By Deb Murphy
Six candidates running for three seats on the Bishop Unified School District Board of Trustees faced their electorate Tuesday evening at the Bishop Sunrise Rotary hosted forum at Cerro Coso College. Depending on the outcome, the next Board may look a lot more like the student body.
The format was similar to past Rotary forums. Two incumbents, veterinarian Taylor Ludwick and Inyo County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Nicholson, and four first-timers business owner Cami Ellis, teacher/administrator Virginia Figueroa, and parents Jessica Tex and Claudia Moya-Tanner started with introductory remarks, answered prepared questions then questions from the 40-plus attendants.
Nicholson expressed a desire for decentralized education, talked about his military experience and reminded the audience the new board would be responsible for hiring the new district superintendent as Barry Simpson takes on the Inyo County Office of Education superintendent job.
Figueroa came to Bishop 30 years ago, started volunteering in schools, worked as a pre-school teacher for 24 years and currently administers the Head Start program at Inyo/Mono Advocates for Community Action.
Moya-Tanner has been a classroom volunteer and participated in the School Site Council. She stressed the importance of board members doing their research into programs that increase academic achievement.
Ellis’ primary issues are safety procedures, student wellness, motivational training and parent involvement.
Tex is a 2005 graduate of Bishop schools and earned her LVN degree at Howard University. Her greatest concern is the 35-1 student to teacher ratio.
All six of the candidates mentioned safety as a high priority.
Question 1: how should the district achieve the goals set out in its Local Control Accountability Plan?
Figueroa: Focus on primary skills and accurate assessments and provide help for those lagging.
Moya-Tanner and Ellis: Graduates should be able to take advantage of opportunities and be prepared for adulthood.
Tex and Nicholson: The district needed to look at post high school programs for students who are not heading to college.
Ludwick: Students leave with tools for achievement.
In response to what to do with budget surplus, in the rare chance there ever would be any, all the candidates agreed the funds should be used to hire more teachers. Moya-Tanner would start with hiring a grant writer to generate more funding, then hire more teachers.
The third question zeroed in on the evasive concept of increasing connectedness among the student body. Nobody really nailed that one. Ellis suggested respect for peers had to start in elementary school. Tex wanted to see the schools limit phone time so students would have to talk to each other. Nicholson and Moya-Tanner focused on staff-student communications and training. Figueroa also suggested training to increase kindness and compassion.
Questions submitted by the audience started with how to reduce class size. All six recommended using aids and volunteers to work with teachers breaking down the large classes into smaller groups.
The candidates also agreed on the value of dual emersion and wanted to see the program extend through middle school. Ludwick pointed out the success of the program was dependent on quality instruction.
The next question: what traits are needed for the new Superintendent?
Everyone started with “leadership.” Nicholson wanted to see someone who would fit into the community. He also liked boldness. Figueroa would look for a Superintendent who could listen. Moya-Tanner said the new Superintendent would have to understand the community and the school population. Ellis mentioned creativity, resourcefulness and someone who could come up with new ideas. Tex wanted someone with a strong background in areas the district was weak in. Ludwick also listed creativity as well as experience in small schools, classroom experience and the ability to reach out to the tribes.
In response to the final question on guns, or concealed carry, in the schools, nobody wanted them. Nicholson did want to see a school resource officer assigned to the campuses.
This coming Tuesday, the Sunrise Rotary will host a forum for Bishop City Council candidates at Cerro Coso, from 6 to 8 p.m.