Teacher retention top concern for Eudora School Board candidate

Education

EUDORA, Kan. — With the general election less than three weeks away, 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. 

Charis Grosdidier and Claire Harding will compete with incumbent Samantha Arredondo for a seat on the Eudora school board. 

FOX4 did not receive a response from Arredondo or Grosdidier. Here is a look at what Harding 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?  

Harding: The Eudora School Board, administration, educators and staff did a fine job for students and district families for the school year 2020-2021 during the pandemic. Did the board make some decisions I disagreed with? Yes, but they did what they could with the information they had at the time. We had some disruption to families and in-person attendance but, overall, our students were allowed to learn in a way that worked best for them. 

Today we have a lot more information about the virus. I believe the district COVID strategies should reflect the updated research and expert knowledge. The expert guidance exists to keep families’ lives undisrupted and as close to normal as possible. The guidance is to keep students in their chairs in the classrooms at our school building. 

If elected, I would use known science and guidance from federal, state and county public health officials to form my decision-making around COVID and all similar issues. I would support policies that help keep students healthy and in school for as many days as possible. Most Eudora students learn best with the support and teaching they receive during an in-person learning day.

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? 

Harding: I believe our educators are quite aware of what students have lost – they have also lost a lot in the pandemic, as have their families and all of our families. But we need to focus on where students are now.

Focusing on what might have been does not serve anyone well. We have incredible teachers and staff in Eudora and we focus on multi-tiered systems of support for students with their academic AND social and emotional needs. In about the third week of this school year our social groups and math and reading skills groups were up and running to support students. The groups help students reinforce their foundational skills for growth that is appropriate for what they need at this moment.

If we could secure funding to reward teachers for their extra time, I would support expanding our offering of After School Academics at the elementary school to both the middle and high school. Ideally we would employ more teachers and upper grade tutors and perhaps even engage peer mentors to support more students academically. The transportation department would have to be financially supported to make this feasible as well. 

Q: What plans do you have to help the district attract and maintain qualified staff?  

Harding: The loss of quality teachers may be the most important problem facing our district at this time. The pandemic was hard on our community. Eudora families, our school staff and district leadership all felt the pandemic’s burden. The stress of decision making was just difficult. We all had to decide what was best for ourselves and for our families, often with little support or understanding from our neighbors.

In Eudora, around 20 incredible educators left the district or left teaching entirely at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. But the year before, around 10 left. We have had challenges filling paraeducator positions year after year. We can’t say our exodus of educators and staff has been only pandemic related. 

How do we fix it? I believe there is ample room for improvement with staff compensation. I also believe we have not made relationship building a priority and cornerstone of our district culture. Personally, if I know you’re in my corner come what may, I’m sticking with you. We need to show our teachers we’re in their corner with compassionate, honest and reliable communication and decision-making from the board. 

I have heard current board members say something similar to “We have to trust our people in the room.” I would agree with that statement! But then I would expand on it. If elected I will be committed to getting the people most impacted by board decisions- the experts in the area- into the room. After all, are we getting a fair assessment of the decision’s impact if the people who are most affected are left out of the conversation? Decisions made at the monthly Board of Education meetings are felt every day in the buildings. We owe it to our students and staff to get a realistic picture of those normal everydays.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the district budget?

Harding: Our district budget should fairly balance the needs of all students. The budget should not serve one department or one extra-curricular before another. It shouldn’t prioritize one attendance center over another. ALL students at ALL levels deserve a place to belong in our district. Much of a student’s K-12 experience is about finding where they fit, finding their people. We need to make sure we have enough variety in opportunity to meet this need; staff academic assignments, clubs and sponsors, social workers and counselors. We also need to be proactive in addressing the needs of our infrastructure instead of only [being] reactive, [by] preventing breakdowns instead of only fixing them. 

Additionally, I see our resources – our people, facilities, finances- as the tools that plant the seeds for each student’s potential to grow. Every student has a unique path, a unique ability and capacity for excellence. Everything the Board of Education does should be in recognition of this and working toward the achievement of it. Our budget decisions should also, of course, be responsive to the community’s need for intelligent fiscal management.

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