Candidates discuss issues at Cape High forum

School board election set Tuesday, May 13
Cape school board candidates attend a forum May 5. Pictured are (l-r) Juan Saez, Meyer Persow, Alison Myers, Terri Carey and Bob Bennett. BY MELISSA STEELE
May 9, 2014

All five Cape Henlopen school board candidates shared their views on Common Core, teacher accountability, charter schools and other school issues as they gathered May 5 for a forum sponsored by Cape High parent boosters.

Candidates Terri Carey and Juan Saez, both of Milton, and Lewes residents Bob Bennett, Alison Myers and Meyer Persow are vying for a five-year at-large seat vacated by board member Sara Wilkinson who is not running for re-election. The forum was the first that all five candidates attended – a forum sponsored by the Sunshine Circle Club was attended only by Bennett, Carey and Saez.

Leading into the last week before the May 13, election, the forum was moderated by Tim Buckmaster and attended by about 50 residents at the high school.

The boosters provided candidates in advance with about a dozen questions, which they had two minutes to answer in rotating order.

On the issue of Common Core Standards, Persow said he disagrees with teaching to a test, and the emphasis placed on state test results.

“I question whether we need to opt out and find another way to measure the achievement,” he said. “I'm not sure Common Core is the answer.”

Myers was the only candidate who supports the new standards. She said there is a misunderstanding of what Common Core is – it is new standards that will challenge children, not a new curriculum.

“Common Core promotes best practices in education,” Myers said.

Carey said she is neither for nor against the new standards, referring to herself as a skeptic with an open mind.

“I don't think we should push through a system, especially when the system hasn't been tested,” she said.

Bennett said communication is key in implementing the standards. Teachers need time to create lessons and determine what works, and it should be a coordinated effort, he said.

“Shields shouldn't be teaching a different thing than HOB,” he said.

Saez said he's talked to many teachers who do not agree with the new standards. “The jury is still out on Common Core,” he said.

On the subject of teacher accountability, Myers said she questions the punitive measures in the current evaluation system. “The goal of teachers should be embracing the gap and moving it,” she said.

Carey said she believes teachers should be awarded for success, but also held accountable for their mistakes. Parents also should keep an open mind when it involves their child and not become defensive.

Bennett said every teacher should be responsible for making sure every student that walks in their classroom improves. “Some teachers give out homework, but don't always teach,” he said.

Saez said he believes that there is more work to be done to make Cape great. “We're on the road, but not quite there,” he said.

Persow said he believes there should be standards for what is expected from a teacher.

Regarding Charter schools, none of the candidates was openly supportive of the charter system; all agreed district schools should be supported instead.

Using a recent school board incident in which literary classic Brave New World was called into question because of its sexual content, candidates were asked how they would respond if a parent approached them about inappropriate material in the classroom.

Saez and Carey said they would let the superintendent know about the situation. “I would go through the chain of command,” Saez said.

Carey said she would contact the superintendent, too. “Then I would make sure it's handled in an appropriate measure of time.”

Persow objected to how the issue of Brave New World was handled – it is not up to one school board member to solve it, he said.

“One man's art is another man's filth,” he said.

Myers said she also sees merit in classic books taught in the schools. “But if there's a strong objection there should be an option for parents,” she said.

Bennett agreed that parents should have a choice. “Maybe a chance for an alternate assignment is an option,” he said.

Candidates also identified the major issues facing today's school board.

Carey said besides Common Core, she hears concern over traffic congestion around the proposed new elementary school. She also said the lack of diversity in the district teaching and administration staff is a concern.

Bennett agrees diversity is a concern, and board members should listen to their constituents. Persow suggested holding board meetings throughout the community, even if it is an informal coffee chat.

Saez said meetings could be held in outlying areas such as Belltown or Cool Springs. “Many people just want to reach someone,” he said.

Myers said the district will need to focus on the next step in improving the remaining, aging elementary schools. Redrawing boundary lines to balance the schools needs examination, she said.

In closing, candidates were asked why they think voters should vote for them.

As a Sussex County, Milton guy, Saez said, “I have a passion for Cape. I can bridge a lot of gaps that haven't been bridged.”

Persow said public money should be spent well, and students should be prepared for the future.

Myers said with four children – some in the district, others poised to enter in a few years – she will be around for a long time, and she is willing to put in the time for the best of the school district.

Carey said she was born and raised in the district, and she's not going anywhere, either. Working to put students through college is a priority for her, she said.

Bennett said he has been involved in the school district for years and would love the opportunity to serve on the school board. “I've helped people my whole life, and I'd like to continue.”

Voting will be held 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at Rehoboth Elementary School, Cape Henlopen High School and Mariner Middle School.