El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 Board of Education candidates answer questions

Registered voters in School District 49 will have the opportunity to elect three new Board of Education members at the Nov. 7 election. Positions are open in Districts 2, 3 and 5. Five candidates are vying for votes:

District 2 – Debra Schmidt and Candace Lehmann

District 3 – Marie La Vere-Wright and Ralene Revord

District 5 – Mike Heil

Note: Mark Cravens withdrew his candidacy for District 3 and may still appear on the ballot.

The New Falcon Herald asked all five candidates the same questions. Three candidates provided responses:

  • Please highlight your qualifications for becoming a D 49 board director.

Mike Heil: I’m a mainframe systems engineer, which means solving complex problems in a collaborative environment is second nature. I’ve attended board meetings for over a year, and produced written reports on them to the current board. I’ve served on two D 49 committees: MLO and Cultural Leadership Accountability Council, where I serve on the data subcommittee and helped draft the bylaws.

Candace Lehmann: I raised three children and got them through college. One child was gifted, and I had to deal with the administration to make sure he was challenged. The other child challenged the curriculum of a course and I was there to back him up. In my previous job, I had to pull together multiple departments with different aims and goals to produce the packet for the customer. So with that experience I can listen and hear all sides of an issue and get to an agreement that works for everyone.

Marie La Vere-Wright: I have been active in D 49 for 18 years, as a teacher, and then as a parent. All of my children are either D 49 students or graduates. I serve on the Special Education Advisory Council, FHS School Accountability Committee, the Falcon Coalition, and the D 49 Enhanced Security Community Advisory Committee. I served on the D 49 Board of Education from 2011-2019. During my tenure, we were awarded the Colorado “Board of Distinction,” improved access to vocational and trade programs, increased concurrent enrollment and increased parent choice.

  • What are the top three priorities that you think D 49 should address over the next few years? What is the first thing you would seek to change if elected?

Mike Heil: First thing is addressing lagging teacher pay — we cannot have outstanding student outcomes without the efforts of outstanding teachers, which is why I volunteered for the mill levy override committee and am using my platform to spread the word. Vote YES on 4C!

Candace Lehmann:

  • Bring back respect and dignity to all interactions. We don’t all have to agree but we must treat each other with respect and dignity.
  • Help District 49’s administration fortify educational environments. We need to establish spaces where everyone can thrive without fear for their safety.
  • Continue to support District 49’s value of choice. I support continual growth of our students through our diverse learning opportunities, from concurrent enrollment college programs to vocational training. This ensures every student can attain success.
  • Strive to support and advance District policy with dedication to all students.

 First thing, I would expand the programs and systems that are successful for our students.

Marie La Vere-Wright:

  • Recover learning loss and improve academic performance
  • Re-engage our families and our community in our schools
  • Improve the morale of our teachers and staff

We need to return to a collaborative, respectful environment modeling appropriate civil discourse at the board level. This has to happen first before we can achieve any of the priorities we have. 

  • Are you knowledgeable of the District’s budget, including expenditures and funding sources?

Mike Heil: It’s a very complicated topic, but I began my education on it over a year ago, and I’ve been paying close attention.

Candace Lehmann: Yes, I understand the state’s formula for contribution to the district and how outside funds can be raised. District 49 also has a great deal of transparency around their budget.

Marie La Vere-Wright: Yes, I am. I was treasurer for two years during my prior board service, and learned about the complexity of our current funding system. Our district is negatively impacted because we have predominantly residential property, so our ability to raise funds is significantly lower per pupil than surrounding districts.  During my tenure, we moved to a “backpack funding” model, which requires education dollars follow the student, and decisions about how to spend those dollars are made by those closest to the students who can best identify needs.

  • Do you believe parents have sufficient opportunities for involvement in D 49 and issues affecting their children/students? If not, how would you give them more control?

Mike Heil: My experience with D 49, both as a parent and as a community member, is that we’re incredibly transparent and open to engagement. I’m very satisfied with the opportunities for involvement, but it requires the parent to expend that effort.

Candace Lehmann: I think that there is a lot of transparency for parents: grades, assignments and curriculum are available through various platforms; parents can sit in on a class; and they can always contact the teacher, principal or superintendent if need be. Also, parents can opt their student out of courses or particular aspects of the curriculum if they so desire.

Marie La Vere-Wright: We need to increase parent engagement in our schools. Parents are the first and primary educators of their children and know them best. They can opt out of absolutely anything they deem inappropriate for their child. Although every school has a school advisory council, and we have advisory councils for special education, culturally and linguistically diverse education, gifted and talented, etc., many are not aware that they can impact school decisions by being involved in these areas. We need to re-engage and listen.

  • How should the board address the spectrum of academic scores in the state of Colorado?

Mike Heil: They shouldn’t worry about the scores of Colorado, but focus on D 49.

Candace Lehmann: Empowering the administration to propose the best methods for improving test scores and ensuring schools have the resources they need to support student success.

Marie La Vere-Wright: We have local control, and need to focus on what we can do locally to best serve our students. We need to equip our teachers with the training they need, and pass the MLO so we can keep those we trained instead of losing them to districts who can pay them more after we have invested in their training. We also need to rely on authentic measures of student performance instead of a single test.

  • What do you think is the role of community businesses and residents related to student education e.g., providing internships and other learning opportunities? Do you think the BOE can play a role in involving the community?

Mike Heil: D 49 is a leader in career/technical education (CTE) options and many of those programs lend themselves directly to internships or summer project work. If the district isn’t currently pursuing those options, it’s absolutely appropriate for the board to pursue.

Candace Lehmann: I think this is a great idea. Local businesses providing internships can open the world for some students. The BOE could publicize this idea and take input from local businesses.

Marie La Vere-Wright: The board can and should encourage our community to be involved in our schools. During my previous tenure we were actively working on building relationships and internship opportunities with business leaders, and working to develop the programming that fits our current skilled employment needs.

  • What is your opinion on banning books? If a parent feels a book is inappropriate, how should the complaint be handled?

Mike Heil: I am a strong proponent of parents’ rights, but it’s worth remembering that a parent’s rights begin and end with their own children. It’s entirely appropriate for a parent to decide what content their children can access, but banning books represents an overstep of that authority, infringing on the rights of every other parent who might want their children to have access. I wouldn’t support a ban except in a case where a book has no redeeming literary value.

Candace Lehmann: I intend to follow existing district policy should a complaint arise (policy KEC). It is a parent’s right to restrict their child’s access to material they find objectionable (addressed by policy KEF). 

Marie La Vere-Wright: Ultimately, parents have the final say in their child’s education, and this includes the books the child reads. Rather than the wholesale banning of books, which has a very problematic history, allowing parents to restrict their own child’s access to materials would be more appropriate. This can be approached the same as any other parent curricular opt-out.

  • Does social emotional learning (SEL) as implemented in D 49 help students that need it? How do you think the district should be addressing the needs of all students, including special needs, English language learners, students with dyslexia or ADHD, military students, ethnicities, etc.

Mike Heil: Our educators tell us SEL is needed in their classrooms and that it works, and I’ve seen no evidence of any nefarious content, so I fully support that. Students came back from the pandemic with elevated behavioral issues, and staff need the tools to deal with that in order to be able to focus on academics. As for the rest, there are no easy answers, they are all unique challenges that require different responses, but I fully support our district’s efforts to meet those challenges.

Candace Lehmann: Yes, I feel that this policy is helping students, especially because teachers consistently report that SEL offers a tool to help them establish relationships with students and manage dysregulated student behaviors. My short answer is that D 49 best addresses the needs of all students through our expansive portfolio of choices. As a result of the variety of district-operated, charter and hybrid programs D 49 offers, parents have the ability to find the best educational environment to meet whatever their child’s needs are in D 49.

Marie La Vere-Wright: We need to listen to students, families and teachers across the spectrum to support all our students. They can provide the insight to then help identify the right resources to meet each child’s needs. Students can only learn when their basic needs are met, including social emotional needs. D 49 is working hard to meet those needs, but we still have unmet needs as indicated by the high level of dysregulation in classrooms reported by teachers. Appropriate SEL is helpful, but is only one tool. Teachers need support and training if we want to better address this need. 

  • What do you feel your role on the D 49 BOE should be?

Mike Heil: A voice of reason, a partner in identifying and solving problems, and a cheerleader celebrating the accomplishments of our staff, schools and especially, students.

Candace Lehmann: I feel that my role would be to listen to issues on all sides: kids, parents, administration, and come up with the best policies for all stakeholders.

Marie La Vere-Wright: The board should set policy and strategic priorities with community input, and then hold the administration accountable to following policy and achieving those strategic priorities.

Editor’s note: Debra Schmidt and Ralene Revord did not reply to the questions. 

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