School Board Candidate Feature -- Tricia Strasdin

  • 2020-10-06, 03:00 PM (update 2020-10-07, 08:22 AM)
  • Staff report
School Board Candidate Feature -- Tricia Strasdin Tricia Strasdin

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

I am a life-long Fallon resident and a product of the Churchill County School District. I currently teach in Lyon County because the law prohibits me from teaching and being on the school board for the same district.

My passion for education is evidenced by the fact that while working fulltime and raising a very busy family, I earned my bachelor’s degree in education. I spent many evenings in a lecture, countless nights up past 1a.m. and multiple weekends in a gym surrounded by books and my laptop. And while my passion for education is obvious, it’s not what makes me the most qualified candidate for school board.

My strongest qualification for this position is my 30 years of experience working in the private sector. My years in private business educated me in the areas of full-charge bookkeeping, negotiating contracts with insurance companies, billing insurance, customer billing, customer service, human resources and endless administrative duties. My combined experience working for private businesses and now my work in education, provides me a balanced perspective that is unmatched by any of my running mates – and that type of balance is critical for this position.

In addition, I have also earned my Certified Public Officer certification through the State of Nevada. This certification is designed for elected officials and focuses on the areas of Public Finance, Governance, Community Engagement, and Employment Relations just to name a few. I have served on our School Board for over 4 years, I have an excellent attendance record, and I am committed to facing the upcoming challenges that are sure to affect Churchill County with the energy and discernment that Fallon deserves.

I won’t mislead you, I’m open minded, and I’m fiscally conservative. I am terribly concerned about the upcoming effects to our budget. I am also concerned about the effects that school closures have had on the academic and social growth of our children. I strive to pay close attention to State-wide directives that might be appropriate for Clark County and Washoe County but seem to be out of touch with the rural communities.

In addition to being a teacher, parent, and active citizen I am the only candidate with 30 years private sector working experience, currently teaching in a classroom, and have children attending Churchill County School District. I am seeking re-election because prior to the pandemic, the school board had begun an in-depth look at education in Churchill County and pinpointing the areas in which our students would benefit most.

My decision to seek re-election was not taken lightly. I chose to possibly continue my commute and serve with passion and dignity to continue this work in Churchill County.  It is no secret that Nevada falls behind in education, but that doesn’t have to be the reality for Churchill County.

 

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 individua school districts?

This is a needed change considering the previous formula has been in use since 1967 (the oldest school funding formula in the nation). The revision has been in the works for over 5 years and it is difficult to overhaul something so massive. The new changes streamline the formulations, and address the need for more equitable funding when it comes to educating students with more complex needs like English Language Learners and At-Risk students.

Although the new funding formula addresses more equitable funding, it in no way addresses adequate funding! Churchill County fiscal staff has participated in the process since its inception. It appears that little will change as far as the total amount of funding for our district. That being said, over 50% of Nevada’s educational funding comes from hospitality and gaming taxes.

When a state like Nevada is shut down, it can be crippling to a district budget. I am extremely concerned about the upcoming budget process. I am confident that my 20+ years in accounting, 4+ years in school budget and audit, and Public Finance training coupled with my commitment to doing what is best for students and our community, we will pull through what is sure to be difficult financial times.

 

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?

This is a hazardous question for an acting school board trustee, simply because there is no way to properly address it without it sounding like avoidance. First let me be perfectly clear that I recognize when questions such as these are asked, what we are really talking about are Churchill County School District employees and citizens. We are talking about people’s lives! I value the District’s employees and the services they provide our children.

I witness, daily, the invaluable work our Classified employees perform and the heavy responsibility they are charged with. At the exact same time, this topic has never been brought to the Board. I have not been given any information about any such action, and it would be premature and irresponsible to discuss issues that involve contracted employees, whom we collectively bargain with and an issue that could potentially be agendized for public meeting.

 

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

When the Coronavirus is no longer a factor in education the school district should retain both online and in-person instruction because the school district has always had both online and in-person instruction.

I will elaborate and say that I do not believe online instruction is for everyone. I would support an application process where educators would determine if online learning would be beneficial to the student and an agreement with caregivers so that they understand the necessary partnership when it comes to accountability for the learner. I have witnessed successful online learning and I have witnessed online failures for students.

We live in the Information Age. To entertain the idea that a school district should abandon online learning is out of touch with reality. As a mother and teacher, I would not make that educational choice for my child simply because my children benefitted tremendously from the social growth that happens at a school. Both my sons have learned so much from numerous people at school that actually had little to do with curriculum.

Children need to learn how to navigate diverse personalities, different ages, different expectations, diverse beliefs, etc. I believe school is a safe place to learn such things.

 

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?

I am glad this question was asked because the answer is not simple. I would favor the continuation of the partnership between the school district and Western Nevada College because it offers an amazing opportunity for students who are ready to obtain college credit at the same time they are earning high school credit. This makes sense from a financial standpoint because it is cheaper for families looking at college expenses and it can provide a better learning opportunity when both the district and the college are supporting the costs.

Furthermore, school districts have been directed to adhere to the College and Career Ready (CCR) Diploma requirements, this is a directive from the state of Nevada, the dual credit partnerships help meet the CCR endorsement. At the same time, I do not believe every high school student is ready to take a class that meets the expectation of college rigor. High school and college are very separate in my mind.

Personally, I have been in college classrooms where students who are not ready, do nothing but struggle. As a board member, I am not of the mind to transform high school beyond recognition, nor am I satisfied with our graduation rate or our current student achievement numbers.

 

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?

There are times when teacher shortage is so severe that districts are faced with some pretty bleak solutions. However, Churchill County has done an excellent job in more recent years when it comes to teacher recruitment and retention. With the exception of this past year, when the pandemic put numerous restraints on recruitment, Churchill County has implemented plans for attending teacher work fairs, where district employees do a great job conveying the strengths of our district.

The district has also focused on well-placed and well-timed advertising and signing bonuses. Churchill County also offers some excellent benefits that are extremely competitive, if not superior, to other districts. And make no mistake, Fallon is a beautiful place to live and raise a family. Although we do have some positions filled with retired teachers, currently there is only one unfilled teaching position.

 

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

Every school district is faced with weaknesses. Without question, I would say the funding of education has to be our biggest weakness. Currently, Nevada falls near the very bottom of educational funding. This reality forces the district to seek multiple grant dollars which aren’t reliable funding sources from year to year. Education does take adequate funding and Nevada simply isn’t there, yet.

The biggest strength of Churchill County School District is the community. Just looking at the patience and flexibility that has been extended during this pandemic is astounding. When push comes to shove, the community of Fallon steps up to support its youth. I have been to numerous meetings where other districts comment on the support they see on social media for our students. Many outside the area often comment on the talent that seems to be condensed in our community – and they’re right! I believe that our young people are surrounded by local support that reaches far beyond the doors of school and that is our districts greatest strength.

 

 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?

The biggest change I would advocate for is the strengthening of relationship between the unions and the district. I believe the nation has begun to see the renewed importance of school employees, which will result in higher levels of mutual respect. I believe we can improve the culture of respect throughout the district, as well.

I have begun to see small improvements in recent times, perhaps due to the pandemic, but we have much farther to go. All levels (unions, central office, every department, every employee) claim to prioritize students. Yet no matter what the issue is, it seems that the district and the unions are somehow at odds. I truly want to diminish the “us against them” mentality and start to come together for the greatest good of students.

I believe a focus on positive culture throughout the district would ultimately result in a higher level of trust. And a higher level of trust and respect will begin to dissolve the “us against them” mentality. Trust and respect take time and effort, it is an endeavor well worth the investment.

   

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?

Communication: I pride myself on always being willing to listen, which is evidenced by the numerous conversations I have had with all levels of staff and public.

I have never had a person tell me they had a hard time getting in touch with me. That being said, the board cannot be the first place people go to address concerns. It is critical that the public allow principals and the superintendent the opportunity to rectify any problem, and employees allow their supervisors an opportunity to understand the issues and make adjustments that work for everyone involved. Visiting schools is also important.

Due to the pandemic, proximity has been a concern, causing board members to be extra cautious. During this time I have reached out through email and phone. When the restrictions are loosened I will attend planned events and schedule times to be in schools, just like I have always done. The public may not be aware, but board members are assigned schools on a rotating schedule.

My time on the board has taught me that personal relationships result in more honest conversations than an observation of a good moment in a classroom or a bad moment in a classroom.

 

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?

This is an interesting question but the bottom line is – it depends on the issue. I have absolutely had an opinion that differed from the majority and I have voted differently.

I have also gone into a meeting thinking one way, and then once information was presented and discussion had taken place, I thought a different way. I have also moved to table decisions that I believe the public needs more time to respond to or that board members need more information about. I suppose that is the entire purpose of public meetings and robust discussions. I also believe there are appropriate times to unite as a board. Boards cannot make decisions unilaterally, there must be a majority. Once a decision is made by the majority, even if I am not part of that majority, I am obligated to back that decision.

 

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

My support level for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at the high school and middle school are extremely high. Maintaining and strengthening the program at the high school is always a focus. The district has been working to develop more work-based learning opportunities to sync with programs students take to ensure they are more life ready.

Currently, students can take CTE courses that lead to OSHA 10 certification, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Growing the program at the middle school is certainly another priority for me. I am completely behind middle school students developing technical skills and gaining an understanding of career opportunities. Establishing and growing a CTE program at the middle school will only serve to strengthen the CTE program at the high school. The district has been working closely with the state to meet the current needs of industry and business in Nevada.

I am in contact with multiple stakeholders that have a strong understanding of CTE, the critical need the program meets, and creative ways the program can thrive. The district relies on the state and federal allocated dollars, but has also sought to secure competitive grant dollars that have totaled over $120,000.

 

 

 

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