Q&A: See what Clear Creek ISD board candidates have to say about the issues

Meet the candidates running in May for Clear Creek ISD board of trustees. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Meet the candidates running in May for Clear Creek ISD board of trustees. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)

Meet the candidates running in May for Clear Creek ISD board of trustees. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)



CLEAR CREEK ISD



CCISD board of trustees, District 4










Jeffrey Larson



Occupation: consultant


Experience: Republican Precinct chair for Heritage Park for 35 years; Mission Control flight controller for Space Shuttle and Space Station; Safety Review Panel member for International Space Station, expertise in crew operations; Author, astronaut procedures and reference documentation flown in space






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



JL: Improve course availability for remote learning; we shouldn't punish remote students by limiting what classes they can take. Move from synchronized remote classes to allow students to work at their own pace, with guidelines to ensure they complete the class objectives. Remote learning for quarantined students is more challenging than either Clear Connections or brick-and-mortar classes, so refine quarantine guidelines to eliminate false positives to allow more students to remain in brick-and-mortar classes. Make Clear Connections a standalone school to foster a sense of identity and to cut needless overhead.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



JL: Money needs to stay in the classroom. That means focusing on competitive salaries for our excellent teachers and less emphasis on administrative overhead. We should consider reducing support for coordinators and instructional coaches. We need to keep and prioritize our excellent programs, such as our Career and Technical Education program, WAVE, CHECHS, and the Science Magnet program.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



JL: I categorically oppose the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Current CCISD policy is to forbid promoting or endorsing race or sex stereotyping and scapegoating. It is practically impossible to teach critical race theory without engaging in racial stereotyping or scapegoating, neither of which has any place in our public schools. Since I approve of the current CCISD policy, I cannot support the teaching of critical race theory.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



JL: When I prepared to run for this office three years ago, I was struck by how often every single board member voted yes on every item presented to them. Since then, we have new board members who are willing to vote no on bad ideas, and our district is better for it. To my knowledge, my opponent has not cast a single no vote since 2014, and that includes every single funding proposal. Trustees are elected to provide active oversight over the district. I am willing to stand up for the district's parents, students, and taxpayers.









Page Rander*



Occupation: Human resources supervisor


Experience: Incumbent candidate, director of Texas Association of School Boards Region 4B, past representative of TASB Legislative Advisory Council, director of Gulf Coast Area Association of School Boards, director of We Go Public, member and ruling elder at A Community of the Servant Savior, past seminar chair and director of Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminars, ex-officio member of Clear Creek Education Foundation, 2013 Master Trustee for Leadership TASB, Brookside Intermediate Boys’ Athletics Booster Club volunteer, Clear Brook High School Golf Booster Club volunteer, team mom for both YMCA and Little League






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



PR: I look forward to further discussion and the upcoming vote on Clear Creek ISD’s future plans for remote learning. This will involve dedicated magnet programs for elementary and secondary students. This evolved out of lessons learned from last spring’s need to move school-to-home and this school year’s Clear Connections offerings. Clear Creek ISD is listening to Thought Exchange feedback from students, staff and parents on Clear Connections so that the district can continue to offer remote learning, with or without pandemic requirements.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



PR: As has been done in the past with possible funding cuts, Clear Creek ISD needs to focus on minimal programming (class) losses, acknowledging the faculty and staff’s hard work with competitive salary plans, manage ever evolving students needs such as social-emotional learning and manage school safety initiatives.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



PR: Candidate declined to answer.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



PR: EXPERIENCE! It’s not just about the years of experience as the incumbent candidate, but also my understanding of government. It’s easy to forget that school districts are local governmental agencies with very different funding parameters and mechanisms. Most of my professional career has been in local government. When I sit at the table, I understand the big picture, even as complicated as Texas school funding is. The great part is, that when I’m not at that table and in the schoolhouse, I know just how relevant the discussions and decisions are to each and every student!




CCISD board of trustees, District 5










Jay Cunningham*



Occupation: district manager


Experience: have served on various school committees (PTA President for 2 years at Hall Elementary and have been involved in PTA for over 12 years, 2013 Strategic Planning Committee, 2013/2017 Bond Committees, & INSIDE). Outside of school, I serve on my company's employee advisory panel (Resideo - division of Honeywell Home) and I have been a 5+ year volunteer at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



JC: In order to improve our Clear Connections piece we need to focus on the SEL piece. School is not just about the classroom learning aspect, there is the social/emotional piece of it where the students need to have that positive interaction amongst their peer group as well as that positive connection with the teacher. So more focus needs to be put on offering virtual lunch period, and more interaction or group activities amongst the students where they have to collaborate with each other.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



JC: The district should continue to focus on classroom spending and ensuring that our teachers have all of the resources that our children need and to effectively perform their jobs. Most of our constituents do not know that out of our $380m budget close to 86% is already tied up into operating expenses and salaries for our 5,000 employees. We also need to ensure that HB3 is fully funded for the mandates that the state has introduced.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



JC: I am happy that the state of Texas does not have CRT in its curriculum as this is divisive and I do not see the need to dwell on the past. If you look at our district policy and even new policy that was just recently passed in the fall, you will find that the board banned and clearly stated that materials not approved would not be used in our schools. Our district like many other school districts in our state follow the TEKS - Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills in order to prepare our children for the future. I do not see our state adopting CRT into the TEKS nor our district ever adopting it. Plus I think our community is not asking for CRT to be adopted!



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



JC: I feel very appreciative of the position that I have on the school board. I bring the experience, working knowledge of the district after serving as the District 5 Trustee the past 6 years that will help me to continue to lead and build upon the district 's excellence and help continuous improvement. I also have a working knowledge of the priorities and things that are going to be continuing issues within my section of the district, over-crowding, program implementation and communication with our stakeholders.









Keith Esthay



Occupation: N/A


Experience: intern teacher at Texas City High School, teaching STEM and geometry. Multiple year volunteering with the Houston Safe Boating Council for the WADE program.






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



KE: Regarding the remote learning, as I do not have a child in the district at the moment, this is something I am currently doing my own research on. Though server and IT upgrades on the district level to handle the uptick in traffic is always a good starting point.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



KE: Ensure that all of the available capital the district has is being spent appropriately, and restructure contracts if needed. Essentially trimming down spending on non necessary items. And use the resulting funds in hiring more qualified and educators and supporting staff.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



KE: Candidate declined to answer.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



KE: I believe that I can bring a different perspective and outlook to the table. One that would allow me to see decisions and outcomes in a different light/perspective. And one that is not as far removed from what some of the current students are going through.









Christine Parizo



Occupation: B2B Technology Content Marketing Writer


Experience: Hall Elementary PTA Executive Board, Advocacy Chair; Member, Creekside Intermediate PTA; Parent Representative, Creekside Intermediate Campus Instructional Improvement Committee






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



CP: Today, most CCISD educators teach both brick-and-mortar and Clear Connections classes. Having dedicated Clear Connections teachers would alleviate workloads and foster more focused instruction. Additionally, if students choose Clear Connections, they should be required to commit to a full semester. I would push for more one-on-one interaction, so students can overcome distance learning challenges and feel more connected; this could be aided by employing qualified college teaching students as internship tutors. Finally, we need a top-down review of our technology and replace applications that consistently inhibit successful learning.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



CP: CCISD must improve planning to accommodate population growth, and aggressively seek cost savings in contracts and expenses. I am against cutting funding for any student-facing position, particularly in Special Education. I will advocate for far better transparency in budgeting and spending: there is no reason CCISD cannot share its spending data online for review by taxpayers. Few realize that the Board has voted on a firm to scope out the next massive bond package. We must be vigilant on all spending to mitigate the impact on taxpayers.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



CP: I completely oppose critical race theory: labeling someone as an oppressor or as oppressed simply because of their skin color is unacceptable. But as I recently revealed, CCISD resource materials show CRT ideology is already taking hold here. I believe that we need to strengthen policies and practices to make sure CRT or any other form of neo-racism cannot creep into our curriculum or teacher training, now or ever. I believe in equality of opportunity, where every student in the district receives the same, high-quality instruction with state-of-the-art resources and, upon graduation, is poised for success.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



CP: In a single word, empathy. I'm committed to listening to students, families, taxpayers, and educators in the district, and helping them get the information or resources they need. Too many Trustees isolate themselves from the community they serve. I pledge to listen to the community; if a policy or practice isn’t working, I’ll work to fix it, even if it’s counter to a recommendation from the administration. I'm a communicator by nature and by trade, and I also have extensive knowledge of enterprise technology, which can help foster better transparency, as well as improve the student, family, and educator experience.




CCISD board of trustees, At-Large Position 5










Jonathan Cottrell



Occupation: Realtor/Broker Cottrell Realty


Experience: President at Gilmore Elementary PTA (immediate past for 2 years), Current Gilmore PTA VP, Current CCISD Finance Community Advisory Board, Clear Creek Education Foundation Board of Director & past Chairman of the Board (6 years), Current Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Director & Executive Board member, & Current Assistance League of the Bay Area Advisory Board.






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



JC: In speaking with parents, and my personal experience, the District has done a good job of developing and constantly improving the remote learning experience. We need to continue to improve by listening to the voice of the teachers, students, and parents. As a Trustee, I will continue to monitor the progress and hope this is a diminishing concern as more students return to class.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



JC: I believe that as a trustee fiscal responsibility is one of my key duties. I will work to continue to ensure the children have the needed resources to succeed, the district operates efficiently, and be held accountable for every dollar spent. Regardless of what the State does, as a Trustee, I want to make sure the district is always looking to be more efficient and continues to provide an excellent education to our students.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



JC: I am not aware of any compelling reasons to put this in CCISD. I do not want politics in my children’s classroom. Politicians are the best to debate the relevance of Critical Race Theory in education. As a representative of the community, I don’t personally endorse teaching Critical Race Theory in our district. Programs such as Leader in Me, which I support, offers ways to inspire social, emotional, and educational behaviors in a positive way.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



JC: As a product of CCISD, I’ve committed many years to giving back. My extensive volunteerism in the district and the community have demonstrated leadership and decision making skills doing what’s best for our children, educators, and our residents. Over the past ten years I have served the following organizations to the benefit of our community: President at Gilmore PTA, CCISD Finance Community Advisory Board, Clear Creek Education Foundation Board of Directors including Chairman of the Board, Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Executive Board, & Assistance League of the Bay Area Advisory Board.









Michael Creedon



Occupation: ExxonMobil Maintenance Manager for the Baytown Complex


Experience: As a manager within ExxonMobil, I am currently responsible for strategic direction, near term planning and operation of a complex industrial maintenance system involving 500 employees, 2,000 contractors, and a 500 Million dollar budget. This experience is directly translatable to being a CCISD Board Trustee responsible for 5,000 employees, 42,000 students, and a budget exceeding 350 Million dollars. Furthermore as a Colonel in the US Army Reserves, I have been in command of and led Soldiers and civilian staff at the Company and Battalion levels which is also translatable to the Trustee role.






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



MC: The district learned a great deal about remote learning in a short period of time in 2020. To further improve, we will need to close the gaps in student access to the internet/technology (computers and WiFi connectivity) and helping parents create distraction free spaces within the home to enable learning. Also, we will need to continue to train our teaching staff how to best utilize remote learning tools and techniques within their lesson plans that challenge our students to be more effective independent learners across both an entire school day and a multi week course cycle.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



MC: There are four focus areas that I believe the Board will need to prioritize and protect if there are significant funding cuts. First, the safety and health of our students and staff must always be our highest priority. Second, the quality and associated compensation of the staff is critical for the district to fulfill its mission. Third, we must protect our special services so that all of our district students can excel. And fourth, we need to continue to close the gap on student access to technology especially given the recent need to accelerate remote learning.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



MC: Given the extreme political sensitivity within this question and that the CCISD Board of Trustee position is non-partisan, I am going to refrain from responding with my personal views and thoughts on critical race theory. My goal and approach during my campaign will be to minimize political references/topics and focus solely on my credentials as a candidate who is uniquely qualified to create aggressive CCISD goals, develop and implement sound district policy, and evaluate its effects for the best interest of the students in a fiscally responsible manner to the taxpayer.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



MC: With almost 30 years of leadership and management experience across corporate and military organizations with ExxonMobil and the US Army, I have the skill set and service oriented passion to help the Board with strategic planning, goal setting, policymaking and district oversight. I want to propel CCISD forward by setting the conditions for all of its 42,000 students to succeed, thereby strengthening our community. And, I want to do this in a fiscally responsible manner for the taxpayer.









Marlene Montesinos



Occupation: Retired/Conflict Resolution Specialist/Non-profit org


Experience: Administrative experience: CEO Marlene Montesinos Zabalu Human Rights Foundation;CEO –LAITCO Conflict Resolution & The LAITCO Group, LLC; Assistant Director of Legal Clinics at Summit School of Law; ESL instructor. Community involvement: Past President, Board member & member in various Hispanic Chambers; Diversity speaker; Consultant about Hispanic Issues to different organizations; Recipient of Hispanic Leadership award by Congress; Active in various community affairs.






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



MM: I believe that CCISD is on the right road in filling out the needs of students learning remotely. The one thing I would improve would be in reference to those lacking the culture and the language, that makes it impossible to 'help students stay accountable'. Most of these parents are in front line jobs which keeps them from being at home, as well as not having the skills to help their kids. I would suggest a rotating, hands - on, in-home school worker. We also need to plan ahead for the time when we return to school, with appropriate protocols in place, including perhaps a lower student-teacher ratio or staggered teaching.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



MM: CCISD is very fortunate that it has been able to fund the program thus far. Now we need to go to the next step which is to concentrate funds in engaging that 32.3% of Hispanics in the CCISD system, and others who are struggling to keep up with school work; otherwise we will be facing a lower skilled competitive student and a high drop out rate of the most vulnerable. We also need to be mindful of our teachers and require a love for teaching but also remunerate them well and allow them to teach rather than be bugged down with administrative tasks. Finally, we must not forget about the power of volunteers.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



MM: Candidate declined to answer.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



MM: My parents, who had an elementary school education, stilled in me high educational standards as a means to advance and be productive in society. For this reason I obtained 2 doctorates and have several certifications in other areas. I consider education important. I have special insight into the struggle and needs of the most vulnerable and want to contribute in having equity in the level of education for All. My educational and practical experience, together with now the time - as a retiree - allows me to be the best candidate for the At-large position A.









Kevin Oditt



Occupation: Retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain, currently Sr. VP for terminal company


Experience: Military Veteran, U.S. delegate to International Maritime Organization, Participated in Federal government interagency work groups, Federal On-Scene Coordinator and Incident Commander for numerous significant incidents, and championed industry workgroup to develop consensus ASTM standard






What should be done, if anything, to improve the remote learning experience at CCISD?



KO: Our priority must be to get kids in the classroom. Remote learning, while necessary for some kids with high risk family members, has proven much less effective than in-person education. Regardless, schools need the ability to provide effective remote learning for those kids who cannot return to the classroom. CCISD should build off the lessons it has learned over the past year to ensure it can meet these needs.



What should the district prioritize in its budgets to ensure the same quality of education, especially considering potential funding cuts amid the pandemic?



KO: The top priority is ensuring teachers get the right resources in the classroom to provide quality hands on education. We must make sure CCISD attracts the best and most talented teachers and administrators. Irrespective of the pandemic, the Board should always scrutinize the budget to ensure CCISD is always a good steward of the taxpayer dollars and the Board must hold them accountable. We should first consider delaying or deferring capital investment projects that are not essential, identifying and ensuring CCISD administration is not bloated but slim and effective, look for overlap and redundant services, if any, to make tough funding decisions.



Some parents have expressed concerns about critical race theory being taught in CCISD schools. What are your thoughts on this theory, and what similar policies would you support or oppose and why?



KO: I oppose any indoctrination of our children in public schools. Grounded on my traditional values, I am a firm believer that Respect is the primary characteristic that we need to teach in schools. Students need to respect other students and teachers. Teachers need to respect students and other teachers. Schools need to stick with the basics of teaching academics and not be put in a position to potentially indoctrinate students. Parents are ultimately responsible for their children and raising them with the right character to function in school and beyond, not teachers.



What do you bring to the table that your opponents do not?



KO: I bring a fresh, unique perspective and proven track record meeting challenges and tackling tough problems. My wife taught K-12 for 17 years in 8 schools and 4 states and our son had special needs so we understand the importance of an effective special education program. I am proud to have served our country and finished up my 28 year Coast Guard career here in Houston. As the Commanding Officer for South East Texas I was responsible for all operations, logistics, budget, marketing, and governmental affairs for the largest operational unit in the Coast Guard.


By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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