Georgetown ISD board of trustees candidates discuss growth and quality education in chamber candidate forum

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Growth, quality education and district challenges were key topics discussed by the Georgetown ISD board of trustees candidates at the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce candidate forum April 11.

Candidates include Brian Ortego and Elizabeth McFarland running for Place 2 and and incumbent Andy Webb and Jennifer Wood running for Place 3.

The forum was moderated by Emily Sydnor, an assistant professor in political science at Southwestern University.

Selected questions and answers edited for length and clarity are below.

Early voting begins April 22 and run through April 30. Election day is May 30.

Georgetown ISD place 2: Elizabeth McFarland and Brian Ortego

What makes you passionate about education?

Ortego: Having a family and children really brings that home. I grew up and financially it was a struggle. In high school, I didn’t know I could go to college. No one in my family ever went to college, so never one ever told me there were loans or other ways you could go to college. So I just figured you had to rough it out and make it happen yourself. I want to provide that opportunity for everybody to succeed in life by educating themselves.

McFarland: If you look over history, compulsory education is still a fairly new idea. In the last 150 years, we have seen compulsory education here in the United States and it is hands down one of the most restrictive requirements we have ever put on our citizenry but it was more beneficial and led to greatest progress in technology, industry and social progress.

How do you define a quality public education outcome?

McFarland: A quality education is when our students are ready for career, college or military, wherever life takes them, whatever their path may be. It’s not that they show up ready because there’s no way we can possibly teach every student everything they will possibly need to know when they start the next phase of their life, but what we can instill in them is a strong work ethic and an ability to find those answers.

Ortego: Four years ago when (Superintendent Fred) Brent was hired and the board created its strategic goals and they held summits to help define the learning profile our community wants and I think a big part of it is that every student, when they leave school they have the academic success and knowledge and skills to be successful.

As GISD continues to grow what do you think the biggest challenge facing the school district is?

Ortego: On the cusp of a whole new form of education with technology and learner profiles, we need to build our schools and make sure they work for everyone. A lot of times I think we get so involved on the process that we can’t forget about the product. We can’t forget about the basis of academic performance.

McFarland: I think our biggest challenge is growth, but it’s not just the speed of growth Georgetown has seen over the past couple of years. It’s the uncertainty about the continued pace of that growth. We can forecast and anticipate what we think the student population is going to be the next year but we have to plan today in a state of uncertainty. How many new schools are we really going to need?

Georgetown ISD place 3: Andy Webb* and Jennifer Wood

What can GISD do to be the first choice of education for Georgetown residents?

Webb: We face an amazing amount of competition now. Our focus as a board is what can we do to better ourselves and not worry about those distractions that are out there. We focus on internal improvement. What can we do to perfect our craft and improve every single day?

Wood: I think that one of our roles as a school board trustee is to be a liaison for the community and in doing that we can increase trust within our community to be a first choice education in Georgetown. To improve that possibilities include regular constituent meetings, polling, focus groups, study circles and have a more informed and robust trustee page. Transparency and accessibility promotes trust in our education.

How do you define college, career and military readiness?

Wood: Specifically it’s the implementation of varied programs. But I think more holistically is being able to prepare our students for whatever endeavors they want when they graduate from high school. I think that does require increase literacy in reading, writing (and) financial responsibility. By doing that then we make them feel more confident and competent in whatever path they choose when they graduate.

Webb: The concept of focusing on college and military readiness was really born out of a series of workshops we did last year and trying to figure out what are objective ways that we as trustees can find way of measuring our performance as a district. If we can build (the learner profile) qualities into our graduates, they can succeed.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the school district?

Webb: Maintaining our culture, continuing to grow our organization and continuing to transform into the district we want to be that will serve us well into the future. This is a big focus for us in moving the district forward in how can we continue to strengthen collaborative relationships with the chamber. The better we can work together the better it’s going to be for everyone involved.

Wood: The strategy the district has adopted is to build newer and bigger schools. Research indicates that the higher a student population can also lead to a loss of inclusion or student engagement. So when you have these large schools, you lose that sense of engagement. Nationally too there is a rise in mental health issues in our youth. I believe there is actually a need to increase access to mental health professionals, school psychologists and counselors to help keep up with the growth and help make a safe, happy learning experience for our children.

The asterisk signifies an incumbent.

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Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.
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