Monday, November 6, 2006
E-Interviews with School Board Candidates
by Keith Swain and Tim Osborn
The only contested race for a seat on the Board of the Alpine School District is between incumbent Keith Swain and challenger Tim Osborn, in the district which includes American Fork and a small part of Pleasant Grove. LocalCommentary.com sent the two candidates the same questions, with an offer to publish their answers. This actually happened two weeks later than planned, because of intrusions by LBB, so the candidates' responses are doubly appreciated, coming as they do in the last, exhausted hours of a campaign.
Neither candidate, apparently, has a campaign Web site, so no links are provided here.
The questions below are presented in the order asked. Candidates are given first response to every other question.
LC: Campaigning is hard work, and so is serving in public office, if you win. What is so important to you that you would run for election (or re-election) to the Alpine School Board?
Tim Osborne: Simply put, I want to insure that the best education is available not only to my children, but to the other children who choose to attend our public schools. The prospect of being able to affect the lives of so many for the betterment of our society is a mighty weight and has been a goal of mine for years.
Keith Swain: I have chosen to run for re-election to Alpine School Board because we have a responsibility to give back and because of my philosophical beliefs. Historically, towns and countries were governed by those of privilege. An educated populace was the pivotal element which made rule by the people (all the people) and for the people possible. Thus, a democratic system was formed which continues to be unique in all the world. When public education was initiated by our founding fathers, they lived in an agrarian society. The basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic became more important as the country moved into the industrial age. Today, our economic and cultural system is principally made up of technology and information delivery and exchange. A strong educational foundation continues to be necessary for our democratic system to function, and it is especially necessary for us, individually and collectively, to survive economically. Our free enterprise system provides the greatest opportunities the world has ever known. An inadequate education limits capacity to benefit from such potential. We must provide for the effective education of our children if we are to be considered caring and unselfish people.
LC: How does your professional, educational, civic, and other experience qualify you to excel as a member of the School Board?
Keith Swain: I have a diversity of experience. I grew up on a farm and became a journeyman brick layer by the time I was 20. I have earned a living in construction and real estate development and marketing. My undergraduate degree from BYU was in Education. After having taught school for a period of time, I became a recipient of an NDEA grant, through which I completed a masters degree in counseling and psychology from Oregon State University. I functioned as an elementary school teacher in the state of Washington. Eventually, we returned to Utah Valley, and I accepted employment with the Third District Juvenile Court in Salt Lake City. I transferred to the state division of Rehabilitation Services. Both the court and rehabilitation required assessment of individual needs, issues and development of individualized treatment, educational and vocational programming. I also became a specialist in vocational testing and evaluating, providing extensive reports and recommendations to other counselors. After I retired from professional employment, my time was more flexible, and I determined that my background prepared me to serve on the Board of Education. We have seven children, who are all graduates of American Fork High. They all have various college degrees, including a PhD. They are the products of public education.
Tim Osborne: Professionally, I am a Manufacturing Engineer for Groen Bros. Aviation in Salt Lake City. I am involved with processes and procedures that build the SparrowHawk Gyroplane Kit and I am involved with other significant aerospace projects that demand attention to detail and proper outcomes in order to meet their designed needs. That being said, I am an ex-Boeing Manufacturing Engineer who was responsible for the implementation of LEAN Manufacturing with the B747 Final Assembly Manufacturing Unit, in Everett, Washington. At that time, Boeing was building over 600 planes a year and they were quickly disintegrating internally due to processes and procedures that allowed for major waste losses within the system of their business. I was responsible for over $20 million of savings over my short tenure there.
My knowledge of LEAN (a W. Edwards Deming principle) and my background in math and the sciences make me uniquely qualified and able to affect the change that so many people desire within the Alpine School District. I am a Change Agent. (Note: LEAN is often associated with the Toyota Production System which hails itself as the most efficient of all production systems in the world.)
I taught Algebra and Trigonometry for a term at Wasatch High School (Heber City, Utah), while the teacher was off for personal leave. That gave me great insight as to what teachers of math go through during their careers. Also, I taught AutoCAD as a TA at Brigham Young University for 6 semesters while I was earning my Manufacturing Engineering Technology degree. I taught AutoCAD to approximately 150 students per semester while teaching. I understand classroom teaching.
Until recently, I worked part-time at the Delta Center in the Event Security department, mainly as their Risk Manager. I was able to work with hundreds of people to solve their problems and to listen to their concerns, thereby making the Delta Center a better place for the public and employees to enjoy one of the many events that occur there. I am a people person.
I am a Band Dad affiliated with the American Fork Marching Band. I am only too pleased to donate time and effort in order to assure that the band is loaded and ready for many of their events. It is not uncommon to be unloading the semi at 11:00 pm in the middle of a rainstorm, knowing that I have to be up at 5:00 am to get ready for the next day's work. I am involved.
LC: There seems to be a growing perception that the School Board as a body is arrogant and unresponsive to constituents. Is this an accurate perception? Either way, should this worry the Board at all? Is there something the Board should do to address it?
Tim Osborne: In my view, the board is arrogant in their ways. Recently, some of the citizens of Orem desired and tried to create a district split. At first, the ASD administration claimed that they would be neutral during proceedings. Quickly, however, it became evident that the ASD administration was going to be anything but neutral. Many teachers were told by their principal(s) to attend the Orem city meetings and let the powers that be know that they are against the split. We have also seen missteps from the ASD administration during the ongoing drive for the bond vote.
During the past 4 years there have been many people attend ASD Board meetings to share their views for and against the (in)famous Investigations Math program. Some of these people have spent many hours of time researching the pros and cons of this program only to be called "crackpots" and to be banned from speaking with principals and teachers at the various schools. Why? Why did the city of Cedar Hills run a survey on their citizens' positions on Investigations only to find out that 50% were against Investigations and only 17% were for it. The answers are simple. the ASD administration does not want to know of their failures. That is an arrogant position which needs changing.
Keith Swain: Our intention is to effectively represent those who have elected us. We are continually trying to balance meeting the individual need while providing for the whole. A vocal group does not necessarily represent the attitude and feelings of the total population of the district. We support the autonomy of each individual school. Because of our democratic principles and respect for individual teachers and schools, change typically takes time. This board spends more time in the schools and are more directly involved in administrative process and action than previous boards. Adjustments to board meetings have been made to accommodate concerns. We welcome and encourage feedback and will continue to make efforts to implement better communication and connection with individuals and community groups.
What I want to accomplish includes greater involvement with patrons, improving ASD's working relationship with local legislative bodies, and organizing so that the public can see more clearly the process and action of School Board meetings. Our foundation is democracy: respect for all, and balancing the needs of the individual and the common good.
LC: Do you have a position on Investigations math? Is it good for students? Has the District handled its implementation and the related controversy properly?
Keith Swain: When I was attending American Fork High School in the 1950s, only a small percentage of the students excelled in math and even a smaller percentage liked the subject. Most intended to avoid mathematics in the future. This issue has been a concern for many decades. More recently, research has increased our understanding of human cognition, the process of learning, and how knowledge is acquired and organized. In 1989 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NTCM) moved to the forefront of efforts to improve math education in the United States and Canada. This body developed curriculum and evaluation standards. A commission was assembled in the district during the early 1990s with the directive to identify materials and procedures to improve math programs. NCTM was supporting the developers of the Investigations program, and it seemed to be supported by prevailing research. Consequently, after several years of work and study, it was adopted by this district. There is now the benefit of history. We have been able to look back and recognize weaknesses in the program and in its implementation. Math teachers and specialists in the district have continued to make adjustments and adaptations. It is notable that the new printed material from Saxon has incorporated more discovery. We have heard expressions of concern and believe that we are moving in a good direction. A complete return to the old traditional math would not accomplish the need for understanding and effective application of logic needed for flexibility and fluency in the worldwide technological environment.
Tim Osborn: Simply put, I have a major problem with Investigations math. I know that mathematics is simply addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are many rules to follow and when you follow and use these rules you get algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. In order to learn algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, one must have a good grasp of the basics of math. Now, knowing that, math is the descriptor for subjects such as physics, chemistry, science, accounting, engineering, and the like. Math takes time to learn. It takes effort. It can be hard, but it needs to stay math and let the usage be taught in these other classes. Algebra and calculus are best learned without the use of calculators. This will demand that students have a broad knowledge of their math facts! Investigations does not teach to these depths!
I have spoken to people at American Fork High School, and I have learned that they quickly know who was taught only Investigations and who was supplemented with traditional basic math. Those who only know math through Investigations are generally put into the remedial math classes in order to bring them up to speed. What does this say to the ASD about their program?
LC: In your view, what are the benefits and problems associated with large districts like Alpine? Would splitting the Alpine School District improve the education of children, help contain costs, or make the school board(s) more responsive to the public?
Tim Osborn: When I was working for Boeing there were over 220,000 employees. I noticed that there were many "cottage industries" and "fiefdoms" that existed but had no real added-value to the Boeing Company. Boeing was too big. It was very unresponsive to its employees, customers, and stockholders.
The ASD is too big at this time. It cannot and has not been responsive to eveybody's needs and concerns. There are feelings between the North County area and the South County area. The population up North is growing (exploding) while the population in the South (Orem) is dwindling, or stagnant at best. How can the ASD be responsive to both these needs? Why are schools like Timberline Junior High and Willow Creek Junior High being built at a cost of $20 Million, while Mountain Ridge Junior High and Oak Canyon Junior High cost an estimated $12 Million only a few years ago?
I feel that a split is in order and would give local control of the schools back where it belongs.
Keith Swain: A great deal could be said about this subject. There was a small group of people in Lehi and a small group in Orem at different times who pursued the establishment of their own district. In both cases, after extensive study, local officials determined that the action would be disruptive to employees and detrimental to the education of children. There were major economic concerns. It was decided by the County Commission and the Orem City Council, respectively, that it would be unwise to put it on the ballot for a vote of the people. The Board supports the democratic process and has maintained a neutral position regarding this issue.
There is a prevalent misunderstanding that smaller schools and smaller districts will result in smaller classrooms. Quite the opposite is true. If schools are smaller it will require more schools, which will cost more for administration, support staff and utilities, leaving fewer funds for direct education. It would become necessary to increase classroom size or increase funding through higher taxes.
LC: Are you voting for the ASD leeway and bond issue?
Keith Swain: (no response)
Tim Osborn: I understand both sides of this issue, and this is a very tough one for me. I do not want to give the impression that I do not want our children taught in new, or smaller-population schools, or in upgraded facilities, but it seems that the bond is being used as a pawn in the realm of the fight for/against a district split. Is this proper? Was there enough public comment on this matter? Or, was it more of an attitude about giving everyone something to insure the passage of the bond, and thereby rushing the bond onto this November's ballot?
These are questions that have not been answered and lend themselves to a "no" vote. This will allow for another bond vote that can be legally taken next year, when these questions have had more time for citizen input and thereby can be better answered.
LC: Finally, tell us the question you wish I had asked, then answer it.
Tim Osborn: I would like to have seen a question regarding teachers and their current plight. Teachers are the District's greatest asset. Many times we have heard that "we are losing the best and the brightest" and that the ASD wants to get rid of "burned-out" teachers. What gives? This is totally disrespectful towards these wonderful people. How would you feel if you were still teaching only to be known as the leftovers because "the best and the brightest" have left? Why are we not trying to find out why teachers are getting burned out instead of just getting rid of them? There are far more good teachers in Alpine School District than bad teachers. Teachers deserve our utmost respect and support. Every teacher should be treated as one of the "best and the brightest" and supported to develop professionally as such. Let's work to find the causes of teacher burnout and support our teachers rather than seeking to get rid of them!
Keith Swain: I wish you had asked, How does Alpine School District compare to other schools in Utah, the nation, and charter schools?
We have some great teachers, and others. That is the nature of life. As a Board and Cabinet (central administration) we are painfully aware of areas of weakness and are often reminded by others of our shortcomings. We are committed to improvement. In general terms this district, I believe, is performing at a higher level than it has ever achieved. Our intent is to meet the individual needs of every student.
The district test scores have shown improvement in the areas of language, math and science each year over the last several years. We are moving in the right direction. The district averages exceed state and national averages, as demonstrated by ACT test results.
Alpine District schools' average scores are equal or above the average scores of charter schools in similar geographical areas; however, the charter schools' population is virtually free of the special needs and ESL students serviced by the district.
When we factor in the dollars spent per student, the significance of the achievements indicated above are brought into focus. In round numbers, Alpine District spends about $4500 per student per year. Wyoming spends about $12,500, and some of our eastern seaboard states spend in the neighborhood of $29,000 per student. Alpine District is the most efficient in the state and the nation. Recently a family who have moved from the west coast and a family who moved from the east coast indicated that their experience with this district's schools exceeds that of the public schools in California or even the expensive private schools on the east coast.
What else do I want to accomplish?
- Continue our focus on student achievement
- Strengthen principals and teachers
- Greater involvement with patrons
- Improve working relationships with local legislative bodies
- Organize so the public can see more clearly the process and action of school board meetings
- Build on and strengthen the District's guiding principles
- a foundation of democracy (respect for all, balancing the needs of the individual and the common good)
- educate all students
- foster a safe and nurturing environment
- wise use of resources
- expand the effective use of technology
- strengthen and improve district policy
How will I accomplish it?
- Attract qualified teachers through increasing salaries and benefits for beginning teachers
- Create strategies to retain quality teachers
- Articulate highly effective instructional models
- Strengthen communication and public relations
- Strengthen unity and cohesiveness in each individual school through the principles of professional learning communities
- strive for continuous improvement
- have a results orientation
- action oriented
- establish mutual goals
- utilize collaboration
- Cope with growth through effective planning and implementation
I serve on the policy committee and we have updated and revised much of the existing policies and our work will continue.
Local Commentary.com thanks both candidates for their participation in this virtual interview, and for shouldering the burdens of campaigning and public service.
Copyright 2006 by Keith Swain and Tim Osborn.
All rights reserved.
Permission is given to publish this article elsewhere on the Web or via e-mail only under these conditions: The article is published intact and unchanged, and is properly credited to the author; and a visible link is included to the article's page at LocalCommentary.com.