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Hallsville CTA hosts school board candidate forum

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 at 12:49 pm

This year’s candidates for the Hallsville School Board. From the left, Craig Stevenson, Brian Mottaz, Stephen Garnett, Jennifer Martin and Secley Kennedy.


At least 100 people sat in the Hallsville Elementary School cafeteria for the annual Hallsville CTA school board candidates’ forum.

In this year’s race, five candidates are running for three seats.

This year’s candidates are Craig Stevenson – incumbent, Brian Mottaz, Stephen Garnett, Jennifer Martin and Secley Kennedy.

District residents submitted 60 questions, seven of which, each candidate had to answer. As a public service, the Fireside Guard is publishing those questions and each of the candidates’ answers

Those were: 1. Your reasons for running, plus the preparations/qualifications have for the School Board seat. 2. What is your plan to hire and retain quality teachers?

3. What is a School Board member’s role and responsibility? How does that role differ from the role of superintendent and/or administration? 4. What are the strengths of the Hallsville School District? What would you like to see changed and/or improved? 5. The four-day week is a hot topic, where do you stand on this topic and how will you vote if/when it gets brought up again? 5a. Follow-up to above question: The school district is in the process of collecting data, analyzing curriculum, providing retention opportunities to students, etc. If after collecting and analyzing the data, there is little to no change, will this impact your decision or stance on the topic?

6. “What is your plan to remain in compliance in regard to meeting the needs of special education students when staff shortages exist for extended periods of time?”

7. “If there is limited money and decisions need to be made about the upcoming bond project, what would you prioritize?”

For the answers to questions 1 through 5 see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard.

Below are the candidates’ answers to questions six and seven.

Craig Stevenson, Question 6 — The first order of business is to find a replacement for our retiring special education director. When that person is before the board, my questions to our administrative team will include things like: what is the vision of this person for the program? What is the individual going to do to unite our special education program? What new ideas does this person bring to the table? Does this person have a reputation of working well with other peer administrators? After that hire, then I think the administrative team needs to consider the following ideas: – Paraprofessional pay – should we have a special services salary schedule? – What are best practices in this space that we need to be utilizing from a recruitment/retention avenue? – Should the ECSE/Preschool program be under the role of this person or the Primary Building principal? I have a child in with an IEP and in the ECSE program—I fully understand the challenges facing our special education students and I’m committed to spending time here to ensure we’re adequately supporting these students and families.

Brian Mottaz, Question 6 — Special education positions are the hardest positions to fill in education and face the greatest teacher shortages. It is a challenge our district faces currently and will continue to face in the future. About 10 percent of our student body has a IEP’s. We have to find a way to stay in compliance as it is required by statute. We are in the process of hiring a new Special Education Director and it starts there trying to solve this challenge.

Stephen Garnett, Question 6 — To continue to work with the superintendent to research different avenues for retaining and hiring special education teachers. I would make sure lines of communication are open between the current and future teachers and the board and the superintendent.

Jennifer Martin, Question 6 — This is happening right now with my son. He is in special education, he has been since he was 3, and he is now in 5th grade. It is very impactful having multiple substitutes especially for these kids in special education. Maybe we could utilize another teacher so they could have consistency, maybe there is a class that could tolerate multiple subs better, especially with their teacher in the building for support. Also, as others have said, we need to hire a good director. It is one of the director’s primary roles to ensure we are in compliance.

Secley Kennedy, Question 6 – Staying in Compliance is a requirement. Documents processed within the special education department are legal documents, as a district we must hold up to. I would suggest hiring highly qualified special education teachers, special education director along with a process coordinator and diagnosis technician to assist with proper diagnosis, staying in compliance, and assisting at the special education director’s side. Staying in compliance on a daily base anytime there is a paraprofessional change or absence all parties should be notified. I would consider parents, special education director, paraprofessional assigned, principal assigned, councilor if student requires, and student. Some students adapt differently to change and communication with all individuals is key. I would also suggest keeping a full-time special education substitute as we do with general education. These children are not less than. We should be just as prepared in a staff absence as general education. Maintaining proper training and providing all available recourses within the special education and general education would assist with shortage concerns if properly certified. All parties involvement and held accountable would help maintain the concerns of staying within compliance.

Craig Stevenson, Question 7 — This bond decision, with rapid construction inflation, was much more difficult than our previous. The board decided to prioritize the middle school building, moving the track, and funding the turf of the football field. I supported this decision and think it’s the best thing our district can do right now as we move forward with limited resources, but thinking and balancing the near-term needs with the long term needs.

Brian Mottaz, Question 7 — With my construction management background and work history I will be able to ensure the bond improvements are constructed and administered correctly. I have a lot of experience with contract administration and construction. I have worked with design teams/firms, construction companies,contracts, and excavators extensively in my career. I have been able to handle issues as they arise and be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. I know that I will be able to make sound decisions for the district as well as planning for the future regarding Prop B. The Board recently approved the middle school addition, track, and turf for the football field. I believe the board has to keep promises made to the community and taxpayers through bond initiatives. By approving these 3 things the board is keeping the promises made about Prop B. We also have a guaranteed maximum price (GMP’s) for the construction of these facilities so the district is not carrying the risk of any additional incurred expenses during construction the consultants are.

Stephen Garnett, Question 7 — The middle school addition would be a priority, followed by the extracurricular activities. Ultimately I would work towards filling all the needs of the district.

Jennifer Martin, Question 7 — My priority would be to make the stadium ADA compliant. People with disabilities should have the same opportunity to attend a sporting event as any other individual. I will also say that anyone that has worked on a project of this size knows that it is not that simple. So much more goes into making decisions on what to include in scope. Yes you must have priorities on what to include in the project but it’s important to look at multiple versions to compare design, cost, scope, and any dependencies. It’s not always as easy as choosing the top priorities that fit into the budget. There are items that may cost money if you don’t do them, items that cause rework, and potentially dependencies. The current board has done a great job at evaluating all possible solutions given the cost increases since the original bidding .

Secley Kennedy, Question 7 – I agree with prioritizing education and the middle school project beginning, we are continuing to grow as a district. Space and crowding are becoming a problem. I would suggest making sure the stadium is ADA compliance. I would hate for anything to happen when the district could be proactive. I also am in full support of extra-curricular activities implementing the track and field will be beneficial to our athletic programs. We must remember students that keep involved in extra school activities are held to a standard to maintain appropriate grade point average, attendance, and no tolerance for behavior issues. These children become part of a group of belonging many kids need. While we begin to implement promises made with approved bond project, I also feel anything being removed currently structured should be replaced if additional funding opportunities arise.