Candidates aim to improve schools

Three individuals are vying for the Tacoma School Board Position 1. An incumbent who's been on the board the last 17 years will be attempting to keep her seat, which a familiar face at the school board meetings hopes to take, as well as an individual with extensive background in education. After the Aug. 21 primary, only two will remain in the running for the Nov. 6 general election. School board members serve six-year terms.

Debbie Winskill

After 17 years on the Tacoma School Board, Debbie Winskill said she is still "very interested in education and making Tacoma Public Schools the best district it can be."  If elected, it will be Winskill's fourth term on the school board.

Winskill, who was born and raised in Tacoma, feels the district has made strides since she was elected to the school board, especially in the area of reading. "Over the years, we have greatly increased scores on reading," she remarked.

Math remains an area of interest for Winskill. "We're excited about the new curriculum, but want to make sure we fill all the holes and continue on that course," she commented. A new math curriculum, Saxon Math, was implemented at the onset of the 2006-07 school year, an effort spearheaded by outgoing superintendent Charlie Milligan.

Winskill is also proud of the new buildings the district has built during her tenure on the school board, and its current financial status. "From a budget standpoint, the district is very healthy," she noted.

In the future, Winskill would like to see the district increase the number of specialty schools like the Tacoma School of the Arts as discussed at the recent education summit, Get Smart Tacoma. She believes the community needs to have input on the kind of specialty schools. "Small specialized schools are good for some kids," Winskill noted, adding that more attention also needs to be focused on vocational education. "We have let that go by the wayside a little bit because of the increased attention to the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning)," she continued. "Students can learn good skills and even skills applicable to the WASL by taking those classes." 

Winskill has served on the Washington State School Directors' Association (WSSDA) board and the WSSDA legislative committee in the past, as well as the Second City Chamber Series Board and the Philharmonic Board, among others. Winskill said she's a firm believer in being involved both regionally and statewide.

She's a graduate of University of Puget Sound and a mother of five grown children and a grandmother to nine. She has also been a foster mother to 24 children.

Winskill feels her many years of experience on the board help her make more informed decisions. "It takes several years to really find out how everything works," she noted. "It's a complex system."

Winskill said she continues to learn new things. "I take it very seriously and know the responsibility it requires," she remarked.

Winskill is proud of the fact she rarely misses a meeting and attends many school events.

In addition to hiring a new permanent superintendent, other challenges the district faces, according to Winskill, include the dropout rate, population decline and closing the achievement gap.

Stan Smith

This marks Stan Smith's second time running for Tacoma School Board. He said he didn't think he would win the first time, because he started late and didn't know much about running a campaign.

Smith, who grew up in the Northwest, said he decided to run again because "the issues that need to be addressed in the school system haven't been addressed yet."

The primary issue, according to Smith, is too much time and attention being focused on "stalling, studying problems to death" and pointing blame rather than "fixing problems as they arise." Smith described himself as a solutions-orientated individual.

Smith said the school board needs someone who isn't afraid to act on something quickly that is in the best interest of the district.

He feels its time for change on the school board. "It's time to move on and let someone else continue the work," said Smith, who is a stay-at-home father of two. He is medically retired from the U.S. Army and serves on the board of the North End Neighborhood Council. Smith has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Seattle Pacific University.

A major challenge the district faces, according to Smith, is the school consolidation issue, which he said "has the potential to change the landscape of the city as a whole.

"It needs to done with a lot of thoughtfulness to that end," he continued, "so it doesn't have a negative impact on the city."

Smith has been active in the district, attending school board meetings on a regular basis over the last five years, he said. He also served on the district's School Consolidation Advisory Committee, which he described as an "eye-opening experience."

Smith is concerned about the school board becoming an extension of the district administration rather than being an oversight board. "Unlike a majority of the school board members, I have a personal stake in it," he said, "because I still have kids in school."

Smith believes he would bring his diverse work experience to the board as well as his skill of bringing people together. He said he'd also be accessible to the community if elected to the school board. The board members, according to Smith, should discuss issues with the community before making decisions regarding them. He emphasized the importance of two-way communication.

"I have the understanding of the importance of education," he continued, "and the understanding that most of our community's larger problems stem from a lack of education at an early age."   

Other major concerns for Smith include the district's graduation rate, funding and how the district spends its money.

Elly Claus-McGahan

With an extensive educational background and connections with local teachers, Elly Claus-McGahan believes she has a lot to bring to the school board. "I just want to see the district move forward and all the kids be successful," she said, noting change on the school board is definitely a good thing for the district. This marks her first time running for a public office.

Claus-McGahan is an educator with a doctorate in mathematics. She referred to education as not only her career, but her life.

She started her teaching career at the University of Puget Sound, and then moved into consulting.  While consulting with Sound Decisions Consulting in Tacoma, Claus-McGahan also teaches parttime at Arcadia Montessori School and lectures part time at Pacific Lutheran University. She serves as the state coordinator for the Washington State Math Council Middle School Math Olympiada.

"Education is really important to me," Claus-McGahan stated, noting she's thought about running for the school board for some time. "I would like to see some changes made," she said. "I would like this district made more friendly."

She believes there is a communication issue between central administration and the school buildings, and between parents and the district. "Communication seems to be really not there," she noted. "It's frustrating as a parent, as a teacher and as a person trying to help teachers."

If elected to the school board, Claus-McGahan said, she would select a superintendent who has a "better way of communicating, motivating teachers and motivating the whole population toward good educational goals, who is not going to come in and make quick changes."

To enhance the communication between the district administration and staff, Claus-McGahan envisions smaller communities being set up geographically close to schools, since the district is so large. "Within those communities, start doing the professional development there," she said, and have a support system for district staff. These smaller communities will also be able to reach out to the larger community, according to Claus-McGahan. "I think we can get a positive momentum going if we can start working with a smaller community rather than trying to do everything district-wide," she explained.

Challenges the district faces, according to Claus-McGahan, include school consolidation, consistent funding for district programs and improving the achievement gap, among others.

She has lived in the area about 16 years, and has two boys who currently attend Tacoma Public Schools.


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