Q&A: Get to know the candidates for Spring ISD board of trustees Position 1

Early voting runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Early voting runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

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Deborah Jensen
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Mechelle Epps
Mechelle Epps is running against incumbent Deborah Jensen for Position 1 on the Spring ISD board of trustees. Early voting runs from Oct. 21-Nov. 1, and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Mechelle Epps
Email:
wmepps@comcast.net

Occupation: assistant superintendent

Experience: 23 years in public education: teacher, counselor, campus administrator and central office administrator experience; proud parent of two SISD graduates

Top priorities: ensure high-quality staff are hired and expand course offerings through Career and Technical Education

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing SISD, and how will you work to address them?
I believe the biggest challenges facing SISD are (1) the ever-changing rules of the Texas Education Agency as it relates to budgeting and accountability and (2) maintaining competitive salaries to retain high-quality staff. I plan to address these concerns by supporting effective initiatives currently in place and collaborating with the appropriate district staff to find ways to improve upon ineffective initiatives.

What will you do to keep SISD a competitive public school option as charter schools continue to become more prevalent in northwest Harris County?
In an effort to keep SISD a competitive public school option, we must provide what parents want—the best options for children and a safe learning environment. To be competitive, we must be great in all areas. As a board member, I would have high expectations for academics as well as fine arts, athletics, career & technical education, dual credit, and student clubs and organizations. In addition, I would work to ensure every campus consistently provides an environment that is not only safe physically but emotionally.

How will you work to improve A-F accountability ratings in SISD schools that have received low ratings?
I will work to improve A-F accountability ratings for schools that have low ratings by recommending the following:
A) Ensuring high-quality staff are hired and utilizing high-quality substitutes as necessary
B) Ensuring adequate training of all teachers
C) Offering transfer bonuses for expert teachers to transfer to critical-need campuses
D) Requiring public progress updates from campuses that did not receive a B or higher

As SISD’s enrollment has slightly declined in recent years, how will you work to receive adequate funding from the state?
In regards to the slight decline in enrollment, I will work to receive adequate funding from the state by ensuring that we are maximizing additional funding options available through House Bill 3 legislation, such as:
A) College, career, military readiness bonus
B) Reimbursement for college testing
C) Additional weighted funding for bilingual students in dual-language programs
D)  Career & technical education classes in middle schools

In addition to working with state representatives, Region IV, Harris County Department of Education, Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards about the needs of SISD.

How will you improve enrollment numbers in terms of student retention and dropout rates?
In terms of student retention and dropout rates, I will work to improve enrollment numbers by supporting the expansion of optional flexible school day programs, which allow us to provide at-risk students with adjusted schedules to fit their life needs and prevents them from being a drop-out and provides tutorials for course completion, in addition to receiving funding in some instances.

Deborah Jensen*
Phone number:
281-353-8224
Email:
djensen1968@gmail.com
Website:
www.bestcandidates4springisd.com


Occupation: retired educator

Experience: teacher, professional development director, mother of two SISD graduates, grandmother of two students in SISD schools, Ph.D. Educational Curriculum & Instruction

I have been working with and without pay in education for a long time. I have always believed that one of the most important jobs of families, communities, and governments is to educate new generations of people. To be honest, I also have found working in education to be fun. Below are lists of some of my professional and volunteer experiences that I bring to my role as trustee on the SISD board of trustees. I have coast-to-coast experiences because of my husband’s time in the Air Force before we settled in Spring, Texas, 42 years ago.

Professional experience: director/project Coordinator/curriculum Specialist of STEM professional development programs at Rice University, the University of Texas Medical School-Galveston, and Texas A&M-College Station; Stallings Observation System K-8 classroom observer for a Texas A&M-College Station grant; adjunct faculty for Anatomy & Physiology and Medical Transcription at North Harris County Community College; teacher/science department chair at Oak Ridge High School; curriculum writer for modern biology, research assistant at the University of Texas Medical School-Houston; graduate teaching assistant for biology laboratories at the University of Hartford-CT; and teacher at elementary and middle schools in parochial schools in Big Spring, Texas, and Biloxi, Mississippi

Professional awards: Texas A&M Education Research Exchange TLAC Outstanding Empirical Paper, 2003
Texas ESC Region VI Secondary Teacher of the Year, 1991; Outstanding Secondary Education Student, Sam Houston University, Huntsville, Texas, 1984

Volunteer experience: SISD board of trustees, Position 1: served as assistant secretary, secretary, and president; represented the SISD board of trustees on the Texas Association of School Boards Legislative Action Committee and as a delegate to the 2018 and 2019 TASB assembly; served on the Spring ISD board of trustees Governance and Employee Excellence Awards committees; tutored biology at Spring High School and Dekaney High School; Boy Scouts of America, Community Outreach volunteer; McNabb Elementary School PTO, secretary; Spring High School Alumni Association, ABC/Alumni By Choice volunteer; Houston Zoo, docent; Girl Scouts of America, troop leader, Jackrabbit district vice-president; Spring Elementary School/Salyers Elementary School PTO volunteer, room mother

Volunteer awards: SISD 2017 Outstanding Secondary Volunteer; Iron Horse District Boy Scouts Golden Spur Award; Jackrabbit Neighborhood Girl Scouts Friendship Award

Top priorities: My top priorities are (1) to provide the best education for every student in every school, (2) to support and retain good teachers, (3) safe schools, and (4) excellent board of trustees governance.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Spring ISD, and how will you work to address them? A) Educating students to be successful and responsible
I believe that preparing students to be successful learners and responsible citizens is the greatest challenge and the critical mission of a school district. I have personally seen throughout my years in education how important a good education is to the well-being of people and our community as a whole.

Successful education can be identified through many measures. I rejoice with a student who has worked with all her abilities to learn how to bake cookies, and I celebrate the blooming artistic talent in our students. I am amazed at the personal and team skills of our student athletes, and I applaud our students pursuing high academic honors. I admire students who welcome the responsibility of raising an animal, and I have met hero students who are working multiple jobs to support their family while still attending school. I also share the joy of students who find out they passed the biology end-of-course State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test, but I don’t believe the STAAR test alone measures whether a student is a successful learner or a responsible citizen. To be clear, I am not against a reasonable number of state tests, rather I believe we need a variety of authentic student performance measures in addition to multiple choice tests to judge whether students are successful learners.

I want to my volunteer service on the SISD board of trustees as we continue to take on the challenges of providing innovative and learner-centered education programs in SISD, and I intend to continue to support new ways to document the successes of our students with more than a multiple choice test.

B) Safe schools
Safety in schools these days requires counseling services for students, expensive alterations to school buildings, more security personnel, additional training for school personnel, and digital surveillance of social media, and good communication between students and adults. As a trustee, I have reviewed and voted to approve local policies directing safety and security in schools. I have also voted to financially support additional personnel and changes in infrastructure to make our schools more safe and secure.

C) Teacher support
It is essential that we support and retain good teachers. Teacher support comes in many forms: competitive salaries, attendance incentives, Teacher Retirement System of Texas contributions, administrative support, reasonable class sizes, healthy and safe working conditions, compensation for extra duties and performance, and respect for teachers’ time. In the last nine years as a trustee, I have found that these issues never remain “solved.” I have voted to support teachers in every way I can with consideration for the financial condition of our district. I have to think of future consequences when I vote. There have been some Texas school districts that approved very large starting salaries for teachers, but some of those districts are now laying off teachers to meet the obligations of those new salary schedules. SISD deserves thoughtful trustees who vote for the maximum sustainable support for teachers.

D) Role of a trustee
Texas does not give trustees the legal power to run a school system, rather trustees adopt local policies, control the budget, and hire/supervise a superintendent who leads the district school system. We are a team of concerned people with different experiences who are honored to serve SISD. An important, though not official duty, is to provide the entire SISD community a connection to our school district. SISD trustees often participate in school and community events. I invite all SISD community members to contact me at: djensen@springisd.org if you have a problem you can’t resolve at the school level, or if you have a good idea for making our school district better. I rarely find a simple problem with an easy solution in education. We need community support, time and ideas.

What will you do to keep Spring ISD a competitive public school option, as charter schools continue to become more prevalent in northwest Harris County?
We presently have two high schools of choice: the highly acclaimed Carl Wunsche Career Academy and the Texas Education Agency-recognized SISD Early College High School located at Lone Star College-North Harris County. There are three middle schools of choice: Roberson Middle School/Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Academy, Spring Leadership Academy, and Springwoods Village Middle School, which is preparing to become an International Baccalaureate school. Our three comprehensive high schools, Spring High School, Westfield High School and Dekaney High School all offer numerous Career & Technology Education pathways that lead to industry certifications. Students at the comprehensive high schools may participate in many award-winning extracurricular and co-curricular programs in the arts, athletics, Reserve Officers' Training Corps and Tri-Club. For information about these schools and the many education pathways, see the online Education Planning Guides for high school and for middle school: www.springisd.org/epg

How will you work to improve A-F accountability ratings in Spring ISD schools that have received low ratings?
SISD makes a great effort to monitor the progress of each student and make that information available to the students, parents/guardians, teachers, and administers in order to identify what knowledge and skills need to be retaught. Parents are given suggestions for helping their children learn. Extra teachers are assigned to low performing schools to provide small group tutoring and differentiate instructional techniques. In addition, attention is paid to match professional development activities for teachers to provide better instruction of curricular problem areas. This data-driven approach has been showing success district-wide.

Some SISD schools have a high student mobility. It offends my sense of fairness to judge the effectiveness of teacher when he/she has a such a high mobility rate that 40% of the students taking tests were not in class since the beginning of the year. These kinds of problems require cooperation between school districts to align instruction programs and minimize the adjustment mobile students have to make at each new school.

As Spring ISD’s enrollment has slightly declined in recent years, how will you work to receive adequate
funding from the state?
SSD has been using several strategies to ensure that our district is receiving every dollar we are due to educate our students. The following are some of those strategies:

We are paid for students’ Average Daily Attendance (ADA). Schools use incentives for good attendance through “Every Day Counts” activities to maximize ADA and therefore our monetary support.

This year we began digital registration of students with mandatory documentation of eligibility information for Free/Reduced lunch status. In the past, our district’s parents under-reported their eligibility which resulted in less federal money for lunches and unfair comparisons of our district with districts having fewer economically disadvantaged students.

I was able to support a legislative priority during the TASB District Assembly last year as a delegate. We feel that unfunded mandates are unfair to school districts. If the Texas Legislature requires schools to provide something, the legislators should also provide the funds to buy the goods or services they are requiring.

Our district has written and solicited an unprecedented number of outside grants and partners to support new programs.

How will you improve enrollment numbers in terms of student retention and dropout rates?

SISD has been using several strategies to ensure that our students attend school and stay in school. The following are some of those strategies:

Graduate Walk: We go out in the community to find students who have left school and provide encouragement, information, and opportunities for credit recovery.

School schedules to match students’ schedules: Variable school times for students with jobs or children
CTE courses and certifications: We offer students work-study programs to learn a profitable skill and stay in school.

Ongoing curriculum changes to make the classroom activities more relevant: There is a district effort to make academic courses more useful in students’ everyday lives.

*Incumbent
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