Q&A: Get to know the candidates in the race for Humble ISD board of trustees, Place 2

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For the May 4 local election, voters will choose among four candidates in the race for Humble ISD board of trustees Place 2: San Juanita “Janie” Branham, Ryan Engolio, Nikki Roux and Robert Scarfo. Click here for a list of polling locations in the Lake Houston area.

Candidate responses have been edited for length and clarity. Community Impact Newspaper only conducted questionnaires for contested races.

Humble ISD board of trustees, Place 2

Janie Branham

Hometown: Humble, Texas
Experience: former teacher, principal, TV host, fundraiser, parental involvement specialist and business manager for Houston ISD
Top priorities: providing safe, effective and fiscally responsible schools through enhanced communication and expansive community partnerships with parents, educators, businesses and children
Phone: 281-961-1732
Website: www.facebook.com/janie.branham.5

Why are you running for the Humble ISD board of trustees?

Branham: I am a former teacher and principal with 14-year-old twins in Humble ISD middle school. I have always been dedicated to education. I am a full-time mom and have the time to serve on the school board. I can devote my time and expertise to Humble ISD without conflict. I am not doing this to benefit anyone but the children in the district. My only priority is the children in the schools and preparing them to be successful in their future. This is also a vital time for the school district. Our district is growing in population and diversity. I have the time and the skills needed to help the board through this vital period.

What is the biggest challenge Humble ISD faces, and how would you begin to address it?

Branham: Our biggest issue is providing first-class schools in a district that is experiencing tremendous growth. Research shows that large, overcrowded schools have much higher drop-out and absence rates. Unsuccessful schools are not only bad for children; they are bad for property values, and they are bad for area crime rates. That means that new schools are very important, and hiring great teachers to teach in them is very important. We have to respond to what will happen in the coming years, not just react to our current situation.

What do you believe is Humble ISD’s greatest strength?

Branham: The district’s greatest strength and resource are the teachers in the district. Without great teachers there is no education system. We must remember that we live in a market system, and that we must compete with other districts and the private sector for good teachers. Therefore, it is important to take care of our great teachers. No one becomes a teacher out of selfishness—there are easier ways to make a living. People become teachers because of their desire to provide children with a great education. We must provide our teachers with competitive compensation and reward them when they go above and beyond. We must also provide the resources necessary for teachers to thrive in the classroom.

What do you believe is one area in which Humble ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?

Branham: As a lifelong Texan who is Hispanic and fluent in Spanish and a person who is experienced in educating minority children, I can be an effective arbitrator for many parents who have concerns about their children. Parents cannot feel disconnected in a successful school district. Often, when concerns arise, the only issue that needs to be resolved is effective communication. I can help parents, teachers and other board members by providing this vital need. I am also an experienced and successful fundraiser who has raised millions of dollars. I will bring those skills to the district.

Humble ISD board of trustees, Place 2

Ryan Engolio

Hometown: Crosby, Texas and moved to Humble, Texas during high school
Experience: former college-level educator for North Harris Montgomery Community College District (now called Lone Star College), former department head, current engineering supervisor and department trainer at Superior Energy Services
Top priorities: to address student, parent, teacher and district needs in a timely and transparent manner

Why are you running for the Humble ISD board of trustees?

Engolio: I am a parent with children currently enrolled in the district. Because of this, I wanted to have a greater involvement in the district decisions that affect their educational careers.

What is the biggest challenge Humble ISD faces, and how would you begin to address it?

Engolio: Continuing growth and expansion [of the] student population and adequate infrastructure to support this expansion is an ever-present problem that faces our district. Careful research and planning would be a continual requirement to effectively address the needs of the students and the community.

What do you believe is Humble ISD’s greatest strength?

Engolio: A strength of the district would be the large parental involvement.

What do you believe is one area in which Humble ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?

Engolio: Effective communication with parents is a personal challenge that I have experienced within the district. There are many avenues that improved communication could be addressed; updated policies and notification requirements could be a starting point to address the shortfalls.

Humble ISD board of trustees, Place 2

Nikki Roux

Hometown: Sour Lake, Texas
Experience: licensed attorney and registered nurse serving as vice president and chief nursing officer at Memorial Hermann Northeast, serves on the Texas Nurses Association District 9 board, engaged in volunteer activities within the Lake Houston community
Top priorities: exceptional educational experiences, safe environments, accountability for outcomes and fiscal responsibility
Phone: 832-265-4439

Why are you running for Humble ISD board of trustees?

Roux: I am running for Humble ISD board of trustees Position 2 because I feel a calling to serve at a greater level in the community in which I live and work and where my children attend school. My career has been one of service, and I consider myself to be a servant leader. There are many parallels between health care and education in that both serve a vulnerable population trying to deliver the highest-quality experiences and outcomes with limited resources to do so. I believe that the successes I have realized as a health care leader will bring value in serving Humble ISD on the board of trustees. My husband and have lived in Fall Creek for 10 years and have a blended family with children attending four schools in the district. … And I am committed to the success of Humble ISD.

What is the biggest challenge Humble ISD faces, and how would you begin to address it?

Roux: The biggest challenge facing Humble ISD is the rapid pace of growth in the community. Some of the fastest-growing ZIP codes in the state are zoned to Humble ISD. In order to address these issues, we will need to be proactive in creating alignment, collaboration and efficiencies. I have experience using Lean and Six Sigma principles and have been able to increase productivity efficiency and throughput while improving outcomes using existing resources. As the district grows and evolves, we will need to not only be proactive in reconciling funding with needs, we will also need to be sure that we are driving out waste and inefficiencies in our processes and practices.

What do you believe is Humble ISD’s greatest strength?

Roux: One of the biggest strengths of our school district is the proactive approach we have taken with safety and hardening of the school environments. Many schools are struggling with this issue—not just with resources but with processes and collaborating across stakeholder groups. While there is still work to be done, there have been some great milestones met that put us ahead of many school districts in the state.

What do you believe is one area in which Humble ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?

Roux: I believe there is still work to be done with continued community engagement and transparency with projects and progress. Communication in any complex system requires a constant and intentional effort to polish and improve the outcome. In particular, the projects and progress related to the bond that was recently approved should move forward with transparency. I have years of experiences in soliciting feedback from all levels of stakeholder groups and organizing processes around transparent communication of progress. I believe I would bring value to this issue by using similar principles.

Humble ISD board of trustees, Place 2

Robert Scarfo

Hometown: Bradley Beach, New Jersey
Experience: finance, community involvement and served as HISD trustee from 2008-15
Top priorities: attracting and retaining personnel, promoting a clear after high school path by partnering with businesses and higher education institutions to assist students identify career opportunities, advocating for special education students and ensuring adequate resources for them
Phone: 281-348-3132
Website: www.robertscarfo.com

Why are you running for the Humble ISD board of trustees?

Scarfo: There are several reasons why I have chosen to run for the Humble ISD school board. Chief among them: our three grandsons, Jake, Beckham and Bruce. Two are attending school in the district. One of my grandsons is a special needs student. I know firsthand the many challenges that parents of [special education] students face. I will be a staunch advocate for their children. [Secondly,] we are losing the services of a very experienced and very competent board member. My proven track record during my prior school board service makes me uniquely qualified to fill this void. I will not be faced with the typical learning curve. Regardless of your professional and volunteer experiences, you will encounter a steep learning curve with school board service. [Thirdly], my financial skills and overall business acumen will again benefit the district as we continue to face a growing and diverse student population, limited state funding, and the need to add new campuses and rebuild others over the next few years. As chair of the finance committee during my prior board service, we pushed through an initiative to begin a bond refinance program. The district has saved over $100 million.

What is the biggest challenge Humble ISD faces, and how would you begin to address it?

Scarfo: In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing the district will continue to be a growing and diverse student population and adequate state funding for operations and facilities. … [Additionally], providing a safe and secure learning environment is and will continue to be of utmost importance. The district has made great strides by employing physical protections, staff/student training and coordination with law enforcement at all levels. Best practices will continually be reviewed against current policy. … [Finally], fiscal management will always be a great challenge due to the district’s heavily weighted residential property tax component. Must strive for the biggest ‘bang for the buck.’ The district should never continue a program that doesn’t drive the desired return on investment, be it a qualitative or quantitative return.

What do you believe is Humble ISD’s greatest strength?

Scarfo: Our diverse student body is one. The high-quality and dedicated teachers and campus administrators who guide our students each day is another. What allows the district to leverage those strengths is the foundation provided by the superintendent and all the non-campus staff that support the education mission in countless ways. The high level of involvement by our community, from parents, grandparents, business and religious leaders to the amazing volunteers is critical in making this partnership successful in supporting our students and helping them succeed.

What do you believe is one area in which Humble ISD can improve, and how do you plan to help the district work toward improving in that area?

Scarfo: [Career and technical education] course offerings are of tremendous importance. Having career paths other than a four-year college degree, which has now morphed to six [years], is a necessity for school districts. This was an issue I gave a great deal of effort to locally, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the Legislature started moving in this direction. … But no matter how encompassing the district’s CTE program is, where we still miss the boat, in my opinion, is in not guiding students to discover what they are good at or love to do. … It’s our job to coach them to leverage that intelligence in a way that helps them be successful and productive as adults. That helps them and helps our community. Finally, serving on the 2018 Bond Committee, we learned that the district did not want to build a large districtwide CTE Center or even enlarge the current facility. They have gone to a model of distributing CTE programs around the district. I pushed for an allocation of $40 million to go to just that purpose of expanding and/or adding CTE facilities on existing and/or new campuses. The committee approved this, and it was recommended to the board. On further analysis, the board determined only about half of the amount was needed over the next five years.

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Kelly Schafler
Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.
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