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by Colin Powell
Two write-in candidates have been announced for the two-year seat on the CSD 13 school board left vacant with the pending resignation of Walter Kumiega early next month.
Having served on the school board in the past, Deer Isle resident James “Jim” Adams has announced his intention of running as a write-in candidate for the two-year seat.
In a recent interview, Adams said he was asked if he would be interested in running again. Having completed his return to education that precipitated his resignation in August 2009, Adams said he is ready to serve again.
He added that with his son recently graduated from the high school, and now attending Bates College, he has firsthand experience with the lack of preparation Deer Isle-Stonington High School graduates have told the school board about over the past few years.
He said he was very aware of his son’s difficulty adjusting to college life, and that he felt unprepared in terms of writing, research and study skills. Despite this experience, Adams said he feels the high school is on the right path to improvement, even with the rough road faced when the school was listed as one of the 10 lowest-performing schools in the state nearly a year ago.
Asked about his budget priorities, Adams said he feels that in such a difficult economy, academic programs should be given first priority over non-academic or co-curricular activities, but that he would hope to maintain funding at the current level with as few increases as possible over the next few years.
On the subject of the Reach Performing Arts Center and the need to find a new director, Adams said whoever replaces Nelson Monteith will need an incredible amount of energy and dedication to the performing arts. He feels the center has enormous potential that has not been fully realized yet, and hopes to see more community use of the building. He also wants to see the high school students more involved in school productions.
Lastly, asked about the new graduation requirements at the high school, Adams said that with his son feeling unprepared in his first year at college, he said expectations that students demonstrate competency of what they’re taught is sorely needed, and, though the jury is still out, he is hopeful that the new requirements will improve the preparation for graduates no matter what they do after high school.
Voters will have to write Adams’ full name, “James Adams,” correctly on the ballot because he is a write-in candidate.
Vicki Zelnick said in a recent interview that she has announced her write-in candidacy for the school board after the confusion surrounding the two-year seat on the school board. While still unsure about the legal status of the situation, she understands the board has decided to hold elections for the two-year seat despite the confusion, and so has decided to run as a write-in candidate.
Holding a master’s degree in hospital administration, Zelnick has more than 30 years experience in public administration, education and community organizations. She served on the city council and school board in Quincy, Wash., and said she has a lot of experience with budgets and negotiating agreements with different bargaining groups. “I’m very passionate about public education and feel that it’s worth improving,” said Zelnick.
Living now in Deer Isle, Zelnick said she has volunteered as a college coach for college-bound students the past three years, helping students through the process of choosing, applying and preparing for college. Working with the kids, Zelnick said, has raised real concerns for her about the preparation of graduates for life beyond high school.
Zelnick said that while the high school improvement plan is an impressive document, and represents a lot of good work by high school principal Todd West and his staff, she questions the time frame set by the document. For example, she notes that “curriculum improvement is given a 3-5 year time frame. An entire class of incoming freshmen would not benefit from that schedule,” she pointed out.
She would also like to see the curriculum addressed in an integrated fashion in grades K-12. “If you drill down through the [high] school improvement plan, it mentions discussions with K-8, but we need something much more focused,” Zelnick explained.
Asked about the budget, Zelnick said she has served in school districts that would have been “green with envy,” for what the Island spends per student. She noted that a few decades ago, the general feeling was that schools were under-funded and that class sizes were too big. But the reality, she said, is that effective classroom teaching is the most important element in successful schools. And that, she said, starts with a curriculum that puts the greatest emphasis on teaching reading, writing and math across academic disciplines.
Zelnick said that to expect budget increases every year is unsustainable, and not respectful of the hard-working people in the community who pay taxes. “I’ve done zero-sum budgeting before,” she said, noting that you can take the budget apart and sweat over every line item all you want, but if your priorities are not clear, your budget won’t be clear.
In reference to the new graduation requirements for high school students, Zelnick said she had some doubts as to the preparation many students receive before being expected to propose and complete senior projects. She noted that in her experiences with seniors last year, some of the projects did not meet requirements she would have had for one semester’s term paper during her high school career.