Delaware School Board Election 2017 Surveys: Christina School District

There are two races in the Christina School District for their Board of Education this year.  In District “B”, we have Justin Day, Angela Mitchell, Monica Moriak and Karen Sobotker.  In District “G” we have Jeff Day, Meredith Griffin Jr., and Kimara Smith.  I received survey from five of the candidates, but none from Justin Day or Kimara Smith.  To clarify, there are two candidates in the Christina races with a first initial of “J” and a last name of Day.  All the Day responses below are from candidate Jeff Day in District “G”.  I asked 14 tough questions of the candidates and I am grateful to the respondents for their responses.  Don’t forget to vote on May 9th!

1) Do you support a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment? Why or why not?

Jeff Day: Yes, just as we give our parents the freedom of choice in choosing their child’s school, we should offer them choice over standardized testing. Parents have the right to do their own research and evaluate the efficacy of state testing, and make the determination for themselves.

Meredith Griffin: I believe that parents have the right to choose whether their children take the state assessment. The reason is simple. Ultimately, parents make the decisions regarding the education of their children.

Angela Mitchell: Yes, I do support a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state assessment. I believe every parent should have the right to shape their child’s educational future. Moreover, it is important that we ensure our students are not over-tested and that curriculums are not merely efforts to teach to the test. Instead the classroom should be a space for children to obtain knowledge and a space where the diversity of learning styles can be accommodated. The classroom is an opportunity to instill a lifelong love of learning, but onerous testing and the resulting stress can undermine this invaluable opportunity.

Monica Moriak: I believe parents need to make decisions that are best for their child, whether that is state assessments or something else. Certainly, they have a right to opt out. I also believe that assessments of some sort are necessary but feel right now we seem to have excessive testing at the detriment of teaching & learning.

Karen Sobotker: After reading the following article l come to the conclusion by law parents have this right however it may be seldom implemented. Parents have to be informed of this right. There are negative factors that currently exist: “Here is the loophole, and one of the reasons these tests are so dangerous.  The adaptability allows corruption in the data.  The programmers of the assessment can manipulate them in a way that certain students have a disadvantage.  When a student gives an end-of-unit test, all students are given the same questions.” https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/category/parental-opt-out-of-standardized-testing/

2) Why are you running for a board seat in your district?

Day: I am a proud product of public education. It fed me, educated me, and helped guide me to become the man I am today. This is about giving back to the community and state who gave me so much as a child. As parents we should be ensuring, at minimum, our children have the same resources and opportunities we all did.

Griffin: I am seeking to serve as a member of the Christina School District Board of Education because I believe that the district can be a destination district in New Castle County. I believe that with a focus on leadership, equity, and reputation, the district can stem the tide of families making the decision to choice their children out of the district. I believe that I have the passion to see children succeed educationally, as well as a set of experiences and skills that can aid the district Board of Education in leading the district forward.

Mitchell: I attended the Christina School District growing up—Leasure, Pulaski, Kirk and Gauger Schools. My siblings and I are products of the district. I now have three children who attend schools in the district, and I live within its territory. My three children motivate me to do all that I can to ensure that they have the support and opportunities necessary to succeed. My oldest child, Jonathan has Autism. Our experience as a family with a child with significant needs has prompted me to get more involved in advocating for those with developmental disabilities and those often left voiceless. As a former CSD teacher and current CSD parent, I have the knowledge to help address the challenges facing the district. Most importantly, I want to act as a voice for you—the parents, teachers, and community members of the district. I believe that collectively, with your input and concern, we can ensure our children are equipped to succeed.

Moriak: I am running for a seat on the board because I feel I have something to contribute. I have been active in the district since 2003 and believe there are great things happening and that I can help work to expand and promote this.

Sobotker: I am a firm believer that when there is no beauty then create some and add to the betterment of what is given. Currently I have 2 children within the Christiana school district they’ve attended schools here for 2 years as an educator and parent I see room for improvement therefore I bring my lessons from 25 plus years as an educator.

3) What are your thoughts on digital technology in the classroom?

Day: I think digital technology in the classroom is a double edged sword. As a parent who lives with a teacher I understand how it can become a distraction, but also see the value in having it available as a learning tool, and a way to reduce costs and waste when changing over lessons and handouts from paper.

Griffin:  We live in a digital world. Children are becoming savvy in the use of technology much earlier. Many children know how to use digital technology prior to entering school. Many of our children find themselves getting information, and learning, from multiple digital devices in a single day (mobile phones, tablets, computers, and televisions). I believe that digital technology in the classroom can be a very useful tool used by teachers in the classroom setting.

Mitchell: Digital technology can be a wonderful asset in the classroom, if used properly and in conjunction with successful traditional teaching tools. My son Jonathan, for instance, uses a Novachat, an augmentative communication device in the classroom to help him communicate because he has non-verbal Autism. Digital technology provides new avenues of learning and can provide a means of intellectual access for students across the district. Teachers should be given resources and encouraged to innovate creatively to facilitate student learning.

Moriak: Digital technology certainly has a place in the classroom. We live in a digital age and to prepare todays’ students for the future will need to incorporate a variety of digital technology. Exactly how it is used depends on the class, the students, the teacher and the situation.

Sobotker: I have been a virtual facilitator and learning coach for cyber schools from 2000 until 2014. The use of digital technology is imperative in todays educational environment.

4) With a massive state deficit for FY2018, what are things you think your district can do to save money during this crucial time?

Day: Although I have spent an exorbitant amount of time trying to learn about the district budget and where we have opportunities to save, we are running bare to the bone. And when you consider cuts to contracted services, which I think can be evaluated, you have to take in to account restricted funds, which if not used for their specific purpose, wouldn’t count as a saving, just as monies we would no longer have access to. I also believe we need a building utilization assessment. Are we being efficient with our use of space, and what can we do to improve?

Griffin: The governor’s proposed budget cuts to education will severely impact education in our State. Christina will be faced with cuts that could total $6 million without the implementation of the proposed match tax. Unfortunately, with such a cut, there are few places that any district will be able to save money that doesn’t affect people and programs.

As a Budget Analyst with the City of Wilmington, I have been part of these difficult conversations in the past. Personnel costs are the largest percentage of most entities’ budgets. The district will look to hold staffing at current levels by holding vacant positions open. They will then look at discretionary personnel spending like extra pay for coaching and other activities. All these cuts affect programs and students.

Finally, they will look at what programs can be cut and/or consolidated. Sadly, the educational outcomes of specialized or vulnerable populations are usually most affected by these types of cuts.

Mitchell: If elected to the board, I will recommend a thorough review of the district budget to ensure all resources are being used as efficiently as possible. But I would also work to lobby lawmakers to combat the current threat of budget cuts. We need to make it known to the governor and state legislature that these cuts are unacceptable. It is unconscionable to cripple our children’s future to meet a fiscal bottom line. More than unconscionable, it is a decision which will jeopardize the future of our community and our state.

Moriak: Having been a member of the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) since 2010, I am well aware that there is not an abundance of funds available in the district. I cannot imagine anyway to cut the amount the state is currently suggesting and not have it have a devastating effect on the district and in the classroom. I cannot list items here that I feel should be cut, because the current number is staggering and the need in the district is great.

Sobotker: Honestly my district has cut enough corners we need to discuss how to increase revenue for our schools.

5) The local teachers union plays a large part in school districts. How do you plan to engage this association in your district?

Day: I plan on engaging them the same way I have during this race, by reaching out to the leaders within that community and opening a dialogue with them. I will advocate for all stakeholders in education, especially our teachers, and there is no better way to act as an advocate than to listen, learn, and take action.

Griffin: Teachers are the most vital piece of the educational process in any school district. Therefore, having a good working relationship with their bargaining unit is important. Board members should have a collaborative attitude when it comes to interacting with the teachers’ union. It would be my intention to keep the mission of the district clearly before both the board and union, so that we would always remember why each body ultimately exists. There must be open lines of communication between both groups as well, remembering that the aim is to provide the best learning experience for all students. When the two groups do not agree, mutual compromise must be sought for the sake of the children. Teachers must be partners, sitting at the table, having a significant role in planning the direction of the district.

Mitchell: I plan to listen to the local teachers union, as I plan to listen to parents, advocates, and all members of our community. Hearing and collectively addressing our concerns through open dialogue and action will help create a strong educational system for our students.

Moriak: Our teachers are our most important asset. The teachers unions are a cohesive voice for our teachers. I plan to engage both as we work to improve the district. I believe that ideas for improvements and solutions need to come from the teachers. In addition, I believe it is the board’s job to make sure the right supports are in place for the teachers so they can do the job they were hired to do.

Sobotker: By being abreast of their needs and being as accommodating as possible.

6) Recently the Christina School District Board of Education passed a policy regarding safety zones in their schools. This gives a uniform process for federal immigration officials in the event they should question or contact an undocumented student whereby the feds would have to consult the Superintendent first.  Are you in agreement with this policy?  Should the policy go a step further for sanctuary schools?

Day: I agree with this policy, it clarifies our districts response to these activities and helps our community and its children feel safe. I do not think any further steps are necessary at this time.

Griffin: I agree with the motivation behind the policy, that the educational process for the children in the building should not be interrupted or compromised, except when the safety of students or staff is involved. All students in Christina schools should feel secure in their right to receive a quality education without fear. The meaning of the second question, “should the policy go a step further for sanctuary schools,” is unclear.

Mitchell: I agree, and argue that the policy should go a step further. No child should have fear in a setting where their focus should be wholly on learning and intellectual development. The walls of a classroom should be havens of education and personal growth not spaces of apprehension and trauma.

Moriak: I agree with the policy to have immigration officials go through the superintendent’s office should they have a need to contact a student. I believe that is good policy for any official before having contact with a student, especially if the parents are unavailable. Students are learning if they are fearful and this would affect all students, because many of the younger students would not understand what is happening. I do want to make sure that staff in the schools are not put in a difficult legal position. As to going a step further, I would need to read the policy and consult with legal. The board as certain responsibilities and needs to make sure that policies are written in such a way as to not cause legal problems for the district.

Sobotker: Sanctuary schools literally by current law are off limits. If the state law in sanctuary cities doesn’t allow this then the state speaks and is accountable.

7) Are you in favor of Delaware going through a massive redistricting of their school districts? If it meant you would have to give up your board seat would you be in favor of this?

Day: Although I have not taken a lot of time to look into this, I believe its worth looking in to. When faced with the challenges the education community has in Delaware I am open to discussing all options. I would always be willing to give up my seat if it meant and improvement in the system for our students AND teachers.

Griffin: I am in favor of whatever would serve the best interest of the students in Delaware schools. If redistricting serves this goal, then so be it. If, as a result of redistricting, the board seat I occupy no longer existed I would still be in favor of the move.

Mitchell: I am willing to do whatever it takes to give our children the opportunities they deserve.

Moriak: I actually believe some sort of redistricting should occur in the state, though I’m not sure it would be the panacea many think it will be in terms of budget savings. I would happily give up my seat for a better organization of the schools & districts.

Sobotker: If this redistricting serves for the betterment of Delaware students for sure l will give up my seat.

8) Do you feel students should receive more unstructured learning time/play/recess?

Day: I think in a school environment where recess, arts, and other “alternative” options are given they do not need to be enhanced. Children do not need a play ground to use their imagination and grow. Sometimes a blank piece of paper is all a child needs to explore the boundaries of their mind. I believe our child need structure, but it is also very important for them to have outlets outside of traditional reading/math/science/etc.

Griffin: I am in favor of this for children in early primary grades.

Mitchell: This depends on the student and their needs. Unstructured learning can provide necessary stress relief, especially for younger students, which is why recess is necessary. For gifted students, unstructured learning can provide space for creativity and intellectual growth. But for some students, like my son, and other children with Autism for instance, structure is a necessity for learning and development. Like many concepts in education, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for all students in terms of unstructured learning time.

Moriak: I think all students need unstructured learning time as well as play or recess. Everyone needs an opportunity for their brain to relax and regroup.

Sobotker: Yes they do. As a mother of 9 and grandmother of 7, l attest that play and exploration is integral to learning and cognitive development.

9) What are your thoughts on school vouchers where students attending private schools would receive state or federal funding from education budgets to help with tuition costs?

Day: I think using a voucher system would be a detriment to the state. Voucher programs do not offer opportunity equally. A voucher for an affluent family could add up to a tax cut, but that same voucher for a middle class, or less fortunate family would be less than what was needed to afford a private education. The gap between the voucher and the tuition cost would be too great resulting in the creation of a system that will leave more children without opportunity.

Griffin: I am not in favor of a voucher system that would allow public funds to be used for private schools.

Mitchell: Proponents of school vouchers argue that it allows parents more choice about the school their children attend. Others also argue that vouchers encourage institutions to improve performance to compete. Both of these arguments are greatly problematic. Education cannot operate on free market principles like a business because public schools cannot be equated with private schools in terms of structure or resources. Certainly an individual student may benefit from the program by, for example, being able to attend an elite private school. But this is to the detriment of most other students.

Moriak: I am not for school vouchers. Taxpayer money is for public education. If you take your child out of the public school, you forfeit public funds. I see no benefit to public education from vouchers. It seems to set up our public schools to be tuition like. Charters, in some ways, were a way around vouchers; creating “private like” schools using taxpayer money. Our society is severely harmed by an uneducated and undereducated public. I cannot find any evidence that communities and society is helped at all from the use of vouchers.

Sobotker: Until the deficit is fixed Delaware doesn’t have the resources or finances to take any additional money from the public schools. I suggest coops with stellar cyber schools such as K12 as an alternative.

10) Many in Delaware feel school board members give what is known as a “rubber stamp” where they automatically vote yes on any action item the district suggests. Do you feel the role of a school board member is to serve the district or the students of the district?  Please explain.

Day: I believe it would be my role as a board member to advocate for all stakeholders. This means listening to all input and using my heart and my mind to guide me to the best possible outcome for all. I will never be a rubber stamp for anyone.

Griffin: The district does not exist apart from the purpose of serving the educational needs of the students within its boundaries. The board must have a vision for educating those students. This is a primary function of the board. The board then hires and oversees the administration that carries out the vision that the board has set. The question seems to suggest that the district administration sets the vision, and the board “rubber stamps” that vision. This is backwards, and leads to little or no continuity within a district over time. In this scenario, every new superintendent could bring a new vision and disrupt or halt the progress made previously. School board members must accept their role as stewards of the education for the children they are charged to serve. This role cannot be abdicated to the administration.

Mitchell: To be clear, my main goal is to serve the students of Christina School District, and sometimes that may not align with district suggestions. My intent is to listen to district suggestions with open ears and work with colleagues to ensure these suggestions are to the benefit of the students. If not, it is my job to work to address and repair the discrepancies in a reasonable and respectful manner, even if that means supporting ideas not in line with district suggestions.

Moriak: Without students, there would be no district. I believe the school board needs set a plan in motion and make sure the right people are in place to run the district. The board has a responsibility to make sure that decisions made in the district are following the plan that the board laid out. This plan should be the result of collaboration between the board, the district and the community.

Sobotker: Having a MS in Law and Public policy I research issues thoroughly before making a decision l can’t rubberstamp. The students welfare is number 1.

11) Understanding of school finances and funding is crucial to serving on a school board. How much do you understand the different funding sources in education?

Day: In all facets of life there is always more to learn, but I have spent time and energy in learning as much as possible. I feel confident with my knowledge base and will continue to seek out new opportunities for additional education.I have been to CBOC (citizens budget and oversight comm) and continue to speak with its members whenever I have budget related questions I am unable to answer on my own.

Griffin: I served as a board member, and board treasurer, for Maurice J. Moyer Academic Institute, a now closed charter school in Delaware. As a board member, I was required to receive training on public school finances.

Mitchell: My active parental involvement and professional background in education form the groundwork of my knowledge of school finances. Therefore, I do have knowledge of educational funding sources. But more importantly, I am willing to learn and do not profess to know everything about district finances. As in any position, I expect to work diligently to supplement my knowledge and expand my understanding if elected. A good board member is willing to grow, and that is what I am willing to do in order to serve on behalf of the students and the community.

Moriak: I have been a member of CBOC since 2010. I understand that education funding is incredibly complicated.

Sobotker: I understand more than the average person. I understand that Delaware has to show where money for education is spent regardless where it comes from. I agree with the following: “Transparency and accountability in our schools are very important to Jack and I.  Not the accountability that comes from high-stakes tests, but financial accountability.  We may not agree on every facet of education funding, but I do know we both believe our state needs to do a hell of a lot more about holding districts and charters under the microscope for how they spend money.” https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/delaware-education-funding-which-schools-get-the-most-per-student/

12) What volunteer experience have you had in traditional Delaware public schools or in the school district you seek to serve?

Day: I am currently engaged in a mentoring program at Maclary Elementary. I am mentoring five second graders from diverse backgrounds. It has been an all around amazing experience. I would like to thank Alvin Pope and Maclary Elementary for allowing me the opportunity.

Griffin: I have charged the members of the church I lead, and have also myself, volunteered at Bancroft elementary school (a Christina school). We are currently beginning to volunteer at Harlan Elementary School (a Brandywine school).

Mitchell: I attended the University of Delaware for my undergraduate. I was an elementary teacher education major. All of UD’s practicum’s, student teaching and volunteer opportunities are in Delaware schools. All of my practicum experiences were in Christina School District. I even had the privilege to student teach at Bayard school. As previously mentioned, I am a former Christina School District teacher.  I have volunteered as a CSD parent as well.

Moriak: I have been active in the Christina School District since my oldest son started kindergarten at Wilson Elementary in 2003. I have volunteered in the classroom, on field trips, on committees, and at events. I have chaired numerous PTA committees including Reflections, membership, yearbook, teacher appreciation, and field day. I was President of the PTA at Wilson and at Shue-Medill Middle School. I have worked on numerous referendum committees over the years and been an active member of the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee (CBOC) since 2010. I have been a mentor at Wilson, Shue, Newark HS and currently Sarah Pyle Academy. I have taught Junior Achievement at Wilson since 2007 and will be teaching three classes of Kindergarten this Spring.

Sobotker: I have no volunteer experience.

13) What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing Delaware students at this time?

Day: Pushing back and defeating the budget as it currently stands should be our number one priority. Almost $40 million in cuts may be the straw that breaks the camels back, in regards to education, here in Delaware. If we want our public education system to be strong and flourish for our children and the future we must win this fight.

Griffin: At the time that I am answering this question, the biggest challenge facing Delaware students is the looming cuts to Delaware’s Education Budget. This will affect all students. Apart from that, I believe that equity is a challenge for our students. By this I mean that our system must be designed to recognize every child’s ability to both learn and succeed. In such a system, each child will get the helps, aids, supports, and encouragement sufficient to help them achieve the goals set by the district for all students. In an equitable system, both the students deemed “high-achieving” and “low-achieving” are being challenged to excel. This system moves the entire continuum upward, and ultimately becomes a destination district; a place that parents clamor to send their children. This occurs because every parent knows that, without regard to my child’s particular learning abilities, they will be nurtured and challenged to achieve.

Mitchell: I believe that the biggest challenge facing Delaware students is lack of resources. With education cuts in the state budget looming, this challenge will only be exacerbated. Students should be fully equipped to learn and grow, not have their futures become collateral damage to budgetary concerns. Such a short-term outlook threatens our children and the community, since the impact of educational deficiencies ripple into the future both individually and collectively. Addressing the need for educational resources is vital to establish a strong foundation for Delaware’s future.

Moriak: The biggest challenges facing Delaware students at this time is poverty. Children in poverty are at an extreme disadvantage. Poverty affects education and educational resources. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that children aren’t ready to learn until their basic needs are taken care of, and they can routinely and consistently count on those needs being met. Beyond the very basic of food and water and safety, there is the need to feel a sense of belonging and an ability to form relationships. This becomes very difficult when children are changing schools from year to year or week to week. Not only does changing schools interrupt learning even in the most supported environment but with those in high poverty, the stress associated with the reason behind the change adds another layer of complexity and makes learning more difficult. Just because a child is physically in a classroom, does not mean he/she is actually able to take in any of the lessons being taught. Ignoring this does a disservice to the child, the teacher, and society as a whole.

In addition, increase in poverty lowers the resources available to the school, not only in lower property values hence lower tax revenue but also in outside resources. Schools today thrive when they have a large amount of parent and community involvement. There are people who can help out with extras such as parties, events & field trips. As well, donate money to help cover extra costs that might come up. They are in a much better position to make up the difference in budget cuts through donations and fundraising. Something poorer communities have a much more difficult time doing.

Sobotker: Access to a stellar education albeit academic or vocational.

14) Can you please discuss your thoughts on special programs and de facto segregation?

Day: I believe any time we can offer children additional opportunities I say yes; however, when those opportunities come at the expense of others I will push back. Although I think the honors program, for example, is a great opportunity for our students, separating them from their peers does them, and their peers a disservice. We lose leaders in our schools, and further harm the children unable to partake in the opportunity, very often through no fault of their own. We must be inclusive when creating special programs and acknowledge that we must do right by all, not just those with the inherent resources to succeed.

Griffin: I am unsure whether your question refers to children with special needs, programs that pull high-achieving children out into special academies, or both. Referring to the previous answer, I believe that the system should ensure that all children receive what they need. With this in mind, I also believe that a school is also a community and children should be integrated with each other as much as possible in the learning environment.

Mitchell: (no response provided to this question)

Moriak: I think that special programs have their place if done well. Unfortunately, these programs become available to a limited number of students largely do to transportation issues. Forming completely desegregated schools is extremely difficult, as years of bussing have shown us. I would rather see us pour resources into the schools that need it than try to set up some system to force desegregation. I think students in more diverse schools will do better in the long run. I am definitely open to ideas to encourage more diverse schools.

Sobotker: In 1969 my once all African American school in Mappsville, Virginia became segregated. Our school curriculum was stellar before integration. Thus my point is fix the problems in the neighborhood schools allow those that want busing to send their child to whatever school the parent deems fit however the schools left behind must not be forgotten.

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