In their second public debate, candidates for the Place 1 Denton school board seat answered questions about parent involvement, bullying, why they’re running and critical issues facing the district.
Several people turned out to hear responses from Sheryl English, a real estate agent, and Barbara Burns, a retired educator, at a forum held Monday by the Denton County NAACP at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center. The candidates fielded questions for about 45 minutes.
The evening began with candidates discussing plans for parent involvement.
English, 48, said she would like to see a roundtable discussion involving parents and area residents. If elected, she said, she doesn’t want to just sit on the board but communicate and partner with people to groom “successful children.”
“There seems to be a disconnect when it comes to communication and parent involvement in our schools, so that will be a first priority,” English said.
When asked to rate parent involvement, she said that even though several parents volunteer, parent involvement is “lacking.”
Burns, 57, said parental involvement at school is crucial. What concerns her, she said, is that in many cases parents work outside the home and don’t have time “to help and to have that communication.” She shared options currently offered by the district for parent involvement, including campus websites, teacher e-mail and conference periods.
She also suggested that the district consider a program similar to Engage Denton, a city website for sharing ideas and gathering community feedback. Burns said such a program for the district could create parent involvement.
One question from the floor concerned programs to combat student-to-student bullying and asked candidates how the district should handle teachers who bully students.
Burns said that if a student feels bullied, there needs to be communication between the teacher, student and school administration to make sure it doesn’t happen.
“There’s no excuse for any child feeling that he or she is not being treated with dignity or respect, especially by people who are in authority,” she said. “A teacher should be a role model.”
English cited district policy and a hotline number listed in the district’s student code of conduct that students, school staff and parents can call to report safety and security issues. She also suggested that students discuss the issue with their parents and a school administrator and have the issue documented so that it can be handled.
The district provides multiple avenues for students to anonymously report bullying, and district policy requires campus administrators to follow up on all bullying complaints.
Both candidates, who have ties to local education groups, shared their reasons for running for Place 1.
English, who is running for the third time, said she has “a desire to serve.”
“This is not my first rodeo,” she said. “There needs to be balance on the school board. There are no current school board members that have children in the district, and you need some diversity as well.”
Burns said her desire to run for the board started several years before retiring from teaching. She said that through attending school board and City Council meetings with her students, she “became more and more interested in [the] larger picture and being part of the decision making process.”
“I’m not a single-issue candidate,” said Burns, a first-time candidate. “I believe in all of our children and in what is best for our district. I have a passion for this school district, for education and for our children.”
In response to questions, both candidates said they favored term limits but were against single-member districts, or dividing the school board seats into geographical areas.
Burns and English agreed that the district budget is the top issue facing the district.
The two differed on other top issues facing the district.
Burns said other pressing issues are the number of economically disadvantaged schoolchildren, making up more than 40 percent of the district population, and students who aren’t proficient in English and struggle to pass state standardized tests.
English said her other priorities are the district’s special education program and the EXPO program for gifted and talented students. She wants to ensure that students who apply for that program have a “fair playing field.”
English and Burns are vying for a seat currently held by Curtis Ramsey, who is stepping down in May after six terms.
Place 2 incumbent Jeanetta Smith is running unopposed.
Early voting starts April 30. The election is May 12.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .