Q&A: Get to know Cy-Fair ISD board Position 3 candidates

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Three candidates are running for the Position 3 seat on the Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees. Board incumbents Tom Jackson, Julie Hinaman and Debbie Blackshear are running unopposed for Positions 1, 2 and 4, respectively.

The district is hosting a board candidate forum Oct. 15 from 7-8 p.m. at the Berry Center, 8877 Barker Cypress Road, Cypress. Early voting runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Gilbert Sarabia

Occupation: retired from 32-year career with AT&T; CFISD volunteer; assistant baseball coach at St. Pius High School; U.S. Army veteran
Top priorities: academic and extracurricular excellence, outstanding facilities, financial efficiency
Years in CFISD: 32
Contact: 713-320-7253, gsarabia@sbcglobal.net

Why are you running for the Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees?
As a long-time supporter of and volunteer for CFISD, I believe I can provide my own unique perspective as the board works together to establish and monitor goals for student success, school safety [and] recruiting and maintaining top-level employees, all while operating efficiently and effectively. We have limited financial resources and must make all decisions based on those goals.

What experience do you have that makes you qualified to serve on the board?
I believe my 32 years at AT&T and my wide variety of coaching experiences give me a unique perspective of the needs of diverse populations, especially those affected by poverty. I appreciate diversity of circumstances, thought and belief in others and I listen carefully to all opinions and options looking for solutions that work best for all. I develop relationships that are respectful and honest, and I can work well with everyone.

What are the most significant challenges the district faces? Adequate funding, safety and accommodating diversity are three challenging issues for CFISD.

If elected, how do you plan to address those issues?
Adequate funding is an issue because our per-student funding is less than neighboring districts. We are doing a lot more with less, but we must continue to work with legislators to get our fair and equal share. I am committed to lobbying for our students in Austin, just as I have done as a member of the CFISD Community Leadership Committee since 2012.

I also spent a great deal of time during my AT&T career working with legislators to make sure they understood the issues important to me and other workers. I realize safety is a key issue for parents, students and employees. I appreciate everything we have done with our 2014 and 2019 bonds. We must continue these efforts and always be looking for more improvements.

I believe that I bring an additional positive perspective concerning accommodating diversity. In CFISD, we work hard to make sure all students from all ZIP codes receive what they need to be successful. Because of my different and varied background, I will add to that perspective and those thoughts.

Ryan C. Irving Jr.

Occupation: honors student at the University of Houston
Top priorities: representation, school safety, educator benefits
Years in CFISD: 19
Contact: 832-492-2537, ryanirvingforcfisd@gmail.com

Why are you running for the Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees?
I am running for school board to serve those who once served me. I come from a single-parent household. When I was in my sophomore year of high school, I was days away from being homeless and was going through very tough times. If it were not for my teachers and educators, I would not be running for a trustee seat today. Public education saved my life. I am running for school board not only to serve those that have once served me, but to also make sure that every single child has that same opportunity that I had. I believe every child should have an equal opportunity for an quality education.

What experience do you have that makes you qualified to serve on the board?
As a resident of the Cy-Fair community for 19 years now, I was privileged to attend Cy-Fair ISD for 12 years. Also, I believe that when one chooses to represent his or her constituents, one must know their constituents. Watching my fellow classmates, teachers and administrators of CFISD function from within on a day-to-day basis makes me more than qualified to represent.

My vision for Cy-Fair is not to change Cy-Fair, but rather to build and expand upon the progress that Cy-Fair has already made. I believe that Cy-Fair is not a broken system, and although Cy-Fair is not a broken system, there is always progress that can be made. The vision that students, teachers, administrators and parents have for Cy-Fair is to continue to move forward.

What are the most significant challenges the district faces?
I would not necessarily call the concerns that I plan to bring to the board’s attention a “challenge.” The two biggest concerns that face the district is representation and campus safety. The concern of representation has been grown steadily for the past 10 years. The current demographics of Cy-Fair is changing. Cypress is one of the top 50 fastest growing areas in the United States of America. Therefore, we need to make sure that every single group has an equal seat at the table.

Campus safety is a major concern that keeps growing rapidly and steadily. On May 4, Cy-Fair passed a $1.76 billion bond election, with 70.4% of voters approving the bond. $207.7 million is going towards safety and security. There is a vast amount of ways that we can better secure our 91 campuses. Since the board plans to spend the $207.7 million, we need to ensure that it is used efficiently because students’, teachers’ and administrators’ lives are on the line.

If elected, how do you plan to address those issues?
If elected, I would address these issues by bringing them to the board’s attention. I would talk to my fellow trustees and offer suggestions on what we could do to solve these issues. We would come together as a collective group to not only address issues that I plan to bring to the board’s attention, but any other issues that my fellow trustees would like to bring to the table as well.

Natalie Blasingame

Occupation: worked 27 years in education; currently a talent management officer for BakerRipley
Top priorities: safety and security, addressing achievement gaps, improving parent and community member engagement
Years in CFISD: 18
Contact: 832-647-0230, natalieforcyfairschools@gmail.com

Why are you running for the Cy-Fair ISD board of trustees?
I feel called to help our strong school system meet the new challenges we face. Education is my life’s work. I have served in education for 27 years, as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent. I want to bring my expertise to my community as an elected volunteer to help our school system continue to hold high standards and ensure that all students excel as our socioeconomic challenges increase. We need to work as a board to see that all our CFISD students learn at high levels and graduate prepared for college, career and citizenship.

What experience do you have that makes you qualified to serve on the board?
I am a mom, an active community volunteer and a lifelong educator with 27-plus years serving students, families, and the community in our public schools.

As the mother of a school-aged child, I maintain a constant eye on the real impacts of decisions made at the boardroom table on our kids.

As an educator, I know firsthand how school board decisions on policy, budget and goals impact kids and teachers in the classroom. I have spent the past 27 years building educational excellence with high expectations for all and closing the achievement gap in diverse schools.

My experience as a homeowner and participant in Cy-Fair community life qualifies me as a good representative of the people. I listen to the voices of our neighbors, hearing their hopes and fears for their kids and our community, and I will bring their voices to the boardroom as we address our community and culture in transition.

What are the most significant challenges the district faces?
As our demographics shift, we must address our achievement gap. We must hold high expectations for all students and increase choice and personalization within our public school system to meet the needs of all learners and families in our increasingly diverse community. Our educators need greater flexibility to meet their students’ needs beyond a focus on standardized testing.

We must improve engagement of parents and community members as partners with a voice in our school system. In a political environment challenging to public education, we must spend our efforts and energy on becoming every families’ best choice rather than fighting the concept of choice.

We must clarify law and policy around the rights of people of faith in our public schools, creating a safer environment in which students can develop their moral and ethical compass, along with their academic knowledge and skills, in order to become citizens able to work across lines of difference and graduates ready for college, career, and life. There is an over-interpretation of separation of church and state that causes confusion in our schools on a daily basis and hampers development of well-rounded students with a sense of well-being.

If elected, how do you plan to address those issues?
As we set goals for the district, the board must maintain high expectations and measure achievement gap closure towards those strong standards. We must keep a pulse on students failing to thrive in our system, and provide solutions outside of our traditional approach to ensure that they reach our high standards. This includes allowing experienced educators flexibility and sufficient planning time to adjust to meet their students’ needs.

As a board, representing the citizens of Cy-Fair in local government, we must put a mechanism in place to hear directly from parents and constituents outside of formal committee and board meeting structures. We need to hear from parents on what works well and what needs improvement. We need to hear from parents not choosing our system how we can become their best choice. I propose regular community forums hosted by board members in different areas of the district, with administration present to hear celebrations, concerns, and field questions.

I propose that the board create a standing committee on policy, or appoint an ad hoc committee comprised of board members, staff and community members, to review policy related to the rights of people of faith in our public schools. Working with [the Texas Association of School Boards] on policy, and possibly engaging legislators, the committee should make recommendations to the board for policy updates. Administration would then be charged with training and support for CFISD staff around the updated policy.

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Danica Smithwick
Danica joined Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016 after graduating with a journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. She covers public education, local government, business, demographic trends, real estate development, nonprofits and more in the Cy-Fair community.
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