Voting

Voters cast their ballots. File photo.

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election runs from Oct. 13-30. In Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Les Black, Cydnei Drake and Juan Renteria are battling for two seats. Below is a Q&A each candidate filled out:

Les Black

CFBISD Trustee

Profession: Clinical professor of education policy and leadership, SMU

Number of years you've lived in the district: 8

What is the most important issue facing the school district and how would you help solve it?

Les Black

Les Black

CFBISD must distinguish itself in this competitive educational landscape, in which students have expanded choices. Enrollment has dropped in recent years, and that trend is projected to continue over the next several years. Declines in enrollment equate to losses in both human capital and revenue. In order to reverse this trend, CFB must do a better job of telling a compelling story – one of a safe and inclusive educational community where all children are valued and nurtured. We must clearly distinguish the CFB brand from the competition by focusing on what high quality public school districts do best – maintaining comprehensive academic programs that maximize choice, offering high quality co-curricular programs in fine arts and athletics, hiring highly qualified and certified teachers who change lives, and providing robust academic and social emotional supports to students. I believe that this is how CFBISD will attract and retain families and students.

Are there any existing programs in the district that should be expanded or enhanced?

A program that has been very successful is the two-way dual language program at Stark, McKamy and Thompson Elementary schools and at Field Middle School. The most recent research on school effectiveness indicates that dual language programs not only have substantial positive impacts on achievement for both majority and minority language students, but they can also help transform schools into more inclusive and supportive learning environments. Janie Stark is now one of the more popular elementary campuses in CFB.

The popularity of the dual language program may offer a blueprint of an effective way to structure an elementary choice program that will be attractive to students and parents. When students enter the dual language program they are not required to specialize in any curricular area. Instead, they get a comprehensive curriculum, but with an instructional model that not only makes them bilingual, but provides a particularized learning environment that they find desirable. Perhaps students and parents who aren’t attracted to schools organized around a specific curricular focus might be more interested in campuses organized around instructional models that impact the entire culture of the school. For example, Dallas ISD offers a Montessori campus that has become quite popular.

Are there any new programs you think the district should consider implementing?

I would like to see the district make student voice a priority. A 2016 Gallup survey of school children showed that students feel less connected and engaged with school as they move from elementary to middle to the high school grades. Elevating the student voice on issues of interest and importance is a research-supported method to increase student engagement. The benefits of elevating student voice are more dramatic with students from historically marginalized populations. One strategy that is particularly effective at elevating student voice and engagement in middle and high school is “youth participatory action research,” or YPAR. In addition to elevating voice and engagement, YPAR helps students develop critical skills in reading, writing and inquiry.

An interesting example of system-wide YPAR program can be seen in Denver. In 2014, Denver Public Schools launched “Student Board Challenge 5280,” a seven-week research competition that enabled students to form teams to conduct research and make recommendations on problems of particular importance or interest to them. Challenge 5280 was so successful that it evolved from a seven-week competition into a yearlong class in which students conduct deep collaborative research and are given opportunities to present their recommendations in front of adult decision-making bodies. Denver Public School leadership now credits student researchers for influencing positive changes in the Denver Public School system.

Do you feel the district is making the right decisions financially?

Generally speaking, I think the district’s financial decisions have been sound. The last 15 years have been difficult financial times for Texas schools. When the state enacted its target revenue model, it left districts with no way to increase revenue without raising taxes. At the time, many districts engaged in drastic cuts and layoffs, others rushed to hold tax ratification elections. CFB took a more measured approach, looking for efficiency in all areas and making cuts through attrition. CFB did not go to the voters to ask for a tax increase a tax increase until 2016. And throughout those years, the school district has been repeatedly recognized with the Meritorious Budget Award from the Association of School Business Officials International.

Education is labor-intensive – roughly 85 cents of every dollar are spent on personnel. So when significant budget cuts must be made, that inevitably means cutting people. When districts aren’t careful about how they reduce personnel, the cuts can have terrible impacts on students, in some cases eliminating programs and services that are vital. Budgeting must be driven by an understanding of what this community values the most about its schools. In the past, the district has gathered stakeholder input that informed the Board’s decision-making. I would advocate continued efforts to gather updated input from stakeholders in order to guide board decision-making in the future.

What is your history of involvement with the district/community?

My wife and I moved to Farmers Branch in 1998. Our daughter was born in 2001 and our son in 2003. We have been involved CFB parents since our daughter started kindergarten in 2006. Although she has graduated, our son is still a student in CFB. I have volunteered for PTA, booster clubs, chaperoned field trips, and even played Santa Claus in the elementary school musical extravaganza. Over the last 20 years, I have attended more athletic events, fine arts performances, award ceremonies and board meetings than I can count. Most recently, I volunteered as a member of the CFB Collaborative Vision 2030 committee.

As a long time resident of the CFB community, a parent of two CFB students, and a former administrator in CFB, I appreciate the history of the district as well as the challenges it faces moving forward. My background and experience will enable me to understand and approach issues from various stakeholder perspectives.

Is there anything else voters need to know about your views?

I am running for school board in order to serve the community that I love in an endeavor about which I am passionate and knowledgeable. I have no partisan or personal agenda. I am focused solely on what’s best for students, families, taxpayers and the district as a whole. The CFBISD School Board is not a “stepping stone” for me. I have no interest in ever pursuing any other elected office. I am an educator and this is the capacity in which I want to serve.

As a board member, I will focus on maintaining high quality, comprehensive programs, promoting inclusive learning environments with a positive professional culture, and increasing student and parent engagement. I am committed to serving the district responsibly and I will work toward excellence, equity and efficiency for CFBISD to ensure students thrive and achieve.

Cydnei S. Drake 

CFBISD School Board

Profession:  Nonprofit manager 

Number of years you've lived in the district: Two

  

What is the most important issue facing the school district and how would you help solve it?

Cydnei Drake

Cydnei Drake

The most important issue facing the school district currently is COVID-19 and the challenges that will come out of this unprecedented time. I believe it is crucial to continue working closely with our health authorities as we weigh operational decisions. Coming from a mental health background, public health measures being implemented must include mental health. This pandemic has affected students and their families, as well as our teachers and staff,  in a variety of ways and we must support them through any emotional challenges they face as a result of COVID-19 like the newly established Counseling Center. As a school board trustee, I will use my expertise to help advance this program to ensure our students, teachers and staff needs are being met during this pandemic. 

Are there any existing programs in the district that should be expanded or enhanced?

I cannot stress the importance of a high-quality education. When we set our students up for success at earlier grade levels, we are preparing to meet their needs in later grades. The public school system is where students build upon their dreams and talents. One program that I think should be expanded and enhanced is the Command Coding Academies. Currently, the Command Coding Academies are offered to two elementary schools: La Villita and Davis Elementary. I believe we should be offering this opportunity to all students across the district, in elementary and middle school, so that every student could benefit from this groundbreaking programming. 

Are there any new programs you think the district should consider implementing?

I believe the lesson we have learned during this pandemic is to have a backup plan. I believe public schools everywhere are lacking resources, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. There are students who do not have access to WiFi, and students with parents who work full-time jobs and are unable to effectively be the student’s “academic coach.” As a school board trustee, I believe it’s imperative that we evaluate how spending adjustments, whether increasing or decreasing, impacts our students. The number one focus should always be student achievement. 

Do you feel the district is making the right decisions financially?

As a current member of the Bond Advisory Council, I recognize the importance of fiscal transparency to our community and of showing how our hard-earned dollars are being spent. I believe CFB is in a good financial position going forward. As a school board trustee, I will work hard to ensure our district is responsible and provides transparency to the community and ensuring the best decisions are made not only for staff and students but for our taxpayers as well. 

What is your history of involvement with the district/community? 

I’ve been attending school boards meeting since moving to our community. I know the importance of ensuring all voices are heard and will have an open-door policy with my community – I am willing to sit down with everyone no matter where align on issues and focus on what is best for our students. 

I am a member of the Bond Advisory Council, which is comprised of eight appointed members chosen by the superintendent and each School Board member. I previously served on the Collaborative Vision 2030 committee as well. 

Is there anything else voters need to know about your views? 

I am running for CFBISD School Board trustee because of my passion and a strong belief in public education. I want to take that passion to serve on the board of trustees and give back to my community. The decision to run for public office was not one I took lightly. I decided to run for the School Board because I am invested in our district as a parent and community member. I am passionate and dedicated to serving our students, teacher, faculty and staff and believe I can bring a fresh perspective to the board. I feel I can bring a different perspective to the board – as a mother, social worker and first-generation and low-income student of color – and additionally, my career in serving high school and college students across the state – I believe my lived experiences offer a tremendous asset to the school board. I share many similarities with CFBISD students, and I will be an ardent champion for their success.

Juan Renteria

CFBISD Trustee

Profession: Attorney

Number of years you've lived in the district: 1

What is the most important issue facing the school district and how would you help solve it?

Juan Renteria

Juan Renteria

Retaining students and good teachers. We must modernize the school curriculum and reward high performing teachers. Currently, underutilization of funding hinders accomplishing both of these goals. I would push toward helping reach these goals. Due to the pandemic, we must open schools safely using current health and scientific data. Parents should have an ability to choose whether in-person or remote learning works best for their family.

Are there any existing programs in the district that should be expanded or enhanced?

Yes. Expanding the mentoring program for students and expanding programs which keeps students in school.

Are there any new program you think the district should consider implementing?

Civic involvement. Get students invested in their community and push the importance of voting.

Do you feel the district is making the right decisions financially?

So far yes, but I think we can improve.

What is your history of involvement with the district/community?

I am still a fairly new resident to the CFB community. I became involved more recently as a homeowner and resident in the community attending school board meetings and with local politics. I also have vested interest in the district as my daughter is a student in CFBISD. I want the school board to succeed for the betterment of all students. I believe if your child can succeed in CFBISD, then my daughter can as well.

Is there anything else voters need to know about your views?

I believe my experience as a former associate judge and an attorney would be an asset to the school board. I believe in fairness and equality, the right of every child to reach her/ his highest potential and the role our community plays in shaping our children’s future.

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