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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Newest board member promotes initiatives for families

Falcon School District 49 board member Mark Shook took office in August to fill a vacancy left by Amy McClelland’s resignation. In the first weeks of his tenure, Shook proposed several new policies for board consideration, including a preamble to board policies and a change to the district’s religious neutrality policy.Shook said his proactive stance on the board is largely because of his familiarity with policy writing. During his 23 years as a business owner, he worked with lawyers to create policies for his company. He said drafting policy initiatives for D 49 is similar.”Our only purpose (as a school board) is to represent the parents of the district,” Shook said. “We have control of the public schools and that is a wonderful thing. We can’t do it without the staff and administrators – we hire a superintendent who answers to the board, because the top of the pyramid is the school board.”Shook said his focus is to make sure D 49 supports the needs of families. “I feel the family is being threatened across the country.”He said the school should never supersede the role of parents as it educates D 49 students. To solidify the parent’s role in the district, he proposed a preamble to the Falcon Board of Education policies.In the preamble, Shook wrote, “The District acknowledges the primacy of the family as the fundamental authority in the lives of its children. To this end, the district supports constitutionally protected parental rights and responsibilities.”He also underscores the school board’s authority by quoting the Colorado State Constitution, which gives power to the school board to “control instruction within the public schools of their respective districts.” The preamble concludes, “No action, resolution or policy of the board shall circumvent, dilute or negate the powers and responsibilities given to the Falcon Board of Education by the Colorado State Constitution.””Some parents and teachers have called into question the board’s right to operate as we see fit,” Shook said. He said the preamble won’t change anything, but it will protect the board from the possibility of future attacks. “I don’t want a policy that limits us from doing whatever we please.”Parent advocate Tom Herald said Shook’s recent actions is a concern. “The preamble is just a way of getting around the public,” Herald said. “It serves a purpose to say the school board has been elected and can do whatever they want and the community doesn’t have any further say.”The school board should maintain an open relationship with district patrons after elections; and, as an elected board, they don’t necessarily have a blanket mandate from the people, Herald said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t listen to the people,” he added.Kelly Jo Sallings-Davies, parent and building accountability and advisory committee co-chair for Woodmen Hills Elementary, said the board is trying to limit parent input by strictly controlling the open forum during board meetings. “They have put too many restrictions on what can be said during the limited public forums, how long you have to say it, what specifically can be addressed,” Sallings-Davies said. “And they don’t allow any comment by the public during work sessions.”Shook said the board designates up to an hour at each meeting to the open forum sessions. “We’re not required to do this,” he said. “We went from one open forum to two. It’s not an efficient way to conduct business, but we don’t want to eliminate it – it is a safety valve for parent input.”The more effective way for parents to be heard is to e-mail board members with questions and concerns, Shook said. He also encouraged parent participation on school and district committees.Parent Dave Trujillo serves on the long range planning and mill levy override committees, and in the past, he served on the Falcon Elementary School Building Accountability and Advisory Committee.”Serving on these committees helps me to be informed,” Trujillo said. “I got involved because I was hearing rumors, and I’m the kind of person that likes to hear information directly. Most of the time, the rumors are misinformation.”While serving on the Falcon Elementary School BAAC, he helped correct the parking situation to control the student drop-off area and create a safer flow of traffic. In his experience, he said the school board has been responsive to the recommendations made by his committees.Trujillo said his concern is the way the board puts out new policies. “I get frustrated when a board member has a brilliant idea but doesn’t back it up,” he said. “It should be presented with supporting information, pros and cons to help us make informed decisions.”Sallings-Davies said the recent proposals have brought urgency to her suspicions that the board of education is promoting a religiously driven agenda. “I am deeply worried that these recent policies … will lead us to a place where we no longer teach science in our school but instead teach religious dogma … where our children will learn nothing about human reproduction, birth control or sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.In response, Sallings-Davies said she is mobilizing members of the Woodmen Hills Elementary Parent Teachers Association and the community to keep tabs on what is going on in the district.Recent proposals for board consideration by an individual board member since the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year:Agenda item: revision of district policy of religious neutralityPresented by Mark ShookLast presented on Sept. 24Summary: a change in current district policy to ensure the rights of staff and students to observe Christmas and prevent district practices from abridging this rightAction taken: to be presented as an action item Oct. 9Agenda item: revision of Board of Education Policy for school board meetingsPresented by Mark ShookLast presented on Sept. 11Summary: a revision to allow electronic communication to form a quorum and conduct public businessAction taken: approved by the boardAgenda item: preamble to the policies of the Falcon Board of EducationPresented by Mark ShookLast presented on Sept. 11Summary: a preamble to board policies acknowledging the primacy of families as the fundamental authority in the lives of its children, the commission to the board of education through the State Constitution to control instruction in the district and protect the board from policies that would undermine its authority.Action taken: no official action taken; the preamble will be revised and brought before a future board meetingAgenda item: creation of district policy reserving time for familiesPresented by Mark ShookLast presented on Aug. 14Summary: in recognition of the time commitments placed on families, the board proposed to reserve Sunday and Monday for families by adopting a policy for limiting school-related activities on those days.Action taken: The item was tabled.More detailed information is available in the board of education meeting packets found at

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