Get to know your school board candidates

Below are responses to questionnaires we sent to candidates running in the May 4 Hays CISD Place 4 and Place 5 School Board races. In the Place 4 race, incumbent Merideth Keller  faces off against challenger Mark Summers, while Place 5 incumbent Esperanza Orosco takes on challenger Frank Juarez, Jr. Juarez did not submit responses prior to press time.

 

Meredith Keller

What is the most pressing issue the district faces and how do you plan to address it?
We must improve student achievement at all levels. We have a new administration team in place and they are working to implement good educational systems. As with any big change, we must be purposeful in blending our new plans with the many great strategies our staff already uses to educate our students. Now, more than ever, we need to be inclusive with our students, staff, parents, and community in our decision-making processes. As Trustee, I address these issues by maintaining my record of supporting the plans to include all stakeholders, especially classroom teachers, in the decision-making process. 

Where do you believe Hays CISD is in terms of overall equity for its students?
Hays CISD strives to create opportunities for all learners. Sometimes, that means we have to spend more money or provide added resources at our higher needs campuses. We also partner with a variety of entities that provide much needed support to our students that struggle with educational barriers or might have basic need insecurities. We funnel resources to the areas that need it the most and we have an excellent team that will spend all hours working with campuses or departments finding ways to address the unique and often diverse needs of their students. 

What are your thoughts on Hays CISD becoming a district of innovation?
When the idea of becoming a District of Innovation was first discussed in 2017, I had reservations. There are certain designations that a district can choose that are not in the best interest of students and staff, like the ability to waive the 22:1 student to teacher ratio. However, I have confidence in our new superintendent and supported his plan which allows for a flexible calendar and for the ability to hire Career and Tech professionals, only if a certified teacher is not available. Our new superintendent did not consider adding the 22:1 ratio waiver to our designation.

What is one issue not talked about that should be?
Our district has started having amazing conversations with all stakeholders. Our new superintendent and a majority of the board members attend events with parents, teachers, taxpayers and students in a way that has not been done before in a routine manner. Dr. Wright holds regular Coffee and Conversations and Tax Payer Tuesdays at different campuses and invites all stakeholders to attend. I have attended so many of these events and have witnessed the positive impact of impromptu conversations that result in better outcomes for our community. These events are publicized and all are welcome. We are stronger together!

What is your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor?
Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough….thanks for making me think about it! Now I have to go the store!

 

 

 

Esperanza Orosco

What is the most pressing issue the district faces and how do you plan to address it?
Recently, our educational programs have not proven as successful as I believe they can potentially be. Our new Superintendent and leadership team are working with our talented and experienced staff to strengthen existing programs. Student achievement is paramount. Building on what we have done well will make programs like Gifted & Talented, Bilingual, Dual Credit, and AP even more effective. This will allow us to provide a premier education and offer enrichment opportunities to students. In collaboration with our Board & Superintendent, we can work to close achievement and opportunity gaps and continue removing barriers for all students.

Where do you believe Hays CISD is in terms of overall equity for its students?
“Fairness does not mean everyone get the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.” This is evident in our funding for extra support, smaller class sizes, more administrative help and next year’s full day PreK for our Low Socio-Economic campuses that may benefit from a greater level of care and support. People who watch our goal setting, our budget decisions and our discussions know the truth about our commitment to making sure ALL students have the tools to achieve their goals and that might mean investing more in our Low Socio-Economic schools.

What are your thoughts on Hays CISD becoming a district of innovation?
Initially, I was not sold on becoming a District of Innovation. Other Districts have had issues with buy-in and I wanted to make sure we addressed them. Our process solicited input from teachers, parents and community members. Unlike other Districts, we focused on 1. Starting school earlier to allow semesters to be closer and having an equal amount of days; and 2. Granting waivers, if we are unable to find certified teachers in a specific Career and Technical Education area. Dr. Wright came to Hays with experience implementing this model and answered questions from the public and the committee.

What is one issue not talked about that should be?
There are amazing things happening in our District! From starting a District-wide phonics program, our 100% Hays Campaign where every student is involved in some type of school activity, and how we connect each student to at least one adult at school they can trust with issues or questions, we have spent the last year reviewing what we have done right and what we can improve upon. Listening to students, parents, business and community partners is a priority! This District is vastly different than it was even a short while ago and you, our community, have made it better.

What is your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor?
My go to is not ice cream or frozen yogurt, instead, I prefer the amazing popsicles or paletas from La Ola Pop Shop. Reggae is my favorite pop!

 

 

Mark Summers

What is the most pressing issue the district faces and how do you plan to address it?
 The large number of talented, highly qualified and highly trained teachers, administrators, and staff that are leaving the district. I have had many conversations with concerned citizens that Hays CISD is becoming a second-rate district. This is something that has not happened overnight, but rather of the past several years and needs to be corrected.

My plan to address it is to engage all level of Hays CISD employees and listen to their concerns and address them in a cost-effective manner. I don’t have all the answers, but I know the personnel on the front-lines of teaching our kids have ideas worth listening to, and I plan to listen to them and make well-informed, data-driven, consensus creating decisions for our kids education without breaking the backs of our hard-working tax paying property owners.

 

Where do you believe Hays CISD is in terms of overall equity for its students?
I believe it is average. I see an east-west divide in regards to socio-economic status of our population and I want to look for ways to reverse it. It is not realistic to suggest that we can have a “perfect” system with complete ethnic and wealth percentages across the entire district, but I believe there is plenty of room for improvement.

 

What are your thoughts on Hays CISD becoming a district of innovation?
I am all for it, but I don’t see it in action. Less than 3% of the bond Proposition 2 passed in 2017 was ear-marked for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Frankly, that is embarrassing. With my 30+ year experience in multiple industries as a mechanical analysis/design engineer, 15+ year career as an educator at the technical college, community college, and university level teaching STEM subject matter, and my current role as a graduate student working on a second master’s degree in engineering, I believe am uniquely qualified to address these STEM funding concerns.

 

What is one issue not talked about that should be?
Population growth plateau. The district has been one of the fastest growing in the state, and we have increasing property tax appraisals and property tax bills to show for it. As this growth has sustained itself over the past few years, the district has enjoyed increased funding for multiple projects, some of which I believe are duplicate facilities. However, when the population growth rates start slowing, I am concerned we have over-shot on some spending and will eventually have to “pay the piper”. It happened in 2007/2008 and it will happen again. I also understand that the general fund of Hays CISD has been depleted over the past few years, which has me worried as well. Trust me, I won’t be talking about this topic moving forward.

 

What is your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt flavor?
Jeez, I am not much of an ice cream guy. Since I have lived in Buda for over twenty-five years, I guess the politically correct answer would be whatever “Buda Drug Store & Soda Fountain” or “Chocolate Drop” are serving today!

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