The Payson School Board opened its Monday meeting to the public to solicit comments on board goals, but wound up hosting an impromptu candidate forum.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock and board president Barbara Underwood had hoped candidates would show up to ask questions, but they mostly just listened to introductions and objectives of the candidates.
“I had hoped they would have asked more questions,” said Underwood after the meeting.
Underwood explained the meeting was intended to help candidates understand what it means to be a part of the board.
Boards can make or break an organization or make a superintendent’s job intolerable. The current board hopes to prepare future board members to do the best job possible.
“I thought I knew what a board member — or what their role was going to be — because I knew several of the board members for 12 years prior to coming on the board myself. I had advice from them on what they do and when I came on the board, I realized it wasn’t anything like what I thought it was going to be,” said outgoing board member Matt Van Camp.
According to the book, “Boards That Make a Difference” by John Carver, most boards devolve into micro-managing the organization they lead instead of creating the vision and keeping everything on track with the mission.
Carver writes that being a board member comes down to recognizing the difference between the words, “what” and “how.”
Deciding the “what” inspires visionary questions about goals and missions. The “how” of the organization includes the day-to-day operations, which mostly falls to the administrator.
“My role is to implement and oversee the goals of the board,” said Hitchcock. Underwood said that includes hiring, firing, budgeting and running school operations.
Van Camp cautioned candidates against having an agenda. He told them to rather commit to the mission of the school.
“Biggest thing I’ve learned is that your role as a school board member — if you have an agenda or have something you want to push or promote — it will only cause problems. If you come in to be a board member your only goal, or only focus, should be providing positive student achievement.”
Barbara Shepherd felt remaining true to one’s individual principles was an important part of sitting on the board, as well as attending conferences and training.
“I think it’s very important as a board member to keep your individuality ... when you have an issue, just because four members of the board think one way, doesn’t mean you have to think that way. If that’s not the way you believe, then you need to stick with what you believe,” she said. “I think it’s also important to attend the conferences that the state puts on for board members ... because we get a lot of information about how schools are run.”
The first candidate to speak was Devin Wala. He introduced himself by explaining that he and his wife have been heavily involved with the schools for the last two years and with others, founded the parent group, Payson Association of Advanced Learners.
Jim Quinlan introduced himself next. Quinlan taught for 20 years in the Payson school district and now teaches English full time at Gila Community College. His wife has worked as the science teacher for the middle school (RCMS) and his son, Byron Quinlan, recently had his counselor position at RCMS slashed because of budget cuts.
“I’m running for the board this year basically for several reasons, but my main concern is the leadership in the district,” he said.
Quinlan hopes to improve the morale of the teachers who have suffered cuts to their ranks every year.
Jim Muhr is retired from the military and business and currently is the president of the local Tea Party. He has a Purple Heart from Vietnam and told those attending the meeting that he never lost a man in his platoon. He also worked in the corporate world, building his budget from zero to $100 million.
“Leadership counts ladies and gentlemen,” said Muhr. “I hope that when Mr. Hitchcock reports to me, the reports will be well documented, well researched and well presented — because that’s the only way that I will take them ... I have leadership, I have management, I have budgeting and I have a huge desire to help the community and be on the school board.”
Shirley Dye stood to introduce herself after Muhr. She is a member of Muhr’s Tea Party, but she also volunteers at the Ponderosa Bible Church to teach children to read and memorize Bible verses. Her volunteer work showed her how many fourth- and fifth-graders have poor reading skills.
“I have not set foot into this school board meeting in the seven years that I’ve been here in Payson, but I have worked with some of your kids,” she said. “It was absolutely amazing to me the number of fourth- and fifth-graders that could not read. They could not even sound out a part of the word.”
She has grandchildren from other states that also suffer from poor reading skills. She hopes to help children with reading skills after the election.
“So, even though I have not been involved (in the schools) like others here, just because I’ve been very, very active in the community, that doesn’t mean that I won’t get involved and learn who these teachers are who these principals are what they’re about. A whole lot of stuff, because I’m that Tea Party activist — everybody else got three sentences I got one (in a Roundup story about the election). I’m not going to terrorize the board, the superintendent, or any of the staff or students.”
The next candidate to speak was Carmelita Locke. She said she had spent most of her 36 years as a teacher in Payson. She asked, “From me to you, what policy have you participated in that you feel is the most positive for student learning?”
Van Camp said he felt the most proud of voting for the Response to Intervention (RTI) program. RTI offers intense, individualized instruction in reading and math.
Underwood and Shepherd both said most of the policies come down from the state, but Shepherd enjoyed her work with Payson Center for Success the most.
The last candidate present, Lynnette Brouwer, said she had several degrees, including a Ph.D. in education with a focus in training and organizational development.
She currently has two children in school.
“One came to me when she was 7 years old from the Russian federation at which time she weighed 11 pounds and did nothing but lay on her back.”
Her other daughter came from China and is in elementary school. Both children have special needs the Payson school district has addressed, but Brouwer fears budget cuts will further erode the quality of the educational experience.
“I’ve heard too many people say the worst thing about Payson is the schools,” she said, “I don’t like that. I don’t want that to be the case. And if I can do anything to help with the schools in Payson I’d like to do that.