Reflections on the School Board Candidate Online Forum
By: Kathy Bishop
Most of the work of organizing is relationship based. That means meeting with people and listening and asking questions. This is all very personal. How were we going to do the work of organizing in the pandemic when we couldn’t meet face to face? We turned to the technology we had available. Telephones, computers, ZOOM, Live streaming. Relationships are based on honest conversation and trust. We could do that!
Following the death of George Floyd, the VIA board discussed racism and racial inequality in the Mat Su Valley. We realized we needed to bring more VIA leaders into that conversation, and after talking to leaders from all of the local organizing ministry teams, it was decided that we would form a Temporary Organizing Committee (TOC) and invite those who were interested to participate.
Members of the TOC did many one-one’s and the common thread seemed to be either experienced or perceived racial inequality in the school district. The TOC was made up of members from St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Palmer, Palmer United Methodist Church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Palmer, and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wasilla
At the same time, St. Michael’s Local Organizing Ministry was also doing 1-1’ones with people within the City of Palmer and St. Michael’s. They heard other concerns from parents with children in the school district including the banning of books, no teacher contracts for 2 years, and the rejection of the proposed middle school math program curriculum. While the TOC began research meetings on the racial inequalities within the school district, the St. Michael’s LOM continued to pursue research on the ways curriculum is decided. Since both the TOC and St. Michael's were holding research meetings within the school district, the St. Michael’s LOM team decided to join with the TOC to research together.
We had to ask ourselves: Who holds the power? Are we dealing with a problem or an issue? Who/what can be held accountable? Can a systemic change be made? Who would be affected? So research meetings began. From the Research meetings came the questions. To whom do we address these questions? Who needs the answers? Our 1-1’s had already told us who had experience with any of these problems. We researched by talking with administrators, teachers, counselors in the school district, teachers who had been on the various curriculum committees, those who had worked with cultural and racial diversity in the school district and the Mat Su Borough.
How do we bring these concerns to light for the public and for the representatives of those we had listened to? An online forum inviting the candidates for the school board from district 3 &6 seemed to be the best answer. A forum could help educate the people within the borough and the school district about the issues we had been able to name as well as to introduce the board candidates to the districts they were running in. We would remain non partisan, and give each candidate a time to answer the questions and provide an educational experience also. We can look at the numbers of people who have viewed the forum both live and since and listen to the comments from the participants and the viewers to say our goals were met. We listened, we researched, we asked, we presented an opportunity for education for both the candidates and the viewers.
The MSBSD online school board candidate forum was held on Sunday, October 18 at 2 pm and was streamed live on the VIA facebook page. All of the school board candidates participated, including district 3 candidates Ole Larson and Jeanne Troshynski and district 6 candidates Dwight Probasco and Leland Baugus. The questions asked came from our one to ones and research meetings, and centered around the candidates background and experience, equity & diversity in the school district, and the role of the school board and teachers in curriculum selection and adoption process for the school district. Kathy Bishop was the moderator, with Rev. Diane Krauszer providing the opening prayer, followed by the questions from VIA leaders Sister Frances Vista, Gini King-Taylor, Mary Olson, and Patty Haugom. The Frontiersman reported on the online forum; the link to the article can be found on the VIA facebook page.
So far, 180 people have engaged with the video online, which includes viewing it for at least 1 minute or more, commenting, and/or sharing the video. To view the video, go to: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=995607757623758