Challengers Lisa Goldsberry and Katey Kamoku and incumbents Tom Weber and Carol Albright faced off in a school board candidate forum on Tuesday, Feb. 28, hosted by the Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition at the Westside Community Building, 2598 W. Main St.
The four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Sun Prairie School Board. The election is on April 4, where residents in the Sun Prairie Area School District will be able to vote for two. The top two vote-getters will win the seats.
All of the questions were given to the candidates ahead of time to prepare their answers. Questions included the issue of balancing school safety and over-policing, candidate’s position on independent charter and private voucher schools and what candidates will do to see that teachers are supported, compensated and retained.
The candidates shared diverse opinions and ideas on the following question:
What do you think the Sun Prairie Area School District is doing well and what do you think needs improvement? How will you protect what’s working and improve what’s not in a budget strapped environment?
Kamoku, a mother of four children in the school district and executive director of the Explore Children’s Museum, said that the school district does a great job of creating opportunities for school staff and community members to share their concerns and their opinions.
“There is a lot of information available from committees and services,” Kamoku said. “But my concern is what are we doing with this information?”
She added that there is a disconnect between the information the district is collecting with the actions they are taking.
“The district needs to improve on using the information to be transparent about what challenges teachers, students and families are experiencing,” Kamoku said. “I would protect what is working by supporting initiatives for the school board to be more involved in the work in not only creating policy and accessing successes and failures, but rather being involved in the information collection and the action planning as it needs to rebuild trust.”
Kamoku said that because budget restrictions are an issue, the district must prioritize investing in its teachers, support staff and student services staff.
“Cutting-edge technology and top-of-the-line learning spaces are meaningless if we don’t have the resources to support our teachers and school staff,” she said. “We need to invest in the social, emotional and mental health of our school staff and students. When everyone is safe, regulated and supported teachers can teach, learning can happen and students will flourish.”
She said she also wants to devote resources to study the trauma that the COVID-19 pandemic caused students.
Weber, who is the current school board governance officer, separates himself as the only candidate without an education background that can bring a unique perspective to the board.
“I think we provide a lot of opportunities for students to explore what their passions are, both from an academic standpoint as well as extracurricular,” Weber said. “The same goes for our staff. Most of our staff I would say are doing quite well.”
He noted that the district has one of the highest retention rates of staff in the area and the staff is supported with one of the best compensation and insurance programs.
While he said that is a strength, Weber also addressed the number of opportunities for students and staff as an area of improvement.
“Not all of our kids are necessarily excelling and being able to take advantage of the opportunities that are there,” Weber said. “We need to find a way to bring the rest of our kids that are not able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Weber explained that the environment needed for all kids to excel starts and ends with the staff. “Being able to protect those things from a budget standpoint means we have to lean into our staff the most,” Weber said. “There are plenty of other resources that are needed, but the staff is the most important in our student’s lives.”
Albright, a retired Sun Prairie teacher and union member, said that Sun Prairie does a good job with curriculum design and renewal process.
“This is a process where all the partners on all the levels look at their curriculum and materials on a six-year cycle,” Albright said. “We look at it every single year as a department and systematically throughout the whole district. Instructional framework was also created in this process.”
She added that this involves staff and administration working together to plan these processes out with continuous review and opportunity for improvement.
“What I especially like about this is the direct feedback from students to let us know how we are doing, what we can change and what we can do to get better,” Albright said.
Albright talked about the importance of expanding the school to work program and working with trades to add more apprenticeship programs.
“It’s something that benefits a lot of students and it’s something our society needs,” Albright said. “With the block schedule we have now, that can help us get more opportunities for juniors and seniors.”
She said that she knows what businesses are looking for because of her work and experience with the business education partnership and trade skills are really important.
“I think the youth apprenticeship program is very beneficial for many students,” Albright said. “My son went through that program and he has been very successful.”
Goldsberry, who is a former Sun Prairie substitute teacher and community schools site coordinator, echoed a similar response to the district providing a variety of resources and opportunities for students. She added that they have recently done a good job speaking about equity and inclusion.
“Many times I talk to families about the resources and opportunities in our district and they have no idea the district offers those things,” Goldsberry said.
She wants to implement strategies to create stronger equity and inclusion by using her experience in mental health to implement trauma informed care practices.
“I will request clear and precise plans and goals for creating equity and inclusion in every building and hold the district accountable for the data collected in scorecards and in the most recent equity audit,” she said.
Goldsberry added that she wants to restore trust between district administration, staff, parents and members of the community with two way transparency. She also criticized the district for not appropriately supporting and negotiating with teachers over last year’s compensation.
The forum can be viewed on KSUN (check Cable Listings for channel numbers, air dates and times) or on-demand at https://www.sunprairiemediacenter.com/ksun/. Visit The Star’s website to learn more about each candidate.