Teaching came naturally to Spokane Public Schools board candidate Kelli MacFarlane, but some of the greatest rewards came after the lessons were over.
“I love hearing from students that say they never liked history, but learned so much from my class and really like history now,” said MacFarlane, who’s running for a six-year term at Position 2. “Every time a student comes to me and says they learned and got excited about learning, I knew education was my calling.”
Her opponent, Jenny Slagle, saw the transformative value of education and hard work through the eyes of a young girl who overcame poverty and unstable housing on the Yakama Indian Reservation.
“My parents and community gave me the strength, motivation and hope to face challenges and create opportunities,” said Slagle, who’s the first in her family to earn a college degree.
They don’t agree on many issues, but MacFarlane and Slagle believe in the power of public education to better the lives of students.
They also believe that there’s work to done.
Slagle and her husband sent four children through Spokane schools – “a statistical feat regardless of race or ethnicity,” she said.
“They each had their own learning experience, and as an engaged parent, I’ve seen how well the schools work and what needs to be improved,” Slagle said.
For Slagle, who serves on the district’s Diversity Advisory Council, one of the biggest jobs is “to be advocates for all students … to respect cultures.”
“We need to adopt a racial equity policy,” Slagle said last week at the Northwest Pints and Politics event sponsored by The Spokesman-Review. “We need to support our most vulnerable students, those of color and those with disabilities.”
MacFarlane countered with her own experience as a teacher in El Paso, “where sometimes I was the only white person in the classroom, but there was no racial divide because I treated them as individual students – and that’s what we need to do.”
At the same time, MacFarlane said she’s upset by her recent experience as a substitute in Spokane.
“Students cursed at me, and I talked with co-workers who had been physically injured by students,” MacFarlane said. “I saw students with no sense of responsibility, accountability or respect drift further away from learning.”
MacFarlane hopes to address safety concerns with an armed presence in all schools, including elementary schools. But she does not have a concrete plan to pay for the new positions.
“I’m in favor of it,” said MacFarlane, who has 15 years of teaching experience. “But not anyone – it has to be a professional, and they also need to be seriously vetted.”
That presence would be reassuring to students, said MacFarlane, who also would like to see additional security enhancements, including metal detectors “at all high schools and possibly middle schools” as students bring backpacks into buildings. She also would like to see security cameras “not only used but strictly monitored.”
Slagle has other priorities, beginning with more conversations about disproportionate discipline of African American, Native American and special needs students and others.
“We must continue to work to improve relationships and student success by deepening restorative discipline practices, culturally responsive training and MTSS programs, which now includes social-emotional learning,” Slagle said.
MTSS stands for “multi-tiered system of supports” and is a concept for problem-solving promoted by the Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office.
Slagle said she agreed with several key points in the Safe Havens report of school security. They include improvements to door security; increased surveillance coverage to include facial recognition technology; nurses at every school; using paraprofessionals for increased student supervision; and updated radios “so there is inter-operability with first responders.”
Neither candidate is in favor or putting a supplemental levy on the ballot next spring.
“First off, I do not think it would pass,” MacFarlane said. “I also think it sends a message that if we can’t manage our money, we’ll just ask for more.”
MacFarlane acknowledged that “not all the budget problems are caused by District 81 (Spokane Public Schools), some are certainly caused by the state. However, that does not mean the taxpayers are responsible for the deficit.”
Slagle is taking a wait-and-see approach. She approves the district’s use of reserve funds to mitigate the current shortfalls but wants to “see where the budget ends after this school year” before considering a supplemental levy in the fall of 2020.
Slagle cites her 15 years in the Tribal Gaming Agency with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, where she “fostered, allocated and managed the department’s multimillion dollar budget.”
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