Little squirming for candidates
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Besides a few contentious moments, there was little unease in last night’s school board Squirm Night debate as the three candidates did little to distinguish themselves on matters of policy.
Tom Clapper, Sally Hansen and Laura Kornasiewicz responded to questions from members of the media and the public during a live broadcast on GrassRoots TV. And each candidate was forced to confront a controversial issue.
Kornasiewicz publicly renounced the influence of one of her top campaign contributors, Laurie Michaels. Michaels led the effort to oust former Superintendent Tom Farrell.
“I don’t align myself with her,” Kornasiewicz said. “I’m my own person, and I can’t be bought.”
Clapper, who said he is a strong supporter of alternative education, was forced to answer a question on the inequity of the experiential education program, also known as outdoor education. Experiential education sends kids on trips to learn outside the classroom.
Audience member Andrew Kole brought up the example of affluent students traveling to exotic locations such as the Channel Islands, while poorer students are confined financially to in-state trips.
“Is that fair?” Kole asked.
Clapper, who has called himself a “candidate for the working man,” stuck by the program, saying it is often the most memorable learning experience for students.
Hansen, who works closely with Kornasiewicz on the board of the Aspen Education Foundation, was asked if there was anything that distinguished her policy beliefs from Kornasiewicz.
Hansen answered that there were no significant policy differences between herself and Kornasiewicz.
It was in this spirit of agreement that the majority of the forum progressed. The topics that received the lion’s share of attention from the candidates were state versus local control of education, and student disciplinary issues.
The question of state versus local control, always a heated issue on school boards, was played out last night primarily through the issue of state-mandated testing.
The candidates agreed the school district has a fiduciary responsibility to adhere to state mandates. They also agreed that excelling in the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), a statewide series of standardized tests, is an important goal for the school district.
Clapper’s support for the tests came as a surprise to some.
“According to some, I am the ‘anti-tester’ among the candidates,” Clapper said. “But I am not opposed to state testing.”
He added later that CSAPs can help ensure kids remain competitive on college entrance exams. “CSAPs scores can help flag a deficiency in our students early,” he said.
In regard to CSAPs, Hansen retained her position that the tests are a useful indicator of overall trends and individual assessment. She also believes that the tests need not take away from the notion of “the whole child” concept.
“There are lots of healthy, well-rounded kids … who performed well on standardized tests,” she said.
Kornasiewicz called the tests Colorado’s “high-jump bar,” a measure of excellence to which the district should aspire. She also believes the tests do not threaten teacher or student diversity.
“We have a freedom on how to meet [state] standards,” she said. “Teachers can achieve the results in a myriad of ways depending on the population of the kids in the classroom.”
After state-mandated tests, the issue of student discipline in the high school created the most discussion among the candidates.
In regard to increased school supervision in the summer, Clapper said the school board should be sensitive to student perception.
“Unless activities or facilities are perceived as ‘cool,’ the school board hasn’t got a prayer to mandate supervision during the summer,” Clapper said.
Hansen said after-hours truancy was as much the responsibility of the parents as the schools.
“We can’t do it alone,” she said.
Kornasiewicz perhaps came across as the strictest disciplinarian of the three, saying that if a school has a policy regarding student behavior in place, it must follow through.
“The school district must have the courage to follow through with its [disciplinary] policies and not be afraid of community members who might be more lax on regulations,” she said.
GrassRoots TV, which broadcast the event, will re-air the program in the days approaching the Nov. 4 school board elections.
Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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