CANDIDATE Q&A: Brown County School Board

The League of Women Voters of Brown County sent questionnaires to all candidates with opposition on the fall ballot in the following races: U.S. Congress District 9, State Senate District 44, State House District 65, Brown County Council at large, Brown County Commissioner Districts 1 and 3, Brown County Recorder and Brown County School Board. They will appear in the Brown County Democrat as space is available over the next few weeks. The League of Women Voters of Brown County — a nonpartisan organization — chose the questions. Answers appear in the candidates’ own words, though some were trimmed to fit available space.

NOTE: School board candidates will debate Tuesday, Oct. 18. See the forum schedule here:

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Please describe the occupations, training and experience that qualify you for this office.

District 1

Marlene L. Barnett: From 1975 to 1987 I attended the University of Indianapolis where I earned by bachelor’s as well as my master’s degree in education, achieving a 3.7 GPA. During that period I worked as a Title One reading aide at a Whiteland elementary school for seven years. From there I worked with the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center educating adolescents and adults for 13 years, providing them with the necessary life skills as well as teaching GED courses. I went on to work as a kindergarten teacher at New Whiteland for two years, teaching fundamental development skills. Since 1990 I have worked at Central Nine Continuing Education Center, teaching GED courses to a wide range of students from teenagers to the elderly. During my time as an educator I have continued my development by attending workshops covering all areas of education, participating in seminars and developing connections with state agencies to provide opportunities for our children.

Tom Jackson: I co-founded a software company and I have had responsibilities for marketing, sales, operations and financial oversight. Currently, I serve on two nonprofit boards. Since our family moved to Brown County in 2006, I have experienced the positive of Brown County Schools and clearly seen areas for improvement. Two of our children are currently in college and both started significantly ahead of their peers in college hours earned in high school as well as in classroom skills. I have served on our Gifted and Talented Task Force, on the District Accreditation Team, on the PL221 High School Committee and the BCS Marketing Committee. In my time as a board member, I see our two greatest accomplishments as hiring Laura Hammack as our new superintendent and passing the referendum to help grow teacher and staff salaries to keep and attract the highest quality educators to our district.

District 2

Daniel W. Harden: I was building commissioner for 29 years for Brown County. All four of my children graduated from the Brown County school system.

Stephanie Porter Kritzer: I have 17 years of classroom experience as a paraprofessional in Brown County Schools. I have also attended the following conferences since being elected in 2013, making me a Master Board Member for nearly four years: A School Board Guide to Good Boardmanship 2013, school budgeting/financing 2013-2016, school law seminars 2013-2016, collective bargaining 2013-2016, ISBA fall and spring conferences 2013-2016, ISBA fall and spring regional meetings 2013-2016, ISBA Grassroots Conference 2015.

What are your concerns for the next four years?

District 1

Barnett: My concerns would consist of how to use technology to innovate the classes and provide resources to our students. But four years is not looking far enough ahead. Our world is rapidly changing and we must anticipate the future needs of our students, our community and businesses; yet, we need to be flexible and able to adjust to changes as they arise. We must inspire our students to be leaders and rise to the challenges that this new global world is providing.

Jackson: My primary concern is declining enrollment. This is putting significant pressure on our budget, since state funding is on a per-pupil basis. At the same time, we are committed to making teacher salaries more competitive. We are looking at ways to run the district more efficiently and to reduce costs in ways that don’t negatively affect the education of our students. Another concern is better preparing students for life after graduation. This includes expanding career and college readiness as well as continuing to develop a high-quality program for students to obtain diplomas outside a traditional school format. Superintendent Hammack has created collaborative teams in strategic planning, college and career readiness, marketing, curriculum and technology integration, and math thinking and problem solving. These teams are open to all community members, and I encourage each of you who have a passion or experience in these areas to join a team. Meeting information is on the Brown County Schools website.

District 2

Harden: Retaining our teachers and improving our school courses. Bring our reading skills and math scores up.

Kritzer: My first concern is that young families are not drawn to live in our community due to lack of employment opportunities or affordable housing. My second concern is some of the legislation being proposed at the state and national levels. There are many folks trying to take control of our local government away from us, with no regard for the best interest of our students or citizens.

What are the academic areas where you believe our schools could improve or expand their current offerings?

District 1

Barnett: We have opportunities we have never have before. Advances in technology will allow us to provide education that is relevant to the needs of our children: to provide multimedia resources to students that they are able to access from their computers, laptops, smartphones or any other mobile device; to educate our students in skills that will not only allow them to compete but to lead in our ever-expanding global neighborhood where we can use our strengths, for example, to teach courses on green technology and how to maintain our scenic life while meeting the needs of local businesses.

Jackson: First, integrating technology into the delivery of our 21st-century instruction. Second, intentionally aligning curriculum across and between grade levels so we adequately prepare students to be competitive in a global society. And finally, adding an agriculture track for our students. Since technology alone is not a solution, we need to share with our teachers best practices for integrating technology into their classrooms. We then need to provide professional development time. This will allow them to best understand a balanced approach to implementing technology. Only then will our students be able to take full advantage of this learning opportunity. Secondly, instruction needs to match the new higher-order thinking and problem solving that is being demanded in the workplace and on the new assessment standards and tests. Third, we need to explore the opportunity to create an agricultural science track at Brown County Schools. It is an excellent track for college opportunities and career opportunities upon graduation.

District 2

Harden: Reading skills and math to ensure our children are prepared. I think life skills would be great.

Kritzer: Of course, we are always looking at what new ideas are on the horizon. For example, our new programs in the technology department and our biomedical programs give our students a hands-on experience with possible career choices. What I love about these classes are that they give our students a chance to see the possibilities. I would like to see our students dream big.

What should or could the school board do to better advertise and attract families to live here?

District 1

Barnett: In order to encourage growth within our community, we must work with our city, county and state commissions as well as local business to determine future growth within our local community and the state as a whole. Determine what resources are available to provide education within those future growth markets and demonstrate a strong and innovative education system that is providing opportunities for our children.

Jackson: In 2012, I participated in an assessment of marketing opportunities as part of a discussion kicked off by Matt Stark, our former high school principal. We recognized that we were offering a world-class education in a small-school setting but that message was not being effectively communicated to our constituents. We identified several simple initiatives, including updating the corporation website, redesigning letterhead, updating our corporate brochure, and initiating media relations in the surrounding area and Indianapolis markets. We also identified more aggressive marketing opportunities to directly promote our “small-school” district opportunities to homeschool students, Bartholomew and Monroe County students including K-8 private school students, and surrounding area corporate relocation teams. We are investigating a combined countywide marketing program among the school district, town of Nashville, local Realtors and area corporate relocation teams. If you are interested participating on the marketing collaboration team, please check the Brown County Schools website and join us!

District 2

Harden: Work with the county and town to promote our greatest asset: teachers and children.

Kritzer: We are currently working on a plan to “Spread the Word” about the great things happening in our schools. We are also working with other county agencies to make our entire county more attractive. This includes affordable housing, jobs, better roads and schools.

Do you support expanding the school voucher program?

District 1

Barnett: Taxpayer funds support our school systems by lowering the cost of tuition, as well as subsidizing programs that our children would not have access to without those funds. To take those same funds for use in private schools which may not meet state and/or federal core standards, or lack any real form of oversight, is a position I cannot support.

Jackson: We already have school choice in our public schools. Students can choose to go to any public school they prefer. We have students in the northern part of Brown County who have chosen to go to Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools because their parents work in Indianapolis and it is easier for them to participate in their children’s school activities. Unfortunately, with school choice comes the responsibility of the family to handle transportation. For many families that is difficult or impossible. That is why it is incumbent upon Brown County Schools to provide the best possible education so all students have the ability to benefit from a quality education without having to leave Brown County.

District 2

Harden: No. A study needs to be done to see what schools are overburdened and make sure our teachers plus staff can maintain teachable class sizes.

Kritzer: I do not support expanding the school voucher program as it is now. Vouchers, or public money, should not be given to private or parochial schools (separation of church and state) because they are not required to live up to the same standards as public schools. They are allowed to discriminate against students that don’t meet their criteria, such as students with special needs or discipline issues. They are businesses and want to make a profit.

How do you see the school board’s relationship with the school corporation and senior management?

District 1

Barnett: The school board must look toward the bigger picture to determine the challenges ahead, not just locally but globally, while working with the school corporations as well as senior management to develop a set of guidelines that allow quick and flexible adjustment as resources and needs change. Rigid and inflexible policies and directives worked at one time, but that time is past; and to meet the challenges ahead and ensure our children have every opportunity available to them, we must be willing to explore any and all avenues to determine what will provide the most benefit now and in the future.

Jackson: The role of a school board member is to ensure that students get the best possible education. This starts by making sure the school district has a vision of high expectations, which in our case is being developed through our new strategic planning collaboration team. Accountability to that strategic plan needs to be measured and we will do that through a variety of “dashboards” to track and measure outcomes against our strategic plan. The board and superintendent will hold themselves and other administrators accountable to achieving the outcomes articulated in these plans. We maximize these outcomes, making sure we have collaborative relationships with staff and the community, knowing that it’s going to take all of our efforts to achieve our district goals. Our new superintendent is committed to this process, and in her short time here, has made great strides to put the process in place.

District 2

Harden: We should both work together to improve and retain our teachers and facilities to better serve our children.

Kritzer: The school board, school corporation and management (administrators) form a cooperative team. We work together to form plans to improve our schools and employees on an ongoing basis.