Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 47° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Q&A with SPS Board candidates Jennifer Thomas and Michael Wiser

Michael Wiser:

What do you think of charter schools? Should they be encouraged in the district? Or, should all educational programs be offered within the public school system?

Spokane Schools made a good decision to be involved and help direct the types of charters approved for our city. Current our two community-based charters have complementary missions and fill a gap for many students. In addition to filling gaps, charter schools can help create a productive competitive spirit that helps public schools innovate more quickly. Our public schools can also learn directly from charter school experiences. For example, Pride Prep first implemented a free curriculum (Summit) and now plans to shift to International Baccalaureate (IB). Also, they have a longer school days. Comparing results for their students can help inform choices for SPS, which is also considering IB and could consider school day changes for options schools.

However, I would be concerned that additional charter schools could create disparities because the most engaged parents are often more aware of the choices available. Comprehensive public schools might retain more students with high needs. In addition, while I support school choice strongly, too many options could lead to confusion and a situation where too few students attend neighborhood schools, neighborhoods become even less close knit, and students seldom graduate with childhood friends.

Instead of approving more charter schools, I hope that SPS can implement new policies for pilot schools that allow our own schools to implement promising practices more quickly. These experiences should then quickly inform changes to neighborhood schools and improve education for all students.

How should Spokane Public Schools address disproportionate discipline of minority and special education students?

As noted above, I support investments in staff and training. The superintendent’s work group provided a clear set of recommendations to further address these issues. The upcoming report from the Urban Collaborative will also offer insights and recommendations. The combination of these two groups should lead to direct budget allocations that are most likely to make strong improvements. I plan to closely monitor the quarterly reports regarding discipline and raise questions and concerns when progress lags expectations. It will take several years of continued focus to come close to a level of proportionality that may be deemed acceptable.

Is the role of schools simply to teach? Or does the district’s obligation extend beyond the classroom? If so, where should that line be drawn?

I believe the obligation does go beyond traditional teaching. The ultimate goal of K-12 education is to prepare students for life after school. At Spokane Public Schools, we have the T-2-4 goal to further define that preparation (side note: I would prefer T24M to recognize military service, and T should more explicitly include Trades, not just Technical). Far, far fewer students would achieve T-2-4 goals if Spokane Public Schools only offered classroom instruction. Schools must offer food for the simple reason that hungry students will not easily learn, not to mention moral reasons. Recess and extracurricular activities are needed to allow students to be well rounded citizens and follow their interests. Furthermore, schools are excellent community gathering centers that can bring neighborhoods closer together. The infrastructure of buildings is publicly owned and should be used to support community interests whenever appropriate.

Drawing a single line is impossible, but some lines are clear. Schools can often be conveners of local partners and services for students without providing them directly. For example, mental health therapists are in our schools but are employed by the county and funded separately. Expensive trips for extracurricular activities are usually funded by parents and students, not by the district. The role of the board is to gather and understand community input whenever changes are considered that could cross that line. Wherever the line may be, the community should support it and the district should be adept and efficient at delivering to expectations.

Do you support school vouchers?

In a word, no. Public funding should go to educational institutions that are accountable to the public. In addition, I believe that public education is a foundation of our free democracy in large part because the vast majority of youth are educated together. Encouraging families to separate themselves into subgroups for K12 education would create more divisiveness without leading to improved educational outcomes. Families should always be able to choose home school or private school, but do not need voucher programs to continue doing this.

Jennifer Thomas:

What do you think of charter schools? Should they be encouraged in the district? Or, should all educational programs be offered within the public school system?

I am a huge fan of how Spokane has chosen to implement charter schools in our district. I think the more options that we have within the public school system, the better! It serves to benefit students, parents, educators and stakeholders. The goal should be student success and there is more than just one road that leads to that end.

How should Spokane Public Schools address disproportionate discipline of minority and special education students?

We have to look at the factors that are playing into problems in the classroom. We are the second largest district in the state with one of the poorest zip codes. We cannot attempt to discipline or educate every student with a one-size fits all approach. Discipline issues are going to look much different in Spokane than they do in other districts across the state. Also, behavior is going to look different for a homeless or hungry student, or one with special educational needs, than for a student from a stable home, and therefore, discipline should look different. These are big issues that we have to grapple together, but we all know that something must change.

Is the role of schools simply to teach? Or does the district’s obligation extend beyond the classroom? If so, where should that line be drawn?

Our teachers are contracted to teach. However, studies show that a hungry child, or one dealing with trauma, has numerous barriers to being able to learn- so, in order for teacher to be able to effectively teach, those issues must be addressed. The district’s contractual obligation is in the classroom, but for true success we all know that taking into consideration issues outside of the classroom is necessary.

Do you support school vouchers?

Vouchers are a complex topic. I would want to have more conversations with legislature’s and do research to study cities across the US that are using vouchers to determine if it is a beneficial model. What I do support is a strong local school district with various options for parents to choose from.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.