School Board Candidates address priorities in safety, career programs
With only four spots open, nine out of registered 12 candidates for the Churchill County School District Board addressed their platforms Tuesday during Candidates Night, hosted by Lahontan Valley News and Churchill Economic Development Authority at the Fallon Convention Center.
Among many topics mentioned — such as course curriculum, student programs, teacher shortage, and budgets — the main priority at the top of each candidate’s list is school safety.
With recent events involving school shootings, the first question candidates were asked is how would they prevent possible shootings in Fallon schools and how would they identify students in need of mental support.
Some candidates said more counseling needs to be available, law enforcement patrol, or safety features assembled in schools.
Richard Wiersma Jr. said safety is a part of his platform, including devices on doors and counselors in school.
Wiersma is in the process of completing his bachelor’s degree in Psychology to incorporate it with school needs. He also worked as a peer support specialist.
“Mental health and mental illness is continuously growing in this society,” he said. “We need to start addressing the issues first and then look at bad behavior.”
Candidate Bobby Parmenter, a CCHS alumni of 2005, also backed the idea of investing in more counselors in schools, especially for elementary and middle grades. Although safety technology is a plus, it wouldn’t solve the problem, he said.
“We need to invest more in mental health programs,” he said. “As much as I agree with heightened safety, I think it’s just putting a Band-Aid on things. We have to start attacking the problem at a younger age.”
Incumbent trustees Matt Hyde and Carmen Schank both attended school board conferences focusing on school safety. Schank also attended local law enforcement active shooter drills at Fallon schools in March.
Although it’s an item both trustees want taken into effect immediately, Hyde and Schank also are aware of its costs.
“We need to keep lobbying for this,” Hyde said. “Obviously, there’s budget constraints with what we do in the school district. I would love to have a counselor for every 100 students but it’s not in our budget.”
Hyde emphasized that many of the student’s problems are within the home and teachers need to be able to identify signs.
“We have to get rid of the mindset of it’s just at home,” he said. “We need to bridge that gap. That’s where government funding will have to come in since they’re not getting emotional needs at home.”
Schank said students at risk of violence, such as active shooters, are likely to be more alone than bullied. She said a single point entry for E.C. Best Elementary also is in the works.
“Law enforcement on campus, metal detectors, and rocks in the room are examples of resources for enhanced school safety,” she said.
Candidate Deby Smotherman also supported the idea of heightened law enforcement on campus.
“We need to look at grants and see how we can get officers on school grounds,” she said. “Most importantly, we want the kids to associate with them.”
As the Career Technical Education generation sweeps in, staffing for CTE classes also is another concern for candidates as well as the community.
“We don’t have an administrator for it in the school district to create a master schedule and keep students interested,” said candidate Fred Buckmaster. “It’s an absolute travesty to see what our CTE program has done in the last few years.”
While Fallon is desperate for long-term CTE educators, community members also are hoping candidates will promote a balance with other career classes such as the arts.
Currently, the Churchill County Middle School hosts hobby classes for a half-an-hour every Friday, from cooking to gardening, and strategic games.
“We keep trying to bring it back and school safety is such a huge priority,” Schank said. “P.E. also is important for our children’s health but art is the enrichment and joy of life.”
With enrollment on the rise, Parmenter added if he were elected, he promises to get pre-k children on waiting lists into classrooms to explore classes such as arts or technology.
“We need a focus of putting those classes back into the curriculum and give that desire to learn more,” Parmenter said. “That’s what makes it spark at a younger age.”
“Whether they’re college bound or trade bound, we need to get the programs out there and get on the right track,” Smotherman said. “Sometimes when students hit the middle school area, it’s too late to discover what they like. When they’re younger, they fall in love with it.”
Both CTE and the arts can inspire a career path for students but candidates discussed who and where to obtain resources from and could it require a change to the current curriculum. Candidate Tedd McDonald, an obstetrician-gynecologist affiliated with Banner Churchill Community Hospital, said the facility will soon be expanding in employees by 15-20 percent in the next few years.
“We need to make those connections,” he said. “We’ve been exposed to the Navy and the community is flexible with those who come in to find or bring work.”
Candidate Patty Julian said the board would also need to focus on students going into the agricultural field, as they are the future employers in Fallon, she said.
“We need to make sure our students don’t become credit deficient,” she said.
Although Amber Getto is supportive of CTE classes, she also suggested the school board would get more involved with local organizations that could be interested in teaching students about their field.
“I would like to see more art and music back into our schools, even if it’s just for a half an hour,” she said. “P.E. can be something done during a recess.”
As an incumbent board trustee, Hyde said the board currently is searching for instructors that work in those crafts for $38,000 a year. He said it’s a struggle to find those candidates for the roles as the board is bound to contracts.
“My biggest goal, though, I want the graduation to be at least 90 percent and as well as student achievement” he said.
The following candidates were not present at the May 22 event: Clay Hendrix (Board President, incumbent), Jay Lingenfelter and Dante Martell.