Election 2019: Nancy Katims, candidate for Edmonds School Board Director District 5

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Nancy Katims

The Aug. 6 primary election includes multiple people running for Edmonds School District Board of Directors positions. To help voters learn more about the candidates, the My Neighborhood News Network sent a questionnaire to each candidate appearing on the primary ballot.

We will post these as we receive them.

Note that while each school board position represents a specific area, all voters living in the district get to vote for all positions.

Nancy Katims has worked in public education for more than 40 years, including nearly two decades in the student learning department of the Edmonds School District. She is one of four candidates vying for the District 5 position, which is currently held by Board President Diana White, who has decided not to seek re-election.

Q:Why are you running to be an Edmonds School Board Director? What do you hope to accomplish during your time as a board director?

Katims: I have devoted my entire career to improving educational opportunities for students. When I joined the Edmonds School District staff almost 20 years ago, the district had a sense of urgency about student learning, and our outcomes reflected excellence. Today, that urgency has diminished and we’re not keeping pace. I’m running for school board to restore an energetic focus on helping all students reach their full potential.

Edmonds is a good district, but I want us to be an outstanding district. We can do it! We have great students, teachers and staff. All we need is innovative and intentional leadership to provide focused support to achieve our goals. I believe I have the knowledge, experience and drive to get the job done.

As a school board member, I will be focused on these core objectives:

  • Creating measurable, student-centered goals and an accountability system to ensure that our limited resources are achieving our goals efficiently and effectively; 
  • Ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, are receiving equitable access to the full range of services and opportunities available; and
  • Improving communication across the District and fostering a decision-making process that meaningfully considers the voices of all affected stakeholders — including parents, teachers, students and community members.

It is clear the school board is grappling with a number of pressing issues, including significant budget cuts that would have major consequences for student learning and student success. We need a knowledgeable, independent voice to hold our district accountable and ensure students are always put first. I am prepared to hit the ground running.

Q: What experience would you bring as a board director and how is it relevant to the position?

Katims: I have served in public education for 40 years, including nearly two decades in the student learning department of the Edmonds School District. My experience spans the PreK-12 continuum and includes work in the areas of early childhood education, special education, mathematics and science education, research and evaluation and more. This depth of experience has given me an unparalleled understanding of what effective teaching and learning looks like, and how to support teachers in helping all students succeed in the classroom. 

I am also a parent. My two children graduated from the Edmonds School District. I have been a band mom, a sports mom, a theater mom and the mom of an LGBTQ student. I know the disappointment and concern when my child’s learning needs are not being met. I also know the immense joy and pride of seeing my children accomplish amazing success in school and in life.

I received a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Northwestern University. My education focused on understanding how children learn as well as how to identify and conduct high-quality research. This rigorous training strengthened my ability to ask good questions, analyze complex issues and seek credible evidence in order to make informed decisions.

As a valued educational leader in the Edmonds School District for nearly two decades, I am prepared to understand the school board’s work on day one. I am familiar with tools and strategies deployed across the district, including those used to teach students, build budgets, support teachers and communicate with parents. I know and care about every school in the District. I am familiar with state, local and federal laws we must follow. And I am committed to being a tireless advocate for all the students we serve to ensure taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are spent carefully and wisely to achieve student success.

Q: In light of the decision to sign a contract with Right at School, which many parents felt they didn’t have time to comment on, how do you think the school district could improve its public engagement process?

Katims: As a parent who relied on exactly these kinds of programs when my kids were young, I completely understand the frustrations of families whose child care options were changed without their input. The district must do better.

That’s why I have made it a core focus of my campaign to demand the district return to a consistent use of its shared decision-making process — a hallmark of the Edmonds School District that has been in place for nearly three decades. It sets the expectation that all stakeholders who may be impacted by a decision be included in discussions about that decision. Unfortunately, the process is not being applied consistently today, as seen by the Right at School contract. We saw similar inadequacies with the recent decision to place a School Resource Officer (SRO) on the Scriber Lake/Edmonds Heights campus without soliciting input from relevant parent groups.

As a school board director, I will call for comprehensive communication plans for any major decisions that will impact parents, teachers, students or community members. Those plans must go beyond simply using social media and online surveys as the means to solicit input, and must be designed to ensure district leaders fully understand how their decisions will affect our families. I also believe we should consider re-establishing the district’s former parent community group, the Citizens Planning Committee (CPC), which used to provide an important forum for parents to learn about initiatives and programs underway in the district, provide feedback, take information back to their schools, and empower everyone to engage in the district’s work.

Q: What plans do you have to ensure financial stability given the $17.7 million budget shortfall the district is facing?

Katims: My priorities for budgeting will always be to put students first, and that includes reasonable class sizes and supporting our educators both financially and professionally. I am deeply concerned that our district’s current lack of direction and focus has exacerbated our budget challenges. The district’s limited resources need to be carefully prioritized to ensure we’re helping students to succeed and the district to achieve our goals — but the current absence of goals means the act of budgeting has been somewhat random and arbitrary, with each expenditure seen in isolation. As a school board director, I will work collaboratively with my colleagues to provide more effective oversight. We need to ask the right questions to fully understand the purpose of each district initiative and the underlying assumptions, and to weigh the costs of each one against the benefits — always with an eye toward student success.

I am committed to taking the steps necessary to restore fiscal stability in our district. One of the most important actions I will take as school board director is to advocate for our state legislature to provide more funding for basic education in Edmonds, and to provide more funding authority at the local level, to increase classroom capacity and ensure we can meet the needs of all our educators and students. We are facing ongoing inequities under the state legislature’s recent “levy fix,” and I will work with our representatives in Olympia to better understand and address the challenges that remain.

Additionally, each time a local maintenance and operations levy is being brought to our voters, I will work tirelessly to ensure it is properly developed and to help educate the community about its impacts. Local levies are a critical part of the financial stability and health of our district.

Q: What ideas do you have for addressing the more than 500 homeless students in the Edmonds School District?

Katims: Our region is facing a serious homelessness crisis and it’s our responsibility to ensure that students in the district who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability have the resources and support they need. Research shows that students experiencing homelessness are significantly less likely to finish high school, which only exacerbates the challenges of intergenerational poverty and housing instability over their lifetime. That’s why I strongly support efforts at the state and local level to improve our identification systems for homeless students, which is a critical first step for our educators and administrators to provide these students the targeted support they need. Our district should ensure that appropriate and consistent accommodations are offered to these students in every school, as they may face complex and varied challenges completing their schoolwork — due to lack of internet access, school supplies, parental support, and other basic services that other students enjoy. Every school needs to ensure that at least one caring adult is regularly checking with each homeless student on any issues the student is facing. I also believe our district needs to track achievement levels and social-emotional well-being for students experiencing homelessness so we can monitor their progress over time and adjust our strategies accordingly.

In addition, it is essential for district staff to work collaboratively with other community agencies that provide services to our homeless students, in order to coordinate the support that these students need across their academic, physical and social-emotional needs.

I am committed to taking these and other concrete steps to close the achievement gap and ensure students experiencing homelessness receive equitable access to the same high-quality education as their peers and the support they need to succeed.

Q: How would you work with district staff to encourage and promote fairness and equity for all of the district’s students?

Katims: I have made student equity a central focus of my campaign because I strongly believe all students should be treated equally and have equitable access to district services and opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s clear that some students are not receiving the same advice and support as their peers on important topics that enable post-secondary success — such as course taking, how to apply to colleges and options after graduation. Policies and practices must be put in place to ensure these inequities are addressed, including support and professional development in culturally responsive teaching to all relevant school-based staff and the expectation that all students be given the support they need to succeed.    

In recent years, the district has spent a great deal of time and money providing training in culturally-responsive practices to administrators in the district. Unfortunately, I’ve heard directly from teachers and administrators that the same attention is not being brought to the staff who interact most with students — teachers, counselors, classified staff and paraeducators. As a school board director, I will press for this type of training to be brought to every school in the district. Additionally, I believe every school should have a plan for developing and implementing a schoolwide climate of inclusion as part of their School Improvement Planning process, and that annual student surveys taken in schools should include questions about the school’s climate — including fair treatment and possible barriers to success. Where such surveys show that students in any marginalized group feel unsafe, unsupported, or face being bullied, the district should provide targeted support and training to staff at that school to improve the climate and address inequities. 

It is our responsibility as school board directors to tackle these challenges head-on, and I will work collaboratively with my colleagues to help address these needs.

Q: A 2017 Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families study showed that the Edmonds School District is serving only 28 percent of students eligible for early childhood education assistance. What ideas do you have for expanding the District’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program to accommodate more students?

Katims: As someone who has personally conducted research and published articles on the importance of early childhood education, I deeply understand the long-term benefits that children, especially those from low-income households, derive when they receive high quality early childhood education prior to entering kindergarten. The benefits include children being better prepared for school in pre-academic, physical and social-emotional areas and actually lead to students being more likely to graduate from high school and able to independently support themselves later in life.

While the district for years has offered a preschool program for students with disabilities, the 2018-19 school year marked the first year that the district offered Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) designed for students who are eligible based on their family’s income level, with the program this first year housed in one school.

In thinking about ways to expand the program in the district to accommodate more students, it is important to analyze possible reasons why the current percentage of eligible students served is so low. One reason could stem from the fact that the state does not yet fully fund enough slots for all eligible students across the state. Fortunately, the State Legislature has a plan to phase in funding to cover enough slots for all eligible students by 2022-23. In addition, additional funding needs to be provided at the federal level for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, such as through Senator Patty Murray’s Child Care for Working Families Act, which I am proud to support. It is also critical for our school board to ensure that our local budget reflects the high priority that our district places on PreK-3 learning. If elected, I will energetically advocate for as much federal, state and local support for early childhood education as possible. 

A second possible reason that the percentage of eligible students being served by ECEAP in the district is so low relates to the current overcrowding in many of the district’s elementary schools. I am in favor of the proposal currently being considered to build a new middle school in order to move 6th-grade into middle school and alleviate overcrowding at the elementary level.  This would allow for more ECEAP students to be accommodated in the district.

One final consideration relates to communication with eligible parents about the availability of the ECEAP program for their children. As a school board director, I would push for a comprehensive district ECEAP communication plan designed to reach low-income families with preschool-age children, in order to explain the benefits of the program and how parents can access it for their children. The communication mechanisms will need to be creative, available in a variety of languages, and coordinate with community providers who serve preschool-age children in other contexts, such as pediatricians, community centers and food banks.

Q: The district has received feedback from the community that it should have handled the staffing reductions due to budget cuts differently. What ideas do you have for helping to assure teachers’ job security in times of financial stress?

Katims: As a board director, I would never have allowed the budget to come to a vote in that form or under that process. There is no excuse for taking the vote one day before pink slips would have to legally be given to certificated staff.

I believe the budget was predicated on doubtful assumptions that should have been questioned long before the board brought it to a vote. One assumption was the use of a very conservative figure for projected enrollment for next year — a figure estimating a decline in district student enrollment, despite projections from a consultant predicting small enrollment increases over the next several years. A second questionable assumption was the decision last year to move money out of the fund balance (the district’s “savings account”) when it was so close to the “danger” level, which essentially kicked the can down the road and left teachers’ careers in extreme jeopardy this year. I fundamentally believe it was more important this year to protect class sizes and educators’ jobs for the coming year and to use next year to identify solutions to balance the budget long-term. 

One reason I am fighting for student-centered goals and an accountability system in Edmonds is because I understand effective budgeting requires goals and prioritization. I also know that students learn best when they have small class sizes and are taught by teachers who have the resources, support and professional development they need. If elected, I will work tirelessly to have the district set its goals first and craft its budget second — which will help ensure our budget prioritizes students and reflects the values of our district’s families.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Katims: Many teachers and administrators in the Edmonds School District know me, trust me and will communicate openly and honestly with me about what is going on in the schools. I am comfortable walking through all the schools in the district, spending time in classrooms with teachers and students and seeking input from all stakeholders. Typically, staff are unwilling to speak directly with school board directors, and are often discouraged to do so by district leadership, leaving many board directors somewhat in the dark — but staff know me and understand that I am someone who will listen, follow up accordingly, and protect them in the process. I am also very comfortable speaking with parents and community members from across the district, as that was one of my responsibilities when I worked in the district’s student learning department.

I am honored to be endorsed by current and former school board members, elected officials, local leaders, educators and community organizations. Among those endorsing my campaign are — State Senator Marko Liias; State Representatives Lillian Ortiz-Self and Strom Peterson; Edmonds City Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Tom Mesaros; School Board Director Carin Chase; and Snohomish County Democrats. For all endorsements, visit my website.

Q: Where can readers go to learn more about your campaign? (website and other contact information if applicable)

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