White room. White walls, white floor, whole nine. It’s a white room.
White rolling chairs. Leather, sure, or plastic leather, or – I don’t care. Chairs. On one side of a long table that’s – you guessed it – white.
In the chairs: robots.
Bear with me.
These robots have just been fed every single recording of every single school board candidate forum that has ever happened, or ever will happen, in the United States of America.
Cue the simulation.
That’s what a lot of the Mammoth Unified School District candidate forum felt like. A word cloud of terms and phrases repeated until emptied of meaning. Transparent. Stakeholders. Listening. Integrity. Dignity. Community. Approachable. Transparent. Responsibility. Transparent. Transparent. Transparent…
The robots chant until their batteries die.
When such words are repeated in lieu of actual, actionable ideas – that’s when the whole thing feels empty.
So, for the benefit of the community, I’ve distilled the word cloud of its fog and present you with the weather.
Six candidates were present: Chelsea Nash, Marty Thompson, John Stavlo, Amanda Pelham, Becky Davis, and Cindie Wormhoudt. Jeff Ronci did not appear. Gloria Diaz could not attend until later, but the forum ended before she arrived. She supplied written answers to be read aloud, but there was no designated reader of answers present. You can find her written answers, as well as the written answers of other candidates, online at the Mammoth Voices website.
Candidates had 90 seconds to respond to each question. The first question contained three questions. Question-ception.
“What is your definition of a high functioning board? How would your actions and attitudes help it be high functioning? How would you work with other board members to help it be high functioning?”
Marty Thompson answered first. mentioning the listening and de-escalation skills he had learned as a law enforcement officer, his capacity to agree to disagree, and the interest he has taken to others’ thoughts and opinions as he’s gotten older.
Stavlo’s turn. Confusion ensued. “This is three questions,” he said. “I thought we had a minute and a half for each question.”
Stavlo stared at the moderator.
“You have 90 seconds to answer all those questions,” she said.
No. “That’s not how I prepared for this thing,” Stavlo replied. He wouldn’t budge. Wormhoudt explained how she also thought that she had 90 seconds to respond to each nested question.
The moderator caved. “Okay, you have 90 seconds ot answer each question,” she said.
The candidates read their written answers to each of the three questions, and because these answers are online, I’ll spare you the details. See the word cloud above. Highlights include…
Stavlo speaking of his past experience as a board member supporting the majority after a vote.
Pelham explaining that different ideas create progressive environments.
Davis sharing that she will actively listen and ask questions.
Wormhoudt saying that she “cringe[s] when [she] see[s] college campus shutting down speakers” of different opinions and that “cancel culture has no place on a high functioning board.”
Nash describing her ability to listen with patience, compassion, and an open mind.
Thompson explaining that conflict resolution is what he does for a living.
Then, a question about budget cuts.
Davis said she will always support cutting as far away from the classroom as possible.
Wormhoudt explained that the well-being and instruction of MUSD students is the priority when it comes to budget cuts.
Nash admitted budget cuts were often inevitable, and that she would try to reallocate, get creative, and try to find new revenue streams in collaboration with the community and staff.
Thompson advocated for getting on top of things before they get bad, and promoted outside the box thinking, like putting solar panels in the parking lot – creative thinking like that could help when it comes to thinking of budget cuts.
Stavlo leaned on his past experience as a board member and explained what he and the board did in 2008 – mentioning that 80% of district costs come from staff salaries and benefits – before his time ran out.
Pelham talked about averaging data and increasing the funds reserved for economic uncertainty.
The next question: how can MUSD provide equity for all students and close the achievement gap?
Wormhoudt said, “I don’t believe we can close the gap.” She doesn’t believe in sacrificing one group for another on either end of the gap. Educators should meet students where they’re at and play to their learning style.
Nash wanted to focus on underserved students, promoted collaboration, and advocated support for students that aren’t mentally or emotionally healthy.
Thompson loves seeing the sign outside MHS that explains where every graduating senior is going after graduation. He floated the idea of partnering with local businesses in order to provide internships for students that might want to follow a path that does not include college.
Stavlo is currently reading a book called Mismatch and explained that the achievement gap is not genetic. The gap should be addressed as early as possible, and parents should be involved in the process.
Pelham suggested that the schools should offer each student the same base level opportunity in the form of in seat instruction. She also questioned how we measure achievement.
Davis said that there has always been a gap, and COVID-19 made it worse. She advocated that parents need to cut off their kids from electronics in the evening, as excessive screentime had negative consequences like sleep deprivation.
The next question asked what the top three educational challenges facing MUSD will be over the next four year.
Popular answers included addressing the learning loss from covid, teacher and staff recruitment and retainment, addressing the achievement gap between students, and hiring a new superintendent. Wormhoudt was the only candidate that addressed school safety as a priority.
Another question asked what candidates would look for and expect from a new superintendent. The Sheet’s frequent readers will notice that this reporter covered this question in his profiles of each candidate, except Davis.
He admits, a slip-up on his part. Davis would be looking for experience in all levels of education. Bilingual would be nice. She would want someone familiar with our district who is hands on and willing to go to different sites. “A people person, not a paper person,” who can build teams.
An audience question asked how candidates would responsibly handle the tax dollars they pay to the schools.
Stavlo said he’d make sure the job gets done for the cost.
“As a homeowner who pays into that,” Pelham said she’d make sure citizens were involved in the conversation and able to hold board members accountable.
Davis would ask other board members what they are feeling and thinking and get other advice and collect knowledge on the issue.
Wormhoudt would be careful with how she spends taxpayers money. Student achievement comes first. The community would be involved.
Nash said that the money is supposed to be going toward the education of children in the community.
Thompson would be transparent with taxpayers and say where the funds where going.
As for a question on why athletics seem to be given a precedent over everything else, Stavlo blamed the newspaper. “If you read the newspapers,” he said, “there is more sports than academic achievement events and musical events. The news media focuses more on the sports.” See page 10 for football.
Nash said that the problem seems to be one of awareness, which could easily be handled by site administrators or new superintendents.
Wormhoudt said, “I don’t know that this is that valid of a problem that we are dealing with.” She pointed to the high school’s national honor society, which recognizes academic achievement.