Candidates respond to range of questions
The Methow Valley News interviewed the six candidates for three Methow Valley School Board positions. All are nonpartisan. The questions and responses appear below. The News did not make an independent effort to verify statements made by the candidates.
District No. 1
Judith Hardmeyer-Wright (incumbent)
Judith Hardmeyer-Wright has been an educator for 31 years — 12 teaching sixth grade and creating an outdoor-education curriculum, eight creating a writing curriculum, 10 teaching a multi-aged fourth through sixth grade, and one as an exchange teacher in Australia. She was a mentor at Methow Valley Elementary School for 16 years and has been a school board member for eight.
Austin Lott graduated from Liberty Bell High School in 1998. He has worked in communications for the Walt Disney Company, as a substitute in the Methow Valley School District, and is the owner of Fresh Greens, the retail cannabis store in Winthrop. He currently works in construction.
District No. 3
Scott Larson was an officer and pilot with the U.S. Navy. After retiring from the Navy, he worked as a pilot for Delta Airlines. He has also sold real estate and life and health insurance. Larson has run a hay ranch for four decades.
Zbyszewski retired from a 37-year career with the U.S. Forest Service in 2017. As the recreation and wilderness program manager for the Methow Valley Ranger District, Zbyszewski worked with interdisciplinary teams of scientists to develop projects and evaluate their potential environmental effects. Public involvement was key to the process.
Zbyszewski is on the board of the Methow Valley Education Foundation, which provides scholarships for vocational and trade schools, community colleges and universities.
District No. 5 (at-large)
Frank Kline (incumbent)
Frank Kline served five years in the U.S. Coast Guard. He started a real estate career in the early 1970s and has worked in that field since then. He also does horse-packing, primarily as a hobby. He has served 20 years on the Methow Valley School Board.
Michael Liu had a 36-year career with the Forest Service, the last 14 in the Methow Valley as district ranger. In his work with the Forest Service, Liu worked with laws, policy and the public.
Questions for the candidates
What are the most important issues facing the school district?
Hardmeyer-Wright: Finding and keeping dedicated and committed teachers is one of the most important issues. The district has been successful with this during her tenure on the board.
The district must make sure there are a variety of pathways for students to pursue education and careers after high school. Continuing to develop career and technical education programs and community partnerships for mentorships and apprenticeships is important in providing another avenue for students. While these programs are already in place, they need to become even stronger.
Lott: The main job of the schools is academics, but schools have wandered further from a focus on reading, writing, arithmetic and science. There is too much emphasis on social and emotional learning when academics are lagging.
Money has been cut from academics and tutoring, and is instead being spent on rafting trips and a sports psychologist. Although the schools have been spending more money, test scores are going down.
With more lessons administered through computers, parents become distanced from their children’s progress and education. It has become increasingly difficult for parents to find out what’s going on in school. Although technology can be helpful, students are learning less because they rely on the computer to correct their work, without thinking about the details.
Larson: Larson is concerned about what’s happening in schools across the country. While Washington state’s spending on education has doubled in the past decade, academic performance in the state has steadily declined. Liberty Bell students did well in some subjects, but showed poor performance in math.
Larson is concerned that teachers don’t have adequate tools to deal with disciplinary problems.
Larson is particularly alarmed that public schools and colleges are allowing biological males to compete against girls in athletics and even share locker rooms, which he called “unconscionable.” He is a huge proponent of girls’ participation in sports and wants policies in this school district to ensure that biological males don’t participate in girls’ sports.
The Washington Constitution states that schools supported by public funds must be free from sectarian control or influence. Just as schools can’t teach Christian ideology, they also shouldn’t teach critical race theory, gender ideology, or “woke-ism,” which Larson defined as looking at everything through the lens of race.
Zbyszewski: The most important role of school is to give children the education they need to be successful adults. A key element is to provide pathways for all students, including college and career and technical education, to capitalize on each student’s individual intelligence and motivation.
Although the school district has made good strides to ensure that economic inequities among students don’t limit opportunities, there’s more work to be done. The district should work toward eliminating barriers so that trips abroad or to Washington, DC, are accessible to all students.
Kline: The school plays a key role in preparing students for a range of futures, including opportunities for on-the-job training, apprenticeships and the college-in-the-high-school program. The educational system has been weighted toward college, and the Methow Valley School District is working to fill the gap for students who are not interested in college.
Participation is afterschool clubs and athletics is very high, opportunities it’s important the district continues to provide.
Build further on the school’s record of creating an individualized educational plan for each student. Expand the use of a system that assesses mastery of a subject to measure progress, rather than counting credits toward graduation.
The district is continually working to reduce fees for programs and materials, but there is still work to be done.
Liu: With less than half of local students able to meet the state proficiency standards in math, the district needs to focus more on academics. Math skills in the district have been going down for the past 10 years, and Liu wants to reverse that trend. Proficiency in English and language arts has also been going down, but math is particularly below par. Recent Methow Valley graduates in college are less prepared than their peers in math and science.
Liu hears concerns from parents about bullying, drug and alcohol use, and other inappropriate behaviors at school and after school — these concerns warrant a focus by the board. He seeks more opportunities to engage with parents and to increase transparency regarding the curriculum. Many parents feel they are not being heard and that they don’t have input into their children’s education.
Do you have children, and are they currently attending school in the district? Otherwise, please describe your children’s education.
Hardmeyer-Wright: Hardmeyer-Wright has no children.
Lott: Lott has two biological children and two stepchildren who all attend Liberty Bell – one in seventh grade, two in ninth grade, and one in 11th grade.
Larson: Larson has three children. They graduated from Liberty Bell in 1994, 1996 and 2000. He has two grandchildren in the valley, one in second grade, and the other in preschool.
Zbyszewski: Zbyszewski’s son graduated from Liberty Bell.
Kline: Kline’s children went to public school.
Liu: Because of his career with the Forest Service, Liu’s family moved around a lot, so they home-schooled their children.
How can a small district like the Methow Valley meet the needs of all students?
Hardmeyer-Wright: By focusing on each student. The International Baccalaureate program used in the district lends itself to adapting the curriculum for students who need an accelerated program or remediation. Despite the small staff, the district offers Spanish, Chinese and robotics.
The creation of the middle school addresses the social and emotional needs of these students and provides more cohesiveness.
Having programs that draw on students’ passions accounts for the high graduation rate in the district and encourages students to buy in to their own education.
Lott: The district needs to focus more on academics. Addressing lackluster academics would help solve other underlying problems.
There are not adequate opportunities or programs for gifted students and those who could do more in school. Students who finish their classwork early often spend half an hour or more on their phone. Many students are not self-motivated enough to ask for additional work, and some end up hating school because it’s boring.
Larson: Teachers in Washington earn more than teachers in any other state, but student performance in the state is below the national average. Although the state has doubled spending on education in the past 10 years, student achievement shows a downward trend.
With test scores showing such low proficiency in math — Liberty Bell math scores are in the low 28% for Washington schools — the math program needs to be addressed. Larson wants to be sure U.S. history is being taught accurately, as “traditional American history,” and not through a lens of race.
Civics education is very important, and Larson has been impressed by Methow students’ knowledge of civics.
Zbyszewski: It’s a big challenge to fill the diversity of needs in the district because of the limited budget, but by putting students first in all decisions and focusing on their individual needs, the school can serve all students.
With a lot of scrutiny and divisiveness across the country about schools — which gets in the way of teaching and learning — Zbyszewski wants to be sure that doesn’t happen here. She wants to create the best school system for all students, regardless of background, ethnicity or sexual orientation. “They’re just kids, and we need to teach them,” Zbyszewski said.
Kline: Meeting the needs of all students takes a lot of community support, including financial levies and day-to-day involvement such as community participation in afterschool clubs and apprenticeships. “It’s a joy for me — I’m involved in education because it’s a passion. Everyone takes pride in the schools, including the bus drivers and cooks,” Kline said.
It’s important for people to understand that the school board is a governing board, not a managing board.
Liu: More parental engagement would help meet the needs of each individual student. The district has done a good job — for example, the Independent Learning Center works to address students’ unique and individual needs.
The school board sets policy that affects all children in the valley, not only those in public school, Liu said, and he wants to be sure there are no unintended negative consequences.
Liu is interested in opportunities for a range of educational options, such as home schooling, private schools and charter schools, to provide opportunities to tailor education to each student.
How can schools ensure that there are resources, materials and support for all students, in light of different backgrounds and different interests and life experiences?
Hardmeyer-Wright: The district works to get grants to support a range of programs. The board has expanded the REACH program for home-schooled students through 12th grade.
The schools’ social and emotional learning curriculum is critical to making students feel safe and included, and helps students know that schools are a place to learn, where everyone has an open mind.
Lott: Schools should focus on academics and on delivering useful knowledge and skills to each child. Giving everyone what they want opens a Pandora’s box. The job of the school is to deliver the basics of an academic education — with that, students will have the resources to choose what they want.
Increasing the emphasis on academics doesn’t mean school has to be uninteresting. The more you do to engage kids’ interest, the more they’ll learn and the better time they’ll have.
Having programs like auto mechanics and welding is great, because they provide actual skills.
Students who aren’t interested in school are dictating the pace for everyone else.
Larson: The school board has to closely examine curriculums to determine if they’re right for this district — and be transparent with parents — and not just rubber-stamp curriculum choices.
During the first week of school in the Methow, there was discussion of gender ideology and pronouns, but no time spent on academics, which is problematic.
Zbyszewski: School staff work hard to learn about students’ personal situations — in a confidential manner — so they can provide help where needed, whether it’s academics or sports and extracurricular activities or a family or economic situation. Staff members do their best to customize help to meet each student’s individual needs.
Kline: The district is working to eliminate barriers by doing away with fees. If the district values something, it should pay for it, in accordance with the principle of a free basic education.
The local schools are built on respect for the individual — if an individual has a need, the school will fill it. Kline pointed to the REACH program for home-schoolers, which the board extended this year through 12th grade to meet interest from families.
Liu: The schools should try to provide the broadest range of opportunities to provide a quality education for everyone — to meet the needs of those with learning challenges, of exceptional students, and of those in the middle. That would include looking at spending and test scores — while spending has gone up in the past 10 years, test scores have gone down, so money isn’t the answer.
Incorporating volunteers and parents at the schools can enhance existing programs and make education reflect real life and be more meaningful.
The learning environment must show mutual respect for everyone — students and teachers — and policies must help provide an environment where everyone can learn.
How should the school respond to the needs of student who identify as gay or transgender?
Hardmeyer-Wright: The law is clear that all students must feel safe and included and have a space to be themselves. The schools support safety and advocacy through sports, school psychologists, and the community.
Lott: These students should be treated the same as everyone else.
Larson: These students should be treated equally, just like every other student. Larson is adamantly opposed to having biological males compete against girls in sports.
Zbyszewski: Washington state has a very clear policy that Washington has gender-inclusive schools, and that any discrimination based on gender identity is forbidden. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association specifies that transgender students must be able to participate in sports in line with the gender they identify with.
Kline: The district has explicit policies that prohibit making distinctions — everyone is an individual and is respected for who they are. The board works to model this respect by the way they treat one another.
Liu: In situations of gender dysphoria, it’s important to involve the family and parents in the discussion. He would advocate working with families to understand and work through these issues.
Are standardized test scores a good indicator of student and school success?
Hardmeyer-Wright: As a teacher who gave standardized tests every year, Hardmeyer-Wright said there are many other indicators that are more useful and accurate about student progress. Standardized tests are a snapshot of one day and one moment.
Tests can suggest areas a district should focus on, but classwork is more important and informative. Hardmeyer-Wright would prefer that money now spent on testing be redirected to other areas in education.
Lott: Test scores are not a perfect measuring system, but they’re one tool to look at, and the fact that everyone takes them makes them a useful indicator. Tests indicate that the average student in this district is below grade-level standards.
Larson: Larson is a proponent of standardized testing — it shows where the school needs to work harder or where it’s doing a good job.
Zbyszewski: Standardized tests are just one part of a larger picture. Research has shown that the tests don’t always reflect the curriculum being taught and can therefore interfere with graduation. Tests also promote a narrow definition of intellect — for example, focusing on areas such as English, math and science — when students have intellectual abilities in many areas.
With advanced-placement courses and vocational and technical training to meet the diverse needs of students, standardized tests are no longer an accurate reflection of the quality of education. Other measures, such as the graduation rate (93% on time in the Methow) and post-secondary education, are better indicators of success.
Kline: Test scores are an indication of how the school matches up with other schools and systems, but are little help in creating an educational plan for an individual student. When the district has solicited community input in recent years, parents did not point to test scores as a desired area of focus. Colleges and other post-secondary programs are also not putting as much weight on test scores.
Liu: Test scores are one indicator that provides a consistent standard — although not necessarily the best. Tests are a way to gauge progress and look at trends, but the schools should also use other metrics. Looking at success in college would be an indicator of the district’s success in preparing students.
Liu wants to look at the curriculum to be sure we are preparing students for life in general. What was once called “home economics” — basic life skills — is another important measure of success.
Do school libraries have materials suitable for all students?
Hardmeyer-Wright: School libraries have materials for all, like a grocery store that provides something for everyone. Library materials should feed students’ curiosity, interests and needs.
Lott: Libraries are already removing materials, with bookshelves in the high school library replaced by graphic novels, computers, and chairs and tables — an environment that looks like a conference room. Librarians aren’t encouraging students to find a love of reading, but are now also focusing on technology.
Larson: Larson hasn’t perused the school libraries, but would do so as a board member. He is adamant about First Amendment rights, but said we need to be sure materials in a school environment are age-appropriate.
Zbyszewski: Public-school libraries are areas of reading freedom. Students need to feel included and valued by the books on the shelves. Zbyszewski always supports parents’ decisions about whether their children shouldn’t read a particular book, as well as decisions by parents who want to ensure their children have a choice about what to read.
Kline: No book should ever be banned – efforts to ban books send the wrong message. People need to use good judgment about age-appropriate books.
Liu: There’s a lot to be said for age-appropriate material. Some themes are appropriate for high school and college students, but not for elementary school. Liu has no plans to go through the library catalogues, but if parents or others raise concerns, he would look into them.
How would you approach student behavior and discipline in the schools?
Hardmeyer-Wright: The district has a program in social and emotional learning for kindergarten through third grade that helps kids learn to communicate, bring up problems and support one another. Programs such as restorative justice help students solve problems as they arise.
Lott:There is not enough support or tools for teachers to deal with discipline. When a class is disrupted, everything comes to a screeching halt for all students as the teacher attempts to deal with the disruption. Students sent to the principal are often sent right back to class.
Larson: Teachers need the authority to impose some form of discipline and to remove disruptive students so it doesn’t downgrade the experience for all other class members. Principals need to deal with disciplinary matters and not throw the problem back at the teacher.
Zbyszewski: The school district has policies regarding discipline, harassment and bullying that set out a really good process. Students must be safe and respected in school. Zbyszewski would follow up if parents or others have concerns about discipline and safety issues, and would make sure disciplinary measures don’t disproportionately target certain students. The schools need to help all students learn what behavior is appropriate and what isn’t.
Kline: Teachers, staff members and the board should model mutual respect and responsible actions. It’s important for everyone to understand other people and have grace in their dealings with them.
Liu: Don’t penalize everyone for one person’s behavior, but deal with the offending party. Encourage teachers to use available tools to deal with disruptive behavior. It’s important to understand why a student is behaving in a particular way and to deal with that.
What should parents’ role be in their children’s education?
Hardmeyer-Wright: Parents should support their children’s education and be a part of it. Parents should be aware of what’s going on at school and come to conferences and talk to teachers. They should be an advocate for their children, but also listen. Parents should pay attention to where the child feels secure and where he or she needs help.
Lott: Lott wants more parental involvement and greater awareness of what’s going on at school — and more feedback to the district from parents. Many parents are tired of issues such as bullying and of not getting answers about them.
Parents should be guides, interpreters and educators for their children — it’s the parents’ job as much as the schools’.
Larson: Larson is a huge proponent of transparency so that parents know everything that’s going on in school. Parents should be the primary stakeholders in the lives of their children — not the sole stakeholders, but the primary ones.
Foster and promote transparency between parents and the school district. Larson would meet parents to discuss their questions and concerns, bring matters to the board, and report back to parents.
Zbyszewski: It’s really important for parents to be involved and to know teachers and staff and what’s going on at school. Not all people will get everything they want, because there’s such diversity in parents’ beliefs and attitudes. It’s vital for parents to have their concerns addressed — if elected, Zbyszewski will listen to all concerns to understand the full story and get back to people.
Kline: Education involves the teacher, student and parent, and parents should be as involved as they want to be — and the system should be designed to make that possible. It needs to be clear whom parents should talk to if they feel they aren’t being heard.
Liu: Parents should be engaged supporters. Data shows that students do better at schools with PTAs. The key is interested and engaged parents working with teachers and the school to provide a higher-quality experience for students.
Describe your experience with budgeting and fiscal matters.
Hardmeyer-Wright: Worked on budgets and school levies in eight years on the board, looking years ahead in planning, and drawing on resources from financial professionals and the state, federal and local governments.
Lott: Lott runs his own business and understands the costs of doing business and good and bad investments.
Larson: Larson has owned a ranch for 43 years and raised hay and cattle. He has experience with finances through his work selling real estate and life insurance.
Zbyszewski: Zbyszewski managed and implemented large budgets every year at the Forest Service.
Kline: Over his 20 years on the school board, Kline has had extensive experience with budgets. He also has budget experience from serving as a board member of the Okanogan County Electrical Co-operative.
Liu: As an agency administrator at the Forest Service, Liu oversaw multi-million-dollar budgets and is used to making difficult decisions to deal with years of plenty and years of famine. He is familiar with grants and other ways of augmenting a budget.