Two candidates vying for District 4 on the Northshore School Board are focusing on recovery following the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Incumbent Sandy Hayes, who is seeking her fourth term, said the pandemic highlighted the need to access trauma in students across Northshore School District. She said students have been dealing with loss of family, housing and food insecurity, anxiety and other emotional hardships.
“We need to just make sure that we're taking care of those kids,” Hayes said. “In our exuberance of being back, we have to make sure we’re checking in and taking care of them.”
According to candidate Chris Roberdeau, the pandemic certainly highlighted the need for additional mental health and social emotional support. The administration must place emphasis on having enough counselors and helping kids manage stress, he said.
“What I have not seen yet is anything about recovery,” he said. “We're not going to talk about the fact that the kids aren't where they need to be yet.”
Roberdeau said he met with a number of teachers recently who claim the NSD administration has instructed them very specifically not to talk about learning loss. Some students are close to a year behind with some of the assessments the teachers have seen, he noted.
“We need to close that gap back up,” he said. “We need to have a plan to actually get there. We need to execute on it.”
He is glad that students have returned to in-person schooling. However, he said, kids should have been back in the classroom last year. The bottom line is students are back in school where they need to be, he said.
Hayes said the return to school has been fantastic. The kids and teachers are both excited to be back, she noted. So far, she said, masking has been a non-issue and COVID-19 rates are going down with testing.
Prior to the pandemic, she said, there were lots of discussions about the future of learning due to the advancement of technology. She said the biggest takeaway from the last 18 months is the reinforcement that in-person learning is the best model.
For example, Hayes said, teachers are having “aha moments” about the connection between learning to read and handwriting. She said the neurons that get developed when writing with a pencil and paper are not the same with typing.
According to Hayes, issues related to special education also came to light during the pandemic. Washington State has one of the lowest graduation rates of special education students in the country, she said.
“It has been a work in progress, particularly over the last few years, of trying to highlight that,” she said. “There's no reason for our special ed rates to be that low. These kids are capable of handling the curriculum. At Northshore, we have been really working towards more inclusive practices.”
Over nine years ago, Roberdeau said, he moved his family to NSD because of the great reputation. However, he argues the district is not currently living up to that reputation. As a result, there needs to be some new faces on the school board, he said.
“If you look at the history, over the last 12 years that my opponent has been on the school board, the trend has been downward as far as kids’ proficiency and the education gaps,” he said. “I'm not there for myself, I'm there for the kids.”
“Change is needed. There is a disconnect,” he said. “Myself and the other challengers want to get back to the basics.”
Hayes said there has been a lot of discussion about experience among candidates for the school board. Rather, she said, the role is about being open-minded, being willing to admit wrongdoing and being able to acknowledge personal mistakes.
“The reality is I didn't have experience when I first joined the board 12 years ago,” Hayes said. “It's not so much about experience, it's about being willing to listen.”
To better connect with families and teachers, Hayes said, she belongs to several Parent Teacher Associations across the district. Additionally, she has been working with the Northshore Schools Foundation and the city of Kenmore to assist some of NSD’s neediest families.
Ahead of the election, Roberdeau has been walking neighborhoods and meeting with constituents such as teachers and parents. He said a number of people have reached out with phone calls and emails to learn more about his platform.
He said his platform hasn’t changed throughout his candidacy for school board. He aims to help NSD get back to the basics of reading, writing, math, science and history.
Both candidates agree it’s nearly impossible to keep current events out of the classroom. However, Roberdeau said, teachers and educators must be held accountable for going off-book during class lessons.
He expects teachers to address contentious topics from a “neutral standpoint.” Both sides of an argument need to be heard in order to develop critical thinking, he added.
He wants to ensure there is a well-defined curriculum that’s understood across the entire district. All schools should receive the same set of lessons, he said.
Hayes argues it’s a “faulty presumption” for curriculum to ever be content neutral. She said the district has state requirements and parameters for each grade level and subject.
“There’s no way to cover all of the history in 180 hours,” she said. “Same with literature. We have to acknowledge that we're not going to get to everything.”
She said sharing meaningful and relevant information is the key to education. Often times, history and literature classes rely on relevance to current events for better understanding among students, she said.