GARDNER, Kan. — Ahead of the general election on Nov. 2, FOX4 is working to help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro. FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County.
FOX4 did not receive a response from Miller. Here is a look at what Parks had to say:
Q: Do you feel the district’s COVID response has been adequate? If elected, what metric would you use in deciding district COVID precautions in the future?
Parks: I believe our response has been more than adequate. We have continued to follow the JCHDE throughout the past year and a half and have maintained a relatively consistent educational experience for our students given the circumstances.
My one regret was that we did not open the year with masks in grades 7-12, because we saw a large number of quarantines that would have been avoided had masks been in place. As for any criticisms of our handling, I would point out that our difficulty in getting students back in person at the middle and high school levels last year had to do with the incredible demand placed on staffing and the limited sub pool. We were in a position where we could not reopen all our buildings, because we simply could not properly staff our buildings if all the kids were back in school.
Once the county numbers dropped and our staff became more stable, we got kids back in school and have been able to maintain it ever since. As for criticisms of our exclusions of students this year, the fact is, we have to follow the county. We have always had to exclude students who have the potential to spread an infectious disease; that’s part of our legal requirement. It’s why students are sent home from school when they have a temperature. This has been common practice for decades. Now, with COVID-19, those exclusions have been greater in number simply because of the contagiousness of the disease. But, again, this is a call made by the JCDHE, not the district.
We are mandated to report positive cases and potential exposures and the JCDHE tells us who we are required to exclude at that point. As for the metrics I would use, the answer is pretty simply the directions of the JCDHE. For one, they are our governing body and we can’t ignore their directives, and for two, they are the experts on this and I will defer to their knowledge. I ask questions when I disagree, but they have always presented legitimate reasoning for their decisions and the data they have used to back up their decisions has proved legit so far. For example, when positive rates were up, we had lots of staff out with COVID-19 or from close exposures to positive cases; when positive rates went down, our available staff increased.
Q: How can the district address learning loss students may have experienced during the pandemic? What initiatives would you support to prevent students from falling behind?
Parks: The district has already begun to use Acadience and MAP testing to identify where students are at and what teachers can do to best address the needs of all our students. We are also in the process of expanding our MTSS (Multi-Tiered Support System) which will help provide students with the more direct instruction they need to help them be successful both in the classroom and in developing the skills that will help them in the future.
For some background, it is a system that involves getting students in small group instructional settings where students with similar needs are given more directed help on subjects/skills that need more focus. This is done in short periods of time throughout the day so that there is no “tracking” or segregation of students based on academic ability. I strongly support these efforts and would also support increased training in this and in utilizing technology to better individualize instruction for our students.
Q: What plans do you have to help the district attract and maintain qualified staff?
Parks: I think our district has continued to increase pay, benefits, and resources in the classroom in order to remain competitive in a very competitive market. I hope to continue that trend as well as making sure that our mentoring program, and other support systems for staff (like the “buddy” program) remain effective at providing newer teachers (and veterans who are new to us) with the help they need to succeed and thrive in our district. I also want to continue to work on encouraging building leadership teams to help keep staff involved in the decision making process and to attempt to find ways to utilize more collaborative time amongst staff.
Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the district budget?
Parks: Overall, I don’t have any real concerns about our district’s budget. Our finance director has done a marvelous job of continuing to find ways to increase the amount of money going directly into our classrooms while simultaneously lowering the mill rate. This has been consistent over the past 6-7 years if memory serves.
As of right now, the one thing that I have been exploring and hope to find solutions for is a way to better incentivize teachers to save days off (not using all of their allotted time off) and attracting more substitute teachers to our district.
As a district, we are really struggling to cover classes at times and this year has already started with a lot of coverage of classes being done by administrators or other teachers giving up their plan period. While this is doable, it is not sustainable. This problem normally doesn’t show up until sometime in the spring. The fact that we are only a month into school and are already dealing with a lack of subs is not a good sign. I’m not yet sure how we can make room in the budget for these types of changes, but I will be looking into ways we can make this work.