STEPHENVILLE (April 20, 2018)– This interview is part of a series on the Stephenville ISD school board candidates. All interviews took place via email. In order to preserve objectivity, the interviews remain in Q and A format.
What is your opinion of the SISD bond and why do you feel that way?
I am in favor of the SISD bond proposal. This decision came after doing a lot of research and attending the information sessions and building tours. Having students in the district, I know firsthand the needs for improvement. The safety and security elements are critical needs. We are also in need of the Career Technical Education updates to better serve our students and prepare them for careers after graduation. We are not able to offer several certifications because our facilities are not up to standard. We also receive additional funding for CTE students from the state. This bond package is not a band-aid fix. It is a complete renovation of the high school and will provide the updates and additions necessary to better serve our diverse student population. Our students have won state awards in a variety of areas including fine arts, CTE, and athletics with facilities that are not even able to host several of those events due to our building conditions. The maintenance staff does a fantastic job keeping up our buildings, but they can only do so much. Our entire community benefits from updated schools, which entices new businesses and families to make Stephenville their home.
What is your opinion on the tax rate set by the school board currently?
I think that the current tax rate set by our school board is reasonable for our district size and the fact we are currently paying on two previous bonds. The junior high bond will come off the tax roll this year, which is why the board is proposing the current bond in May. If you look at the Texas Comptroller Tax Rates and Levies website, you will see that our tax rate is lower than many of our surrounding districts as well as districts our size across the state. The school board has been fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money, especially after the 2012 bond passed for Central and Chamberlin. The voters approved a 12.6-cent increase and because construction costs were at a record low and the project came in under budget, the district only charged the taxpayers 6.5 cents. Our board has established a fair tax rate and has kept the impact as low as possible for our taxpayers.
What is the area that the school board needs to improve the most in?
I do not think there is a specific area the board needs to improve in right now. I think it is important for the board members to stay informed of what is going on in the district and the state. I believe there are some opportunities for additional funding from federal grants that can be taken advantage of and need to be researched. We need to look at offering additional certifications at the high school for students to earn prior to graduation. I think some of this is addressed in the bond, but we definitely need to ensure we are offering our students every possibility for success after graduation. We need to ensure our students are prepared for employment, college, military, or any other path they decide to take upon graduation. Our board strives to be good stewards of our community and has done a great job. We have a very transparent school board, which is not the case in all school districts. It brings a sense of trust, which bridges a positive relationship between the community and school board.
What is the greatest issue facing Stephenville ISD?
The greatest issue facing SISD is the same as all school districts across this country, school safety and security. This is a critical need in all school districts. Right now we have one School Resource Officer serving six campuses. We need an officer on every campus. There are federal grants available to help fund these positions. We also need to offer additional training and education on bullying and mental health. Many of the students who have committed these deadly attacks have had issues with mental health and/or bullying. There is no one answer or solution. The district has secured the vestibules at most of our campuses, which was a start in the right direction. We have the daunting task of trying to protect our students from both the inside and outside world. Keeping our kids safe is the number one concern as parents, teachers, and community members. We have to make the best, most informed choices possible to ensure the safety of all students to the best of our abilities. My husband is a law enforcement officer and we have these conversations on a daily basis and wish there was a steadfast answer. I believe education and training are pertinent to any program or safety measure being considered.
What is your opinion of teachers concealing and carrying on campus?
This question goes with the previous question about issues facing SISD. I firmly believe in doing research and collecting data before implementing a program, especially one that will cause considerable debate among community members and school personnel. According to an interview with Mr. Underwood in March, the school has been considering a couple programs. Both programs he refers to have pros, cons, and a great deal of debate regarding safety within the building. Again, I feel there needs to be ample research and a solidified plan for training before attempting to make a final decision. This is a very delicate topic and will have an impact on our entire community. There is no “right” answer here. I feel we do not have enough information right now to choose a concealed carry program for our teachers. I am, however, in favor of administrators carrying because they are not in the classrooms with our students all day long. My concern is keeping our children safe both inside and outside the classroom. I strongly advocate for additional School Resource Officers, who are trained to deal with these situations. Our teachers have dedicated their lives to educating and advocating for our students, not to carrying a weapon in the classroom. This is a very serious decision with infinite repercussions. We need to research as many options as possible and make an informed decision.
How should the district deal with drugs in the school district?
Drugs in the school district should be dealt with as criminal charges, which, to my knowledge is what happens now. As for trying to keep drugs out of our schools, we must be firm in letting students know they will be held accountable for their actions. There are random drug tests for students who are in extracurricular activities, but not for students outside of those programs. All students in the district should be held accountable and subject to random drug testing. There are instances where drug dogs are brought into the school to do locker checks but not on a regular basis. I have worked in districts before where drug dogs were brought in regularly and that helped deter some of the issue. Letting our students know we are watching and that there are consequences is the best deterrent. Of course, if there were a surefire answer, we would not have these issues to discuss. We need to be visible and aware of what our students are doing as much as possible in an attempt to deter criminal activity within the buildings.
How involved should the school board be with decision making for programs within the schools?
Although many program decisions are implemented at the campus level, the school board has to be involved in all decision-making for such programs. The school board is ultimately responsible for the resources in the district and must be informed of the programs being offered to our students. When parents or community members have a concern, they often voice them to the school board. The board has to be prepared to answer questions and have a firm grasp of what is going on in the district. The board is not there to inhibit growth or program offerings, but is there to ensure we are maintaining standards and accountability measures, along with following all Texas Education Agency rules and regulations. The school board is responsible for the safety, security, and success of our students and must be aware of what is happening at the district and campus levels in order to provide effective leadership and advocacy for our teachers and students.
What is your current employment?
Currently, I am an assistant professor at Tarleton State University. I teach graduate students in the Educational Leadership and Technology department. Many of my current and former students are teachers in SISD and surrounding districts. I also work with our pre-service teachers in the Curriculum & Instruction Department. I have been at Tarleton for four years. Prior to that, I was in public education for 13 years. I am a lifelong educator and advocate for children.
How long have you lived in this school district?
I have lived in this school district for 10 years.
Do you have any children or relatives that attend Stephenville ISD?
My husband and I have four children together. Our oldest two went through SISD and we currently have daughters in 2nd and 4th grades. My husband is a lifelong resident of Stephenville and a 2000 graduate of SHS. His parents were actually in the first class to attend the high school when it was built in 1975. The Howell family has attended SISD for several generations.
In what ways are you already involved with the district?
I have been involved with the district since moving to Stephenville. I actually worked at the junior high when we first moved here. I sat on a technology committee at that time, looking to upgrade and innovate the district technology needs. I have been a member of the PTO for several years. I served on the Project Graduation fundraising and social media committees and created the “Senior Slideshow” video for the class of 2015. I was on the prom committee and have helped with several homecoming dances. I have read to students in multiple grade levels and volunteered in classrooms and on campus. I have participated in Tarleton’s Day of Service at various SISD campuses. My dissertation research was based on the iChampion Initiative, correlating a relationship between digital technology teacher professional development and teacher-self-efficacy. I wrote a $200,000.00 federal grant and partnered with SISD to host the Tarleton Collaborative Regional Education (CORE) / iChampion conference in 2017. Last year we had over 370 in attendance. We will host the conference again this July. I have helped with numerous video projects with students in the district have helped Hook Elementary with their “Hour of Code” for the past few years. My children have been involved in a variety of activities and I have always volunteered in any way possible to help out in the schools.
Where are you involved in the community?
I volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), guardian ad litem, for displaced children in the court system. These children are often in foster care or living with relatives and I am an advocate for them throughout the process. I volunteer with Backpack Buddies of Erath County, which helps feed our hungry children on the weekends. I am a member of the Effective Schools Project Leadership Team, which links Tarleton faculty with campus leadership teams. Our area schools, including SISD, have been members of ESP for several years and administrators and teachers in the district have received leadership awards and have been recognized for success multiple times. I am also the editor of the Journal of the Effective Schools Project. I am currently the faculty advisor for Kappa Delta Pi, an International honor society in education. I serve as a faculty coach/mentor with the Student Success and Multicultural Initiatives Department at Tarleton. Through our First Year Seminar courses, I work with incoming freshmen at TSU, helping them become acquainted with both the university and our community. I have volunteered with SPARD in various roles over the past 10 years. I served on the Tarleton Staff Council for three years and am now a member of the Faculty Development Committee. I am currently a member of the Political Action Committee for the SISD bond proposal.
This article has been edited in order to remove an additional question that was sent in by mistake. We regret the error.