Delaware School Board Election 2017 Surveys: Red Clay Consolidated School District

Delaware School Board Elections 2017

In Red Clay, three candidates are vying for the District “C” seat for the Red Clay Consolidated Board of Education.  Henry Clampitt, Thomas Pappenhagen and Ashley Sabo are the three.  One candidates, James Starzman, withdrew shortly after filing.  Clampitt did not return a survey, but Pappenhagen and Sabo did.  One of these three will replace current board member Kenny Rivera.  Don’t forget to vote on May 9th!  Christina went up before this, and more will be coming later tonight or tomorrow morning.  Once again, I want to thank all the respondents for the time they took in coming up with answers to some very tough questions.

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

Thomas Pappenhagen: Yes, parents are the best judges of the impact of testing on their children.

Ashley Sabo: Absolutely. A parent is the most important member of a child’s support network and they should always have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions. So whether it’s a new initiative, like when Red Clay moved forward with inclusion or an educational policy, like the Smarter Balanced test, a parent’s perspective should be considered and taken into account.  I have actively supported a parent’s right, even going to Legislative Hall in Dover to support House Bill 50.

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

Pappenhagen: The chaos and uncertainty of federal educational policy under President Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos tied with state budget shortfalls will likely have impacts on funding at the district level. As a former DuPont research manager I’ve lead organizations through restructurings and reductions of employees without impacting long term strategic goals. This tied with my 12 years as a teacher in a Delaware public high school give me a unique perspective on dealing with budget cuts. I am also concerned with potential social policies of the current administration trickling down to the local school district. I am an advocate for the LGBTQ student community, as well as ELL and the local immigrant community and would work to further support these groups as a board member.

Sabo: In December 2009, I gave birth to my first daughter. Shortly after her birth we learned she had special needs and while the birth of any child changes a family’s life, our family changed forever in completely unexpected ways.  I quickly learned to be her voice and advocate fiercely for her needs.  While my role as advocate started in the medical and health insurance field, it grew to include education when Anna started at the Meadowood Program and we entered the world of special education.

As the district discussed closing Central School and Richardson Park Learning Center, I joined the committees to review and provide input to ensure parents’ voices were heard and taken into consideration. From the inclusion committees, I became involved with the strategic planning meetings, parent advisory councils, PTA president, and attendee at district wide conferences such as the Trauma and Poverty Conference held in fall 2016.

I have spoken to legislators and gone to Dover to fight for education bills that would benefit all students and what started as a mother fighting for her child grew into an active community member working to make education better in Red Clay for all students.

It is my passion for education, learning, and growth that has led me to file to run for this position on the Red Clay School Board. I have proven experience and established relationships and I truly believe I am the best candidate for Red Clay’s students and Delaware’s future leaders.

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

Pappenhagen: I believe that in this ever increasing digital age students need to be as familiar with the use of digital tools as they do traditional educational concepts. That said, too much dependence on digital technology doesn’t help development of the critical thinking skills needed.  Digital tools can replace some of the need to memorize factual information and allow rapid simulations, but one still needs to know what to do with the information.

Sabo: In a world with more and more technological use it is important that students understand how to use it and its benefits. But it’s also critical that students are taught the dangers of technology. In addition, schools need to make sure they are utilizing technology in schools whether in the classroom or one-on-one technology to receive its full benefit potential and that it doesn’t become a distraction.

As the wife of a former System Administrator, I have learned a lot about safety and security when it comes to technology and privacy. This is an area that must be taken very seriously.  Parents need to be informed if their student’s information is being stored or shared and how it will be used, for what reason, etc.

Without precautions and plans in place technology can turn into a very dangerous classroom tool rather than beneficial.

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

Pappenhagen: Appoquinimink put together a nice presentation on possible budget reductions and implications for their school district, found here:

Many of these reductions would be applicable to Red Clay, things like not backfilling vacant district office staff positions, cuts in school budgets, reducing substitute costs where possible, possible deferment of projects. But the reality is that 85% of the budget is people, and if the reductions are large enough either people or salaries will likely need to be cut or revenue increased.

Sabo: Knowing that the budget will be the number one priority for school boards and most likely the largest immediate issue for me if elected, I have already been speaking with the superintendent and CFO. I am happy to hear that they have put a hold on any travel, for adults – field trips for students will still be allowed.  They have also made cuts at the district level so as not to effect the classrooms and students.  The proposed budget for next year actually has an increase for special needs and ELL funding, as well as school psychologists in each school.   While I ultimately believe education should not receive a cut in the state budget, I do firmly believe that schools can still provide quality education even in the midst of these challenges.  However, I would like to see the Governor and State Legislators address the deficit in such a way that schools do not have to bear the burden of any cuts.

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

Pappenhagen: The teachers’ union is a constituent of the district, like parents, the district office staff, and students. I would hope to engage with all of these groups, as the board serves each of these groups.

Sabo: Through my work with the Red Clay inclusion initiative I worked closely with educators and school staff, building connections and trust so I could learn about the true issues facing each school. As the RCEA endorsed candidate, I have the support and backing of the association because they know I am the candidate who will work closely with them, ensuring their voice is heard and listened to.

With two school aged children currently and one soon to be in school, I am in daily contact with educators and staff. I am closely involved on a day-to-day basis as it is and this will only grow if elected to the board.

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?

Pappenhagen: Yes, I agree with this policy and would like to implement a similar policy for Red Clay. I need to do more research on sanctuary schools, but at first pass I am not opposed to this extension.

Sabo: It is my belief that any State or Federal agency should not have access to students in the classroom which would include immigration. A policy should be in place for any situation pertaining to authorities coming to the school with the purpose of removing a student whether relating to a criminal investigation, immigration, or custody matter.  A school, especially the classroom, should be a safe place for students.

Red Clay policy 5012.9 states “the District also considers the safety of its students and staff to be one of its highest priorities. We feel that we have a strong obligation to provide a safe, secure learning environment in each of the District’s schools.”  Perhaps this school visitation policy needs to be amended to specifically deal with governmental agencies but in the vein of protecting all students.  The policy should not be limited to just immigration officials.

And lastly, I do not have specific data on the issue, but if the issue of immigration going into schools is a major concern for the State of Delaware then legislators should take a stance to protect students from the admittance of agencies into the classroom. One district should not be a “safe zone” while other districts are not.

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?

Pappenhagen: We live in a house built in the ‘60s. The furnace is original to the house.  We look at replacing it every few years, but while a new furnace would look great, the payback period is estimated to be at least 10-15 years.  I look at redistricting in a similar fashion, it would look better to have one or a few larger districts, but the costs are high and savings low such that the payback would be many years.  I would be interested in some actual calculations for this, but on the surface the costs associated with leveling the salaries between the districts would seem to outweigh any short term savings.  There is nothing stopping the districts from joining together  now to negotiate better rates on common supplies and services.

Sabo: I do not believe redistricting is the solution to educational concerns in Delaware. Does Delaware need 20 districts? Probably not and I do think that is something that should be reviewed in coming years.  However, with 20 different salary schedules and different types of local governance, massive redistricting will introduce new issues rather than solving issues the state is facing.  I think a more pressing problem that should be addressed before a massive redistricting project is that of funding structures.  There needs to be basic special education funding for grades K-3, funding for ELL students, and a funding structure that allows for trauma and other high needs to be factored in.

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

Pappenhagen: Yes the younger grades should have more unstructured learning and playtime/recess are important. For middle and high school students I believe there should be more unstructured time spent working on larger and more complex problems, either individually or in small groups.

Sabo: Absolutely. Below is my public comment from the March 2016 Red Clay School Board meeting speaks to my views on this question:

In the essay, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” the author writes about how all the things we need to know for living life are learned in kindergarten, not in graduate level classes or adulthood, but in that primary year of our schooling. The things he says we learn are: share everything, play fair, don’t hit, put things back where you found them, clean up your mess, say sorry when you hurt someone, live a balanced life – learn some, think some, draw and paint, sing and dance, and play and work every day.  And wonder, never lose your sense of wonder. As a parent of a kindergartner I have watched the joy of learning fade from her – a child who once happily grabbed her backpack and headed to the car for school now is reluctant to go and would prefer a nap on the couch despite it being 8:15 in the morning. The joy of learning is fading for the sake of rit and rigor and supposed success, when we’re really losing the success of learned social skills and dynamic imaginative play.  Our students are no longer taught to live a balanced life with both play and work. Rather they are pushed to the limit each day with more testing and more worksheets and more rigorous academia.  Despite studies that show children who are allowed to play have higher language skills, both receptive and expressive, and better problem solving skills, school leadership continues to add on to the curriculum requirements.  In addition to language and problem solving skills, learning through play helps children increase cognitive development, increase self-confidence, reduce anxiety, learn basic social development skills such as cooperation, sharing, and conflict resolution – all skills and traits that are necessary and critical to navigating adulthood. I would wager a guess that a number of you, if not the majority of you, had the old-fashion type of kindergarten that allowed for naps, extra recess, more imaginative play and less seat work – and look at you all, I think you turned out pretty well, after all you are overseeing the education of thousands of children. I implore you, the school board and district leaders, to reconsider the kindergarten curriculum and the proposed increase of scope and sequence being piloted this year. Our kids deserve to be kids and learn the best way kids do – through play!

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?

Pappenhagen: I am opposed to vouchers. I am opposed to monies following students to schools outside the public school system.  For students placed in alternative schools by the district then certainly funds should follow those students.  In Red Clay as students utilize choice to attend a non-feeder school the money does follow the student to the new school.

Sabo: I am absolutely against this idea. Discussion about vouchers as an option for school choice has become very prevalent these days.  My concerns with vouchers are the fact there is little to no proof they improve a student’s academic performance and they do very little, if anything, to help families living in poverty. The voucher rarely covers the full cost of tuition at a private school therefore only families who can cover the remaining tuition as well as extras like uniforms or books are able to use the voucher. Since the voucher would take money away from public schools they actually hurt the schools that are in need of the greatest reform hurting the children who stay in public schools.  Vouchers do not guarantee choice for a family since the private school ultimately decides whether to admit a student. Students with special needs are negatively affected since private schools are not held to the same accountability when it comes to providing services or the information necessary to determine if a student’s needs are being met.  I do not believe vouchers are the answer for improving our schools for all students.

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.

Pappenhagen: I believe the role of the school board is to set district policy that serves the needs of students while maintaining compliance with all applicable laws at the federal and state level. The board should then ensure that board policy is implemented throughout the district by the superintendent and district office.

To achieve this, the board needs to be the voice of the students and community, not the voice of the district office.

Sabo: The role of the board is make policy and procedures for the district which the Superintendent carries out. Policy and procedures need to have the best interest of all students in mind when being created.  However, decisions need to be fiscally responsible and use taxpayer’s money wisely.  Ultimately, when our students succeed our community members succeed since education is tied to so many community outcomes such as health, employment, lower incarceration, etc. Therefore when decisions are made that are best for all students the board is serving both the community and the students.

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?

Pappenhagen: I have served as a member of the Red Clay Community Financial Review Committee for the past 3+ years. If elected I would undertake additional certification in board and education finance.  I do have an MBA, am a certified Six Sigma Black Belt (DuPont), and believe in data driven decisions.

Sabo: Having been involved in various projects at a district level I have substantial knowledge of the funding sources in education. Along with my involvement, I have met with the CFO of the district to learn more about the budget and funding for Red Clay to enhance my understanding.  However, I know there is much more to learn and understand which is why I value the relationships I have built at not only the district level but the state level.

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

Pappenhagen: I have served as a member of the Red Clay Community Financial Review Committee for the past 3+ years. I’ve taught in the Appoquinimink public school system for the past 12 years.  The latter, while not a volunteer experience, does give me a unique perspective on the day-to-day workings of a school.

Sabo: I have been a PTA president for 3 years and I was the co-chair for the inclusion committee; continuing to be involved as the co-chair for the inclusion oversight committee. I have attended and participated in the Red Clay strategic planning meetings, as well as most all board meetings for the past 3 years.  I was a member of the Red Clay Parent Advisory Council and currently a member of the Red Clay Special Needs Parent Council.  In the past year Red Clay has put on various conferences for their staff, educators, and the public on topics such as trauma and poverty and protecting our children which I have attended.

More information about my community and Red Clay involvement can be found at:

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

Pappenhagen: The potential impact of state budget cuts, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens here.

For high poverty students there are the societal issues of unsafe neighborhoods, hunger, poor facilities, dealing with trauma, and single parent families being stretched in multiple ways to the detriment of the children to name a few. Schools with high populations of high poverty students, as well as ELL and special education students need additional resources to address these societal ills so the students can focus on learning.

There is also the issue of students finding that they need to take remedial courses when they get to college. The rigor or content of our programs have to be improved so that students are prepared for whatever path they choose when they graduate from Red Clay.

Sabo: While the budget cuts are probably the most talked about challenges facing students these days, I believe the biggest challenge is actually meeting the social emotional needs of Delaware students so they are in a position which allows them to be ready to learn. In order to meet these needs there needs to be more training on trauma informed practices and understanding the impact of complex compound stress has on the developing brain.

Teachers who have incredible training on how to teach students to read or complete a math problem or to understand gravity are not trained social workers.  However, they are the ones seeing kids come in their classroom each day and have a prime spot to notice changes in behavior or new injuries or other alarming issues.  Does this mean we should train our educators and school staff to be social workers? No. But given the role these adults play in students’ lives there should be training on how to notice the small things that could be evidence of a bigger problem, who to contact, and how to help their students.

It has been proven that the brain physically changes when it undergoes extended trauma such as witnessing violence, being neglected, or experiencing assault. These changes mean that students with a high level of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) learn differently than other students.

School districts are not responsible for solving the issue of poverty or child abuse, but to better serve all students there should be sufficient training to give educators the tools they need to meet the needs of their students.

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

Pappenhagen: Disclaimer: Both of our daughters graduated from Wilmington Charter.

I believe school choice serves a need and that parents should have some input into where their children go to school. The competition observed between schools as they compete for choice students in the district benefits all.

Magnet and Charter schools also serve a need, however admission preferences to these schools have led to de facto segregation. I am troubled in that approximately 6-7% of Wilmington Charter is African American (AA) while 20% of the district is African American. People seemed to cheer when the percentage of Wilmington Charter AA students went from 6% to 6.8%, but that is a change of about 8 students. The population of AA students is back down to 6.3% this year. Delaware Military Academy (DMA) appears to have a similar racial profile. Conrad Schools of Science and Cab Calloway School of the Arts are both better, with an approximately 13% AA student body. Numbers for low income students and Special Education students track the AA numbers. I believe steps need to be taken so that the charter and magnet student bodies better reflect the populations feeding these schools.

Sabo: As the mother of two school age children who are both choiced into schools that are not their feeder school, I value parents’ ability to make the best decision for their child.  However, every school should be accessible to every student and I believe the decision to choice a student should be based on the specialty programs offered at a particular school.  Schools should not have such rigid enrollment requirements that large groups of students are excluded from attending. Dickinson High School has a wonderful International Baccalaureate Program while McKean has a fantastic culinary arts program and Delaware Military Academy offers a unique military experience.  It would not be a good use of resources for every school to try and replicate these specific programs – this is where choice should come into consideration for families.  Outside of unique program offerings, every school should have the services and resources to serve all students.

The average population of special education students at Red Clay traditional high schools (A.I. DuPont, Dickinson, McKean) is 18% compared to 2% at charter and magnet schools (Charter School of Wilmington, Conrad, Cab Calloway, and Delaware Military Academy).  Low income families comprise 28% of traditional high schools, while that number is 7.5% for charter and magnet schools.  It is my concern that the specialty schools in Red Clay are using enrollment preferences to prevent access to all students and in doing so create de facto segregation. This cannot happen. Students in the city or coming from low income families or students with special needs deserve a full range of options just like the students who are currently attending schools such as Conrad or Charter School of Wilmington.  All schools must be held to high standards of transparency and accountability while serving all students.

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