Calcasieu School Board candidates discuss issues ahead of election – American Press

Calcasieu school board candidates discuss pre-election issues

Published Tuesday 20 September 2022 at 17:05

The Calcasieu Federation of Teachers held its second School Board Candidates Forum on Monday, inviting candidates from Districts 10, 11, 12 and 13 to come forward.

Alvin Smith, who represents District 10, said his extensive educational background and experience helped him “understand the value and need that our children are valuable assets.”

“We represent a wide spectrum of children, from children with special needs to the gifted,” he said. “We must make it a priority that we reach every child in our public school system.”

Hurricane recovery and student retention are Smith’s primary concerns. “In recent years we have lost many students and families due to the circumstances we have faced,” he said. “We’ve been working feverishly to get families moving back into our area and bringing their children and students with them.”

He also said he is a staunch supporter of the public school system as opposed to the charter school system.

Smith said amid hurricane cultivation, more efficient safety systems can be implemented.

“As we continue to improve and repair our storm damage, we need to create a diverse understanding… that we are establishing very safe areas.”

“We often think that our schools are not safe. Basically, in certain circumstances, they may not be,” he said. “Broadly speaking, in the municipality of Calcasieu there can be incidents here … even a few this year, but we can’t look at those and realize that this will be the criterion for the entire district.”

Tony O’Banin takes on Smith in District 10. He said his goal is to “bring back some trust and good relationships between the board and employees” by “breaking things down to the simplest terms.”

“We all want students to have a safe and comfortable learning environment, but I think one way to achieve that is to make sure teachers are happy,” he said. “I think we should ask teachers and staff for their opinions, but also listen to what they say and not just ignore what they say.”

When asked about his main concerns about student performance in the district, O’Banin said there was a need to “talk to the people in the trenches.”

“I think we need to talk to those involved,” he said. “We need to give teachers, administrators and staff all the tools they need to do their jobs.”

To ensure transparency and accountability from CPSB, O’Banin said he wants to create financial resources that are more accessible to the public.

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“The household is on the website and is public information … but it’s very difficult to find information on the household,” he said. “It’s difficult to get the information you need at a glance and I think this is where we need to improve and make things better.”

He said a specific financial issue he will address is the CPSB insurance policies. “I’ve been looking at health insurance and what’s being paid to Blue Cross Blue Shield versus the employee share that goes into it and how that breaks down and I’ll be meeting with an internal auditor.”

Another key concern for O’Banin is the flexibility of educators, particularly when it comes to curriculum.

“There’s a limit to what we can do in the curriculum because of state mandates…we have a little flexibility, but I don’t think that’s enough,” he said. “I just wish we had more flexibility to let our teachers teach.”

Phyllis Ayo is running for the District 11 seat. A retired educator and current member of the Calcasieu Association and support staff, she said she has the necessary inside perspective needed to enrich the CPSB.

“I’ve been going to school board meetings for five years. I’ve observed what’s going on and what’s not. I was in the classes every day and spoke to teachers, administrators, support staff, bus drivers, janitors, secretaries; I get them all,” she said. “It’s not just a job. It’s a passion.”

Ayo, she’s already noticed areas for potential improvement and is “ready to sign on for the job.”

If elected, she said she will be vocal about change and promoting honesty with stakeholders. “I have no problem speaking up and letting you know what’s really going on. I’m not afraid and I’m not a typical politician.”

When asked about her position on technology in the classroom, Ayo said that while technology is important, CPSB needed to “go back to basics.”

“You have to know how to write. You have to know how to do math,” she said. “Technology is important, I won’t say it isn’t, but I don’t think it needs to take precedence over the basics.”

Ayo advocates teacher ratings not based on student test scores, guaranteed teacher planning time, and an updated code of conduct. Uninterrupted teacher planning time is a major concern.

“I think it’s important to ensure that the board enforces that the directors ensure that our teachers get 45 minutes unencumbered. They’re putting more and more on the teacher’s plate and giving them less and less time,” she said. “It’s priceless, you need that time.”

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For Ayo, one of the most important achievements that the board has been able to achieve with her help is ensuring that teachers and staff are paid fairly. “We need to find the money to pay our teachers what they’re worth.” She said if elected, she plans to seek funding through cuts, such as examining high-paying dual positions

“I think it’s time to put an educator on the board,” says Ayo sadi. “Not only will I be a member of the school board, I work with all my heart. This is my job. This is my passion. That is my goal.”

District 11 nominee Derrick Trahan was absent from the forum.

District 12 Representative Russell Castille said his passion for improving the school system stems from the many educators in his life. “You hear a lot of things happening,” he said. “I love students, I love children, and that’s why I’m in it.”

Castille, as a current board member, said the school board’s role is to be “the governing authority over the Calcasieu Parish School System.”

“We adopt policies and make sure those policies are followed and implemented to the best of our ability,” he said. “So essentially we settle whatever is put before the superintendent. We look at that and make sure they are implemented by the superintendent and staff.”

For Castille, the foundations of a quality education are an appropriate learning environment, an appropriate parental environment, an efficient curriculum, and highly qualified teachers.

Synergy between the school and the home environment is important, according to Castille.

“Does the student feel safe, loved, and encouraged as they go to school? If he doesn’t do that, we have to change something in the school, be it in the administration, with the teachers,” he said. “We have to try better to get our parents involved. We must do everything in our power to get these teachers, students, parents and guardians all on the same page.”

Referring to the syllabus, Castille said it’s important to ensure that learning progression is efficient and logical by “ensuring that we go to 2 plus 2 equals 4 and that 4 times 4 equals 16, and that the steps to will continue to expand their knowledge.”

Proper communication is needed to ensure that the Calcasieu municipality’s school system has quality teachers, Castille said. Through communication, CPSB can “end the teacher with the necessary tools and resources to carry out his or her job”.

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“If not, we need to know about it. Sometimes we don’t know about these things unless we’re told… So we have to communicate between everyone.”

District 12 candidate Georgina Graves sees herself “primarily as an advocate.”

Graves was inspired to run after learners at their children’s school who could not afford their tuition were unable to attend field day. “Isolation is one of the coldest things you can do to a person, let alone a child,” she said.

For Graves, considering the mental health of students is paramount, especially with regard to disciplinary action. “I think certain transgressions that happened at school don’t justify handcuffing a child,” she said.

She believes that while bullying is “terrible,” there are other options that deviate from the zero-tolerance policy. “Do we intervene with a counselor or psychiatrist and realize that someone made this child feel powerless and therefore it had to make someone else feel powerless?” she asked. “Because surely that bully is going to suffer academically and socially.”

“Those are things that we can base our support on with mental health professionals rather than going straight to the harsh disciplinary measures like expulsion or ZT policy.”

Graves wants to stop teachers paying for school supplies out of their own pocket by using her 25 years of marketing experience to work with local businesses financially, create peer mentoring programs across the school system, and campaign for increases in teacher and support staff salaries battle.

She also plans to set up communal lockers at every school. “Much of our community is living in poverty right now…so some kids are coming to school without deodorant or shampoo,” she said.

That’s not all Graves has planned if she’s elected. “If I’m elected, I’ll have meetings with teachers every two months, with families, and hopefully once a semester with kids,” she said. “That way we can get some insight.”

District 13 representative Billy Breaux was present at the forum. Due to the departure of candidate George VanderHey, Breaux won the seat unopposed. He donated his time to the other candidates.

The final CPSB Candidate Forum will be held Monday, September 26 at 5:30 p.m. at Machinist Hall in Lake Charles. Candidates from Districts 5, 6, 7 and 14 will be present.

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