC, an organizational performance, culture and leadership consultancy.

Years living in district: I moved to Colorado in 2004 while serving in the US Navy and have lived in Larkspur (in Douglas County School District Directorate B) since 2018

Campaign website: vote4kidsfirst.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board? 

I wish to bring advocacy, leadership, and accountability back to the Douglas County School District and refocus on academic excellence to establish the school district as the best in Colorado.I believe parents are the experts on their kids and teachers are the experts on education.When they collaborate at the local level, they can ensure each student meets his or her unique potential.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking?

Decades of experience leading elite teams and large organizations to achieve their mission in the most demanding environments. Twenty five years of military service to include time as the executive officer of an overseas naval base and three years as an assistant professor at the USAF Academy helping to develop future leaders of character.For the last decade, I have assisted global corporations to improve their performance, leadership, and culture. As a father to a disabled daughter, Special Olympics coach, and fundraiser for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, I will be a strong advocate for our IEP/504/2E students, families and staff.

If elected, what would be your first priority in office?

Building relationships and trust within the district and between the district and the parents and taxpayers that we serve.Trust is a prerequisite to uniting the community and aligning to common, shared goals.We need to put parents, teachers, and principal back in partnership with each other to refocus on core academic recovery, growth, and achievement.Trust with our taxpayers will be essential to closing teacher compensation gaps with surrounding districts and securing funds to meet the growth requirements of the district and ensure excellence in education.

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it?

The district currently lacks leadership — the current board has done many thingsto the staff, teachers, parents, and students of Douglas County instead of doing things with them. They have advocated health decisions to unelected bureaucrats and supported mandates over individual choice.Their policies have created distrust and pitted parents against parents, parents against teachers, and teachers against students.Effective leaders discover shared values and align diverse groups toward common goals. Leaders succeed only when they can cut through differences of race, sex, age, nationality, ability, and personality and tap into those needs and values we all share.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary?

The decision to mask or not mask should be made by parents and teachers based in their individual risk assessment and specific circumstances.

Based on the latest Tri-County Health Department Data, COVID-19 is not a significant threat to the 0-18-year-old population in Douglas County. The average age of COVID-related death in Douglas County is 81 years old. There has been 1 COVID-related death in the 0-18 population in Douglas County since March of 2020 and the current 14-day rolling hospitalization rate is 0.45 per 100K people in the 0-18 age group in the Tri-County Area (i.e. 1 in 222,200 chance of being hospitalized). Source:  https://data.tchd.org/covid19/ (7 Sept 2021 data)

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society?

As with all curriculum, racial issues should be presented with a balanced and accurate viewpoint that acknowledges the positive and negative aspects of American history and promotes critical thinking.Any curriculum or instruction that advocates for an extreme social agenda or position, on any side of the political spectrum, to the exclusion of opposing views or critical analysis and evaluation would be inappropriate.

Juli Watkins

Occupation: My professional background is strategic marketing communications. At present, I am a stay-at-home mom and active volunteer in DCSD and my community.

Years living in district: 11 years

Campaign website: JuliForDCSD.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board? 

When we moved to Douglas County 11 years ago, all anyone told me was that we needed to live in the Douglas County School District. When my kids enrolled in DCSD, I was shocked by the turmoil caused by the reformer school board.

Since the current board's election in 2017, I have seen significant progress towards improved academic achievement and teacher retention. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken the focus away from these achievements.

I am running because I believe in the direction of the current board and want to continue this important and valuable work that benefits our students.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking? 

I am a DCSD parent who has been involved as a classroom volunteer and a PTO leader the past 10 years. This experience has given me an insider's perspective of some of the successes, as well as some of the challenges, facing the district. I pledge to listen and work collaboratively with various stakeholder groups to provide the best educational experience for our students. Additionally, I have more than 25 years of professional experience in strategic communications; effective communication is one of the key elements of a successful school district, and I will bring that expertise to the board. 

If elected, what would be your first priority in office? 

My first priority is ensuring all DCSD students and staff maintain in-person learning in a safe and healthy environment. It is imperative that our students and staff have the stability and support they need to move past all of the distractions from the pandemic and be able to focus on learning.

Pandemic aside, I want to stay focused on supporting our students by continuing to invest in mental health and ensuring that all students have access to the educational opportunities they need to be successful. 

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it? 

Currently, navigating through this pandemic is the single greatest issue facing our school district because it affects everything else. However, the key challenges we faced before COVID-19 are still there.  

Pandemic aside, we need to build on the amazing academic progress since 2017 — DCSD graduation rate is now the highest in the Denver metro area — and find ways to keep investing in mental health, and creating solutions that honor every student's experience, ensuring that ALL students have access to the quality education they deserve.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary? 

Currently, there is a mask mandate in place for all persons, regardless of age or vaccination status, in school settings. This mandate, put in place by the Tri-County Health Department, does not offer an opt-out clause, and DCSD is obligated to comply with the order. Anyone who claims that the school board has the authority to not comply with a health department mandate is incorrect.

And the overwhelming majority of health experts on every level — local, state, national and worldwide — agree that masking is key to reducing transmission in schools and increasing the success of in-person learning. 

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society?

DCSD has no policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society. DCSD follows the K-12 Colorado Academic Standards, and I, of course, support that. Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government (HB19-1192) and Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Public Schools (HB20-1336) are two recent pieces of state legislation that help guide the standards, curriculum, and assessments for all Colorado students, including those in DCSD. We have incredible teachers, I trust their ability to teach our students to think critically, and I do not support censorship.

SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT D

Ruby Martinez

Occupation: I am an advanced practice registered nurse, specialized in psychiatric mental health nursing.

Years living in district: 11 years

Campaign website: Families4RubyMartinez.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I highly value education and people. I think that education is the key to a prosperous and caring society that understands that we are all interdependent upon each other for our well-being and safety. School is the microcosm where students can learn and make mistakes in a supportive environment. Students thrive in a welcoming safe learning environment. The challenges that they meet and overcome in school will help prepare them for their future as an informed, productive and valued member of our community.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking?

As I progressed through my journey in academics, culminating with a Ph.D. and a faculty position at the University of Colorado School of Nursing, I understood how critical it was to have built a strong and stable foundation of knowledge to build upon.This foundation, for me and I believe for most others, was laid in my grade school and high school experience. I want our children to build a strong educational foundation for their own futures. I also bring an extensive background in leadership and management.

If elected, what would be your first priority in office? 

The function of the board is to set priorities for the use of the district's resources to ensure they are used in an efficient and effective manner to support the educational and social needs of our children. We need to maintain a wide variety of learning choices, extracurricular activities, mental health and social services for our students. A first priority is for students to be aware of what resources are available to them and their families. 

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it? 

I am concerned about the mental health needs of the students after the difficult year we all had with COVID-19. COVID was a huge disruption in all our lives. Parents and students struggled to meet the demands of the new normal over that year. It is important to recognize the myriad of emotions students might have, and to provide appropriate structure and support as they reintegrate in the new normal today. We want students in the classroom. We need to support our teachers. We need to be more kind and respectful to each other in general.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary? 

The safety of our children is a top priority.The science is clear that wearing a mask significantly decreases the risk for airborne transmission of COVID-19. For those students who are fully vaccinated, masks should be voluntary. For those students not yet able to be vaccinated, wearing a mask should be mandatory to best protect all of the children.

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society?

The curriculum should be an accurate reflection of our past and present-day events. I think it is possible to teach historical events and to look at the events from various viewpoints without placing blame, with a goal of a deeper understanding of how the event affected all involved and how the world has evolved. 

Becky Myers

Occupation: I'm a retired Douglas County school teacher and started full time at Ranch View Middle School in Highlands Ranch in 1997. 

Years living in district: I have lived in District D since 1993. 

Campaign website: Vote4kidsfirst.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I decided to run for school board this election year because I felt the current school board did not value parental voice and the lockdown of keeping kids from in-person learning did not show common sense decision making. There are many other alternatives to engaging students in the learning process and much of the data coming out today show a rise in mental health, low academic scores and stressful situations which could have been avoided.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you are seeking? 

My qualifications to run for school board are that I'm an educator, a mother, grandmother and the many years I spent as an employee in this district. I know what an excellent school district looks like and we can fix the issues that have eroded Douglas County over the years, especially during 2020. 

If elected, what would be your first priority in office? 

If elected, I will have two main priorities I would like to see addressed right away: 

To make a plan for how we can get our students back on track academically and emotionally after the chaos of the last 18 months dealing with COVID restricted learning. We need to see to it this district makes a full recovery.

To implement a “Parent Choice Plan” that will allow parents to make decisions surrounding their child's health and well-being at school.

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it?

Douglas County is divided as a community and parents do not feel they have a voice.Parents are taking a more vocal interest in their kids' education, because remote learning enlightened them as to what is being taught in the classrooms. Parents know that kids learning remotely removes them from the social interactions with their peers and teachers.Online all day on has more negative impact mentally than dealing with an infectious disease that has little effect on children and adolescents. We need to provide our students with opportunities to learn in the classroom every day.  

As things stand now, should students be required to wear a mask in class, or should masks be voluntary?

I believe parents know best when it comes to making decisions for the health and wellbeing of their students, so I support parent choice. 

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding teaching racial issues in American society?

In the context of the district's "Educational Equity Policy," I feel parts of this policy are divisive and teaches students their skin color or gender matters more in life than the content of their character. Racial issues in the history of our nation should definitely be taught in a historically accurate and non-political way. We are not perfect, but we learn from our mistakes.

SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT E

Kevin Leung

Occupation: Local business owner and information technology consultant

Years living in district: 25 years

Campaign website: kevinfordcsd.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I grew up in extreme poverty in Hong Kong and was the son of illiterate parents. Through hard work and determination, I have lived the American dream. I want pay it forward by sharing my experience and ensuring that all students, no matter what their background is, can be equally successful in life. Under current board leadership, Douglas County School District has been on a path of improvement over the last 4 years. I am running for re-election to continue my work prioritizing student-driven decisions and continue my quest on “How can I better serve Douglas County students?”

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking?

As a current board member, I have worked to double mental health resources, improve teacher retention, and expand career and technical education options for students. I have a proved track record of working with students, parents, teachers, and community members with different points of view and I am committed to prioritizing student-driven decisions. My more than 18 years of volunteer experience with state, district, and school education committees help guide my decisions. Finally, I understand Douglas County because I have lived here for 30 years, and I am a parent with children in both public charter and neighborhood schools.

If elected, what would be your first priority in office?

My first priority is to continue work on the board's strategic plan in regard to academic excellence, including equitable learning opportunities for all students to allow students to reach their full potential. Our teachers, parents, community members, and students provided extensive feedback regarding our strategic plan when we developed it. It is important we continue to focus on this work uninterrupted. Identifying the resources each student needs to be successful, for both college and career pathways, will improve academic achievement and post-secondary readiness. Retaining and recruiting high quality teachers, who love teaching in DCSD, will help us meet that goal.

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it?

The greatest single issue is to keep our students back in classrooms for fulltime in-person learning. We need to ensure our teachers have the support they need and to stay healthy to educate students during the pandemic. There is ample evidence to suggest that when we follow the recommendations of health experts, we increase our chances of successful in-person learning. Last year, teachers and school staff experienced one of the most challenging school years in their careers. With teacher shortages occurring across the state, we must provide our teachers with a safe and supportive learning environment and continue to increase compensation.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary?

It is my highest priority to keep our schools open for in-person learning so our students can learn better and receive the social and emotional support they need. The delta variant is much more contagious and affects children more severely. Children under 12 are not eligible for vaccination. If enough students and teachers experience infections, schools will have to shut down and return to remote learning. The recent Tri-County Health mask mandate has reduced transmission of COVID within our schools. I will use science-backed data from CDC, AAP, and TCHD to guide my decisions on when to require masks.

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society?

DCSD has no current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society. The board passed an education equity policy to fulfill our commitment to ensure that every student and staff member has access to equitable and rigorous educational opportunities, and to provide an inclusive culture to ensure all students, staff, and community members feel safe and valued. DCSD is not changing its curriculum to incorporate critical race theory with this policy. All instruction in DCSD is, and will continue to be, aligned with Colorado Academic Standards. We should let teachers do their job without the risk of censorship.

Christy Williams

Occupation: I am a mom first, but I have run my own dog-training business for over 15 years.

Years living in district: I have lived in my current home for six years, but moved to Douglas County over 11 years ago.

Campaign website: Vote4KidsFirst.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board? 

I want to serve because I feel our children and teachers need more stability and predictability. Our community needs people on the board that they can trust to lead this district in a manner that fosters positive culture and climate, honors parent voice and empowers teachers to focus on academics.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking? 

In addition to running a business where I have built long standing relationships with my clients, I am a mom of three unique children. I have worked with parents and teachers while serving on the PTO. I've also served on the SAC and DAC where all viewpoints should be heard and valued.

If elected, what would be your first priority in office? 

The first priority would be to build trust and partnerships with staff, parents and the community. The community needs to see that the board is being transparent, that they are being accountable and that they have integrity. I wish to bring courageous leadership and clear direction for staff and families.

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it? 

Currently, our community is very divided. We need leadership who will create partnerships and not further community polarization. We need directors who seek to eliminate the chaos that has caused division between parents and teachers, teachers and students and parents with other parents. I would seek to take these additional responsibilities off the plate of teachers so that they can do what they do best, teach.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary? 

I will always advocate for parents to choose what is best for their children especially when it comes to medical decisions.

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society? 

History is so important to learn; the good, the bad and the ugly. It should be taught with no bias but with balance and facts. This goes for all issues including race.

SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT G

Krista Holtzmann

Occupation: Attorney; currently volunteering full-time as DCSD School Board director

Years living in district: 20 years

Campaign website: www.krista4kids.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

It's been my honor to serve as a volunteer director on our board of education for the past four years. I continue to be grateful for the wonderful PK-12 experience our own sons received in DCSD, and I would like to continue supporting our family of schools. It remains important to me that we provide excellent educational opportunities for each and every student to help them reach their own full, unique potential. I'm excited to continue this important work.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking?

Though I began learning about the challenges facing our schools as a mom volunteering in classrooms and at school activities, the experience I've gained over the last four years as a board member is critical. Our district needs stable leadership to continue the progress we are making. My education and experiences as an attorney frequently help me analyze complex situations and data to make decisions in the best interests of our students. And as the daughter of a teacher, and a former preschool teacher myself, I understand the resources teachers need to best educate our students.

If elected, what would be your first priority in office?

I would continue to prioritize maintaining in-person learning, as free of disruptions or transitions as possible. In order to achieve this, I would encourage working in accordance with public health experts to implement appropriate comprehensive mitigation strategies. Beyond navigating the impact of a pandemic, I would continue supporting the strategic plan, developed with significant community input. Just as Superintendent Corey Wise has prioritized this year, I would focus on enhancing social-emotional support for students and staff, emphasize efforts to support literacy, and professional learning communities. Also continuing to support implementation of a predictable salary schedule for all employees.

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it?

We must continue creating learning and working environments whose cultures make each and every student and employee feel they belong. This requires a community-wide effort. Seeking to understand and communicating with respect are ways I'm committed to leading. As demonstrated when our board met with all charter leaders to develop a successful bond plan (which included charters for the first time in DCSD history), I believe working together is essential. Expanding social emotional learning resources, and enhancing professional learning communities develops stronger networks of support, ultimately reinforcing a DCSD culture of taking care of one another.

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary?

Our board policies direct the management of communicable disease be done in accordance with the CDPHE or TCHD. Our policies support safety, but also support maintaining in-person learning with as little disruption as possible. This leads us to require masks be worn within our schools at this time. Mask wearing is a situation, like so many others, where one's freedom maybe limited when one's own right to freedom places another at risk of harm. Face coverings are a critical part of our overall comprehensive mitigation efforts at this time, and an opportunity to care for one another.

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society?

Multiple policies address “teaching,” but none are exclusive to racial issues. For example, GP IB states that “academic expectations will be clearly articulated and supported with appropriate curriculum.” Policies address curriculum development, instructional resources, educational equity, and curriculum standards. Policies identify the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS) as the expectations for what DCSD students need to know. The superintendent is tasked with maintaining systems and processes to provide developmentally appropriate instruction, authentic and relevant learning opportunities, and meeting the post high school interests of students. Current policies provide a strong framework to address teaching all topics contained within CAS.

Kaylee Winegar

Occupation: Associate director of corporate accounting for a financial services company 

Years living in district: 16 years in Douglas County, four years in District G

Campaign website: vote4kidsfirst.com

Why do you want to serve on the school board? 

My 5-year-old daughter is my biggest motivation for wanting to serve on the school board. When I drop her off at school every day, I want to feel at ease knowing that the teachers and administrators at her school are filling her head with knowledge focused on academics. That she's in an environment filled with positivity and fulfillment. I want all parents to have that contentment. Unfortunately, some of the decisions and directions the current board is making does not support those simple needs. I want to change that.

What would you say are your most important qualifications for the office you're seeking? 

My first most important qualification is that I am a mother to a current DCSD student. I have skin in the game for the next 13 years and want my daughter, and all kids of Douglas County, to thrive and feel prepared for life after high school. Growing up, I was taught to respect and honor teachers. Mostly due to having a mother who is a teacher, and who taught in DCSD for 15 years. Conversations about her career experiences throughout the years has aided me in knowing what helps teachers thrive and feel purpose in their career. 

If elected, what would be your first priority in office? 

Build trust in the school board. A big reason I, and others, do not trust our current school board is because we don't feel represented. We don't feel like anyone on the current school board is fighting for what we feel is best for our kids. Once our community has trust that those on the board are fighting for their best interests, then real progress can be made. 

What in your view is the greatest single issue facing the school district and how would you address it? 

Our current district leadership has chosen to take a threatening approach, especially recently, in getting their way. This intimidating tone is filtering down into our schools and encouraging a culture of fear, negativity, and divisiveness. I want to change that tone, and promote a culture of compassion, positivity, and reason. No more fear for school staff who just want to educate and enrich our kids. No more fear for kids who just want stability. I want to get in there and set an example of hope, optimism, and strength. 

As things stand now, should students be required to wear masks in class, or should mask wearing be voluntary? 

Health experts are split on whether mask wearing is effective for kids. For something that isn't settled science and is causing a culture of threats, segregation, lists, and bullying at school, the right choice to me is to bring back the choice of mask wearing. Bring back the normalcy that existed without issue the first two weeks of school.

What are your views on the district's current policies regarding the teaching of racial issues in American society? 

I am not aware of any specific district policies about teaching racial issues in American society. American history lessons about slavery and civil rights in our classrooms should include the good, the bad, and the ugly, as long as it is truthful. Any teachings that include non-historical facts should be presented as such, and not presented as actual history. It is a disservice to those who were mistreated in our history to have their true experiences misrepresented.

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