PORT ORCHARD — South Kitsap School Board candidates Christopher John Lemke and Elizabeth Sebren outlined their stands on the issues Sept. 28 at a forum presented by the League of Women Voters.
Lemke, the incumbent, and Sebren are on the Nov. 7 general election ballot for the District 3 position.
“I’ve always been involved with education because I think it is so important,” Lemke said in his opening statement. “I’m seeking reelection because, in South Kitsap, there’s some really pivotal things happening.”
Sebren said her experience is not on the school board but in the classroom, as a teacher.
“Quality schools are not only important to employees, parents and students,” she said. “They are a vital part of a healthy and prosperous community, and provide a place for all to learn and play.”
After their opening statements, the moderator asked questions provided by the audience. At the forum, the order in which candidates answered was rotated. Below, they’re listed alphabetically.
What possible solutions do you recommend for the increased student population at South Kitsap High School?
Lemke: “Yes, the high school is crowded [but] our police, local and county, and fire district … believe, after seeing it first hand, that our high school is safe, and our kids do a wonderful job there and the culture is great.” Lemke added that the district owns land in the McCormick Woods area, and the community has to decide what to do with the site, including possibly a combined middle and high school.
Sebren: “I believe the primary solution is to build a new high school.” She said she’s served on multiple committees in the past that addressed this issue, and that was the solution “we came up with every time.”
What should the school board be looking for in choosing a new superintendent?
Lemke: I think the most important thing for superintendent is we look at all the qualifications that the person has … and hopefully have a superintendent that will embrace the community, live in our community, speak with the community often and actively participate in our community.”
Sebren: “Through the last several superintendents we’ve had, I’ve been concerned they have not had a vested interest in our district. It’s appeared they’ve used our district as a stepping stone. With continual changes in the leadership, it’s hard to get any progress going. I would like [the superintendent] … to show a vested interest in our community, in staying for a long time.”
What do you believe present the biggest obstacle to student achievement, and what remedies do you suggest?
Lemke: “We have things like English Language Learners — almost 200 kids where English isn’t their first language. We have a special needs population of about 18 percent. We have a lot of homeless kids, single-parent families, kids on free- and reduced-lunch plans. What we try to do our very best job at is to make a pathway for every one of those students to be successful. We find the best ways possible to reach out and touch every student every day with an adult leader or mentor. I think that’s a huge piece. Probably the single best thing we can do is make sure each child comes to school not hungry and ready to learn.”
Sebren: “Student attendance is a big thing. We’ve had a lot of absenteeism. I also think that apathy on the part of some parents is something that we have to deal with. Our classrooms — we need to teach as 21st century classrooms.”
How will you convince South Kitsap School District voters to support a new high school bond?
Lemke: “What we’ll probably do in the near future — we’ve never had a capital levy before. I think a capital levy is unique.” He explained that while bonds require a super-majority (two-thirds voter approval), capital levies require only 50 percent plus one vote to pass. “We will work with the citizens and let them know we need their support and their input on what a new facility ought to look like.”
Sebren: “I think that it’s important that we have input from all of our community on what they would like to see. We’ve tried that many times … but when we’ve done that, my feeling has been that the people who led the discussion were not trained facilitators. [They] should be trained people that know how to lead discussion and how to solicit answers from all the participants.”
What is the school board’s role in attracting quality staff to end shortages?
Lemke: “The school board is in 100-percent agreement that the most important part of a student’s day is the quality of teacher in front of them in the classroom. I believe … that teachers are professionals, not unlike doctors or lawyers. We should compensate them correctly and let them know they’re wanted and are desired.”
Sebren: “I think part of the school board’s role in attracting quality staff is to have a consistent staff in our district office. I think the leadership has to come from the school board, then to our district staff, to show … we have a united front and that we value the people who work for us.”
To assist students in being successful, we know parent involvement is key. What things can school districts do to reduce parent apathy?
Lemke: “For all the folks out here — parents, grandparents — the most important thing in a child’s life is a parent. Parents are the first teachers. And I think as a school district, we need to let parents know, they are the student’s first teacher. We need to get the parents into the schools. I think the other key piece is letting parents know, not only are they welcome, but we’d be willing to help them to be in the chain to make their student successful.”
Sebren: “I know that as a teacher, I got a lot more parents thankful and involved when I started emailing and sending letters home. Regular communication with them. We’ve held classes for the parents to come into the schools. We used to have community education in summer and evenings provided in our schools.”
Why should voters elect you?
Lemke: “I love kids. First of all, I believe their success is the paramount duty of South Kitsap. This will be my fourth opportunity to serve you if I am elected. Most of all, I care about all the kids, and our community. And the other thing I would tell you, this would be the end of my 12th year. I have never missed a school board meeting … and I don’t intend to miss any.”
Sebren: “I’ve been in the trenches out there as a teacher. I have a different way of looking at things than Mr. Lemke does. I’d like to see us start doing some different things and trying out different ones. I’ll have a different voice, different ideas and a different perspective. Sometimes, change is a good thing. Sometimes, putting on different colored glasses and looking at the same problem [helps create solutions].”
After the question-and-answer portion of the forum, both candidates were given the opportunity to make closing statements.
Lemke: “South Kitsap schools are wonderful schools. They’re safe schools, they’re high performing schools, above the state average. Your schools are really wonderful, they’re doing a great job, they’re graduating a lot of really, really talented future leaders of this country.
“Where can we make improvements? One way is for every child to have a pathway to be successful,” he said. “I don’t mean all students going to college, I mean also being able to have a career when they leave high school. We need to give every child a pathway, and we’re trying to do that each and every day in our schools.”
Sebren: “I believe to be effective and responsible, a school director needs a relationship with the community, the staff and the students. During my years of teaching, I spoke personally to thousands of parents, students and community members. I learned what South Kitsap schools were doing well, and listened to complaints and suggestions for changes, and did my best to get that information to people who could make the changes myself.
“I gained respect and appreciation for a population faced with the challenge of rapid growth,” she said.
To view the forum in its entirety, visit http://tinyurl.com/y8dnag54. Learn more about the League of Women Voters at www.lwv-kitsap.org.
— Michelle Beahm is online editor for the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.