School Board Candidate Feature -- Kathryn Whitaker

  • 2020-10-06, 03:00 PM (update 2020-10-06, 08:41 PM)
  • Staff report
School Board Candidate Feature -- Kathryn Whitaker Kathryn Whitaker

Please give a background of yourself and why you are running for school board. 

I was raised in a family where community service was considered an honor and a duty. My grandparents and parents lived their lives offering service because they wanted to contribute to the success of their communities and its members. Their heritage of service has been my guiding force as I have volunteered in my children’s schools and served on the Churchill County School Board.

I was raised on ranches in Utah and Idaho where hard work was expected as was serving others. Beyond community service, education was also a priority in my family. I succeeded as a student and eventually earned my degree from Brigham Young University shortly before marrying my husband, who is a Fallon native. Upon completion of his degree, my husband and I returned to his beloved hometown where we have raised our two children in a place that I am proud to call home.

This year, my youngest was the last of the third generation of our family to graduate from Churchill County High School.

Professionally, I have worked as a freelance copywriter and as a part-time English instructor at Western Nevada College for 20 years. My time at WNC gave me the opportunity to meet many wonderful people where I witnessed the transformation of timid, unsure students who began to recognize their abilities to write and succeed. As these students grew in confidence, their worlds opened up to the possibilities that could be theirs as they made the effort and did the hard work.

My original decision to run for school board five years ago was a culmination of my desire to serve my community. I also wanted to support a system that could help all students recognize their potential and the possibilities available to them to succeed. I recognized there was a need for better governance and a clearer plan to move forward.

My service began near the end of the Great Recession and the creation of a charter school. These two events negatively affected the school district long after the economy began to recover. Hard decisions had to be made in order to keep the district financially solvent. Those decisions eventually lead to a stronger budget which has allowed the district, under the direction of the school board, to develop a strategic plan and new budget model that focuses on student achievement.

I feel a responsibility to continue supporting the vital work that the school board has begun. My experience as a board member who helped lay the groundwork for the strategic plan and new budget policy would serve the community well as the district continues to pursue and meet its goals. My experience is especially important considering the current pandemic’s negative effects on school schedules and budgets.

 

The state is in the middle of changing the funding formula for Nevada’s schools. Will this change be more beneficial for Churchill County Schools or should the state have more give and take when dealing with individual school districts?

Right now, the Committee on School Funding that is reviewing the new funding formula (SB543) indicates that Churchill County School District will have neither a loss or a gain in funding. The district continues to closely monitor the efforts of the Committee on School Funding so it will be prepared for the final outcome. The formula seeks to provide more funds for students with greater needs in every district, and the hope is that in the end, the new formula will help students in Churchill County.

However, maintenance of effort costs and transportation needs for rural districts look very different than what they look like for urban districts and must be addressed. In the end, the larger and ongoing concern is not how the pie is divided but rather how small the pie is. Nevada does not effectively fund education, and Churchill County School District constantly grapples with effectively funding what really is needed to reach optimum student achievement.



The school district has outsourced food services. Would you be in favor or not in favor if the school board wanted to extend outsourcing for janitorial services and transportation?

A school district’s focus must be student achievement. Outsourcing services so the district can focus on providing more resources and time toward student success should be considered. Some considerations that should be made when reviewing outsourcing possibilities include employee transferability, resource savings, sustainability, and reliability.

 

If and when the coronavirus pandemic has disappeared, should the school district retain both online and in-person instruction?

The Churchill County School District Strategic Plan Objective 3 references multiple pathways to learning for students. Online instruction grades 6-12 has been an option for several years. Continued online instruction at the K-5 grade levels should be considered if positive student outcomes can be achieved.

 

Would you favor the continuation of the partnership between the school district and Western Nevada College by expanding more programs for high-school level classes? 

The school district should continue their partnership with Western Nevada College and explore any options with WNC that benefit students. The district hopes to provide multiple pathways for students to learn in the ways that are most effective for each one, and thus far, the partnership with WNC has been positive and beneficial to students.

 

School districts across the state have experienced problems in hiring staff and then keeping them in the rural setting. As a trustee, what would you do to help Human Resources attract more educators and keep them in Churchill County?

        The board has approved hiring bonuses for the past several years that has helped CCSD hire staff. Most of the staff hired with these incentives have stayed in the district. Attending career fairs, especially those that target specialized teaching areas (namely career and technical education and performing arts) is crucial. The district must also develop good working relationships with several colleges and universities that have quality education programs.

 

What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of our current school system?

The greatest strength of the school system is its educators — from administrators to teachers to support staff, student achievement never happens without them. Public educators diligently carry on the work that needs to be done with little recognition, vocally and monetarily, for the work that is expected of them by their communities.

Unfortunately, school systems are expected to do more with less every year. The frayed structure of the solid family unit has placed more responsibilities on educators to care for their students beyond just their academic needs. As federal and state mandates, especially unfunded ones, continue to place more burdens on the school system, it is difficult for a school system to be all things to all people while maintaining a quality and equitable education for its students.

 

What is the one biggest change, issue, improvement you would like to see occur or would you advocate for during your term on the school board? 

I expect to see continued diligence and progress in meeting the goals of the Strategic Plan, including providing multiple learning pathways, effective curriculum continuums, improved student engagement and attendance and improved communication for all stakeholders. This progress should lead to progress in student achievement. I also expect to see a budget process that makes decisions based on improved student growth.

 

What is your opinion about communication between the board and the staff, visiting schools, and how much opportunity would you have to spend observing and talking to staff at school sites?

Improved communication is Goal 3 of the district’s strategic plan. I recognize there are challenges and the district is working on improved communication. One component of good communication is to use the chain of command when there are concerns. As a board member, however, my goal has been to visit every school during the school year in order to witness the challenges and successes of every school.

Some of my visits have been to performances, activities and events. Many of my visits have been to observe teachers in their classrooms. I have also attended professional development days and participated in tours of schools with community leaders.

 

How would you proceed if your opinion is different from the rest of the board – would you be willing to stand your ground, build a coalition, or go with the flow?

I have no qualms sharing my opinion at board meetings. Open meeting law, however, prevents board members from talking to more than two board members outside of a scheduled meeting. If I were to talk to two board members about an issue, those board members, by law, cannot speak to any other board members about the same issue until the public meeting.

Therefore, a coalition of no more than three board members can be formed. In the past, following Nevada’s open meeting laws, I have spoken to the limited number of board members to whom I can speak if it is an issue that is important to me and I feel needs to be discussed before the meeting. Good governance dictates that if my vote is in the minority, once the issue has been voted on, I support the majority vote of the board.

 

What would your support level be for maintaining or improving the Career and Technical Education programs at the high school and middle school?

Though my college degree is in English, my high school experience was enriched and worthwhile because of my four years in FFA. I learned invaluable skills through my active participation in the program. I developed skills that are difficult to learn in just a classroom setting, so my affinity for good career and technical education programs runs deep.

The district’s strategic plan emphasizes the need for multiple pathways of learning in order to reach all students and help them achieve. These multiple pathways must include career and technical education. Nevada’s economy and particularly our local economy relies on many employees who are trained in career-ready and technical jobs.

Last year Churchill County School District completed the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment that identified what employers in the area needed and what jobs did not have enough qualified employees. This assessment will direct the district in providing necessary programs and curriculum in CTE that will benefit not only students but the community as well.

 

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