Tuesday, voters will be going to the polls to cast their ballots for two opponents running for Edmond Board of Education Seat No. 4.
Stephanie Bills, the incumbent, was appointed to fill the board seat by school board members when George Cohlmia stepped down early in 2013 so his daughter might fill a district teaching position. Cynthia Benson is running against Bills for the seat.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Only registered voters residing in District 4 are eligible to vote in this election.
Although Bills’ experience on the school board is six months ahead of Benson’s, both bring to the arena specific skill sets.
Bills said she brings an administration background to the board.
Benson said she believes she can be an independent voice yet she can work well within a group as the school board comes together in reviewing, researching and finding a resolution when presented with information that needs to be considered.
Benson said she sees some of the biggest challenges facing the school board are funding and reform fatigue being felt by the teachers.
“We need to figure out a way to keep our teachers by offering support and encouragement,” Benson said, “but it is also our job to give them the tools to implement the changes that they are expected to fulfill.”
Bills believes funding is the biggest challenge .
“I think we need to start some collaboration in that area (funding),” Bills said. “I believe there is some dysfunction between the state level and the schools. If districts aren’t going to be funded, then we need to put in a contingency plan.”
She said she sees ahead days of 35 students or more in a classroom and with larger class sizes comes additional problems with classroom management. She added that leadership training should be in place for future problems facing teaching staffs.
“The first thing we will have to do is cut personnel,” Bills said. “When positions become open they won’t be filled. We will have to identify the fat and cut more fat.”
Bills said ultimately decisions fall on the superintendent.
Benson believes board members are responsible for hearing details, collaborate among themselves and then vote.
As for third-grade retention being implemented by the state this year, Benson said, “After talking with third-grade teachers and parents I realized that giving the test in the third grade is convenient, yet teachers say 48 percent of the students already challenged to read may not be able to be remediated.”
She added she thinks reading programs must be strong in kindergarten, first and second grades and that children with difficulty reading should be identified in the lower grades.
“The state should have these test results back before school is out so students, parents and teachers can make plans for summer,” Benson said. “The test doesn’t allow for subjective data that a teacher might know of why a student didn’t perform their best on that particular day.”
When asked if the solution to the problem of not reading on level is to retain, Bills responded, “It should trigger support resources, but not to the magnitude of retention. I think parents should be involved. I think there are challenges to this law.
“I am against high-stakes testing, especially in the third grade. I think it is problematic at all levels. I think people are creating laws that don’t know children. Another ripple effect that is tragic is the labels we put on children in the third grade.”
Bills added that testing results should be back to the schools before November if students who are not on reading level are going to be retained.
When addressing the time that each sees necessary to fulfill the job of a school board member, Benson said she is extremely inquisitive and has time to research topics and bring the findings to the team.
Bills responded, “It is not quantity of time available, but quality.”
Bills is a certified teacher and principal and is completing her superintendent’s certification. She taught in both Moore and Edmond, served as a coach and currently serves as the executive officer in Human Resources at Metro Technology Center.
Bills said she brings service, talent and experience to the board as well as skills in administration.
Benson has a degree in clinical dietetics and has worked at local hospitals as a clinical dietitian as well as a practicum instructor at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Benson said she has been active in her community as she chose to stay home and use her gifts, skills and talents to benefit and enrich her community as well as the schools.
The candidates are seeking to serve a five-year term on the Board of Education.
The Edmond School Board normally meets on the first Monday of each month. Among other things, the board manages construction projects, education-related purchases, district policies and oversees district personnel.