School board candidates trade views at forum
Two candidates for the Edmonds School District Board of Directors – both incumbents – offered views on public education during a Candidates’ Forum last week in the Edmonds City Council Chambers.
Ann McMurray of Brier, who is running unopposed in District 2, and Susan Phillips of Edmonds, who has a challenger in District 4, discussed graduation rates, mandatory state testing, uniforms and other issues.
Leticia Solis of Lynnwood, who is running against Phillips, was unable to attend the forum.
Phillips and McMurray said statistics showing the district has a low on-time graduation rate are misleading.
Phillips said the statistics include students from alternative high schools, students taking classes online or through the community college, and students from outside the district, skewing the success rates at the regular high schools.
McMurray confirmed that assessment, noting graduation rates at the district’s comprehensive, four-year high schools are in the upper 80s to low 90s percentile.
“There are 13 programs that the state rolled into the on-time graduation rate,” McMurray said. “Sometimes we have difficulty with the state recognizing what those programs are.”
She said the district is doing a detailed analysis to determine the effectiveness of its various programs.
Both candidates said they were open to the idea of student uniforms, but said the various school communities should make those decisions rather than the district.
Phillips said families in low-income neighborhoods in particular have been broaching the subject.
She said there’s a lot of pressure on students who are self conscious about fashion and styles.
“There’s a lot of competition, so families felt it would be more economical and more beneficial if students wore uniforms,” Phillips said.
“We felt if communities in schools wanted to do that, we would support them.”
McMurray agreed. “We’re going to allow the school community to make those decisions, and then vet those decisions at the board level,” she said.
While they said they understood the state’s interest in test results, both candidates said mandatory testing should be just one piece of the education puzzle when determining effectiveness.
“The state wants some vehicle to measure progress. I get that,” McMurray said. “But it’s only one set of tools to figure out how a student is doing.
“How many of us didn’t do well on a test?”
She said classroom assessment, evaluation of teachers and principals, and other factors need to be included to get to “the heart of how a student is doing.”
Phillips said, “Testing is just part of the piece for me.
“It’s important, but it’s also important to look at other aspects.”
She pointed out that colleges are looking at more than SAT and ACT scores when they consider a student’s application, taking a “holistic view” of the applicant.
While the candidates support school-based decisions in some areas – such as whether to require uniforms – they said the district should control in areas where uniformity is key to success, such as curriculum alignment.
“We have a lot of students who move around within the district and in and out of the district,” Phillips said. “It’s important that there be a common curriculum.”
McMurray and Phillips said the Edmonds School District is blessed to have community support, including volunteerism and levy approvals.
“The local levy has been the lifeblood the last couple of years,” McMurray said. “It’s the support of the community that has allowed us to maintain programs at the level we have.
“As a board, we’re cognizant that it’s coming out of your pocket.”