School board hopefuls discuss issues

While many races are going uncontested in a relatively quiet election year, the Bremerton School District board races represent a rare exception.

Candidates for a pair of positions on the board met at the Eggs and Issues forum sponsored by the Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning.

Turnout was light but the foursome had the opportunity to tackle a number of issues facing the district currently and in the near future.

For Position 4, incumbent Cynthia Galloway is facing off against former board member Lonnie Dawson. Beverly Buster is challenging current board president DeWayne Boyd for his Position 5 seat.

With the current class of sophomores being the first to face the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) as a graduation requirement, the standardized test is a hot-button issue in the campaign.

Dawson expressed concern about Bremerton being a somewhat transient community with large Navy facilities and how the WASL requirement will affect students transferring in their final two years of high school from another state.

Galloway spoke of the “safety net measures in place” to ensure students will succeed. Boyd elaborated on her point, mentioning that the schools had seen improvement in scores each year and that there are after-school, tutoring and computer programs available to supplement in-class instruction for students struggling to meet the standards.

Buster said the scores of minority students in the district are dismal and tutoring is needed for parents in addition to children in order to get them more involved.

Another issue facing the board is the requirements imposed by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and one audience member asked whether the legislation is helping or hurting teachers.

Boyd said the “Thou shalt or thou shalt receive punishment” element of the act is not helpful, but that the idea of eliminating excuses for seeking to help every child succeed is a good one.

Buster said the law encourages professional development. Dawson chose to address the Wednesday early releases that were developed partly in response to NCLB, and the opportunities those days have provided for teachers to develop.

Galloway said efforts in place are helping teachers to mentor one another, which are having positive results.

Each candidate was asked to address what they felt would be the biggest issue facing the board during the next term.

Dawson expected the WASL to continue to be a key area of concern for the board. Galloway said she would like to work on improving the district’s image which has not always been the most positive in years past.

Buster said funding of schools, a high dropout rate and student retention were her biggest worries. Boyd indicated the education system as a whole is in the midst of a major transition from “fact-based, test-taking” learning to teaching life skills applicable to students throughout the course of their lives.

Dawson mentioned in his opening statement that local taxpayers are funding Bremerton schools at a higher level than that of the federal government.

Galloway pointed to the success of the district in making progress on the hiring of African American teachers.

Boyd is encouraged by the schools’ progress and the current course which has led to success.

“Now is not the time to change leadership,” he said.

Buster disagreed, pointing out that 57.4 percent of voters in the race chose a challenger in the primary indicating a desire for change.

“There has been improvement,” she said. “But not enough.”

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