Two slates of Westminster Public Schools’ candidates sounded off on issues ranging from test scores to cyberbullying during an Oct. 4 board of directors candidate forum.
One group says the district is doing well and should continue on its current path, while the other says WPS needs greater accountability and financial transparency.
The forum, held at the Westminster Grange Hall, was hosted by the League of Women Voters.
The Nov. 7 election is the first time in six years the WPS board election has been contested. The WPS board includes just five members, so no matter the outcome, the election will add new voices. Adding to future changes at WPS, longtime Superintendent Pamela Swanson is retiring at the end of the academic year.
Six candidates are running for three at-large seats. Board treasurer Christine Martinez is seeking a second term. The other two vacancies come as current board President Ken Cianco and Vice President Max Math, both term-limited, step down from their seats.
Martinez, Mary Beth Murphy and Audrey Yanos are running as the MMY slate. The three women advocate for expansion of the district’s Career and Technical Education programs, reinforcing school safety and mental health programs, and recruiting and retaining high-quality staff. They have the support of both the Westminster and Colorado education associations.
Husband and wife Charles and Brenda Gallegos have joined Anthony Sisneros to run as the ABC slate. They say they’ll take a new direction from the current board, which doesn’t acknowledge “the challenges we face as a district.” Those promised changes include improving student achievement, adding more fiscal transparency, and stepping up parent involvement.
Brenda Gallegos said she aims to be a liaison to the Spanish-speaking segment of the community. She delivered all her responses during the forum in both English and Spanish.
WPS adopted a competency based system (CBS) of education in 2009, which does away with grade levels and allows students to advance based on their ability. The system was referred to repeatedly during the forum.
Here are their responses to three of the questions posed at the forum.
WPS students’ math and reading proficiency scores have slipped. What do you plan to do?
Brenda Gallegos: This topic hits very close to home for me because my child is a part of this. The system has failed her in a way. I want to be able to open pathways for the community and for more tutors to be able to help the struggling students advance.
Murphy: When I look at the school accountability framework, I see WPS has indeed been successful in educating students and moving them forward. Since CBS began, there has been marked improvement. There is nothing I would want to change. Students are not defined by a test that is taken on one day. They do no measure what students are learning or what we are teaching.
Charles Gallegos: I agree, looking at a snapshot in time of test scores doesn’t tell the whole picture. But looking over the course of 10 years, we start to see a trend. That trend, in my opinion, has flatlined. I support CBS, but I do believe these scores show there are some inherent flaws that would need to be remedied in order for us to see if CBS works when it’s operating at peak level.
Yanos: When I saw the CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success) scores, I didn’t think it was a reflection of our students whatsoever. That CMAS score is a zip code test. Depending on the ethnicity and income level of your population dictates what your CMAS score is going to be. Our fight is at the capital for better assessment tests… a test that reflects our community and our students. It is not in our boardroom.
Sisneros: It’s critical to state a single test does not tell the whole story, but it is a crucial chapter in a year. We need to grade these students on an international standard so we can know how we’re doing in the world. I would ask what conditions created these outcomes. We know students of color are fully capable of demonstrating and achieving success. Why are our systems not fostering their ability?
Martinez: There is nothing standard about our children. They each have their own experiences, backgrounds and histories, and using a single standardized test created by white men to measure our kids and then rank our teachers is ridiculous. One state test on one day is nothing. We’re here … to teach, not prepare kids to take a test.
How do you plan to continue the current school board’s momentum? What do you hope to change?
Brenda Gallegos: I want all of us to be able to communicate with all of our parents, and all our students, so everybody can all be on the same page. I think there’s a lot of good that’s happening, but I feel we really need to open the communication for everyone.
Murphy: As a former CTE teacher, I would like to continue CTE courses. I would like to offer advanced courses in the pathways, so students can continue to learn and be job ready when they come out. I’d like to offer CTE classes to the adults in our community. I would continue the CBS. I would like to continue to have the highest salary schedules. There’s nothing on my radar right now I would like to change.
Charles Gallegos: We have to collaborate with the community, parents, teachers, with everyone across the board and figure out what are the problems. Otherwise we’re going to get a flawed conclusion. With CBS, I believe in the potential. But I do feel there are some inherent flaws. At least have the self awareness to say yes, this is a great system but there are problems with it, let’s address it.
Yanos: I believe the current board is doing a fantastic job. I am not a stranger to nor am I opposed to change. But I think my leadership style can best be described as pivot. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, but find opportunities for growth and move in that way.
Sisneros: One thing I would want to change is the way we treat our marginalized students. I have a son with Down syndrome student. He was not able to attend school with his brother, I was told based on resources. I would do everything I could for these students. When we say students, I say all students.
Martinez: We have so much positive momentum happening. I want to keep running on all of these opportunities. We need more. How can we get all of the kids involved? We’re giving as many opportunities to our kiddos as we possibly can and I want to continue to see that happen.
How would you proceed in recruiting and hiring a new superintendent?
Brenda Gallegos: I feel we should have a search. We should make sure we’re finding the right person for our community, our school and for our people, and someone who’s going to understand our demographics.
Murphy: Somebody that already knows our system is best. We want somebody that would be supported by the staff and would continue the things Westminster Public Schools are doing. I would not be interested in a national search. Those are usually very expensive and not very successful.
Charles Gallegos: The superintendent that is chosen needs to share the same vision as the school board, so there are no conflicts of interest and the plan can be implemented seamlessly. I feel that search needs to be handled on a national basis, where we can draw from a diverse pool of candidates, and determine who shares our vision and who truly represents what we want to do for the district.
Yanos: I think it’s really important we hire somebody who understands our competency-based system … because it takes years to train that program (and) it’s not something anyone else is doing. We need to look for a superintendent who really understands it so … they can hit the ground running and keep us moving in the right direction.
Sisneros: I feel when we pay someone $300,000-plus a year, our community deserves a national search. Yes, CBS is great. But they shouldn’t be appointed just because you’ve served here. Whether the best person is in house or not, the community deserves the search.
Martinez: I think a national search would do us harm. We are hosting conferences where international people are coming to learn CBS from us. Are we going to train our national superintendent at this conference? Absolutely not. We have bench strength. We have people who have lived and breathed this experience, and that is where our focus needs to be.
Watch the full candidate forum on the Heart of Westminster website.
Tagged: CandidateselectionForumpublic schoolsWestminster
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