Four possible choices for positions addressed concerns about in-person learning and how they would manage the transition
VANCOUVER – Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) hosted an open forum last night as part of the selection process for the new district superintendent.
Via Zoom, the community got to know the applicants and were encouraged to submit questions, which were then selected for asking by McLoughlin Middle School Principal Travis Boeh, who served as the host.
During the more than two hour question and answer period, candidates shared their backgrounds and what they would be happy to do if selected for the position with VPS.
Dr. Karen D. Cheser was the first of the four candidates to have 30 minutes to answer a series of questions. She is currently the Superintendent of the Fort Thomas Independent Schools in Fort Thomas, KY.
Cheser was a teacher and also taught other teachers before becoming superintendent. Her father was also a teacher and was a key motivator in her education journey, she said.
After being asked what she would do to get others to rally around the change, Cheser expressed a greater desire to focus on how to maintain positive momentum while making changes to things that need to change, such as inequalities.
“There is a Japanese word in business, Kaizen, which is continuous improvement, Toyota uses it, and that’s what I prefer to focus on,” Cheser said. “I’ve learned over and over again that ideas are better if I don’t come up with them, if the students are, the teachers are and so on. I think it’s vitally important that … we work together to create lesson plans, digital playlists, curriculum ideas, teacher videos, and we also make sure it really makes an impact on our students in a way that they feel they are part of this change. “
Regarding the culture of more inclusion and equity within the district, Cheser spoke about lessons learned in his own schools while conducting community outreach activities on a graduation program and accessibility of resources. school.
In schools in his district where poor students were numerous and there was a greater divide between families and schools, Cheser said he implemented an extended day program. For two extra hours each day, students would have more time to learn skills, build community and feel seen, she said.
“These are rewarding activities,” she said. “Sometimes these were activities that we would say offered only to our gifted and talented students. They received targeted instruction for exactly what they needed to accelerate their learning with evidence-based programs. At the end of those 12 weeks, and we’ve been doing this for three years, students have typically gained one to three years of growth. “
Regarding COVID-19, Cheser explained that his approach has been and will continue to be continuous contact with students, staff and parents to find out what everyone wants and what they are comfortable with. . In Kentucky, teachers are a priority immunization group, and Cheser stressed that this was a key factor in their success with a return to in-person teaching.
After Cheser, there was Dr. Jeff Snell, who is currently the Superintendent of the Camas School District.
Snell explained that his biggest influence in becoming an educator was his father, who was his fourth-grade teacher. At the age of 33, his father died of cancer and Snell said witnessing the impact of his father’s short life as an educator on so many people focused on the makes every moment count through hope.
“Hope is really about creating the conditions for people to believe in what’s possible,” Snell said. “When you can help develop a common goal for a better future, with the hope that it is possible, you can change communities, you can change outcomes for staff, and you can certainly change outcomes for students. “
Snell worked as a teacher at Fort Vancouver High School for some time before becoming superintendent at Camas. He stressed that this experience was the most significant when he adjusted his vision of privileges, equity and inclusion.
He said implementing a curriculum that exposes students to otherwise unknown elements of history or a more diverse range of subjects can create a more unified community. He also pointed out how well he has found community forums made up of students, staff and families to solve problems big and small.
“It could create a space for student leaders to talk and share their experiences, which is really empowering,” he said. “We may take a look at our math course for students and make changes, to really identify opportunities for more students of color to have access to rigorous courses. We have seen that this is already starting to have a positive effect. It can also be simply listening to students talk about their desire to see themselves in our program. “
Snell also said he believes he has a certain edge when it comes to overcoming any challenges that may arise when taking office. A vast network of experiences in Clark County and the region makes him more familiar with the issues and more prepared to deal with them, he said.
Regarding COVID-19, Snell echoed the feeling that it has been very difficult in his district, but he has learned to try to look at it from each side’s perspective, to reduce the polarization.
After Snell, Dr. Kenneth “Chris” Hurst of Othello, WA answered questions. Hurst is currently the superintendent of the Othello school district.
Hurst, his wife and two grown children are all educators in the region and across the country. Hurst described himself as a passionate teacher who taught math and advanced computer science before becoming superintendent.
“When we talk about equity, it’s really been my life’s work, really working with communities, working with teams to break down those barriers, so more students can be successful and they can achieve their goals.” , said Hurst. “One of the things I have shared with the leaders here at Othello is this term called relational trust. If you want people to engage in work and really hard work with you, they’re going to have to trust you.
Hurst explained that when it comes to changing a district’s culture and improving equity and inclusion, he sees a key achievement in helping everyone understand what the terms used mean.
He also said he was a strong supporter of creating an equity committee, which allows for stronger communication with the community. Vancouver currently has one of these committees, having established it last year.
“We really want to make sure that it goes down to the classroom and that it breathes in our community and breathes in our district,” he said. “The best way to do this is to make sure our teachers are trained on what culturally appropriate teaching looks like. So not only become an expert observer of education, but how do our leaders now become expert observers of what education equity looks like, what looks and looks like.
On the COVID front, Hurst expressed his understanding that many parents want to bring students back as quickly as possible. He also said he recognized the influence and perspective of the teachers’ union, as well as their safety concerns. Overall, Hurst said he believes open dialogue and the ability for staff and families to ask questions and receive quick responses on specific topics is essential.
The final nominee for the evening was Dr. Héctor Rico from Santa Cruz, Calif., Who is currently Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Pacific Collegiate School.
Rico immigrated to the United States with his mother as a child and is the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend university. He was not the last, however, and he now has several educated siblings and children, as well as his mother. Rico worked as a deputy principal and principal at the secondary and primary level.
“I really believe that together we are better,” said Rico. “No one knows everything, no one can do it all and no one can do it alone. There is always someone who has better ideas than you, and someone who has other ideas than you. It is important to hear them all to help make the best informed decision in the future. This is why I really adhere to the notion of distributed leadership.
Rico spoke about his experiences as an educator leading districts with very diverse student populations and the importance of finding programs that include a variety of entry points and celebrate diverse cultures.
He also explained how it would be his mission, if selected, to eliminate the disparities between the northern and southern sections of the Vancouver School District. This question was detailed in district research and provided to all applicants.
“It’s not what we give them or that we give them the same, but rather that we give them what they need, so that when they leave us at comparable levels,” said Rico.
Regarding the pandemic, Rico explained that his goal would be to find a consensus between all the actors involved in the process of returning students to school. He expressed a desire to connect with students, families and teachers.
“It is imperative that we… involve stakeholders more than ever in the dissemination of information, as well as in ongoing communication and planning,” he said. “Because whatever direction we receive, every district is unique, and the way its community responds to crisis and evolving guidelines will vary, and we must respect that. ”
The selection process has accelerated with the recent impeachment of outgoing Superintendent Steve Webb. No reason was given for the school board’s decision, but Webb, who was due to retire at the end of the year, wrote an open letter to the community which can be found here.
Parents can provide feedback on the applicants by completing an online form on the district website. The school board will make its final selection by the beginning of March.