Bernstein: Response To Mr. Skolnik

Los Alamos School Board Member

Editor’s note: Christine Bernstein is running for re-election in District 3.

“…Lauren’s main opponent in this race, Christine Bernstein, has not served the community well as a member of the School Board. The main role of the School Board is to hire a superintendent. Yet, the School Board of which Ms. Bernstein is a part failed at this task, in a manner that cost us educationally and financially. In addition, it appears that Ms. Bernstein participated in the near silence of the School Board on matters related to COVID and chronic absenteeism, two matters of exceptional importance to our children’s learning. Third, Ms. Bernstein’s recent letter to the community on the school meals program was heartfelt but reflected a poorly thought-out approach to the work of the School Board. She does not seem to understand that the School Board should have ensured that the breakfast and lunch program was set up from its inception with careful monitoring and evaluation. Lastly, Ms. Bernstein has been part of a School Board which appears to have consistently failed to listen to the community, such as on school calendars, or deal fairly and competently with key educational issues, like the schooling of dyslexic children across our system.

Thank you, Mr. Skolnik, for this opportunity to clarify and dispel rumors.

The School Board did hire a new superintendent. When Dr. Steinhaus resigned, the board offered Jennifer Guy the position and she declined. The Board then utilized a search firm who brought in candidates. The Board then narrowed the pool down to three candidates and conducted in-person interviews. The candidates were also brought before stakeholders, which allowed the Board to collect feedback from stakeholders. The choice of candidate was unanimous.

Through various issues and concerns that legally cannot be discussed, the board, along with the lawyers, made the decision to put the superintendent on administrative leave. The board then asked Jennifer Guy to be acting superintendent until it was appropriate to offer her a contract legally.

She accepted and the board is pleased she is the superintendent. The budget line for these costs does not impact students or schools.

I am not sure what Mr. Skolnik means by silence around COVID. I recall meetings going late into the night, doing a lot of listening and talking. I arrived on the board in January 2020, by the end of May we were all talking about COVID and how to proceed in education. It feels that for two years that is all the board talked about. Every meeting the board discussed COVID related issues and how to proceed in unprecedented times with educating our kids.

Honestly, many decisions were not the boards to make, yet they fell upon the board. Many decisions were considered operational and should not have been decisions by the board. I know the board made choices that did not sit well with some people and for others were fine. Every decision has always been what is in the best interest of students, teachers, and learning. And there is no way everyone is going to be happy.   Just because the board made decisions that Mr. Skolnik did not approve of, does not mean the board was lax in its duties.

As far as Chronic absenteeism- Absences are monitored daily. There is a database that keeps track of attendance data. A parent can opt in to receive daily emails or phone calls and if their student is absent from any class, they receive a message. This data is used to monitor student attendance. There may be students with chronic absenteeism and because the district has a tracking system it can be addressed. I am not sure what Mr. Skolnik is referring to and I have questions about that: Is he referring to individual students with chronic absences? Or is he talking about attendance overall in the district? In what context is he applying the issue- Health? Grades? Truancy? Something else? He states it in conjunction to COVID, but it is unclear what he is talking about. And, I am curious about any data he may be collecting.

Speaking of operational issues:

School Lunches. The board can approve a budget that supports this. However, the board does not have a say on the functioning and how the company proceeds. The district did hire two liaisons to facilitate information and help hold Chartwells accountable. The issues with the lunches exist and there is a need to make adjustments. The district is aware of what is happening and is continuously looking for feedback.  The district is not ignoring the issues, it will continue with the lunches while working through making this positive for everyone to the best of their ability. There are many factors that are unpredictable or out of anyone’s control. As with many businesses in this town, it seems hard to keep employees. Without a workforce, not all aspects will function as planned. It is a continuous area of growth and is not going ignored.

Many of the complaints Mr. Skolnik has about the board, are issues that the board has no purview over. The board can make statements, talk about and ask for information. We can make policy- which is not as easy and cut and dry as one would think, we can oversee the superintendent, which we did. And we can approve budgets, which we do. We cannot interfere with the daily functions of the district, direct employees in their work, hire or fire anyone except the superintendent.

I wonder if Mr. Skolnik thinks we are not doing a good job because he is unhappy with the decisions made. I understand that. However, I do not appreciate that he is accusing the board of wrong-doing and insinuating that the board is not doing anything.

I appreciate when people bring their issues and complaints to the board with honesty. If simply stated for example: I do not like the decisions this board has made and therefore I support so and so.

This is one piece of how I would like us all to start being mindful about- how we speak and what we say.

Civic Responsibility is one of our goals. And we need to model this.

One aspect of Civic Responsibility means being civil even if we disagree. It means treating others with respect even if they are different. I hope we can practice civility during this campaign and show our youth a different way to express differences and disappointment; disagreement and frustration; and anger and dissent. And hope and courage.

I say to Mr. Skolnik, thank you for bringing your concerns to this public forum for them to be addressed.

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