School board candidates unveil their platforms

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By Jennifer Garcia

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.


Each of the three candidates for the Los Alamos Public Schools Board of Education are running uncontested.

The Los Alamos Monitor sent out a questionnaire to those running for seats on the LAPS School Board. The three candidates sent in their responses, highlighting their qualifications and goals as school board members.

On Thursday, the Monitor will highlight the candidates running for the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos Advisory Board.

Current LAPS School Board Member Jody Benson declared her candidacy for position four on the UNM-LA Advisory Board, but recently decided to withdraw from the race. Thursday’s paper will feature an explanation by Benson in lieu of the questionnaire. Early voting began Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 28. The election will be on Feb. 1.

And also on Thursday night, the League of Women Voters will host a forum, introducing the eight candidates, from 7-9 p.m. at the UNM-LA Lecture Hall.

Here are the three candidates profiled:

Dave Foster
  Age: 69

  Marital status: Single parent

  Education: Bachelor’s degree in math and science from Michigan State University; master’s degrees in applied mathematics and computational linguistics from Harvard University

  Which position are you running for? School Board District 5

  Why do you want to be on the School Board? To help maintain and further enhance the excellent K-12 educational opportunities available to all our children.
  What qualifications do you bring to the board? I’m the father of two daughters currently attending Los Alamos High School who have benefited from the excellent elementary, middle and high school education provided by the Los Alamos Public Schools.
I have over 20 years of diversified private sector marketing and business management experience with IBM and Cray Research including executive management positions in engineering design and analysis software companies in Colorado and California.
I have 20 years of government sector management experience working with Los Alamos National Laboratory in supercomputing, technology transfer and commercialization, regional economic business development, the LA Research Park project and student internship and postdoc education programs.
Oversight of LANL’s K-12 teacher professional development programs including the Northern New Mexico Math and Science Academy over the last six years.
  Do you have prior experience in serving on a board? If so, which one(s)?
I have served as a community representative member of the Los Alamos High School Topper Advisory Committee for the last several years; I previously served as a member of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation’s Board of Directors for eight years including leadership positions as president, vice-president and member of the Executive and Research Park Committees.
  What would you improve if elected? I have no pre-conceived concerns, agendas or priorities but intend to listen carefully to the various needs and issues as they arise and work with my fellow school board members to make the best possible decisions for the future benefit of the schools and the community.
  What do you think are the major issues facing LAPS?
Providing every child the learning opportunities to pursue a well-rounded education, develop skills in their chosen areas of interest and become fully prepared for their transition to further continuing education and successful careers.
Effectively managing the financial, property and personnel resources of the district in times of constrained revenues.
Maintaining and further enhancing the excellent quality of the district’s educational and extra-curricular offerings, its dedicated teachers and its diverse student population.
Assuring that all community members are fully informed and engaged in the issues and decisions of the School Board.
Further strengthening the cooperation and synergy among the school district, UNM-LA, the county, LANL and the many dedicated community support organizations to optimize the life-long learning opportunities available to all our community members.
  How would you resolve those issues?
I intend to learn from the current school board members, carefully research the issues that come before the board, listen to all community stakeholders and leverage my diverse business and education experiences to provide the best possible direction and decisions relative to all issues that come before the Board.
  Do you think that cuts can be made to the budget without affecting the quality of education that LAPS provides? If so, how?
Yes, with careful balancing of the district’s current and future resources to assure that our priority focus remains upon addressing all our students’ unique needs and interests, selectively adopting new educational innovations, facilitating the continuing professional development of our teachers and fully engaging all our community members and resources in the life-long “joy of learning” process.
I look forward enthusiastically to becoming a member of the LAPS School Board and the opportunity to work closely with its many talented members to have a positive impact on sustaining and further enhancing the student learning opportunities and maintaining the educational leadership of LAPS in New Mexico and nationally.

Kevin G. Honnell

  Age:  50

  Marital status:  Married, three children

  Education:  Graduate of Los Alamos High School, 1978, also attended Los Alamos Middle School (then known as Cumbres Jr. High), Piñon, Chamisa and Canyon elementaries; bachelor’s degree from Rice University; master’s and doctorate degrees in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

  Which position are you running for?  LA School Board, District 4 (Barranca Mesa, Western Area, Quemazon and North Community west of Diamond and south of School Canyon).
  Why do you want to be on the School Board? To work collaboratively with our citizens — students, parents, teachers, community members and elected officials — to ensure that educational excellence remains a hallmark of LAPS; to advocate for a well-rounded curriculum that includes the fine arts, athletics and the practical arts; to ensure that every student, regardless of ability, is developed to his or her full potential; and to foster a workplace where we can continue to attract and retain the most inspiring and innovative educators.
  What qualifications do you bring to the board?
• Broad 40+ year perspective of our schools and our town.
• Graduate of LAHS,  parent of two current LAPS students and one LAHS graduate
• Former university professor (Texas A&M, Dept. of Chemical Engineering)
• Admissions interviewer, Rice University (1985-present)
• Former LANL X-Division student liaison
• Willingness to listen, to serve and to do my homework
• Commitment to excellence in education for children of every ability
  Do you have prior experience in serving on a board? If so, which one(s)?
Current District 4 school board rep., appointed in May to fill vacancy created by a resignation
N.M. Tech Industrial Advisory Board, Chem. Eng. (1998-present)
Executive board and treasurer, LAHS Choir Boosters (2008-present)
Barranca Mesa PTO officer (2005-2007)
Board of directors, Barranca Mesa Pool Association (2003-2006)
Board of directors, LA Shrine Club (2004- present)
  What would you improve if elected? This candidacy does not come with an agenda or axe to grind. School boards realize their greatest potential when they focus on the big picture — setting policy and direction consistent with our community’s values — and leave the execution of those goals to our very capable educators.  Having said that, I would like to see our graduation rate increase significantly from its current value of 89 percent; I would like to see us articulate a strategic long-range plan for educational excellence that looks beyond the current national obsession with testing; I would like to see us come through the current funding crisis with our fine arts, vocational training, athletics and specials intact; I would like to see the schools, the county, and the lab explore creative ways for partnering together to their mutual benefit; and I would like to foster a working environment that attracts, retains, and promotes the very finest educators in the country.
  What do you think are the major issues facing LAPS?
State funding for school programs and operations
Aging infrastructure
Unfunded mandates, including excessive reporting and testing
  How would you resolve those issues? Some issues are within our control locally and others can only be resolved in partnership with our elected county, state and federal representatives. For example, we can raise money locally for rebuilding and refurbishing our schools by passing local bond issues and the citizens of Los Alamos did our community and its children a tremendous service when they approved the bond for our new high school and middle school. It is now incumbent on the board to ensure that those dollars are used wisely and to earn the public’s confidence to continue these endeavors.  On the other hand, we cannot raise money locally to pay for teachers’ salaries, provide raises, or fund educational programs like art, music, or PE — we are dependent on the state for this funding and the state is in a financial crisis. For these issues, along with costly requirements for testing and reporting, the board must explore new ways to partner with our elected representatives, the county, LANS and DOE to tell our story and to identify optimal solutions.
  Do you think that cuts can be made to the budget without affecting the quality of education that LAPS provides? If so, how? No.  The low-hanging fruit is long gone.  The challenge will be to weather the remainder of the recession with minimal damage to our educational programs and our employees’ careers and to be poised, when the recovery arrives, to become the finest public school district in the nation.

Judith Bjarke-McKenzie

  Age: 59

  Marital status: Divorced

  Education: Master’s degree in education and reading endorsement

  Which position are you running for?  Position 3, Aspen district

  Why do you want to be on the School Board? I believe education is the most important job in our world today. It needs to have people to help make the very best for our children and our future.
  What qualifications do you bring to the board? I have a good background in education, with 32 years of teaching experience.
  Do you have prior experience in serving on a board? If so, which one(s)? I’m on the Arts in Public Places Board and have done a lot of committee work as well.
  What would you improve if elected? I would like to communicate with all parties in our education community.
  What do you think are the major issues facing LAPS? The budget is a big issue and I thing that we need to look for cuts to make that least impact on the classroom. Also, we need to get support for the teaching system.
  How would you resolve those issues? Communication with board members, teachers, principals and legislators.
  Do you think that cuts can be made to the budget without affecting the quality of education that LAPS provides? If so, how? I believe it is possible by having districts working together at our education program. Let’s get some answers about what jobs are at the state level and find out what these exact jobs and people do. What are they being paid? Are they necessary? Also, what are mandated expenditures that we could cut to save money in our district? The most important part of all of this is the children. We need to keep the cuts that would take away from the educational experience and don’t cut from teacher’s salaries. They work long, hard hours and are having more put on them.