Baraboo School Board – Candidate Forum Questions – 2020 – for Candidate Forum (Wed, 11 Mar 2020)

School Board
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My Social Media Presences

Candidacy Website:

My candidacy website is still quite rough and will be a continual work in progress: 

Website: https://www.jamesoneillforoffice.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JO4BSB2020

My Macro-Policy Website: 

My macro policy site. Interstellar New Deal, is a living site and is changed often:

Website: https://interstellarnewdeal.global
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InterstellarNewDeal

General

 (We are hoping most of the general questions will be addressed in the questionnaire)

1. What motivates you to become a school board member? 

<Copied from my website’s page: Why Am I Running? >

As I have become more politically active and awakened over the last 14+ years I have studied many things trying to figure out why our world is so messed up and to try to find solutions for these many problems we face. I have even blogged about many of those ideas over the years on my blog Free Xenon partly for my own benefit, learning, and journey, but also to, hopefully, help others to understand these complex issues too. I know I have struggled to figure it all out, because there is so very much that is wrong with the world and because the problems we face are complex and are deeply interconnected. I have even created a site to house and to expand upon the many policies I have developed and collected over the years: Interstellar New Deal.

As a Human Right education is the most important thing we invest our time and money in because it forms the universal bedrock for equality, creativity, innovation, progress, peace, class mobility, and the ability of individuals to pursue a fulfilling life and to be able to make a difference within Humanity. It also acts as a bastion to keep a person from being manipulated and taken advantage of. Education spending is one of the few things that should NEVER be cut, and only ever increased because of the far reaching impact of a highly educated populace. The significant return on investment from education spending is hard to argue against.

Unfortunately, the people of the United States have been losing a 50 year long assault against our education system, destroying it sliver by sliver, year by year. We used to be a global leader in education, but now we are bordering on laughable. Our education system has been infected with corporate corruption and inequality at pretty much every level, and our parents and children suffer because of it, feeling voiceless and powerless to help affect change or to effectively advocate for themselves. Our teachers, our parents, our children, our communities, and our country suffers with each and every cut against our education system resulting in a harmful downward spiral.

This needs to stop. We need to reclaim our education system for our children, so that they can compete with the children of the rest of the world, because we are falling behind, very much behind. How can our children and our country compete in an increasingly globalized world when our education system is radically failing? My daughter deserves the best education possible and so do your children and that is what we need to fight for.

We can do better.
We must do better.
Our country and the world depends on it.

We must work together to effectuate change because change is never readily accepted or granted by those who will lose power and influence through it, even if it means harming our children’s futures.

2. What skills will you bring to the board if elected?

As far as the general set of skills or experiences –  I am a:

  • husband and a concerned father
  • Navy veteran of the Iraq War
  • lifelong geek
  • college graduate with a degree in computer programming and networking
  • small business owner and manager
  • long time political blogger and activist

What sets me apart from the other candidates?
I bring 3 things to the table that, I believe, the other candidates may not:

  1. System Outsider –  I am not a current or former member of the school system unlike the other candidates, so I have not had my point of view limited or biased by experience within the system. I have a more objective and critical view from outside of the system. My view of problems and answers is not colored through the limited lens of thinking through the system.
  2. Understanding of Macro Issues – I have spent the last 14+ years trying to understand why our world is so messed up and how to fix it, and, while doing so, I have concentrated on understanding the issues such as poverty, inequality, minimum wage, LGBT issues, climate issues, electoral reform, etc… which effect the entirety of our country and not just our district.

    These macro issues are very important, because these macro issues drive and even create the local issues that our district faces, therefore, if we do not work towards solving these larger macro issues that any other work we do towards solving issues within the school system will have a limited and temporary effect.
  3. Grassroots Oriented –  “It takes a Community to Raise a Child.” – My approach towards solving the issues that our district faces is community and grassroots oriented. Only through working together can we solve our issues, and we WILL need to work together.

3. What do you believe are the duties and roles of a school board member?  

To listen to the children. 
To listen to the parents who elected them into office. 
To help to forge an educational system that creates human beings with:

  • a powerful connection to themselves
  • a powerful connection to the rest of Humanity
  • a powerful connection to the natural world
  • a powerful understanding of how the world works 

… so our children can become the best people that they could possibly be and NOT just be able to complete a test satisfactorily. We need our children to be ready to embrace being Humanity’s future.  

4. Describe the ideal relationship between the school board and district administration.

The School Board, which is elected by the people, should first and foremost be beholden to the people, to serve the people, and NOT service the internal politics of the administration and not act as an extension of or as a second hand of the administration. 

5. What is your top priority for the school board to address? 

Inequality – see question 1 of Discipline/Behaviour

6. What do you believe are the most pressing challenges in our district today? 

Inequality – see question 1 of Discipline/Behaviour

Student Achievement/Instruction

1. How do you believe student achievement can and should be measured?

Individual and non-comparative. 

2. What is your current understanding of Grading for Learning?

Common Core has been devastating to our children and their futures and even Bill Gates (whose  organization wrote the Common Core standard and sold it to Congress) admitted that it was a complete failure. Schools which have dropped it have had their children improve and thrive much better than under the oppressive corporate yoke of Common Core.

3. What role does data play in decisions made about instruction and assessment?

The quality of our decisions is limited by the quality and extent of our data, so more data is better over all, but the quality is more important than quantity. Poor data can create poor decisions. 

However, there is much more to making a decision than what an always limited set of data can tell you. There are people at the end of that dataset and there are those social and emotional information which cannot so easily be recorded.

4. What does equity look like in a typical classroom or school?

Children of the various educational levels working and learning together while having access to the tools, resources, techniques, and people needed to allow them to excel. Each child is going to be different, so learning what path and methods motivates and excites them will be the difference that will supercharge their ability and drive to learn. 

Those equitable conditions are not just what we see here in school, but also outside school, because those external conditions such as poverty, homelessness, parents working themselves to death with more than one job, or not having access to healthcare, or vacation, or sick time are what will more powerfully affect their ability to learn each and every day. 

Each child is a prodigy (advanced learner) under the right conditions. It is up to us to find what those conditions are and to provide them, so that each child can excel. 

5. What is your philosophy of special education?

Special needs children deserve equal access to teachers and resources. Special needs children should not be isolated and should be integrated with the rest of the students, when conducive to that child’s learning process. They are no less social and no less human than the rest of our children. Having integrated classrooms will help special needs children to feel more a part of the school. As well, the exposure to special needs children will reduce potential bullying by other children and possibly even create great friendships. Doing so will help to create compassion and empathy, something which is increasingly missing in today’s world.

Although, we will want special education teachers in the integrated classroom such as with our paired teaching program in order to ensure that our special needs children have the care and guidance that they need so that their learning environment is not harming their learning potential.

Discipline/Behavior

1. What do you believe the greatest behavioral challenges are in our schools?

I know that what I am going to say here is not going to be popular with many people, but the first thing we have to acknowledge and understand is that: 

Bullying and behavioral issues are NOT the problem.

Bullying and other behavioral issues are a symptom of greater problems within our schools, within our communities, and within society at large. They are first a symptom of larger, more complex, and systemic macro issues (social, economic, electoral, health, political, etc…) and, secondly, as a result of more local issues within the district (budget, morale, and policies). These larger ‘macro issues‘ are complex and are the true root causes of bullying and other behavioral issues that manifest within our schools and society at large. 

With the US having one of the largest levels of childhood poverty in the developed world, and with a new study saying that student homlessness has recently increased, that means that at least 4 out of 20 kids in our classrooms are suffering from some form of severe anxiety, stress, and depression.

When our children come to school they bring with them the oppressive weight of home insecurity and food insecurity. They bring with them the powerful effect of their parents’ anxiety and stress from debt slavery, wage slavery, working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet, or a lack of healthcare, vacation or sick time. They bring with them the feeling and understanding that when their parents do have a moment at home to be with their kids they are not really at home

Our children cannot check their anxieties and home lives at the school door. They carry these with them every day, which is a heavy burden for a child to bear – and should never have to bear. Our compassionate and empathetic teachers know each and every child who is suffering from home difficulties. This knowledge affects the teachers too and they all suffer wishing they could do something about it, but are powerless to do so. Until we accept and realize these facts, we cannot truly begin to work on solving this problem.

The plethora of solutions needed to work towards solving these problems will never be as simple as let’s just throw more money at the schools or teachers or just a school school policy change. Such changes will help in the short term but, nowhere near enough as what truly needs to be done so that our children are able to grow to be the best adults that they possible can be.

2. What policies do you want to see put into place to address the behavior issues we are seeing in our schools today?

A. Empowering and Supporting Parents

We should first start with working towards empowering and supporting our parents and families through effectively “unionizing” our parents. Because of how broken our country is and how much our families are suffering we do not support each other and look out for each other as a community. We are all just a bunch of families that live in close proximity. Some families and neighbors who live close to each other do work together which helps, but that is nowhere near enough. 

With poverty and inequality as high as it is, each family needs a much larger network of support and we can accomplish that by bringing our families together and working together so that we can lift all of our voices up so that we can ALL be heard, so that we ALL can be a part of the solution. It will be harder for our families to be ignored and to have our voices dashed upon the rocks of that black box of the district’s bureaucracy when all of our parents are speaking out and are working and advocating together. 

If we empower and expand our Parent Support Groups (PSGs) so that they will also provide support for our families in need and even act as an advocate for them then our PSGs can be our most powerful force for change in our communities. When our parents come together as a community is when real change will begin. We are so much more powerful when we stand together. 

There is sooo much more to what we can accomplish with empowered Parental Support Groups. 
This one facet is just the tip of the iceberg in possibilities that I have on my list.

B. Macro Issue Advocacy

Our teachers, parents, children, and our district itself needs to unite in advocating for systemic change to all governmental policies to help to reduce inequality and to support and expand educational spending.

C. District Changes

A school based policy language that is not similar to that of a prison. 

An educational system that concentrates on the interconnectedness of Humanity to not only each and every single person, but also with the natural world. This interconnectedness must be emphasized in an interdisciplinary way as well. Once our children realize that they are a part of a larger whole and that what they do affects the rest, then things may change significantly.

Inequality in all forms is an explicit result of the denial of our mutual interdependence and that is something we need to work on fixing not only in our schools, but also in our community too. Without changing both we will truly not be able to make a lot of progress on this. Here are some things we can do to help reduce bullying and  behavioural issues:

  • External and Internal
    • Reducing inequality
  • Social Skills and Techniques
    • Conflict resolution
    • Nonviolent communication
    • Restorative Justice
  • Focusing on Connection to Self 
    • Mindfulness and meditation
    • Nutrition, reading labels, cooking
  • Focusing on Connection to Humanity
    • Teaching about bullying 
    • Empathy and compassion
    • Teach our children to collectively stand up for each other and against bullies (in a nonviolent way) – solidarity – for we are all stronger when we stand together against a mutual oppressor
    • Games the focus on interconnectedness
    • Exercises which help reveal connections that students have with other students
    • Eye Gazing
    • Human Library
    • Comparative anthropology
    • Ensure that LGBT as well as racial and ethnic diversity is present in our curriculum, staff, and student body
    • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs/Biopsychosocial Model
    • Butterfly Effect and the 6 Degrees of Interconnectedness
  • Focusing on Connection to the Natural World
    • Our children desperately need access to the natural world with expanded recess, trips to see and appreciate the natural world, access to classes or projects that allow them to take care of or plants or crops and to take care of animals
    • Classes on ecology in general and to how humanity fits into the global ecology

…and soooo much more… 

3. How do you feel about alternative education pathways and should they be expanded to middle school and elementary students?

More options are always good when used appropriately.
We need to understand what works best for each child and provide it for them.

Staff Retention/ Staff Morale

1. Dozens of teachers left our district last year.  What is your reaction to this? What suggestions do you have to keep this from happening in the future? What incentives do you believe will help retain staff?

This is unfortunate and is a symptom of greater systemic issues within the district. 

We need:

  • to quit underfunding the school district
  • a cultural change in the school district to ensure our teachers feel valued and supported, and not fear reprisal
  • to work towards overturning Act 10.
  • to create an official organization – a Veteran’s Teacher Council – to aggregate our district’s experienced teachers to be able to provide a level of much more organized support for our newer and less experienced teachers

2. Would you support educational assistant’s decision to organize and collectively bargain for improved wages and working conditions?

Yes. All workers should be unionized everywhere.
ALL of them! 

3. How would you advocate for respectful relationships between all stakeholders? 

We need to realize that we are all on the same team and just want what is best for our children.

4. What role should the school board play in determining the number of programs and initiatives within a district and monitoring the impact on the workload of the staff?

There needs to be a delicate balance because the board members are not there in the trenches of teaching, but they will have access to data, teachers, parents, and children to help inform their decisions.

Finances

1. Baraboo prides itself on being a low spending district. How do you plan to be fiscally responsible while meeting the needs of students, staff, and facilities?

I was actually rather shocked when I saw this phrasing of this forum question – “prides itself on being a low spending district”. I had to read it at least another time to make sure I was reading it correctly. 

I know what I am about to say is NOT going to be popular, but what this says to me is that our district prides itself on underfunding our teachers and children which I find rather ridiculous. Being fiscally responsible and innovative is one thing, but NOT keeping up with the rest of the districts in the state on educational spending is ensuring our teachers and students will suffer more and more with each passing year. While this is not quite as egregious as horrific destruction wrought by Scott Walker and that abomination of a policy, Act 10, but assuredly this is NOT something we should find pride in.

  • How much of that underfunding has caused us to lose teachers by not being able to be really competitive or attractive to teachers to keep them here? 
  • How many times have our teachers had to seek outside funding such as their own funds or through the Parents Support Group to get something for their classroom? 
  • How many times have we not had enough teachers on staff for special education or other very necessary programs? 
  • Why do we not have a nutritionist or do not have a gluten free certified kitchen so that we can have meals made for students who have special dietary needs?
  • How about having more funding available to even more greatly reduce inequality within the district?

There should be no pride found in the fiscal abandonment of our teachers and special needs children in the name of frugality.

2. What are your opinions about Act 10 and how do you feel it has impacted the Baraboo School District?

It is a horrific abomination meant to destroy the education of the next generation of children, our children. It is an affront to humanity and it needs to be destroyed, and every single politician that supported it or voted for it needs to be primaried and kicked out of public service! 

It has gutted the ability of unions, especially our teacher’s unions, to negotiate and has greatly limited the ability of school districts to negotiate too. All of which are unnecessary limitations meant to hobble worker’s rights and give power to the corporations and 1%. 

When I talk about a 50 year war against education… well… here we are.

3. What are your fiscal priorities for the school board?

  1. Increase support for increasing district wide equity.
  2. Increase teacher pay and benefits until we are truly competitive. 
  3. Increase support for classrooms so that teachers do NOT have to use their own funds or the funds of the Parent Support Groups.

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