On Nov. 3, Salado Independent School District voters will elect three board members to three-year terms on the Salado ISD Board of Trustees. Candidates are Kim Bird, Troy Byrd, Savannah Hennig and Troy Smith.
Early voting begins on Oct. 13 and continues through Oct. 30. There are several early voting locations in Bell County. On election day, Bell County registered voters may vote at any Bell County polling location, not just their home precinct. Precinct 203 voting will be at the Salado Church of Christ Activity Center, 225 Church St. in Salado.
1. What does Salado ISD do very well? How would you advocate to improve this? (200 words)
2. What does Salado ISD do poorly? How would you advocate to improve this? (300 words)
3. Has the school district handled the COVID-19 pandemic well? Why or why not? Would you advocate for anything different in terms of this? (200 words)
Question 1: Salado ISD has many areas of strength including exceptional academics and extracurricular opportunities. Additionally, I would like to highlight safety, community collaboration, and financial management. Regarding safety, Salado ISD has recently made building modifications to our existing schools to increase student safety including safety foyers at each campus, doors and gates requiring key card access, and fencing. Salado Middle School and the renovations to TAE were designed with safety as a priority, and SISD now has a full-time school resource officer.
Community collaboration contributes to SISD success. Programs such as the Mentor Program, Watch Dogs, and the PTO all bring community members into our schools as resources for our students. SISD maintains good working relationships with both the Village and county. Many decisions are made with input through committees on Safety/Security, district and campus improvement, strategic planning and long-range planning. Our district leaders are active in community organizations, and our facilities are used daily by community groups.
Finally, SISD’s financial management is outstanding. Although they receive less funding per student than any other district in Bell County, they have earned another perfect score on the FIRST state accountability metric that evaluates a district’s prudent use of taxpayer dollars. SISD has lowered the tax rate for two years in a row and maintained a sufficient fund balance.
Question 2: Even the most successful school districts should strive for continued improvement. Salado ISD is no different. Each year, the school board is involved in setting goals to address such issues. The first area that needs some improvement is technology. Remaining current in the rapidly changing Information Technology arena is very expensive for school districts. SISD has prioritized this issue by purchasing Chrome Books and Hot Spots to ensure every student in the district has access to a device and Internet service (whether they are face-to-face or virtual students). SISD has also hired an Instructional Technology specialist to support teachers who are now asked to be technology specialists as well as content area specialists. Additionally, SISD has an Information Technologist working to improve the district’s web site so that it will be easier to use.
A second area that is being prioritized is the maintenance of existing district facilities. Although SISD has been a good steward of their facilities, our buildings will continue to need capital improvements. Recently, HVAC units that were more than 15 years old were replaced, energy efficiency was increased and roofs were replaced.
As a school board member, I plan to continue to advocate for such improvement by setting high expectations, collaborating with district staff and community members, prioritizing resources to support areas that need improvement and managing the board agenda to ensure that relevant topics are addressed and thorough research is done in a timely manner. Fortunately, Salado ISD has an outstanding administration, faculty and staff who work diligently to improve the education provided to students and the service provided to community members.
Question 3: We have heard many times in 2020 that we are all living through unprecedented times, and this is certainly no different for school districts. Responding to COVID-19 has been a gargantuan task for Salado ISD. Every area of education has been impacted. I believe the district has proactively dealt with an impossible situation. They have worked closely with the state of Texas, TEA, UIL, the Bell County Health Department, the county judge, and area school districts to develop the best solutions possible that are science-based and follow CDC guidelines. They have completely changed instructional delivery to a virtual format to be used by virtual learners, our high school students who were on a hybrid schedule for the first four weeks, and in preparation of possible closure by the Health Department should we experience an outbreak. The Prevention Mitigation Response Procedures they developed have led to control of the virus and only 3 positive cases in our schools. Teachers, staff and administrators have worked very hard to keep the risks at a minimum, maintain high educational standards, and create a nurturing learning environment.
Question 1: Having taught at the Salado High School Campus for 3 years, Salado ISD provided the resources and supplies I needed to help make the students successful in the classroom. I have taught in other school districts where if teacher needed extra for their students and classroom the funds came out of the teacher’s pocket or the teacher had to have a fundraiser.
Salado does a good job providing students that are college bound by offering Dual Credit classes from Temple Jr. College. These are classes students can take and receive college credit while in high school.
Question 2: No answer.
Question 3: SISD is handling the COVID 19 Well.
SISD is providing the resources for Face to Face and Stay at Home Instruction.
The most important thing is that school is happening.
Question 1: Salado ISD has consistently been a top performer in both academics and athletics while also consistently receiving the least amount of state and local funding per enrolled student than any other district in Bell County. We do more with less, and we do it very well. Academically, we are the only high school in Bell County to have ever won a UIL Lone Star Cup award, and we’ve won three! We have nine UIL Academic State Championships and we have won the UIL Academic Regional Championships for the past 20 years in a row. Across all athletic programs we are consistently bi-district qualifiers, bi-district finalists, regional qualifiers, regional finalists, state qualifiers and state champions. With limited funding, our overall success can only be attributed to our excellent educators and their creative mindset to make it happen. As a school board member, I will continue to encourage hiring the best teachers possible by advocating for competitive salaries and a healthy work environment.
Question #2: While overall I believe we are an incredibly successful school district, there are always areas that can be enhanced. Salado ISD has made improvements in technology, vocational education, security, and facilities, but these are constant challenges in a growing district.
I’d like to continue to see Salado ISD integrate and pursue technology in daily education, and as I see the increased demand for vocational careers, I’d love to see our vocational programs expanded so that students who have an interest in a trade certification or degree can gain experience in that field prior to graduation. I’d like to see a student survey taken for vocational career interests and then begin pursuing how we can meet that need.
While our school district has made vast improvements in recent years to the security of our facilities, the safety of our children while on school campuses is of utmost importance to me and is something I fought hard for while serving on the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee. If elected to the school board, this is something I will continue to advocate for and strive to improve upon before the need arises.
Our recent bond addressed our classroom capacity need as well as provided updates to our athletic facilities and addressed safety concerns at the elementary, however there are still facility needs to include, but not limited to, updated Ag facilities, transportation center, HVAC equipment, roof maintenance, an additional high school science lab, and storage space, locker room/weight room space at the high school. I look forward to finding ways to stay within budget while also addressing facility challenges. I will do the research, ask the hard questions, gather input from the community and speak up when I feel there is a need that must be addressed.
Question #3: COVID-19 brought a unique set of challenges to our schools, and as a parent in the district, I was impressed with the thoroughness of Salado ISD’s Return to School Plan. After speaking with those in administration, it became obvious that the number one priority during this pandemic is the health of our students, teachers, and staff, and the precautions in place this year reflect that. I don’t believe there is a “perfect” plan with COVID-19, and I feel certain throughout the course of the school year some policies will be amended or improved as we learn more about what works and what doesn’t. As I write this, there have been only three cases of COVID-19 in our schools, none of which appear to have originated in our school nor spread to other students. This is encouraging. As a school board member, I will be having conversations with community members as to their ideas on COVID-19 and our school. I will encourage people to present ideas during school board meetings. We have a wonderful, creative community and together we can work to make sure our protocols and safety precautions are the absolute best they can be.
Question #1: Salado has excelled in academics for many years. We have been awarded the UIL Lone Star Cup three times, an honor given to the best overall athletic and academic programs in each of the six UIL classifications. We have won the UIL academic Regional Championship 20 consecutive times and have won the UIL Academic State Championship nine times. Out of approximately 1300 school districts in the state of Texas, only two have won more state championships in academics than Salado.
As we grow, we will need to continue to offer competitive academic programs. We launched “OnRamps” last year for Chemistry and Algebra 2 students to gain additional college credit from the University of Texas at Austin. We started our “WIT” program (Workforce Industry Training) in partnership with Texas A&M University that promotes students’ interest in STEM careers. With the uncertainty surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic, we need to continue to be flexible for our students and offer them the technology they need to continue to be successful in the classroom. We are acquiring additional Chrome books (laptops) this year so that all our students can have access to the necessary tools they need to be successful.
Question #2: I believe we need to continue to improve in two main areas: infrastructure and student career resources.
When I joined the school board, we had several infrastructure and facility concerns. Some were small, like paint peeling off the roof at Thomas Arnold Elementary. Some were more significant, like student safety due to dilapidated portable buildings and a lack of instructional space. We are currently projected to grow at a rate of approximately 100 students per year. We need to be diligent and continue to stay on top of our infrastructure and facility needs as we move into the future so that we don’t get behind and end up with some of the safety concerns we recently remedied. In addition to safety and educational space, we will need to continue to invest in technology to ensure our students are prepared for their future.
Although we have made improvements over the last few years, we must continue to expand our career and technology programs as our district continues to grow. We recently added a computer science program and a health science program, which give our students additional opportunities for career paths after high school. The reality is that not all students go on to complete post-secondary education and we need to offer quality programs to prepare those students for life after school. We need to continue to expand our agriculture, food and natural resources, health sciences, and computer science programs, as well as many others. We need to prepare our students for the highly technological and competitive workplace they will face after finishing their education in Salado.
Question #3: The end of the 2019-2020 academic year was difficult for everyone. Based on the guidance that was given to school districts from the Texas Education Agency and the governor, we operated in the most effective way that we could. While I believe we struggled from a technology standpoint, what occurred last year was unprecedented. Administration, faculty, and students were all learning new methods of instruction in real time. Given the lessons we learned from that experience, we were better prepared for the start of this school year. We have been working with the Bell County health authority and the TEA to put together a plan that we felt was best for our students, parents, and faculty. We sent out surveys to gain an understanding of what type of instruction parents and students preferred, and based on the feedback, we made the decision to offer virtual and in-person instruction for our students.
From March through October 8th, we have had eight employee cases and six student cases. We are prepared should those numbers rise. The district now has the resources necessary so that every student has the tools they need if we are required to move to 100% remote instruction again.