The Colorado Switchblade
The Colorado Switchblade
Estes Park, School Board Candidates, Speak Up at a meet and greet held at Mother’s Cafe this Sunday.

Estes Park, School Board Candidates, Speak Up at a meet and greet held at Mother’s Cafe this Sunday.

We also speak with representatives of the Estes Park Teachers Union about the upcoming election.

No transcript...

Estes Park School District Board of Education speaks at a meet and greet event held this Sunday at Mother’s Cafe at the Estes Park Golf Course.

Estes Park, School Board Candidates, Speak Up this weekend’s community meet and greet.

The candidate talks start at approximately (14:37) in the podcast, followed immediately by the interview with the Teachers’ Union Representatives (31:55), followed by an in-depth sit-down interview with two candidates: Gaining Personal Insights into Estes Park School Board Candidates (41:55).

Greetings and salutations, Switchblade listeners and substack readers! Welcome to a special edition where we dive into the ongoings and future plans for the Estes Park School District through the lens of candidates vying for a spot on its Board of Education. This is the first of a three-part series where we dissect and analyze the stances, visions, and thoughts presented by candidates and representatives from different entities tied to our school district.

Brenda L. Wyss: Advocating for Academic Improvement and Mental Health

In our recent candidate forum, Brenda Wyss introduced herself as a dedicated parent and a professional in local government, having lived in Estes Park for nearly a decade. Though she lacks formal teacher training, her stint teaching English in Japan and extensive tutoring experience have provided her with relevant educational insights.

Brenda expressed concerns regarding academic achievement within the schools, highlighting the indispensable yet not all-encompassing role of state testing as a measure of educational success. The alarmingly high number of students battling mental health issues is something Brenda seeks to address by endorsing the new strategic plan's focus on wellness. Her vision involves equipping students with strategies and resources to navigate their mental health challenges effectively.

Brad Shocat: A Focus on Quality Over Quantity

Brad Shocat, a parent to two boys in the district and spouse to a high school teacher, comes forward with an engineering and MBA background. He brings forth a pragmatic perspective, believing that the district is currently spread too thin, trying to achieve too many objectives at once. Brad proposes a narrower focus, zeroing in on a few pivotal areas to ensure quality and effectiveness in implementation. This, he argues, is crucial, especially considering that current math and English scores indicate significant room for improvement in the basic academic foundation of students.

Both candidates were concerned about scores, indicating that only a third of the students are passing math and roughly two-thirds in English. There’s a shared belief between Brad and Brenda that strategic, focused improvement is needed across the board.

Addressing Teacher Retention and Housing

A hot topic that emerged during the forum was the challenge of teacher retention, which is intertwined with the issue of affordable housing in the district. Brenda hinted at the need to address the problem directly and aggressively to attract and maintain quality teaching staff, albeit recognizing budget constraints and her limited ability to promise specific outcomes.

Both Brenda and Brad expressed their intention to promote greater collaboration between the town and schools. They pointed towards the need for the school district to utilize better local resources, volunteer organizations, and philanthropic entities to meet its various needs.

Union Endorsement and Transparency

The candidates were also endorsed by the Estes Park Education Association (the teacher union). To secure this endorsement, they underwent a rigorous vetting process, including responding to an extensive list of questions and participating in an interview with a panel of teachers.

Transparency and active participation are the common threads in Brenda's and Brad’s campaigns. They are willing to engage in various forums, including the upcoming League of Women Voters forum and another at the proposed charter school location. The aim is to provide comprehensive insights into their thoughts, plans, and values and ensure the public is informed and engaged.

On the Charter School Proposal

Interestingly, the charter school proposal from the last election became a focal point of the conversation, with both candidates officially documenting their opposition to it. Brenda is keen on supporting and enhancing existing institutions without diluting public school funding. Similarly, while acknowledging the validity of questioning and exploring options like a charter school, Brad aligns with the community's dominant voice from the previous year, which opposed the charter school, especially in light of declining, not increasing, student enrollment.

In the second part of our series of interviews in today’s podcast episode, we sit down for an enlightening dialogue recently featured on "The Colorado Switchblade," two representatives from the Estes Park Teachers Union peeled back layers, revealing the depth and complexity of thoughts, concerns, and hopes harbored within the educational community as a potentially pivotal school board election looms on the horizon.

Andrew Virdin, a high school English teacher and president of the Estes Park Education Association (EPEA), and Glenn Case, the EPEA secretary and treasurer, articulated a collective feeling of utmost importance encircling the impending election. The conversation underscored the universal sentiment that this election could carve out the future trajectory of education in Estes Park, revealing patterns and challenges that parallel other regions.

A Pivotal Election Amidst a Politicized Landscape

The election is enveloped by a heightened politicization of school boards, a phenomenon that does not exclude Estes Park. Verdon and Case elucidated the criticality of the situation, flagging concerns about candidates potentially being disengaged from the actual work and environment within the schools. The burgeoning fear is that this disconnect could curtail the effective translation of policy to practice, potentially hindering the advancement of educational quality and equity within the district.

With a lens on political hedging and the infiltration of externally funded candidates, Verdon emphasized the necessity of "rolling up sleeves" and diving into the educational trenches, becoming attuned to the authentic needs and challenges faced by schools, educators, and students alike.

Teachers: The Silent Stakeholders?

Despite being fundamental stakeholders, teachers find themselves in a complex predicament, maintaining a careful balance between political neutrality and active civic engagement. The dialogue sheds light on the subtle pressures and concerns that teachers navigate, ensuring that their political stances or affiliations do not inadvertently seep into the educational space, thereby maintaining an unbiased student environment.

Case illuminated this by noting, "There are other teachers who very much feel like the expectation is that they're entirely a neutral voice in that classroom space and that they don’t ever let any kind of political opinion come through."

The Call for Civic Engagement

In a notable plea resonating through the interview, both representatives advocated for a robust electorate turnout, regardless of individual political alignments and anticipated election outcomes. A unified hope emerged: that candidates who engage significantly and adhere appropriately to the civic process will move forward, ensuring a future where educational policies are molded with genuine involvement and understanding of the educational realm.

Charter School Propositions and Community Decision-Making

The need for community involvement and thorough decision-making processes was amplified through discussions on charter school propositions and administrative decisions. The Estes Park educational community, encompassing teachers, administrators, and committees like the District Action and Accountability Committee (DAC), has actively evaluated and discussed educational propositions and initiatives.

In Virdin’s words, “Whatever the community decides, I’ll stand by that,” echoing a commitment to community-driven decision-making and a veiled hope that the upcoming election will mirror the collective will of an actively engaged electorate.

Forward Motion

As the Estes Park community inches closer to a seminal moment that could very well shape its educational future, the call for active, involved, and informed civic participation has never been louder. The forthcoming chapters will reveal how well the electorate responds to this call, determining the future course for educators and students alike in Estes Park.

Behind the Campaigns: Gaining Personal Insights into Estes Park School Board Candidates

In the final segment of today’s episode of "The Colorado Switchblade," listeners were offered a window into the lives, motivations, and perspectives of two candidates vying for a spot in the crucial upcoming Estes Park School Board election. Engaging in an in-depth dialogue, the candidates unpacked their journeys, passions, and visions for the future of Estes Park schools.

A Commitment Beyond Politics: Meeting The Candidates

In an atmosphere where the local intertwines with the political, the candidates opened up about their respective paths, which led them to throw their hats in the ring for this pivotal election. One candidate expressed a decade-long relationship with Estes Park, sharing experiences from teaching English in Japan to fervent volunteering in local schools, all underlined by a steadfast passion for education. Another brought forward a blend of technical and managerial expertise, an MBA and engineering background, and a palpable commitment to being a hands-on parent and community member.

Fusing Personal Experience with Policy: Housing and Education

The housing crisis in Estes Park is not just a talking point for these candidates; it's a lived reality. One shared a personal journey of grappling with housing affordability, culminating in building a home with Habitat for Humanity and, eventually, delving into a career focused on affordable housing in nearby Boulder. The infusion of personal and professional insights into housing challenges offers a promising bridge between understanding community issues and advocating for policies that can drive change. The proposed connection between stable housing, community sustainability, and school enrollment was a poignant touch, revealing the interconnectedness of local issues.

Vision for Educational Enhancement: Business and Administrative Expertise

Navigating through the nuances of school administration, Brenda Wyss radiated spirited support for the current superintendent, citing a history of competent and compassionate educational administration. Meanwhile, Brad Shocat, leveraging a robust business background, hinted at ensuring impactful and cost-effective strategies to be implemented in the district, aiming to align and amplify the teachers' hard work already being put in.

The Path Ahead: A Blend of Administration and Involvement

With a unified acknowledgment of the significance of the upcoming election, the candidates shared glimpses of their visions for Estes Park schools. From exploring innovative solutions like guaranteeing preschool spots for district employees’ children to being unwavering supporters of the existing educational leadership, the candidates illustrated a readiness to think both within and outside of conventional policy boxes.

In an election underscored by tangible and aspirational community needs, the candidates presented themselves as political entities and as parents, professionals, and community members deeply intertwined in the fabric of Estes Park’s daily life. The ongoing dialogue fostered a platform where personal experiences, professional expertise, and policy perspectives melded, offering listeners a holistic view of the candidates stepping forward to shape the educational future of Estes Park.

Jason Van Tatenhove is the author of the non-fiction book ‘The Perils of Extremism.’ And several other fictional titles set in Estes Park, Colorado, including ‘Colorado’s Chance: The Firewalker.’ He is a consultant with Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and regularly contributes to MSNBC and CNN about violent political extremism and misinformation.

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The Colorado Switchblade
The Colorado Switchblade
The Colorado Switchblade slices through the tangled underbrush of legal and political discourse, from the peaks of Estes Park to the national stage, uncovering the pivotal stories and cultural debates that shape our democratic experience. Helmed by Jason Van Tatenhove, this platform fuses compelling narrative with astute political commentary, spotlighting Colorado's local sagas, captivating fiction, and in-depth podcasts. With a keen eye for detail and a storyteller's heart, The Colorado Switchblade carves out a space where every story is told with precision and every analysis cuts to the core.