Q&A: Carson City School Board District 5 candidates
Kim Cohen: 41, is a stay-at-home mom. She has a husband and five children.
John McKenna: 58, is a certified public accountant
Why are you running for the school board?
Cohen: Currently, I have one child in the high school. I have one child at the middle school. I also have two children in the elementary level. My oldest has graduated. I care about the education of our children. I want to know that the policies made in our schools effectively meet the needs of our children in the classroom.
McKenna: There are opportunities that have been created lately that will allow me to accomplish some long-term changes. These changes were not possible in the past. The changes are in two areas: more effective and efficient cooperation with the district’s employees and restructuring the way education is delivered in Carson City. With the staff reductions required by fewer students and fewer real dollars, we need to develop and initiate the process of modifying all of the district’s functions and activities. This management challenge excites me and allows me to utilize my business skills to structure a responsive, efficient and effective organization. This evolved organization will be better at meeting the children’s educational needs, be more responsive to parents and need fewer tax dollars.
How are you qualified for this position?
Cohen: My qualifications are based on 14 years of being involved in the classroom.
McKenna: I am an intelligent, fair and conservative person interested in making the educational opportunities for Carson City’s children more effective. More than 20 years of advising families, large and small business, nonprofits and governments on all aspects of management and fiscal matters make me qualified to help set policy for Carson City schools, and direct how your taxes are spent. We owe it to ourselves to ensure that students get the best education possible. As a fiscally conservative local taxpayer, it is my philosophy that we need to get the most value for the taxes we pay. Finally, my qualifications include the demonstrated abilities of being fair, open and listening to all sides.
What changes would you like to see in the Carson City School District?
Cohen: I would like to see our children reach reading proficiency and gain a strong background in their core classes.
McKenna: The employee groups need to re-evaluate their interests and methods of attaining their goals. Under federal and Nevada labor law, there is little that the school board can do to change the situation, except invite the employee groups to enter into mutually cooperative endeavors that enhance their goals and the education of children. The school board can aid its employees by continuing to be honest with financial and other information. It can also continue to provide work sessions where citizens and school employees can learn about the fiscal position of the district. Continued honesty is essential in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and other employees.
Other changes I would like to see include more programs that foster parental and community involvement in the schools and their children’s education, more accountability for individual student achievement by teachers, more recognition by the community of the very high level of education achieved here in Carson City and longer-term budgeting by the school board. Currently every dollar received is spent in that year. We need to create adequate reserves and fiscal plans that allow for a five- or more year plan, including a plan to attract and compensate the best teachers.
What would you like to see remain the same?
Cohen: I believe we have many caring and devoted teachers. I would want to see that we continue to search for those teachers who are devoted to children and their individual learning.
McKenna: The current board philosophy of not micromanaging. Everything else is subject to discussion and, if needed, change.
What are the biggest challenges you see facing education today?
Cohen: The biggest challenges at this time will be to address the budget issues and reaching the standards of the No Child Left Behind.
McKenna: My answer to this question is limited to K-12 public education here in Carson City. Carson City School Board trustees need to focus on the actual situation that exists here now, not on what happens elsewhere, not on national education policy discussions, nor the hundreds of moral and ethical debates based on situations that do not exist here.
Focus on actual local challenges is mandatory for two reasons. First, these are the only challenges that can be addressed by a school board member. Next, it is a waste of your tax dollars to spend time and resources on individual trustees’ interests that do not enhance basic education. Carson City’s biggest challenge is to increase student achievement. This is closely followed by the need to improve the effectiveness of our teachers and to increase accountability. Both of these challenges are exacerbated by a tight budget. An additional local challenge is to continue the efforts to create a cohesive environment where students, teachers, parents and the community work together to highly educate all of our children.
What will you do to address those challenges?
Cohen: I will work with the school district, board members and individual schools to problem solve and find solutions.
McKenna: Continue to make sure that the Carson City School District is fiscally responsible. Every tax dollar must be used effectively to teach basic skills such as reading, math, science and thinking skills. Ancillary programs need to be evaluated to insure that they add to the learning of these basic skills. Activities that cannot be proven to enhance education should be modified or cut. Programs developed to meet the mandates of the Nevada Legislature must be broad-based and meet the legislative intent that justified the mandate. Teacher effectiveness will be enhanced by training and effective supervision.
I will require a review of all positions and tasks to determine their effectiveness and contribution to enhancing education. Changes need to be made. We cannot continue to do all things the way they were done in the past. If a thorough review of current practices does not yield enough money to fund needed changes to training and accountability, less-essential programs will be eliminated.
An additional enhancement, that does not cost much but is very effective, will be a primary focus of mine. This enhancement is parental involvement in their child’s education and school. We will review the factors that encourage and discourage parental involvement and make changes to encourage more involvement. Finally, as a trustee I will continue to be a vocal supporter of the very high level of academic achievement currently provided by the students, parents and teachers of Carson City.
What are your outside interests?
Cohen: My main interest is my family. I enjoy my time that I have to share with them. I enjoy gardening, biking and reading.
McKenna: Building and maintaining high-mountain trails occupies a lot of my free time. These activities include being a director and vice president of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRT) and a crew leader for the TRT, Pacific Crest Trail Association and local trail organizations. Winter sports such as snowshoeing keep me in the mountains during the winter. From the opera to ballet, with an occasional concert and art gallery exhibition thrown in, the fine arts also occupy my time, as do Rotary and the Parks and Recreation Commission. At home, I like to do woodworking and yardwork.