School board races focus on future of education
October 18, 2012
By throwing their names into the ring last spring, Douglas County School Board candidates have put themselves on the front lines of a vast and ongoing transformation of the educational system.
Common Core State Standards, the end of No Child Left Behind, and a new methodology for teacher evaluations are some of the transformative issues the new board will face in the next four years.
One incumbent is running unopposed. The challenger of another incumbent recently announced he was discontinuing his campaign for personal reasons. That means there are only two seats being actively contested.
Each trustee is elected at large for a four-year term.
In School Board Area 5, incumbent Teri Jamin is running for her third and final term against former Douglas High math teacher Larry Lippmann.
n Larry Lippmann, 68, has lived in the area for 40 years, including at South Lake Tahoe and in the Gardnerville Ranchos. He taught math, chemistry and philosophy for 30 years, including 23 years at Douglas High, before retiring in June.
“I have always been interested in education and want to continue to be involved,” he said. “I care about the students of Douglas County, and I want to make sure they have the best possible education.”
As a teacher, Lippmann said he would bring a classroom perspective to the board, especially important, he maintained, since former teacher Randy Green is not seeking a second term.
“I want to continue that tradition. Before Randy, it was Keith Roman,” he said. “The reason is that even though school board members might have the best intentions or idealistic goals, a teacher can bring the perspective of what really works and what doesn’t work.”
Lippmann used SpringBoard, a controversial English program approved by trustees in 2010, as an example of board members not listening to teachers.
“An example of a mistake is when the school board adopted SpringBoard against the recommendations of teachers and parents,” he said. “As of June, when I retired, it was still very unpopular. Teachers and students consider it a dumbing down of the curriculum. A priority of mine, if elected to the school board, will be to take a look at the program, see how it’s working, and really evaluate it.”
Another top priority for Lippmann would be streamlining graduation requirements, especially in light of Common Core State Standards.
“There are existing state-wide and district-wide standards, and they’re not all in sync,” he said. “One of my top priorities is to create a committee to really look at all levels of standards and to streamline and modernize them. There are some standards that overlap, and some measure the same things. It’s a maze that needs to be straightened out. But I want to make clear that I’m not interested in making standards easier for people to graduate. I’m not lowering standards.”
Lippmann said the district has made some progress by eliminating redundant MAP (measure of academic progress) tests as graduation requirements.
“They’re moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done,” he said. “With Common Core State Standards coming up, we need to be sure that teachers, especially elementary school teachers, are prepared and trained for these standards. It puts teachers on the spot if they’re being asked to teach things they’re not familiar with themselves. It will be extremely important elementary school teachers are prepared to teach the new standards.”
Like every candidate, Lippmann is concerned about the declining budget and its effects on school programs.
“One of my biggest concerns is the tightening fiscal constraints,” he said. “With the downturn in the economy and less money coming into the schools, how can we as a school district adapt and still maintain a high degree of diversity and excellence in the classroom? I regret the reduction in some programs, such as the agriculture, drama and music programs. I hate to see students who are creative in those things not have the opportunity to learn from them. I’m not saying the board made a mistake, this is not a criticism, but if I were elected to the school board, I would do everything I could to maintain the diversity of course offerings for our students.”
Besides teaching, Lippmann said he’s been involved with several district committees, including the curriculum and health advisory committees.
“I have nothing but the highest respect for the people I’ve worked with, including the district office, the administration at Douglas High, and my fellow teachers,” he said. “I can’t think of a larger group of dedicated professionals.”
n Jamin, a 59-year-old Foothills resident, is retired from the City of South Lake Tahoe where she served as community development director. In addition to serving two terms as a trustee, she has been the board’s liaison for the gifted and talented and career and technical education programs district-wide.
“I want to continue my passion and continue to provide education for students,” she said. “I would like to be involved with continuing improvements.”
Jamin has several priorities for the next four years, not least of which is the implementation of Common Core State Standards.
“We want to continue to be ahead of the group,” she said. “That’s how we’ve had such good results in respect to student achievement in the past. It’s how the district made AYP, and also why we have a high graduation rate at 87 percent.”
Other priorities for Jamin include early childhood education, such as all-day kindergarten, and the ASPIRE alternative education program.
“I feel ASPIRE has been very beneficial in providing opportunity for students who don’t fit into the normal structures of school,” she said.
As far as the redundant testing Lippmann addressed, Jamin said the board has recently eliminated some competencies rendered unnecessary by Common Core State Standards. Furthermore, she argued, the board established a form in 2005 that teachers can use to request competency changes.
“That process is something the board has embraced recognizing it’s a living document,” she said.
Personal initiatives for Jamin range from reviewing types of diplomas the district offers to establishing periodic board self-evaluations.
“I think the board should be a role model of how we would like to see evaluations done in the district as a whole,” she said.
The biggest challenge moving forward, she contends, is declining funding in the face of increased expectations.
“We’ve already cut $6 million since 2008,” she said. “There are not a lot of options left.”
She criticized the state for not funding education first as promised.
“We need to place a high priority on education because it’s one of the ways our economy will improve,” she said. “The other thing that will be helpful is for the state to notify us in advance of what the funding will be, and to change the schedule so we’re given that information earlier.”
On the issue of SpringBoard, Jamin argued that she’s personally seen how interactive the curriculum can be.
“It also teaches students to question information and become critical thinkers,” she said, “one of the things important to success in their lives.”
She argued that the program has been implemented in a flexible way and tailored to different grade levels. She said it’s helped the district not only increase rigor but align curriculum to the new state standards.
As proof, she pointed to an increase in reading and language proficiency among incoming sophomores.
“Since 2010, there has been an increase in the number of students taking the Advanced Placements tests by approximately 20 percent,” she added.
In her tenure thus far, Jamin said she is most proud of the leadership role she played coming off a difficult year. In 2010, as board president, she helped organize the search for a new superintendent after Carol Lark’s contentious departure. Lisa Noonan was hired later that summer.
“It resulted in the selection of the candidate being a group decision,” Jamin said.
In School Board Area 4, a seat currently held by Randy Green, Kerry Lane resident and former trustee John Louritt is running against Gardnerville resident and former educator Neal Freitas.
n Louritt, 66, is retired from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, where he worked 32 years as a police officer. He still works part-time in surveillance for Carson Valley Inn.
In the 2000 general election, Louritt lost the same race to Green, but he was appointed to the seat the following year when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Green couldn’t serve on the board as a teacher. Louritt had to run for election in 2002 to finish out the term, which he did, and later won re-election in 2004. In 2008, however, he decided not to seek an additional term, and Green, then retired, took the seat.
“I took care of some medical issues my family was having,” Louritt said. “I’ve always been a public servant, and I decided to get back to it.”
Louritt said he agreed with the current board’s decision to remodel Douglas High School for ninth-graders. At the same time, he would like to move seventh- and eighth-graders to Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School and convert Carson Valley Middle School into a vocational high school.
“It would relieve some of the numbers at the high school and still maintain academic standards,” he said. “It would make available to students a full range of vocational education. It would be the premier high school available in Northern Nevada, if not the state.”
Louritt said he would also focus on making it possible for students to test out of required classes. For example, he said, if a students achieves a “B” or better on the equivalent of an English I exam, he or she could attain credit and move on. He admitted the idea may be at odds with state seat-time requirements.
“Those students could move right along and would be getting the higher education they need,” he said. “It would make room for differentiated instruction for teachers because ultimately you’d have smaller class sizes.”
In regards to Common Core State Standards, Louritt said he favors increased academic rigor.
“Of course, we’ve been doing that without the state,” he said. “I think the state is sort of catching up with us.”
If elected, Louritt said he would work as hard for his constituents as he has in the past.
“It’s more than one meeting a month,” he said. “There’s certainly more to it than that.”
n Neal Freitas, 55, is a retired teacher, guidance counselor and administrator who worked in both Douglas and Lyon counties. He currently lives in Gardnerville.
“The board is something that has always intrigued me as a teacher just starting out, slowly becoming a site administrator, and then presenting to the board as director of human resources (Lyon County),” he said.
As part of his civic responsibility, Freitas said he asked himself in what way he could apply his professional experience.
“My goal is to be a voice on the board,” he said, “but at the same time work with the other six members.”
Freitas said public education is transitioning from the principles of No Child Left Behind to growth models like the Nevada School Performance Framework.
“(No Child Left Behind) brought a lot of important stuff, like the importance of testing, using that in the classroom, and advising instruction,” he said. “Now, with a growth model, we’re able to judge students’ individual growth, and teachers can pull a lot more out of that.”
If elected, Freitas said he would ensure a smooth transition into Common Core State Standards.
” ‘Roll-out’ is a terrible term to use. Some people feel like they’re rolled over under a roll-out,” he said. “A lot of it is through communication, how it’s presented. There needs to be support, back-up and reassurance. I am for rigor with the understanding that you have to look at it with a realistic eye. You can’t force the program. There has to be buy-in.”
Freitas acknowledged that reforming teacher evaluations, with state-wide guidelines expected by 2014, will be a difficult undertaking. He said student achievement data can be a component in overall evaluations, but that other factors, such as subject area and individual growth, need to play a role as well.
“What can we actually use that is fair to that teacher?” he said. “There is so much that goes into the product of providing for all kids. It all plays into it. I want to bring openness and ensure decisions are made that are informed and really explored. I want to be proactive, not reactive.”
In light of major changes on the horizon, Freitas said he would work to “retain the uniqueness of Carson Valley.”
“We want kids to be equipped with the tools so they can be successful,” he said. “What I will bring to the board is decision-making based on all information, not just some information that looks good.”