Englewood school board candidates take teens' questions

Five contenders discuss teacher retention, student advocacy at forum

Posted 10/13/17

Candidates for the Englewood Schools Board of Education election offered their perspectives on questions served up by Englewood High School students, discussing student retention, district budget issues and how to remain competitive with districts …

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Englewood school board candidates take teens' questions

Five contenders discuss teacher retention, student advocacy at forum

Posted

Candidates for the Englewood Schools Board of Education election offered their perspectives on questions served up by Englewood High School students, discussing student retention, district budget issues and how to remain competitive with districts like Denver and Littleton public schools.

The Oct. 11 forum at the Englewood Campus was run by journalism and media students, who surveyed other students to see what questions they thought important and crafted the forum based on that input. Three seats are up for election this year, and Election Day is Nov. 7.

All five candidates have children who are current or former Englewood Schools students.

Keeping it local

“I'd say the main thing people need to do is understand that the education they're getting here is a high-quality education, and there may not necessarily be greener grass,” said candidate Carl Montegna, a landscape and irrigation manager for an environmental contracting company.

Candidates weighed in on the issue of students from Englewood attending schools in other districts.

“Giving students more opportunities to (connect) the knowledge that they're learning to real-life experiences” would help, said candidate Jennifer Hubbard, an information-technology expert for Jefferson County School District. “Why am I learning algebra — when am I going to use that in the real world? OK, well let's (show you).”

Todd Fahnestock, a full-time fiction author, said the district just needs to do a better job of publicizing its benefits.

“I don't think everyone knows all the great things we do,” said Fahnestock, who added that if the district and schools can better market its niches — like cross country, theater and other activities — students will want to stick with Englewood.

Tena Prange, the only incumbent school board member in the group, said the district recently surveyed students and teachers about what their day at school feels like and their interactions.

“Some kids just don't feel comfortable, and why is that? Let's examine that,” said Prange, president of the school board. Promoting the educational pathways and choices students can make are also important to student satisfaction, she said.

Retaining teachers

Student moderators also asked how candidates could make Englewood a place where teachers want to stay.

“You've got Denver Public Schools on one side and Littleton on the other,” said Caty Husbands, a former substitute teacher and special education paraprofessional in Englewood Schools. “It's hard to compete with big districts, hard to continually increase salaries the way DPS does.”

Husbands said the difference for Englewood has to be making teachers feel valued. She said recent shifts will soon cause an increase in teacher retention. Allowing teachers to use their personal passions and interests to pique students' interest would help, she added.

Fahnestock said the school board and administration members need to step in when teachers are trying their best but are overwhelmed.

“We have to appreciate our teachers more,” Montegna said. “A lot of parents ... see schools as an all-day day-care center.”

When teachers try to challenge a student, and parents say they don't need to push them, that can make teachers feel unappreciated, Montegna said.

Teachers with certain passions can do collaborative training with other teachers to share their expertise, Prange said. Some Englewood schools are using interventionists to support teachers who have large classes and can't connect with every student, she added.

“Pick teachers to spearhead activities and programs so that it's not always the principal and assistant principal doing the talking,” Hubbard said. If teachers can have input on curriculum ideas and programs, they'll feel more engaged, she said.

How involved?

The only stark break in sentiment among the candidates came in response to the question of how candidates would affect students directly if elected.

“To be honest with you, I hope not at all,” Montegna said. “Our job is to make sure ... everything's being done right ... and in your world, all you'll know is 'I had a great four years at EHS or 12 years in Englewood Schools.' ”

Prange said she disagreed that school board members shouldn't directly affect students.

“The reality is that conversations we have at the board do affect you every day,” Prange said. “I try to have a presence — I try to come to school events, I try to know students.”

Fahnestock said having a student representative bring the students' voice to the school board would help better inform it. Prange said on Oct. 12 that the student liaison position already exists informally and was held by a high school student when Prange first began her term after the 2013 election. There's no one currently in the position, according to Prange and Julie McMorris, spokeswoman for the district.

Funding issues and families

Students asked how the district can take the financial burden of fundraising for sports, activities and other programs off of already struggling families.

Englewood researches how other districts budget, Prange said, but partnering with the community, city government and businesses can help, too.

“We have students who are homeless and don't have resources available to them ... we have great partnerships with food banks and other organizations to help support our families,” Prange said.

Candidates generally agreed that reaching out to outside groups for help is the best way to relieve financial shortages. Montegna said the district has to get creative in finding sources of money and that it should be frugal with the money it does have. Husbands said being more creative with what schools sell for fundraisers could help.

Fahnestock, who was once director of development for the American Diabetes Association, said fundraising benefits from cultivating a relationship with donors before asking for money.

“If you know somebody who can write a check for $100," Fahnestock said, "they're gonna know four people who can write one for $25.”

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