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Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.
The University of New Mexico-Los Alamos and Los Alamos Board of Education candidates gathered at UNM-LA Thursday night to field questions by their constituents during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters.
Approximately two-dozen members of the public attended the event, but only a handful seized the opportunity to ask the candidates questions about their platforms and their vision for the boards on which they hope to serve.
Dave Foster, Kevin Honnell and Judith Bjarke-McKenzie are running unopposed for the school board. Stephen Boerigter and Michael D. Di Rosa are running for position three on the UNM-LA Advisory Board, while Linda Hull and Ralph Phelps are running for position four on the advisory board. Jody Benson had also announced her candidacy for position four, but she withdrew from the race.
The school board candidates kicked off the forum by introducing themselves and giving attendees a bit of background information. During her introduction, Bjarke-McKenzie said that education is the most important thing that “we have going in our society today. It’s building our future.”
Honnell added to what Bjarke-McKenzie said by adding, “educating a child is the most important and noblest thing we do in a community.” He also said that he was not there to offer quick answers and that his candidacy did not come with an agenda or an ax to grind.
Foster said that anything faculty can do to make students’ school experiences exciting and energizing will help in the educational process. He also said there is a diverse set of talents (on the school board) that will “blend together nicely.”
Magistrate Judge Pat Casados asked the candidates what they thought of Governor Susana Martinez’s policy on ending social promotion.
Bjarke-McKenzie, a former teacher, said she was held back in third grade, so she understands the ramifications of social promotion.
“We’ve gotten away from retentions that should have been made,” she said. “It (being held back) was a better situation for me.” She explained that she was able to get a better grasp on the materials by being held back and was ready for fourth grade when she was promoted.
Foster said it’s essential that kids have skills each year to allow them to progress to each grade. He also said that a stimulating, energizing learning environment must be created for students. “If you provide the tools, kids will get interested,” he said.
“It puts a burden on the teachers who have to teach down,” he said. “We need to center our focus on leveraging the resources to help kids and parents understand what’s available to help them move forward.”
“We learn a tremendous amount from our educators,” Honnell said. “We’re not doing kids any great favor in passing them along.”
He also said that Los Alamos High School has an 89 percent graduation rate, which he deemed “good” by New Mexico standards. However, he said it’s not good enough for his own standards. He pointed out that the school board has set a 100 percent graduation rate goal for the next five years and mentioned that Superintendent Gene Schmidt has established a credit recovery program to help seniors that are struggling to graduate on time.