Audience Questions School Board Candidates At Thursday’s LAPS Foundation Forum

Audience members write questions on cards for school board candidates, from left, Nan Holmes, Williams Hargraves, Andrea Cunningham and Jennifer McCumber. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
LAPS Foundation President Elizabeth Martineau moderates Thursday’s forum. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The LAPS Foundation held a forum Thursday in which audience members spent 90 minutes questioning candidates running for the Los Alamos Board of Education.

About 40 people attended the event, which was moderated by LAPS Foundation President Elizabeth Martineau in the Los Alamos High School Speech Theater. 

Candidates for District 3 include William (Bill) Hargraves, former Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols and NancyAnn (Nan) Holmes. Holmes was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Board when District 3 Board member David Foster left town in September. Nichols was unable to attend Thursday’s forum.

District 4 candidates are Andrea Cunningham and Michael Fassbender. Fassbender was unable to attend the event.

Current School Board President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie withdrew from the race leaving Jennifer McCumber running unopposed in District 5.

Martineau read statements issued by Nichols and Fassbender, in place of the four minute introductions each candidate gave at the beginning of the forum. Nichols retired as County Clerk in 2014 and now has the time to devote to community services, she said in her staement.

“Teachers are the most important thing about our schools,” Nichols said.

Support of teachers should be a major goal of the School Board, Nichols said, adding that she would like to promote mentorships and volunteer opportunities for retired citizens in the school to take some of the burden off teachers.

Fassbender is originally from Germany. He has lived in Los Alamos for 15 years and been involved in numerous volunteer activities with the schools. His perspective gained from attending school and living in Germany and in South Africa would be assets to the School Board, he said in his statement.

“We have a uniquely diverse community that can be of great benefit in making our students good global citizens,” Fassbender said.  

Holmes has two students in the school system and has been an extremely active volunteer in the district, including helping to organize the elementary school hot lunch program. She is anxious to continue serving on the School Board and said she has learned a great deal. During her many volunteer activities, Holmes said she has learned “great tasks can be accomplished when individuals are committed.”

“It is exciting to live where we have a real voice in our community,” Holmes said.

Her goal is to make Los Alamos schools safe, supportive and encouraging for every student.

“We should support a work environment that will allow our teachers to grow,” Holmes said.

Hargraves has two daughters; one attends Los Alamos Middle School and the other Los Alamos High School. He has been an active school volunteer and his recent retirement gives him the time to devote to improving the learning experience of Los Alamos students, he said. Hargraves is a single father and his daughters were out-of-district students until the family moved to Los Alamos. The things he said he appreciates most about the Los Alamos School District are the dedicated teachers, active parents and opportunities for elementary students to study art and music, programs like school of choice and the involvement of local groups that support students.

Things he would like to change include changing the start time at the high school to an hour later. He would like to see school counseling and support services improved.

“We need to work with struggling students until they succeed,” Hargraves said. “We need to push back on teacher evaluations.”

Hargraves said he would work to tighten up the District’s strategic plan and to improve communication between the community and the School Board, including improving the District’s website.

District 4 candidate Andrea Cunningham also has been an active volunteer in the School District. She has lived in the County 22 years and her three children have attended Los Alamos Schools. She stressed her many community connections and experience with grassroots campaigns as one of her strengths. She was deeply involved in the sale of school property to Smith’s Marketplace. Cunningham pointed to this effort as an example of good cooperative efforts between the County and the School District.

“We need to find funding to continue doing the important things we do,” she said. “We need to draw on the best minds in our community and think outside the box during the budget process.”

Cunningham said the District’s strategic plan needs to be a “living document,” which changes with conditions.

Judy Bjarke-McKenzie withdrew from the race Jan. 14 leaving Jennifer McCumber the sole candidate for District 5. McCumber is an attorney who is currently a stay at home mom to her three sons. One attends Mountain Elementary, one is at Los Alamos Middle School and one goes to Los Alamos High School.

McCumber has been an active school volunteer, she said, adding that the best things about the District include the excellent teachers and involved parents.

“We need more discussion of issues students are dealing with today,” she said, adding that making the best financial decisions and effectively communicating with the community and the District are important goals.

When questioned about changing the starting time at the high school to an hour later, all candidates expressed support. Cunningham said her only concern is making this work for parents with children at elementary schools. The other candidates agreed that the logistics will have to be examined.

Another area of agreement among the candidates was the need for improved communication with the community, especially improvement to the District website. Cunningham recommended more community surveys and a place for people to leave feedback on the website. She stressed the need to make the information simple and short enough not to be overwhelming.

Holmes suggested conducting more informal meetings between the community and individual School Board members. The candidates agreed that every student should feel valued and have a place in the schools.

“We need a change in the culture in Los Alamos,” Holmes said. “We need to reduce the stress on all of the students.”

Hargraves said that kids in the AP track are not well integrated with students in other classes. He stressed the need for life skills classes that teach all students how to cope with adult life. Hargraves said his daughters were “middle students” who were very smart, but don’t fit in with the intense demands of AP classes. He stressed the need to make school stimulating for all students.

All of the candidates stressed the importance of teamwork on the Board. All agreed that being a good listener is an important skill for Board members to possess.

District Locations And Voting Details:

  • School Board District 3 includes precincts 8, 9, 12, 14.1 (the portion of 14 north and east of Alabama Avenue) and 16.2 (the portion of 16 north and west of San Ildefonso Road and north of Rendija Canyon Road);
  • School Board District 4 includes precincts 15 and 16.1 (the portion of 16 south and east of San Ildefonso Road and south of Rendija Canyon Road); and
  • School Board District 5 includes precincts 10, 11, 13, 14.2 (the portion of 14 south and west of Alabama Avenue) and 17.

Click this link to determine which position you are eligible to vote for, based on which precinct you live in:

Voters can cast ballots at either White Rock Fire Station 3 on N.M. 4 or at the Municipal Building, regardless of where they live.

Los Alamos School Board candidates from left, Nan Holmes, William Hargraves, Andrea Cunningham and Jennifer McCumber. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

LAPS Foundation’s Morrie Pongratz gathers cards with questions from the audience and presents them to  forum moderator Elizabeth Martineau to read to the candidates. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

District 3 candidate NancyAnn (Nan) Holmes. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

District 3 candidate William Ray Hargraves. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

District 4 candidate Andrea Susan Cunningham. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

District 5 candidate Jennifer McCumber. Photo by Carol A. Clark/