School Board Candidates State Views At Forum

School Board candidates from left, NancyAnn Holmes, William Hargraves, Sheryl Nichols, Andrea Cunningham, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer McCumber. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Local teacher Andrea Determan addresses school board candidates. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 

By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post

The second half of the election forum held Wednesday by the League of Women Voters was devoted to the School Board Election which takes place Feb. 3. The School Board is divided into districts by area and a voter may only vote for candidates in his or her own district. Three positions are currently available on the School Board.

  • School Board position 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 position 4 includes Precinct 15 and 16.1 (the portion of 16 south and east of San Ildefonso Road and south of Rendija Canyon Road).
  • School Board position 5 includes Precincts 10, 11, 13, 14.2 (the portion of 14 south and west of Alabama Avenue) and 17.

Candidates for District 3 include former Chief Deputy Clerk Sheryl Nichols, William (Bill) Hargraves 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.

District 4 candidates are Andrea Cunningham and Michael Fassbender.

Current School Board President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie withdrew from the race Jan. 14 leaving Jennifer McCumber the sole candidate for District 5. “The other candidate in my district, Jenny McCumber, is perfectly capable and a good choice for school board,” Bjarke-McKenzie said in a statement to the Los Alamos Daily Post. McCumber was not permitted to participate in the question and answer period because she has no opponent. She issued a statement regarding her desire to serve the community and outlined her may volunteer activities in the schools.

Holmes has been an extremely active volunteer in the school district. She said serving on the board has been a “wonderful experience” and she is anxious to continue serving on the School Board. Holmes said openness and community interaction are important goals for her. She said the District’s website needs improvement and the Board should work with staff to develop a more informative, easy-to-use site.

“I think we need to have more relaxed interactions with citizens, where a couple of School Board members sit down with a few people over coffee as well as more community forums,” she said.

Hargraves has two daughters in Los Alamos Middle School and 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, a cause he is passionate about, he said.

“I have a lot of experience with “middle students,” the 70 percent of students who are not extremely high achievers but don’t have learning disabilities,” Hargraves said. Hargraves has made these students the centerpiece of his campaign.

On a recent visit to New Mexico School of the Arts, a charter school in Santa Fe that accepts high school students from around the state, Hargraves asked his daughter if she noticed anything different about the students from those at LAHS. She replied, “They’re all smiling.”

Hargraves contrasted this with the grim faces he sees at LAHS.  More counselling services are needed, especially career counselling he said.

Nichols retired as County Clerk in 2014 and now has the time to devote to community services. “I think teachers are the most important thing about our schools,” she said. Support of teachers should be a major goal of the School Board, Nichols said. She would like to promote mentorships and volunteer opportunities for retired citizens in the school to take some of the burden off teachers, she said.

Nichols mentioned the importance of lobbying at the state level to attain the District’s goals, and to make the case for its needs.

District 4 candidate Andrea Cunningham has been an extremely 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. “We need to draw on the expertise of our community and brainstorm to solve our problems,” she said.

Also running in District 4 is Michael Fassbender. Originally from Germany, Fassbender 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 gives him incite on other methods of education he said. He also sees the importance of educating our children “to be responsible citizens in the broader global culture.”

“The diversity here [in Los Alamos] should be reflected in the schools,” Fassbender said.

When asked about dropping enrollment and the use of out-of-district students (around 16 percent of students) to fill seats all of the candidates stressed the need for community input, especially on the matter of closing on the White Rock schools, before action is taken.

Nichols said the matter of out-of-district students bringing down test scores is a consideration.

Hargraves sees bring in out-of-district students as a plus, bringing diversity to the Hill and making Los Alamos a center for learning for the region. “We ought to be a resource for northern New Mexico. We receive the same funds for a child, no matter where they live,” he said.

Cunningham agreed that out-of-district students make “a great contribution,” but she also sees a need to attract young families to live in Los Alamos. Only 40 percent of LANL employees live in Los Alamos, she pointed out, and our population is aging. She said the Lab should be encouraged to promote living in town.

There were broad areas of agreement among the candidates. All of them expressed dismay at the amount of testing currently taking place and questioned its value. Teacher time and ability to be creative is another problem with the over-testing, the candidates agreed, especially when teacher ratings are tied to student test scores.

All of the candidates stressed the importance of community partnerships and open communication with citizens.

Local GOP Chair Robert Gibson questions candidates. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

UNM-LA Advisory Board member Linda Hull questions candidates. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Local Democratic Party Chair Robin Schultz questions candidates. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers keep time at Wednesday’s forum. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School Board candidate Michael Fassbender. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School Board candidate Andrea Cunningham. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School Board candidate Bill Hargraves. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School Board candidate NancyAnn Holmes. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School board candidate Jennifer McCumber. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

School Board candidate Sheryl Nichols. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover took a few moments to brief the audience about the ballot for the Feb. 3 school board election. Early voting began Wednesday and Stover said 12 people voted. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com

 

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