Kids asked adults the tough questions Oct. 16 during a public forum at Las Vegas City Hall, 495 S. Main St.
Ninth- and 10th-graders posed questions directly affecting them to challengers running for seats on the Nevada State Board of Education and the Clark County Board of School Trustees. Students in the Leaders in Training program organized and hosted the event, which was attended by more than 60 people.
Leaders in Training is a college preparatory internship program for about 20 students, formed by former teacher Erica Mosca.
Candidates in attendance were Forrest Darby and Alexis Gonzales-Black, state board, district 1; Allison Serafin, state board, district 3; Kevinn Donovan, school board, district A; Rose Moore, district B; and James Clinton, district E.
State board, district 4 candidate Mark Newburn attended the beginning of the event but left after introducing himself because he is running unopposed. Before leaving, Newburn said he intends "to be the voice of (science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM) at the state level."
"We cannot fill the jobs in STEM," he said. "We cannot produce enough kids with high math skills coming out of K-12. We’re never going to diversify the economy unless more kids leave with those skills."
All candidates are challenging incumbents in today’s elections.
A 10th-grader at Eldorado High School, 1139 N. Linn Lane, first asked candidates how they would deal with teachers whose classrooms have a high percentage of students failing.
Moore, a former special education teacher for 38 years, said, "You don’t throw out the teacher with the bathwater.
"We do have bad teachers, but those are few and far between. We have to help our teachers."
Moore said teachers are being forced to "teach to the test," and she would like the district, collectively, to stop doing that.
Others on the panel suggested increased classroom funding. Donovan said he has been in construction management his entire career and helped build the Aladdin (now the Planet Hollywood Resort) and The Cosmopolitan. Donovan also has four children in elementary school in Clark County.
"The school board manages a multibillion-dollar budget, and that’s something I have experience with," he said. "I’ll use my skill to ensure the most funding possible is making its way to the classroom and not getting caught up in bureaucracy."
Gonzales-Black, a former teacher and college recruiter for Zappos’ internship program, said she wants to bring more teachers into discussions about funding because there is also a lot of waste in classrooms around the state.
"So often I talk to teachers who have shiny new equipment or textbooks they’re not using," she said. "We should be moving the money closer to the classrooms and to kids."
No incumbents were in attendance because of previous engagements, Mosca said. Other students asked the candidates about protecting English Language Learner programs and how to increase graduation rates during the hourlong forum. With a single microphone that had to be shared, there was no debate among the challengers, either.
Something everyone collectively attacked was social promotion in schools, where kids are moved up in grade level before they have demonstrated an understanding of the material.
"That has to stop," Donovan said. "You can’t move kids along that can’t read and can’t do math (at grade level). It doesn’t benefit anyone."
Gonzales-Black said ending the widespread practice would increase the graduation rate.
"We need to make sure they’re not shuffled along year to year," she said. "We need to make sure we’re using assessments to make decisions about how students are moving along."
Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at email@example.com or 702-224-5524.