• Meghan Fessler

School Board Candidates Voice Their Thoughts on Racial Equity

Updated: 5 days ago

Representation is paramount in this work we're doing, right? With the Spring Election coming up on April 6th (click here for more election details), we have an incredible opportunity to ensure our chosen candidate represents the values we want applied in future school board decisions. That's why our Education group reached out to McFarland School Board candidates to learn their thoughts regarding racial equity and justice priorities within the school district. THANK YOU to each of the candidates for taking the time to provide thoughtful answers. We share each candidate's responses (presented in alphabetical order) below so you can decide whose voice most represents your values and vision for addressing racial inequities within our school district.


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


Bruce Fischer: I highly applaud the extensive work that has been done by the McFarland School District Anti-Racism and Equity group. One of my biggest priorities for the School Board is to set up a process to encourage residents of the Village to volunteer in our schools as mentors and tutors. Training for these volunteers can be provided using the resources already developed. We have a growing chasm between those students who have an adequate support network in their homes, and those who lack the necessary support resources. This pandemic has made us starkly aware of these inequities, and unfortunately, has made the differences between the haves and have nots even worse. It is absolutely essential and critical that we seek to find ways to narrow this gap, and I believe that volunteer mentors/tutors would be an excellent way to start to solve this problem. I also believe this proposal has the potential to help our schools and the greater community in other ways, too. First, it gives those students in need an immediate connection with an adult who can provide help with school and also help provide more structure in the students’ daily life. Secondly, as more of our adults interact with these students, the greater our community becomes aware of the problem of inequity, and the more likely the community will seek to address the underlying causes to this problem as well. To paraphrase an African proverb: “It takes a village to educate our children.” We’re all in this together!


Kate Green: A major focus for me if elected to the school board will be diversity and inclusion. I first want to take the opportunity to address the fantastic job the racial equity and justice group here in McFarland is doing. I’m amazed by the effort and cohesiveness of this group and the successes that have been made in a very short period of time. As someone who worked for over two years in a racially diverse, low socioeconomic area in San Antonio, TX, I have seen firsthand some of the disparities that minorities face. From an education standpoint, lack of resources and support need to be addressed. Many minorities struggle with resources to succeed and the financial means to do it. Continued scholarships and waivers need to be in place to assist those in need. More funding needs to be directed to the public school system that relates directly to equity and inclusion. These funds should be put towards educating staff, students and families within our district. Inclusion although not specifically asked in this question tends to be another major piece of my platform. As a healthcare provider, I see a variety of pediatric patients and the effects of mental health related to bullying because of race, gender, sexual identity or socioeconomic status are astounding. Funding to effectively identify and assist anyone struggling with mental health issues will be something I am passionate about if elected to the school board.


Scott Gletty-Syoen: If I'm elected to the McFarland School Board, one of the specific goals I've set out is for the Board to achieve greater engagement with students of color and their families in our district. Simply put, this has *got* to be a greater priority for the Board going forward.


When I think of the issues facing our district that I believe are of particular importance, every one of them needs to incorporate concerns related to racial equity and justice. For example: the pandemic has affected families of color differently than it has white families. But how confident is the Board that our policies account for these differences? We need to make sure that we're doing our homework, reaching out to families of color in our district, and making sure that we're adequately addressing their needs. Another topic I've discussed is arts education: we need to ensure that our curriculum is sufficiently inclusive, and that we're creating spaces that sufficiently welcome students of color. How can we help our teaching staff be more attentive to and aware of these issues, ensuring that the needs of students of color are never simply an afterthought? More generally, rather than reinventing the wheel, we can look at the past work done by academics and activists, and incorporate their ideas into our curriculum.


QUESTION 2: We know representation matters. The racial demographics of the School Board currently presents as white. Knowing that the school district serves families and students that represent varying racial and social identities, how will you engage and invite diverse voices, lived experiences, and needs into the work, responses, and planning of the School Board?


Bruce Fischer: First of all, all members of the School Board should take implicit or unconscious bias training. Secondly, once a month the School Board agenda should include an agenda item focused on a key area identified in the District Anti-Racism Resolution Action Plan.


We cannot change our own personal histories; however, we can and we must be aware of the lack of opportunities that too many others in our society have had. Also, we must acknowledge the long history of systemic and underlying racism and inequities that still exist in our society for many people.

More than anything, we all must continue to educate ourselves by taking part in workshops, classes, and at the very least, by reading books that have been written by scholars who are challenging many of our most basic and core beliefs.


Kate Green: The racial demographics of this community are predominately white. I am excited to see an influx of racial diverse families moving into the community. I am hoping that encouragement from the district and the board will at some point encourage members of other racial demographics to run for open seats. One of the most important things that we can do as a school board, is allow families of varying racial and social identities to feel that we are approachable. In order to do so, visiting the school, speaking to the families and getting an overall sense of needs within the community are important. Encouraging those who feel that they have very little voice in this community will be one of my goals. If families are not comfortable discussing needs, experiences or concerns directly with the board, my hope is that I can be a voice for them. Actively engaging with students and their families continues to be something that our board needs to do.


Scott Gletty-Syoen: Simply put, my lived experience as a white CIS man simply isn't very useful here: so it's incumbent upon me, and the rest of the School Board, to reach out to people with different experiences and identities and ask them what we can do to help make things better. I believe the best place to start is with existing organizations (including, for example, the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement in McFarland). But it's critically important that, from the very start, we as a School Board recognize our own limitations and the depth of the work that remains to be done, and reach out to people who *do* have different lived experiences than us to find out the best ways to proceed.


Too much of the time with issues of representation and justice, we start out by asserting how much progress we've made. In my opinion, defensiveness is a huge barrier to progress. Better that we start by recognizing how far we have to go, and then try to determine the best way to work together to get better.


Additional candidate responses (4/4/21):

Thank you for two questions which require thought and depth in response. We need to prioritize our students and children first, in many regards. We need to work together in identifying and alleviating barriers that exist for our students.This is not a simple task. This starts in the near future with ensuring that we provide all students and families the option to be in school full time. By providing the option for our students to be in the classroom full time, we can continue to offer the excellent educational path and full time experience that the McFarland School District has been known for. At the same time, we need to ensure equal and equitable opportunities for all. If elected to the board I’ll work to ensure equitable opportunities exist for all and to end injustice. I’ll work alongside our district leaders in a unifying effort for our community. Recognizing there are many shared values throughout our Village, we can strive to come together on common values with all of our students’ and families’ best interests in mind.

Q: As you consider your platform priorities, what are specific examples of how racial equity and justice intersect and influence the priorities you would like to see the McFarland School Board focus on in the future? And, why? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 serves as one of the most historic intersections between racial equity and justice. This law provided the initial definition for our country in seeking to put an end to discriminiation. Nearly 60 years later, we continue upon this path toward ending discrimination and racial inequity. In the McFarland School District, we are known for being leaders and providing equal and equitable opportunities for all students. Coming out of the pandemic and as our students return to the classroom, this is ever important. I feel that we need to prioritize identifying students who have been disproportionately put at a disadvantage over the past year. Further, if elected to represent our community as a School Board member, I will aim to ensure all of our community voices are heard. I will work with our district leadership to provide a boost or added support for students and others who may be unjustly put at a disadvantage relative to other students. All students have gifts and can learn when provided ample opportunity. Q: We know representation matters. The racial demographics of the School Board currently presents as white. Knowing that the school district serves families and students that represent varying racial and social identities, how will you engage and invite diverse voices, lived experiences, and needs into the work, responses, and planning of the School Board? A: We can employ multiple approaches in striving to better understand the many different students and families we represent within our district. Proactively, I feel we should make efforts to connect on a personal level with families throughout our community. We can do so by providing individualized meeting opportunities and promoting an open door policy in communication. We can also continually circulate strategic surveys to district families to

understand our growing demographic. We should include open ended and thought provoking questions to help our leadership team better understand our diversity and topics which district families may not be readily willing to discuss in public settings.As a board, we should also work with steering and/or advisory committees to understand barriers in front of our students and families which aren’t readily apparent.


Sincerely,

John Goeser, PhD





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