Aloha Cafe in Lynnwood was full of interested community members on Thursday evening to hear what School Board candidates had to say during a candidate coffee round-table.
Three candidates (Deborah Kilgore, Cindy Sackett and Cathy Baylor) are running on the Aug. 1 primary ballot for Position 4 on the Edmonds School District 15 board now held by Board Member Susan Phillips, who is not seeking reelection. The top two vote-getters in the primary qualify for the Nov. 7 general-election ballot.
My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today sponsored the event. Following brief one-minute introductions for each candidate, community members asked the candidates questions about topics they were most concerned about.
Below are some of the questions asked by voters and answers provided by the candidates. Answers have been provided in the order they were presented during the event:
Q: Each candidate may have one minute to introduce themselves.
Kilgore: I am a longtime volunteer at Lynnwood Elementary, I have three children in the Edmonds School District. Two are at Lynnwood High School and one is still at Lynnwood Elementary. I have been a PTO president for three of those years I’ve been involved at the elementary school. I also have a profession in education. I have a PhD in Education from Texas A&M and I work at the University of Washington as an educational researcher where we look at how engineering students learn and how to design the best kinds of learning experiences for them. I think all of this experience, including having kids in the school, sort of brings me to this place where I think this is the right time and the right place for me to get involved in the school board.
Baylor: I have lived in the school district for 49 years. I went to school here, I graduated from Lynnwood High School and I raised my kids here. They went to the Terrace Park School and the IB program over at Edmonds-Woodway High School. I have a degree from the University of Washington in Education, Music and Spanish, lots of different things I like to study. And I have been working as a volunteer in the school district and education in the community for the last 30 years. I have been the president of five different educational organizations and I work now as a piano teacher, where I collaborate with a lot of school district employees. I love working with education. Multicultural education especially is really important to me. It’s been a passion all my life, and I’ve always felt education is the one thing that can solve all our problems.
Sackett: First and foremost, I’m a mom to two teenagers, a 13- and 16-year-old. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter, sister and an advocate for education. I have worked in the education system in Edmonds. I have lived here for 14 years. I’ve volunteered, I’ve been PTA president, I’ve been PTA treasurer, I’ve been the one cleaning up at the end of every event. I really have a passion around making sure all of our kids succeed and are given the opportunities to do what engages them. I currently have a role where I work for a nonprofit graduating a quarter of a million students who are career/college ready and I hope to bring some of that expertise to the school board, as well as my finance background. I’ve been working with multi-million dollar budgets for over 20 years.
Q: How much of a role do you see for project-based teaching?
Kilgore: I think it is an effective way for students to get, and educators to get, what I call significant learning, which is learning that is deep, long-lasting, authentic. When they can work on a project that is sort of real-world, it sticks. It sticks with them. I’d like to see quite a bit more. I want all of our neighborhood schools to be the school of choice. I want parents to come and be eager to send their kids to our schools, and project-based learning will be a part of that.
Baylor: It’s a wonderful way to learn. You’ll get a lot of kids with different ideas and they will work together and collaborate together and that’s just like when they go into the real world and work. That’s a good way for them to get ready to do that.
Sackett: I think project-based learning is a great way for kids to learn 21st century skills that they’re going to need out in the work force. I actually speak nationally around problem and project-based learning in the job that I do, so I believe deeply in project-based learning and I know there is a lot of project-based learning that goes on in our schools and it’s one way that we really need to work on engaging our students.
Q: How can the district help its over 600 homeless students and those at risk of homelessness?
Sackett: I think we need to make sure that we are encouraging all of our students to stay in school. I think schools need to be that safe and welcoming environment for them. I think Washington Kids in Transition is a great organization that helps those students as well. It’s really about making sure we’re identifying those families and reaching out to them to get them the help that they need.
Baylor: I think it’s very important to help people in need like this. I have talked to some of the people in the school district who work with homeless students, and they have told me that a lot of people in our community don’t know who to turn to anymore. Their one connection with the government is with the school, so they come to the school for help. We need to keep doing whatever we can. It’s a really sad situation and we need to help.
Kilgore: Schools need to be a safe place. Teachers and staff need training to help students and help students be able to talk to them. It would be nice to have showers, it would be nice to have a place to stash their stuff. There are some particular things we can do within the school. We need more money, we need more staff, we need more training for our teachers and staff to be able to identify, to talk, and we also need a school that is able to be flexible for these children, to help them with their basic needs.
Q: What can you do to help students to be good, well-educated, rounded citizens that learn things like history, the arts and how we relate to each other?
Baylor: I am a strong believer in a liberal arts education for everyone. You’re right, they need to know all of those things. Let’s start with more of (classic literature). A law just passed this year and I don’t know the details exactly but it creates a civics requirement for our students. Isn’t that wonderful? One of the things I also advocate is a good multi-cultural education. Our students need to be prepared to go into the real world. Arts are really important to for me, I am a piano teacher. Arts should be part of the basic education.
Kilgore: I agree that children need a well-rounded education. I am also excited about an additional civics requirement. We have a teacher at Lynnwood Elementary who teaches government all year long in a very authentic way where the kids get together and elect a president and elect other officers and also practice negotiating, practice reaching consensus, making decisions, making laws for their classroom. Those are the kinds of things that sticks with a kid, it sticks for life. Also, a lot of our schools are quite diverse, and that is a really big opportunity right now. Our kids are living and learning, learning to get along with, learning to work conflict out with kids who are very different from them. I think this is a learning lab and these are authentic experiences.
Sackett: I would say we absolutely need to encourage our kids to have the most diverse education that they can. We need to celebrate the fact that we have so many cultures and languages being spoken in our schools. I don’t believe we are on a downtrend by any means of getting rid of any of our electives in our schools. My son at College Place Middle School also created a government and a ruling body and had to work together and it was an experience that he gained great knowledge out of and those are the types of things that go on in this district a lot. We need to encourage all of our teachers and all of our students to engage in those types of activities.
Q: Do you find First Principles useful?
Kilgore: Yes, we need to teach the fundamentals in any subject, but they are better taught and better absorbed as an authentic of a situation as we can make it. Yes, they have to learn math facts, they have to learn times tables, but it is only when they start applying it to real-world problems that it really sticks and they begin to understand those fundamentals. You have to go to a learner where they are.
Baylor: I think that there are certain disciplines that really help mind growth and mind development. People come to me as a piano teacher because I teach them to practice, discipline in their thinking and how to think critically when they come to problems with their playing.
Sackett: I think that we really already do a lot of those things, however, they way in which we teach it might look a little different now. We have to have a base layer in order to create and move beyond that, so I think we have to have that base and build upon that, but doing it in a different way so that we keep kids engaged and they continue to be lifelong learners.
Q: With the exception of budget, what do you think is the most needed improvement to the district?
Baylor: I first moved here 49 years ago and we had a pretty much 99 percent white community. Now, there’s about 50 percent of our students who self-identify as non-white. I think it’s very important that we develop a curriculum that speaks to their experience, so they can see what people like them have contributed to our world.
Kilgore: I do think diversity again is one of our big resources right now that we can leverage off of. But it is something that I think at the elementary level, we’re doing a pretty good job because there are a lot of programs across the district on character education, anti-bullying. One thing I am concerned about is family engagement. Families need to be engaged in developing those skills, learning with the kids, not just getting them engaged when they’re getting punished for bullying, but getting them involved in the front end. How do we communicate?
Sackett: I 100 percent agree with what they just said, but I’m going to take this in a bit of a different way because I think that one of the pieces that we need to be working on are our graduation rates. I think 81 percent is not good enough. We have 19 percent of kids who are not graduating high school in this district and I think part of that is attributed to the equity and inclusion pieces that are lacking in this district. I think one thing we need to work on is making sure we have those electives for kids who are on the bubble who may not engage in the norm of what we consider education to be. We need to celebrate that we are all different learners and that these kids need to be met in so many different areas. They need to know they are seen, they are heard and they are welcome.
Q: What does “diversity” mean to you, and how will you make sure all kids are included when it comes to honor/AP/IB classes?
Sackett: Diversity to me is a very important part. I have a son who is adopted from India, so he does not look like us and we get a lot of “is he with you, who is he with” kinds of things. So to me, diversity is around celebrating our differences. Creating a welcoming environment is the inclusion piece of that. I think it’s hard to remember that kids from all different backgrounds should all have the opportunity to be in any of those advanced learning classes. Really, it’s about making sure our teachers are aware of how to approach and how to talk to all students to make sure they know who they need to speak to when they see a child who may be bored and needs to be in a different classroom or if there’s a student who doesn’t know how to navigate the system.
Baylor: Diversity to me means when I walk up the street, there’s a family across the street that’s Ethiopian. There’s a family next door where the dad is Navajo and the mom is Cambodian. I’m Native American. There’s a Mexican family that lives just down the street and just the other night, they were serenading us with the most beautiful Mariachi music. We need to celebrate that wonderful opportunity to have different points of view, to make you step outside your world and listen to other people. As far as students having more access to programs, I know now, for instance, the IB program, they don’t test all students, so moving to universal testing for advanced programs. My personal issue is that I think the traditional sit down in a classroom and listen to teachers and then you read your book and take a test or write a paper is something that doesn’t work for everybody. I think standards should be kept very high for other types of programs.
Kilgore: As far as diversity, we know children recognize difference when they are two. What we don’t want to do is whitewash difference. We want differences to be celebrated and we want our kids to learn that people are different, that when we come together around our differences we can create something much greater than if we are all the same, so it’s a benefit. I want to address these classes you’re talking about. The first thing I’m going to do is make sure we get bus transportation to any of the programs these kids want to go to. If a kid wants to go to the STEM program at Mountlake Terrace, they should have a bus pass. Right now, they have to get themselves there. If they want to go to the IB program, they have to test “gifted” to go. Kids within the service area get to go, get to try classes. That’s not fair. Just logistically, I would like to make that happen for every child. Secondly, another thing, the AP classes at Lynnwood High School for instance. One of the AP classes didn’t make because they didn’t have 25 kids to take it. Well, if you’re in a school that doesn’t have IB or a magnet for highly capable kids in the traditional sense, maybe you don’t need a 25-kid limit, maybe it’s 15. Maybe you need to have equity. It’s not equal, it’s equity. I also want to talk about testing. I don’t think testing works for every child. When we look at testing, as long as my kids have been in school, we’ve had three standardized tests. One of the ways, it’s not the only way but one of they ways they validate tests is to see if the kids who did well on one test also did well on another test. If you have a kid who doesn’t think in this way, they are not going ot do well on this test and we continue to perpetuate this problem. One thing I have heard about is we talk about portfolios. Assessment portfolios, where they can put examples of their work and where they can talk about what did I learn doing this work? And so in that way we can assess, did they learn? Are they a critical thinker? Are they someone who could take this AP class?
In addition, candidates addressed several other questions, including whether schools should make better use of community gardens (candidates agreed they should and noted that some schools already have them) and what can be done to ensure that children with special needs have the best possible education, which candidates acknowledged should be a priority.