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Voters get schooled
Candidates discuss experience, agendas and student issues.
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: October 17, 2012
Candidates for Teton County school board addressed everything from meditation to whether high school students should remain on campus for lunch.
Jay Varley advocated for a “fitness-based” exercise program and “mindfulness meditation” to get students ready to learn. Incumbent Kate Mead revealed the depth of her decision-making on issues like closing campus and year-round school calendars.
Former board member Zia Yasrobi eloquently used his own experience as an immigrant to champion foreign language programs.
Another former board member, Syd Elliott, displayed a pragmatic viewpoint balanced between experience as an educator and a board member.
Patricia Russell relied on her experience as a mother of two Teton County students to deliver decisive opinions, while Joe Larrow focused on improved school board-to-parent communication in most answers.
Incumbent Robbi Farrow was not able to attend, but said in a letter that she is committed to building on the work she currently does on the board.
Six of the seven candidates for the board’s four open seats attended the League of Women Voters Helen Buehler Memorial Debates to answer questions posed by a media panel. About 75 people attended the hour-and-half-long session at St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Hansen Hall.
Mead was the night’s only incumbent. She said she wanted another four-year term to build on the “very steep” learning curve involved with being on the school board.
Several times, she referenced her decision-making process and the challenges of the past four years. On some issues, such as whether to close the Jackson Hole High School campus, she said she’s gone back and forth.
“I think that it absolutely needs to be a privilege,” she said. “But I would say it should be closed for the most part.”
The Jackson Police Department reported there have been 17 car accidents in the past three years involving students leaving the campus for lunch, she said of her research.
Most other candidates agreed an open campus doesn’t need to be a guarantee, except for Joe Larrow, who didn’t give an answer. He instead used the time to rebut the opinions of the others on a previous question.
Larrow said he believes he can improve the school board’s communication with the public.
“I think it’s pretty basic, just trying to listen,” he said. “There’s grocery-list communication and real communication.”
He said he wanted there to be steps to convey board action to concerned parents. He didn’t provide specifics of how his steps would be different from the way the board operates.
Varley mentioned several times that he hopes to implement “fitness-based” exercise programs and “mindfulness meditation” to get students ready to learn.
“These are things that will help students learn to control their emotions, control their minds and concentrate so they’re ready to learn,” Varley said. “Making sure students are ready to learn is more important than cramming more things in and drilling kids.”
Patricia Russell said she relies on her experience as a mother of two Teton County students to inform her policy opinions. What that doesn’t cover, she is willing to learn, she said.
On a few issues, Russell’s opinions were similar to fellow candidates, but slightly stronger.
Regarding closed campus, Russell was firm.
“After they’re 18, they can go out to lunch as much as they want,” she said. “I think they should stay on campus, and we should find a way to feed them all.”
Russell also questioned how much more the schools could do to get word to parents. She said she has no shortage of opportunities to find out about what is going on at her children’s schools.
Elliott and Yasrobi have served on the board in the past and hope to resume those positions. Yasrobi referred to his past service frequently.
When he left the school board, starting teacher salaries were more than double what they were when he started and several condemned school buildings were replaced, he said.
He strongly backed foreign language instruction at all grade levels, using his own experiences as an example. He grew up speaking Farsi, and his father made him learn English when he was 6 years old.
Knowing how to pronounce the language without an accent opened the world to him and was key to his success in America, he said.
“I am the poster child for ESL,” Yasrobi said.
Parents have a role in students’ education their teachers can’t and shouldn’t replace, he said.
Elliott, who has worked as an educator, agreed, saying that education should be a “collaborative” process. She noted the board’s role in that collaboration is often to take individual input into account in a districtwide situation.
“I think input is important,” she said. “But sometimes the board needs to step back and look at the big picture, and so we need to have that ability.”
Incumbent Farrow explained in a letter that she couldn’t attend due to a previously scheduled visit to her daughter at college, but said the chance to continue her work on the school board is very important to her.
Candidates addressed 12 questions and made opening and closing statements. Teton County Library was a cosponsor with local media and the league, while the church donated its space.