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  • Writer's pictureKatie Williams for Nevada

Katie attends virtual CCSD Parents Candidate Forum

On April 25, 2020, Katie Williams attended a two part candidate forum with the "CCSD Parents" Facebook page, an 8,000+ member group administrated by Rebecca Dirks Garcia.

The forum began with a video interview, followed by a question and answer period in the form of a comments section on a post. The questions, along with Katie's answers, are available below:

Q1: Can you describe the job description of a Trustee?

A1: The job of a Trustee is to find the most effective balance of the needs of the students, parents and teachers in their district and represent those in making decisions for the county as a whole. On a day-to-day basis, I believe it would be my responsibility to work with schools to ensure I know what it is they need and can find ways to source that to ensure the highest quality of education possible.

Q2: Why do you want to serve as a Trustee? Have you ever run for office before? Which office(s)?

A2: I want to serve as a Trustee because my daughter will be entering school in District B this year. With everything I have seen, I want to take a more direct approach to being involved in her education by finding ways to change the way the district operates for the better. This is the first time I have run for office, but I don’t see this as a political position—I see it as a place where I have the opportunity to represent the area I live in, in a way that directly affects myself and my family. I am not a career politician, and I have never run for another office. I’m not focusing on any kind of political career, I just want to be. Servant leader to the people of District B.

Q3: What is one action step that you will take immediately upon taking office and how will you accomplish it?

A3: My first step will be to hold meetings for teachers, parents, students, and administrators in my district, respectively. I want to sit down with each of them to get a wholistic understanding of what is needed. From there, if supplies are an issue, I want to privately source those things right away as much as possible to meet the need and provide a quality education for our students. Additionally, form day one forward I will be donating the $9,000/year salary of a board member back to the district, with the stipulation that it be used directly for education in District B—not administrative overhead for the thousands of administrators in the district.

Q4: As an individual what can you do to impact board decisions?

A4: As an individual, I can be mindful of what I see going on. For those things I wish to change, it is my responsibility to build coalitions to bring about that change, both on the board, in the education community, and with the parents of our district.

Q5: How will you ensure equity in technology, in supplies, in learning environments? Especially within the mandated site-based decision making required by the reorganization.

A5:  The education in the poorest zip code of Clark County should be maintained to the standard of the highest income areas of our district. As a board member, I would seek ways to effectively budget for what is needed, but where there is no money to ensure equitable education, I would make it my goal and duty to find the private donors and organizations who can take that burden off the taxpayer and make the requisite improvements at the schools that need them. I would also work with our internet service providers to ensure that when we provide technology like a Chromebook, that students have wifi and internet access capability, regardless of where they live, and whether or not their family is able to support internet use. We should not have a District where, when things close down, we lose track of tens of thousands of students. Expanding wireless connectivity for those students will prevent such an issue in the future.

Q6: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our school district and what is your solution?

A6: The biggest challenge for our district is it’s size. We have one of the largest districts in the nation, managed in a way that most metropolitan areas of a similar size have moved away from. I think it’s time that we consider measures to separate the district into more effectively manageable areas. No decision made by the Superintendent or the Board is going to improve things everywhere—that’s why we need to find ways to make sure each area has it’s own interests represented. I also think that we evaluate the current system we have, where in my own District B, almost 50% of schools are rated 1-2 stars. We need to find an effective way to make some changes here, and in the meantime, I think it’s appropriate to open up to and bring forward the idea of giving parents a choice in where they educate their children. We need to fix our current system, but the quality of a student’s education should not be based solely on what zip code they live in.

Q7: Do you have experience with being on a board?

A7: No, I have never served on a school board. That being said I am not tied to anyone with loyalties. My loyalty lies with the students of CCSD.

Q8: What is your experience with Title I schools?

A8: I went to high school in a town of 2500 people. But as I became a recruiter and entered into many schools in the inner city of Peoria I could see that there are wonderful students who get forgotten just because they are in a low income based program. They deserve better.

Q9: How will you ensure that you are serving in the best interest of ALL of our kids?

A9: my number one priority is the students of CCSD. That means there will be many that oppose me or slander me, which is ok. But I am fighting for ALL students and their best interests, because a lot of them get shuffled through the system and forgotten.

Q10: What do you think the current board does well? What is one thing you can do to improve how the board functions?

A10: I enjoy the fact that the board meets on a regular basis and during the COVID response they meet even more so. If I could change only one thing it would be the communication amongst board members both before and after meetings. I don't want them to be unavailable or even have the perceived unavailability when the meeting is not in session.

Q11: Have you built strong relationships with the principals/educators of schools in your district? If so, which ones?

A11: Unfortunately, I haven't had the amazing opportunity to this cycle during the Covid Response. During my time as a recruiter I was in Pahrump, Moapa, Sierra Vista, and many other in the southern region as that was the territory I was assigned. I look forward to coming out of quarantine and reconnecting with students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Q12: What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

A12: Diversity and inclusion are things for all people. It's the same as that I do not consider skin color when speaking to someone. Character is my main focus when meeting, hiring, interviewing people of all groups, regardless of which group they identify with. Las Vegas is home to an amazing group of people and it's always felt like such a small town in a big city. I love that sense of community.

Q13: What is something you think CCSD does well?

A13: With the current situation I don't think anyone was prepared for what could have happened. That being said, I praise CCSD for feeding our children first and foremost. There are some this is the only meal of the day and I appreciate that was the first priority.

Q14: How do you think GATE services can be improved?

A14: The biggest improvement to GATE schools will be continuing to hire top tier teachers in and out of those programs who drive students to reach them at every level. By doing that we can expand the GATE program to as many students as possible.

Q15: What policies would you like to see the board enact to increase consistency from school to school under SOT? What areas do you think should be left to the autonomy of the local school?

A15: I think that calling on the existing SOT’s at each school to help determine the needs on a school by school basis is the most effective way to utilize that infrastructure. I think a majority of spending decisions should be made on a school by school basis. In an area like District B, the needs of the schools in North Las Vegas are not the same as those in Mesquite. Schools need to have autonomy to make the calls they need to while maintaining oversight at a level to ensure the spending is effective.

Q16: You have mentioned your military background a lot. How does this help you? How does this not help you in terms of being a trustee?

A16: I don't think my military service is a disadvantage. I am proud of my continued service to my country and if anything it gave me the guide I needed. It helped me travel the world and have a broader perspective on what is and isn't important.

Q17: Last night you mention that a teacher just needs to be good. Do you feel that teachers of color would be of more help emotionally to our minority majority population?

A17: I don't think skin color qualifies a person to do a good job at anything. I think in general our young men and women need strong role models both inside the home and out. What I would like to do though is to start vocational programs and even college education stipends or grants in order to guide some of our students into a career in teaching. What better way to speak to students than to let them know we are TRULY investing in them?

Q18: What is something you’ve done as a community member to celebrate the diversity of students in the district or community? How are you involved?

A18: I was involved with many ROTC's in my time in recruiting. Again I treat ALL students with respect. I would like people to be themselves and understand that their culture is great but our community is one that should foster an environment that it doesn’t matter how diverse you are. That we are breeding good characters and garnering good relationships along the way.

Q19: How do you feel the re-org has helped or hurt our students in the district?

A19: I think it’s a great step that does not go far enough in terms of localizing the decisions that affect education the most. I think that a restructuring with multiple districts will do the most to make sure our students are receiving the best education possible—one centralized district cannot effectively make decisions on the educations of hundreds of thousands of students.

Q20: If people know your past, they know you have been outspoken for President Trump. How would you make sure your political views do not get in the way of your job?

A20: Excellent question. I support the President regardless of who is in office. I do not care about political parties when every decision they make has the potential to affect my family and community. I support our leaders because I want them to succeed. While I may have personal differences with some, I pray for all of them and want them to be great.

Q21: How do you feel about the criteria for the star ratings? What criteria do you think schools should be rated on?

A21: The star ratings are important benchmarks, and they allow us to establish in general how a school is performing. However, much like an engine warning light, while they allow us to detect a problem, we can’t always see the actual issue from those indicators. That why I think we need a more localized approach to education on a school by school basis, finding ways to make the changes necessary to make actionable improvements, not just raise ratings.

Q22: What are your views on School Vouchers and Private Schools? Are you in favor of using state money for them?

A22: I am in favor of school choice. All students do not learn in the same way, and parents should be given the option to find the institution that provides their students the best education possible for them, using the education funds allocated for that pupil.

Q23: How do you see Trustees able to help overcome the challenges of equity issues presented by SOTs deciding to focus on one area while another has a different focus? Things like librarians, and specialists, How do we ensure all students have access to subjects like arts and music that are not “tied” to achievement on state/federal tests?

A23: Providing equitable funding in accordance with the needs of a program in one area vs. another while working with the private sector to help bolster those schools and program areas where the base level funding isn’t up to snuff.

Q24: What methods do you anticipate using to engage parents and the community? i.e. PAC meetings? How do you think Trustees should communicate with the community? And how often? how often would you think would be reasonable to expect Trustees should visit each school in their area?

A24: I plan to host multiple community engagement meetings, with at least one per school. I would like to find a way to host tele-town-halls at least once a month for parents, teachers, students, and community members in District B to voice their opinions. As an elected representative I will be directly accountable to those who elected me, and the best way to be accountable is to foster frequent, consistent conversations with the community on issues that arise. I think that I should be visiting and working with every school in my district as frequently as possible, so I will not set a cap other than to say I will be very involved in working with the schools I represent.

Q25: What are your views on unions, and would you be willing to work with them?

A25: I am always willing to work with anyone. That being said I want to put power back into the parents and teacher’s hands to adequately protect them and give them the opportunities and tools they need to do their job.

Q26: Follow up to an answer you gave: What do you know about Perkins funding, and CTE programs in the state of Nevada?

A26:  know the basics of the origins of the funding. I am a big proponent of CTE to ensure we are not forcing the same high school-college pipeline and doing away with trades. Empowering students to enter the workforce with valuable skills is something we should put more of a priority on, not just in Nevada but nationwide.

Q27: Do you think CCSD and the state should invest in programs to bring minority teachers to the classroom?

A27: I answered a version of this up above. I do not ever think skin color is a qualification, but strong characters should be involved. We need good mentors for ALL students.

Q28: You've mentioned several times you want to hire top tier teachers...that insinuates we don't already have that. But what are your specific ideas for recruiting and retaining top tier teachers to a district that's got very low morale and teacher satisfaction? Please be specific...

A28: I never said we do not already have top tiered teachers. The question was in response to hiring ONLY minority teachers. I don't want to hire based on skin color. I want to hire people with the best interest of the students. I also want a vocational program that puts money into the students who are seeking to be teachers and will be hired by the district. To piggyback, the teachers in CCSD are tired, overworked, and deserve so much better than we are giving them.

Q29: What role can Trustees play in recruitment and retaining of teachers to reduce class size and ensure students have highly qualified teachers?

A29: We need to interview our teachers and understand why they are leaving. Exit interviews may seem like a talking point but working in recruiting and retention for years has taught me they are valuable! Giving teachers incentives and bonuses and being able to reduce class sizes. Students learn more when their is less distraction. Our teachers are overwhelmed and its unfortunate that the good teacher we are hanging on to are losing faith in the board.

Q30: Do you serve on an SOT?

A30: I have not had the ability, as mentioned above my daughter is only 4. But I look forward to jumping into everything once elected and she has entered the school system.

Q31: Trustees like Trustee Ford, Young, and Cavazos are willing to hear from members of the community 24/7. What would you do to make sure members of the community have access to you?

A31: Yes, I've been very public about how to get in contact with me and the hours I'm available for calls, emails, and visits. So everyone can see my phone number is: 309-267-9508 and my phone is on 9am-10pm every day. Email is always available Or if people would like to get in touch with my campaign the link is below.

Q32: How would you explain some of your controversial tweets to students that ask?

A32: We all have the right and ability to express our opinion. No matter what side of an issue you’re on, it’s important your voice is heard. That is the fundamental principle underlined for the continuity of our republic.

Q33: What is your educational background?

A33: I have an Associates in arts in Criminal Justice and I am working on my Bachelors in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Constitutional Law.

Q34: Do you see bullying as a big issue in CCSD? (Admin bullying teachers, teachers bullying students, students bullying students, cyber bullying, being bullied based on ones race, politics, or religious beliefs)

A34: Bullying will continue to be an issue everywhere until we become kinder as a society. We should focus on doing so, creating a culture of kindness and forgiveness instead of blind hate and rage.

Q35: Every educator or support professional who has served on the "front lines" of education, especially in Title 1 schools knows how poverty and trauma effect these children. How would a school board support the specific needs of these students and the employees who serve them?

A36: I was a child affected by trauma and I thank God that I had amazing teachers who raised flags when they did. The biggest way to help is discussion and education. Most of these students who are raised in less than desirable homes sometimes are unaware of how they should be treated and it's so engrained in their mind. This subject really hits home as I am the product of single mother hood, father in prison, and drug abuse in the home. These students affected need help from amazing teachers who see their pain everyday and are unsure of what to do or say. This is one of my hot buttons and I want to be there to help the 320,000 students when they call.

Q37: (Follow up from Q36) That is wonderful. Do you have a concrete example of something the district could improve upon to benefit students?

A37: This is such a complex situation. There is no black and white answer but I believe that working with Psychologists and school counselors could helps us understand what the best steps to take would be.

Q38: What is something you think CCSD does well? (Before the pandemic) I want to hear what you think our school district is good at?

A38: I think the district has several individual schools that perform well, but unfortunately that is not the majority of schools in District B, which is where I’m focused.

Q39: Do you think the school board power should lie with the Superintendent, or should the Board of Trustees have the power?

A39: School Board power should reside with the members who were elected to oversee the district by their constituents. They can vest the power of day to day functions in the Superintendent but should deliberate on the largest issues of the district together—it’s why we elect them in the first place.

Q40: What issues would be your priorities to see brought before the board?

A40: My biggest issue is finding a wholistic community approach and figuring out where we need to prioritize spending to improve education in the almost 50% of schools in District B which reside in the 1-2 star area.

Q41: What grade would you give the superintendent?

A41: As I said on the forum last night, Dr. Jara in the middle of this pandemic is doing the best he can. No one was prepared for this and this exposed many weaknesses in many organizations. That being said, I would like to see Dr. Jara really focus more on communication with parents and administrators. Many times in meetings he directs questions to others and rarely answers them himself. No one in a position of power is perfect and there are things we may not see behind closed doors. He is the face of the district and for us to be the 5th largest district but ranked 46th in the nation, we should be doing better and unfortunately that falls on him and the board.

Q42: What assets do you possess that would be of benefit to the board? To our students? To our schools? Do you offer something that other candidates do not possess?

A42: I’m definitely a different voice than the other candidates. Keep in mind I respect them all as individuals as I've gotten to know many of them. However, I do not have any self-interest to the unions, businesses, or other organizations. I am simply here for the students, parents, and teachers. I speak my mind when something needs to be said and I do not easily fold under pressure. Students need strong leadership fighting for them. I've even pledged to give my salary so that there is nothing that holds me into caving when it is not in the best interests of the students.

Q43: Have you ever attended a school board meeting?

A43: I watch them on Zoom/Facebook when they are live. I have not had an opportunity to attend one before the shut down due to training.

Q44: What are your thoughts about the Zoom & Victory programs?

A44: The Zoom and Victory programs are often administered together at District schools, where they have seen success. We should highlight and find innovative ways to spread that success throughout the schools with these programs and ensure every one of those additional dollars is effectively spent.

Q45: What is a zoom school?

A45: pulled from my Zoom and Victory guide from the Guinn Center, the intention of the program is to increase student achievement in schools with a high population of English Language Learners (ELLs) and low academic performance.

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