• Christine Pribbenow

McFarland Board of Education Candidates Share Their Thoughts


All the candidates provided responses to three questions that were written by the MEP Community...

  1. As you consider your platform priorities, what are specific examples of how racial equity and justice intersect and influence the priorities would like to see the McFarland School Board focus on in the future? And why?

  2. What is the role of the school board in disrupting and dismantling systemic racism and countering the historical and persistent inequalities?

  3. What steps, if any, do you believe should be taken so that all students and staff feel a sense of belonging in the school community and have equitable access to programs and services?

 

Meghan Fessler


1. My top priority as a member of the school board is to apply an equity lens to each decision set in front of me. Before I can develop specific examples and determine how they influence Board priorities, I need information that may not have been gathered yet or that I have access to. The data will come from creating safe opportunities that proactively solicit feedback and engagement from under-represented communities within our district. Collecting data within the district that identifies disparities (i.e., enrollment in AP courses and identification of students in special education or with IEPs) would be immensely beneficial. Identifying obstacles of participation in these areas is imperative to understanding where our district’s effort falls short. Using this feedback and data in a timely manner to inform decisions we make as a school district will drive the School Board’s future priorities.


2. I view the board’s role in general to be one of servant leadership. The board will help create a strategic vision and then ensure educators, students and administrators have the tools and resources to execute that shared vision. It is also the board’s role to remove barriers that will hinder success. Board members should educate themselves on specific biases that exist within school systems. In recognizing the inequities in education, the board must then challenge the administrators and educators to work against that systemic racism.

3. We need to continue to build on the great work that is already being done, including the 2021 equity grant. As I mentioned in my answer above, gathering data is a great next step. First, we need to get a pulse on how the students and staff feel about their sense of belonging through surveys and listening sessions. This active listening and collection of data can inform the board and administration about which programs and services do not offer equitable access. After we identify the areas of need, our next hurdle will be our own unidentified biases. Creating an environment where people feel safe to recognize and discuss bias in themselves and others is essential in developing community and equitable access.

 

Tom Mooney


My Response to Question # 1:

Over the past years I have refined my views and beliefs by looking through and broadening my lense of diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI). I just assumed what has been achieved in the past would continue to be enhanced and institutionalized as we move into the future. But I was incorrect, there is so much more I have yet to learn! I fully support the School Board and district active engagement in addressing DEI for the past few years. I support making a more concerted effort to provide role models that more closely reflect the increasing changing demographics of the community. Hiring highly qualified educators, who represent diversity, will result in creating a teaching and learning environment that demonstrate the gifts, talents, and life experiences of culturally diverse educators.


I continue to support the extensive work that has been accomplished thus far by our educators and School Board, specifically with the adoption of policy on the McFarland School Board Resolution on Equity and Diversity that encompasses an expansion of the district mission to include curriculum development, student representation on the Board, delivering developmentally appropriate ongoing inclusive curriculum reflecting historical diversity, anti-bias bystander training, encouraging families and residents to voice ideas and concerns, supporting the Black Student Union, to name a few. These are requisites to continue to move forward in our vision and mission to eliminate racism and injustices in our school community and elsewhere.


My Response to Question #2:

It’s imperative the School Board develops policies to ensure students are exposed to and comprehend curriculum and instruction describing the historical events of the past and the continuing inequalities that are occurring today. The Board’s role is to provide resources to monitor the implementation of the district’s strategic plan that focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion with the goal to gradually chisel away at inequalities and racism students and others experience in our school district.


My Response to Question #3:

First and foremost ALL students have the right to feel a sense of belonging in our school community and have unobstructed access to programs and services afforded to students. It’s the responsibility of the School Board to ensure student expectations and rights, identified in the district’s mission statement, are respected and honored. There are opportunities and activities in place due to students, community members, school staff and the School Board collaborating together to create a more welcoming, accepting and comfortable environment for ALL students. However there is so much more to accomplish. I suggest the next steps to further gain a sense of belonging for All students:

  1. Continue to reachout to students and their families to identify and help remove barriers that prevent full participation in school sponsored activities, programs and events.

  2. Encourage educators and parents to re-focus more on student strengths rather than student weaknesses, expand on the strength model rather than the deficit model.

  3. Continue to build capacity in our students to enable and empower ALL students to be better prepared to serve as future leaders in society.

Although my level of knowledge and experience with district and community efforts addressing diversity, equity and inclusion may be limited, if elected to the Board I can assure stakeholders my learning curve to learn and understand more about the district’s effort will be quick and thorough.

 

Samantha Zeilenga


My main platform position is to increase communication within the district. I feel communication plays a vital role in every area of our society. A specific example regarding racial equity and justice would be restorative justice. I, myself, had many questions about the practice and had to educate myself and seek out meetings with members of the administration to learn more. From conversations I have had with some parents, they are unclear how restorative justice is practiced in our schools. Some have even been confused when it involves their child who was the victim of a racial based attack. This presents a problem. If our district truly believes in the practices of restorative justice, we need to clearly and frequently communicate that to all members of our district. If people are unclear on the issue, they are less likely to be supportive or to be an active participant in the program.

The school board holds a vital role in disrupting and dismantling systemic racism and countering the historical and persistent inequalities. The board is the part of the system. The policies that are enacted have direct effects on racism. From hiring of staff, to the student handbooks, to the way their meetings are operated, the board needs to examine all their actions for white supremacy tactics. My main platform goal of communication ties into this. Lack of communication, making answers difficult to find, indirect answers, being ignored and being made to feel shame or embarrassment for asking questions are all tactics of white supremacy.

We do need to take steps so that all students and staff feel a sense of belonging and have equal access to programs and activities. The first step in solving any problem is to properly identify it. This can be difficult when it comes to this issue. Does a parent tell anyone they can’t afford to sign their child up for a program? Or do they just not sign them up and be quiet about it? Do children and staff speak up when they don’t have a sense of belonging? Or do they just go with the flow? We need to foster an environment where people are comfortable to speak about the barriers they are facing or how they don’t feel represented. Then from there, we need to take action on that issue. We can take advice and ideas from the communities that need more attention, do research, have conversation among multiple groups of people, and develop changes across our district in a meaningful way.


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