The Sopris Sun is publishing responses to questions posed to candidates running for the Roaring Fork School District (RFSD) Board of Education. Last week, we covered District D, and next week we’ll conclude with District C candidates.
Betsy After and Alan Kokish are candidates in District B, which consists of the areas west of Highways 133 and 82 from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, including Ironbridge/West Bank and Four Mile.
Background and Motivation:
I’ve lived and thrived in the Roaring Fork Valley since 1992. I’m a father, husband, son and small business owner.
Many of my values were formed at an early age. At the age of 3, our family adopted a young African American girl, my sister Karyn. In 1971, we loaded up the Ford Falcon and camper, my dad with his bushy beard and my mom with her flowing blouses. We traveled from Pennsylvania and settled in a small town in northern California.
Growing up, it was common for kids to use homophobic slurs as insults to other boys. When I was 7, my dad heard me call another boy “you f**.” He pulled me aside and asked if I knew what it meant. I’m not sure if I did. He explained and said, “Our friend Mark is gay, and that is a horrible insult. Would it be ok for someone to call your sister n*****? People are different; never insult or condemn someone because they are different from you.”
This has always stuck with me. Today, my parents live in Carbondale and proudly fly an American flag with a rainbow flag beneath it. I have been raised with diversity, inclusion and acceptance as core values my entire life.
I first became interested in running for this position because of my objections to the newly adopted LGBTQ sex education curriculum the district has adopted. The curriculum is intended to be a beacon for diversity and inclusion. The curriculum misses the mark badly. It is neither diverse nor inclusive. It is one group’s idea of gender, how to teach it and when — at a very early age. Much of the material is controversial. If elected, I will work to adopt a more inclusive and age-appropriate curriculum for our ENTIRE community.
Educational Vision and Priorities:
We need to close the gap between English and Spanish-speaking students. I would rely greatly on people within that community, like Alex Sanchez and Jasmin Ramirez, seeking counsel from those who know more on this topic than I do.
Also, increasing opportunities for concurrent enrollment for our high school students and emphasizing vocational training and entrepreneurial education.
We should strive to make learning fun. While test scores are an important metric, it is equally important that your kid comes home excited: “Mom, Dad, guess what I learned today?” Eagerness to learn and engagement will lead to higher test scores.
Budget and Fiscal Responsibility:
My small business has grown every year since 2005, with the greatest growth during financially challenging times. Obviously, I’m financially responsible. Our school district is neither small nor a business, and district finances are probably not where I would make my greatest contributions.
Community Engagement and Communication:
Too often, people are not engaged until they’re angry. Can we incentivize parent participation on the front end? Too often, we hear from the same group of people. Quarterly town halls would be a valuable forum for parents and faculty to voice concerns and raise awareness on important issues.
We should announce topics, agenda and proposed curriculum adoption at least two weeks ahead of school board meetings rather than 72 hours, which is the current policy.
Equity and Inclusion:
I stand for inclusion, diversity and acceptance for our entire community. Of late, it is not the groups traditionally thought of as marginalized who are being alienated, but rather a broader swath of our community. We should not embrace one member of our community while shunning another. Diversity, inclusion and tolerance should encompass our entire community. These terms have been hijacked and twisted; they do not belong to one group alone!
Our educational system was developed by English speakers for English speakers. We need to look at the system as a whole and shift certain paradigms from an early age. Frankly, it’s not English speakers’ ideas that will solve this problem. The current school board has made it a priority, and I hope to contribute where I can, but honestly, my greatest contribution will be to relinquish power to Latino leaders.
Superintendent Accountability, Evaluation and Housing:
The superintendent’s success should be measured by academic test scores and growth. An equally important metric that is often overlooked is our students’ enthusiasm toward learning and overall happiness. An educated society is one that continues to grow and learn throughout life. This value is instilled at an early age. Delayed learning is not necessarily tragic; giving up on learning is. As important as basic academic skills are, making learning fun is equally important because it leads to life-long learning.
I support the recommendation of the committee to build a modest home on district property where we could house the superintendent at a reasonable rent. It is crucial to change the policy restricting district-housed employees from investing in real estate. It is unreasonable to limit our employees in this manner.