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The School Board Candidate Forum

By Braedon O'Callaghan in Opinion & Politics

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Kathy Gebhardt and Chris Barge after the forum

In BVSD there is a school board that decides and votes on legislation for the superintendent to carry out, and there is currently a chair on this board open. There are now two candidates running for this position after Susan Femmer dropped out of the race due to health issues. These candidates are Chris Barge and Kathy Gebhardt.

At a public forum on October 8th, hosted by Impact on Education and the BVSD District Parent Council, the candidates had many things to say, but one issue stood out: closing what they call the “Achievement Gap.” This is a term that refers to the difference between the success of students that don’t have English as their first language and the average English speaking student.

The candidates said that between these two sets of students there is a large difference in the percentage of successful students; students who don’t have English as their first language have much lower success rates than their counterparts. According to the Boulder Daily Camera, the difference between Hispanic student pass rates and white student pass rates is 47%, which is what the candidates want to change.

“We are the best funded school district in the state, but we still have the largest achievement gap,” Barge said. “If we are able to reach some of these harder to reach students and parents at as early age as possible through more parent engagement, through full day preschool, that would be great.”

This idea was echoed by all the candidates, and would most likely be one of the highest priorities of the school board. But there is one problem with what he said: BVSD doesn’t have the largest achievement gap in the state, it has the second largest (according to the Boulder Daily Camera), behind Summit School District.

“It’s my goal to be known as the most transparent and collaborative school district in Colorado,” said Barge.

This is an inspirational idea, and it would be amazing to see a similar one taken up on the national political scene.

Gebhardt also said that she wanted to focus on transparency saying, “To the best of my ability there won’t be surprises, that you will know where I stand, so that the board will know where I stand ahead of time so that we can have open discussions.”

Despite how inspirational this is to hear, it seems slightly unrealistic seeing as many people don’t even know what the school board is (according to a poll conducted by the Royal Banner only 2% of students know any of the school board candidates). It isn’t difficult to imagine someone on the school board fighting for an idea that most people don’t agree with, but still getting no response from the public because many people don’t keep up to date with the school board.

“We need to be sure that the voices that we don’t see behind the podium are represented here in the decisions we make,” said Barge. However, this runs into the same problem of people not being involved in school district politics, except to an even larger extent because you also need people to respond to the news about the board member’s opinion, in addition to seeing it.

In order to create a culture where this sort of thing is possible, our society has to adopt the mentality and respect that it has for senators and representatives, and get active on social media sites in order to reach these figures. Getting parents involved with the school district will also help close the achievement gap that plagues BVSD. Only through steps outside of legislation will Chris Barge and Kathy Gebhardt be able to accomplish their goals to the level they want to.

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