Fulton School Board candidates answer to teachers

Topics ranged from opinions on Common Core to how to deal with conflict

(Seated, from left) Fulton School Board candidates Scott King, David “Rob” Hunter, Kevin Habjan and Ruth Burt listen as fellow candidate Todd Gray introduces himself during a candidate forum at Fulton High School Monday afternoon. Hosted by the Fulton Community Teachers Association, the forum featured questions on topics such as Common Core Standards and teacher salaries.

(Seated, from left) Fulton School Board candidates Scott King, David “Rob” Hunter, Kevin Habjan and Ruth Burt listen as fellow candidate Todd Gray introduces himself during a candidate forum at Fulton High School Monday afternoon. Hosted by the Fulton Community Teachers Association, the forum featured questions on topics such as Common Core Standards and teacher salaries. Photo by Katherine Cummins.

Fulton School Board candidates were asked about a range of topics including early childhood learning, professional development and teacher salaries during a forum hosted by the Fulton Community Teachers Association Monday afternoon.

Incumbents Scott King, David “Rob” Hunter and Kevin Habjan, and challengers Ruth Burt and Todd Gray fielded a series of eight questions compiled by the FCTA based on input from district staff.

Common Core

After a brief introduction to the candidates and a question about why they decided to run, the group was asked where they stood on Common Core Standards and their implementation within the district.

Hunter was first to reply, and noted it was a difficult question to answer, in part because “that train has already left the station.

“In general, I’m not a big fan of big government, and I think Common Core Standards are a reflection of big government,” Hunter said.

He said Fulton Public Schools already were doing many of the things required by Common Core, but now there would be more documentation to show the district is in compliance, which Hunter said would take away from classroom time.

Habjan noted Common Core Standards are still getting mixed reviews and echoed Hunter’s assessment that Fulton should not see too many changes associated with implementation.

“I hope we can maintain what we’ve been doing,” Habjan said.

Burt said she thought the premise of Common Core was good, but that she needed to learn more about it before forming an opinion.

Gray said he felt the same as Hunter, but also echoed Burt’s assessment about the intent behind Common Core.

“It’s in place to make sure every student does meet certain standards, and I understand that,” Gray said. “Just from talking to teachers, they do believe it is working and is bring students up to a little higher standard.”

King also said he agreed with his fellow candidates, but added the school board needs to make sure it is offering teachers the support and resources to successfully implement the program.

“We need to be sure we’re enabling and supporting the district and teachers in how they want to achieve those,” King said. “We need to make sure you have the resources you need to accomplish something.”

Early education

The next question was how candidates would improve or change Fulton’s early childhood learning programs.

Habjan was the first to answer, and the other four candidates closely echoed his assessment that expanding the district’s early childhood learning programs is a high priority in the long run if funding can be found in the future.

“I had two kids go through the early intervention program, and I saw the benefits,” Habjan said. “As they transitioned to kindergarten, the teachers can pick out which students had been through (early childhood education).

“Ideally, I would love for our schools to have a bigger program. Unfortunately, without a funding source, I don’t see being able to achieve that in the short term.”

The other candidates agreed, with King and Hunter noting the district needs to start looking at alternative funding sources outside of traditional revenue.

“Our district is pretty adept at getting grants — that’s an area we’re going to have to look at,” Hunter said.

Candidate agreement

The school board candidates offered very similar responses to several of the questions, including their stances on embedded professional development.

Burt said she believed professional development to be important “if standards are being met” and the district has proper follow-through on the concepts covered during those days.

Her fellow candidates also offered positive reviews on the importance of professional development and on the district’s move this school year to full-day professional development days rather than half-days.

Candidates were asked how they had handled conflicts or ethical dilemmas in the past. All of the candidates gave work-related examples, and Burt referenced her dismissal from the school district in September 2012 after calling the police about a student possibly having a gun in school.

“I may or may not have made the best choices, but … I will go to my grave believing I did the right thing,” Burt said.

Another question was what changes the candidates would make to district programs and policies. Beyond Hunter’s observation that teachers should have more input in curriculum selection and several candidates mentioning increasing parent involvement, the candidates all agreed there were no big changes they would make.

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