Natrona County School Board Candidates Favor Civics Classes, Like Dress Codes
Five candidates for the nonpartisan Natrona County School District board of trustees would like to see some practical additions to what all students should learn, they said during a forum at the library sponsored by the League of Women Voters.
The candidates suggested more advanced reading courses, and critical thinking classes to sort through the overwhelming amount of information found on social media.
Incumbent trustee Dave Applegate said the district has implemented programs he promoted including the dual language programs at Park and Paradise Valley elementary schools and financial literacy courses.
Incumbent trustee Debbie McCullar made a forceful pitch for teaching the basics of how government works.
"I think, having lived through the political climate of the last two years in this country, I think we need to have civics put back in our curriculum," McCullar said.
After a round of applause, she added, "our kids need to be informed."
The other candidates participating in the forum were the Rev. Gerald "Doc" King, Kianna Smith, and Cameron Allen.
Candidates Travis Marshall and incumbent Clark Jensen, who had a previous commitment, did not attend.
Trustee Toni Billings, who was elected four years ago, is not running for re-election.
In recent years, the district's trustees have confronted several tough decisions including voting two years ago to close Grant Elementary School, and voting a year ago to close four schools -- Willard, Mountain View and University Park elementary schools, and Frontier Middle School -- and mothball or sell other buildings.
Smith disagreed with the decision, but said the seeds for the closures were set a half-decade ago when more schools were built, making the closures inevitable.
King also disagreed with closing the schools, and suggested possibly raising taxes to offset the revenue declines.
Allen said the closures affected a lot of families, but the district did the right thing by not laying off teachers and staff.
Applegate and McCullar voted for the closures and said the decision was incredibly difficult. The economic downturn in 2015 resulted in a lot of families leaving the area, the state allocates money to the districts based on school enrollment, and the Natrona County School District could not afford to keep open schools with many empty seats.
McCullar added the Legislature needs to find a constant source of funding for schools so they are not victims of the state's boom-and-bust economic cycle.
All candidates agreed bullying remains a problem, but the board of trustees has revised its policy. Several added that bullying is part of a larger cultural pattern.
They also would be open to changing school calendars to year-round schooling -- 45 days on, 15 days off -- or four-day school weeks, something the Midwest School has done with success.
Graduation rates in the district have been trending upward, but an 82 percent graduation rate leaves a lot of room for improvement, the candidates said.
"The trajectory for graduation starts in kindergarten," Applegate said.
Teachers and staff monitor students' participation in extracurricular activities as an indicator, he said.
King favored mentoring programs for students.
Smith added that schools can do only so much, and that students need to be motivated themselves.
The candidates also were open to the idea of a stricter dress code, if not mandating school uniforms.
Smith said the working world requires professionalism in attire, and that should be encouraged in students.
King demanded of his own children, he said. "There was a dress code for my kids to get out of the house."
Allen said people are judge on the way they look. While the district has a dress code, decisions about its enforcement should be left up to the individual schools.
Applegate said a dress code creates an expectation of student behavior.
McCullar said Natrona County High School had a dress code when she was a student there. Many schools elsewhere in the world require uniforms, and they lead to higher grades, fewer discipline problems, and downplay socio-economic differences when students dress alike.