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Cheney school board candidates Marcella Estrellado and Mark Scott talk COVID-19, equity and more

Aug. 31, 2021 Updated Thu., Oct. 14, 2021 at 10:58 a.m.

By Jordan Tolley-Turner The Spokesman-Review

This November, Mark Scott looks to challenge a nearly 18-year incumbent, Marcella Estrellado, for a spot on the Cheney School Board.

Here are the views of candidates for District 1 on COVID-19 and schooling, the potential of a new high school, equity and other issues.

COVID-19

Estrellado said the shift of March 2020 was incredibly sudden and rapidly became much more than the district expected.

“Teachers go to college and they’re not required to take a class that says ‘what to do in a pandemic,’ and ‘how to teach distance learning in a pandemic,’ ” Estrellado said. “The fact that we had people working seven days a week for a good four or five months just to do the best we could … I don’t have any regrets.”

Scott believes the district could have done some things differently and offered his overall thoughts on students’ needs for in-person learning.

“We could definitely have looked at taking some more prudent risks to help students deal with the social and emotional challenges of being a long way from their peers and fellow students, as well as the great role models that our district has as teachers and administrators,” Scott said about the previous school year.

“I think that this is a challenge that is not going to go away soon, and we’re going to need to continually look at balancing safety and the overall health of our students in their relationships with fellow students, staff and needing that exposure to be in a better place instead of stuck at home,” he said.

Estrellado said the district should follow government and health officials, adding, “I think that the fact that we are actually back in school, as it stands right now, that’s a win.” Gov. Jay Inslee announced over the summer that students and staff would be required to wear masks inside during school statewide.

Multiple people in Estrellado’s family have had COVID-19, including her husband, who was hospitalized for eight days.

“If you’ve never been touched by COVID, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, masks bother me,’ but it’s way less of a bother than getting COVID,” Estrellado said.

“Our biggest challenge is that we’re not over COVID yet, so we are still dealing with how to best keep our kids safe and our community safe, and yet move forward in progress of our teaching and learning,” Estrellado said.

Scott also said the opinion of “senior governing bodies” should be considered when making the mask decision, but “there’s an element of ‘where are the local outbreaks’ that need to be considered. If we are not in an outbreak in this county or region, then we shouldn’t have to necessarily follow the same guidelines that another area might be in.”

District growth

The candidates also discussed the prospect of a new high school for the district as its student population continues to grow.

“I think it is inevitable,” Estrellado said. “Right now we have 1,200, maybe 1,300, in our high school, and we have the room for that because of our new expansion. But, with the continuous growth we’re not going to be able to have that be the only solution, and so we will need a new high school.”

Estrellado said the district has tried moving boundaries to keep schools relatively even.

“There are times when people may not view that as a positive thing, but we’re trying to keep our ratios in good order so we can serve our students well,” Estrellado said.

Scott also agreed a new high school will be needed eventually, adding he would like to research what size high schools operate the most efficiently.

“I think we have to make an evaluation if that high school is sufficient for the community right now or if an additional high school is going to be needed for the growth of the Cheney School District, which is a pretty big and diverse school district which includes quite a few other communities,” Scott said.

As for the district’s foreseen growth as a whole, Scott said, “I think we need to be leaders that are thinking in the future and have a vision for a school district that takes into account the growth of the community and the growth of the student body so that we’re in front of the power curve not behind it.”

Equity, levies, more

On the broad topic of equity within the district, Estrellado said “with happenings last year it became even more prevalent that ‘OK, we really need to have some discussions, maybe even harder discussions than we’ve had in the past.’ And I support that.”

Scott said the national conversation on equity and what’s best for the Cheney School District will need to be discussed among community members and voters.

“I think Cheney School District needs to stay true to its mission statement, and I think they’ve done a good job at that and trying to make sure that all students, regardless of any specific group, have the ability and opportunity to learn and be successful and learn in a safe and inclusive environment,” Scott said.

For any future levies, Estrellado said the district analyzes its needs well before any levy is passed, adding, “When we’re talking about what we need for our kids to achieve and stay current, those are our priorities and that’s what we need to do.”

Scott said he doesn’t “particularly want to raise taxes for any new levies” as Cheney High School was recently modernized and expanded, but evaluations will need to be made in the future.

For students to learn at the best possible standard, Estrellado said in-person learning is the most effective for most students.

Scott said the best learning can be done with “resources, a reasonably high standard and a good school culture with a positive environment, one that is safe for them to express themselves and be themselves,” adding, “also a place that has their best interests in mind and allows them to learn at the pace that is best for them.”

Estrellado wants to remain focused on student learning and graduation rates.

“We want to make sure we are educating kids properly so that they reach their goals … Right now, we have a graduation rate of 91% and we’re always striving to do better and improve that,” Estrellado said.

One of Scott’s priorities is appropriately managing district resources.

“We need to make sure that those funds are utilized in the best way, and we are responsible for making sure that all the programs that are the most necessary are provided for students to be successful.”

Scott said he would seek input on the community’s wants and needs, adding he has the experience and background as a military commander to “take input and also make tough decisions.”

“The most important thing to me is making sure that all students have the opportunity for success in life and that we as a community, and a school district, prepare them the best we can for the challenges that they might face in life,” Scott said.

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