We asked all candidates to fill out a survey and our group has chosen to endorse, recommend or not recommend based on their answers. Here are Joann Brown’s responses that shows that she is a great representative for our teachers, students and parents!
How do you define SEL strategies and what do you believe it does in the classroom?
Social Emotional Learning was implemented in classrooms to give real life, workable tools that students can use to communicate and interact with the world around them, set goals, understand themselves, manage their emotions, etc. When I reviewed my district’s curriculum for SEL, I was so impressed at the age-appropriate, wide variety of important topics that are covered. I feel that the conversations and the topics that are highlighted each week are all incredibly relevant to what kids are going through, and exactly what I want my own children learning about. Empathy, mindfulness, kindness, communication, determination, and resiliency are just a few of the SEL curriculum traits that stand out to me as valuable skills in every classroom and home. Children don’t always know how to verbalize what they are seeing and feeling, and SEL curriculums help provide examples and ideas for kids to use. Teachers seem to be very positive about using SEL, and they are glad to have a way to facilitate discussions that encourage positive behaviors. I am concerned about the struggles and the emotions that children are going through today, and short term research is showing that SEL is not only a contributing factor to improving resiliency and academic achievement, it is addressing the very concerning issues of depression and anxiety, while helping to improve overall classroom behaviors.
What importance do you attribute to PE and health and how do feel about the cuts made to these subject areas in the past?
Movement is an important component of both physical and mental health. Academic performance, cognitive functions, and promoting a positive mindset about exercise are all benefits of PE. All children need to be moving, particularly those who are higher energy. I do not believe in cutting PE out of the curriculum. Health education is a tool that has great potential to set our kids up with skills and habits that help them have a productive, thriving life. I believe that it is important for kids to be exposed to solid, researched-based information taught in our health classes.
What ideas have you formulated that will increase public school funding to keep up with growth, fully compensate teachers for their expertise and commitment to teaching, ensure they have the classroom resources they need to be effective educators, and making teacher retention a priority?
Increasing funding for public schools needs to be a priority in every single legislative session. We need to make sure that the word gets out to our communities about the importance of supporting legislation and candidates that advocate for a wise use of money in public ed. There has been a fight in the legislature to keep money in public schools, and the more people aware of the issues, the better. In order to raise the pay by 1% in my school district, it would cost just under $2 million. Innovative strategies that produce extra revenue, including increasing taxes for new businesses that are coming into our city, or asking parents to provide school supplies for their kids instead of requiring that schools buy the supplies in the elementary level are two ideas. Parents who move into Utah from other states are often surprised that they aren’t required to provide school supplies for their kids, and frankly, if a family has a financial hardship purchasing school supplies – it’s a lot easier for them to find innovative solutions in their own home on a small level. This solution would free up some of the funds that teachers use to purchase school supplies and let them purchase classroom resources. This is not a solution that would work for every school, but there are so many schools in our state that it would work for. Perhaps allow each school to make the decision for themselves what they’d like to do with this? PTA’s and volunteers can help by encouraging families to donate classroom supplies and a few extra dollars. I have seen fantastic examples of this in the schools, with wishing trees, or donation lists. I know that this approach does not work for every school, but I have seen “adopt a school” or “adopt a classroom” run with success with the added benefit of increasing community and state awareness. Encouraging local businesses and corporations to adopt a school is a possible solution. District offices and school boards could encourage businesses to reach out to schools and discover the needs of teachers and classrooms, and establish a strong sense of community and growth-mindset in the process. When schools are in a district that has a low number of businesses, perhaps larger corporations could be encouraged to look outside of their school boundaries. It seems that teachers will stay when they feel valued and needed in their chosen field. Encouraging parents and volunteers to help in the school, perhaps even requiring a certain level of engagement, could be something to look at. There is a trend of people loosing interest in being fully engaged in their children’s schools – due to time, lack of money/resources, parents working, and not wanting to be in the school. Innovative solutions, such as after school PTA meetings, or encouragement for each parent to volunteer for a certain amount of time could be a possibility, although there are definitely pros and cons with this approach. I do feel that there would be a very positive reaction among teachers if they felt that they truly have a say in the success of their classroom and school. Teachers are feeling more and more out of control of what they can do, and this lack of autonomy is creating a lot of dissatisfaction. As educated professionals, so many feel that they are in the classroom to babysit the kids, and take their marching orders, without a chance to exhibit the elements of their skillset that made them want to go into teaching in the first place. We all need to feel that we are being listened to and heard, and like we are part of something bigger than ourselves – and teachers, especially, are drawn to education because of this.
How do you define CRT and do you believe it is currently being taught in Utah public schools?
CRT is the name given to a body of college-level legal scholarship that began in the 1970’s. CRT is essentially saying that we need to pay attention to what has happened in our country, and HOW what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes so that we can BECOME the people, society, and country that we want to become. It speaks to equality, and encourages us to confront and talk honestly about inequality. It is and it is not being taught in public schools. We can’t say it isn’t being taught – because we are teaching our kids to be aware and mindful of their actions and their lives. All of these things are VERY, very good things. But, we are not teaching CRT in the way that many people think we are teaching it. What CRT is not: It’s not a revolutionary program that will overturn the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and it is not destroying the Constitution, as so many people are afraid. The negatives that are being touted as CRT are NOT being taught in our schools. I do not believe our teachers are trying to tell any child that they are not worthy of success or that they need to apologize for who they are. I strongly believe the opposite is happening: teachers are working so hard to help kids know that they are extremely valuable, wonderful humans, with an amazing future that they get to choose. This mindset is not the CRT that people are concerned about.
What vetting process do you support when a parent objects to a book in their child’s school? What actions do you believe school districts should take or not take?
Every parent gets to make decisions for themselves and their own family about what they feel is appropriate and inappropriate in their homes. Problems begin to occur, however, when parents try to make decisions for other peoples’ children about what is appropriate or inappropriate. In this situation, diversity means that everyone has a different book that they are going to connect to, and we have to be highly aware of this. There are definitely books that I don’t approve of for young children to read, but it is not within my rights to tell my neighbors that their children are forbidden to read a book that connects with them, just because I object to it. With that being said, if a parent objects to a book in their child’s school, it is always wise for a school to listen to their concerns. I believe that it could be highly useful if the parent who is objecting to the book has read the book, or at least has a very working knowledge of what the book contains, and they need to be able to speak to what they are concerned about. I think the first step should be consulting with the librarian who is responsible for choosing the books in a library, or the teacher who is selecting books for a classroom. Books are easy to remove if there is valid concern. Respect the person who chose the book, and listen to them about why they chose the book. I believe it would be helpful if a volunteer committee made of invested parents and teachers meet together to talk about book concerns, and work through the pros and cons of removing a book before it is banned. It would be useful for districts to facilitate this, with guidelines to encourage compassionate and understanding conversation. If books are needed in the library to cover diverse topics that fill the need of certain demographics of students, this needs to be something that is discussed with concerned parents.
Considering legislation that has been proposed in the last 10 years, how would you vote on voucher/school choice bills?
That’s a big no for me. Voucher/school choice bills take money from public education, and are driven by people who do not have the good of society as a whole in mind. Healthy public education is essential for the overall health of society. If people want their kids to have alternative education, they are very welcome to do so, but public education is already so underfunded. Voucher/School choice bills tend to hurt impacted populations, and to me, that is not okay.
What are your views on the Summit program or programs like it being implemented in our schools?
Because I am not familiar with the Summit program, I did a quick search and some background research. I think there are some really good things about it. I love how it incorporates technology (so important!) and allows kids to control their learning, that they can see what they need to be working on, and move forward or review what they’ve missed in the past. Structured goal setting, as well as teacher feedback seems like a helpful feature. It does feel like it could create a lot of extra work for teachers, and I’m interested to know how long it’s been used for, and if teachers are liking it, or if it’s bringing added stress to them. Does it get easier to use with time?. As a parent, I think I’d like it – but I’d like to talk to parents in the districts that are using it to see what their feelings are about the program. Is it helping parents feel like schools are being more transparent? Do they think that it’s helpful? Nebo has a tracking program that students use, but Summit feels like it requires more from teachers. If programs like Summit are helping students, I am not against them — in today’s world, we have to throw innovative approaches at problems to see if they are helpful, but I’m interested in the feedback. During my quick research, I noticed teachers who absolutely hate the Summit learning program, and I noticed there are those who like it. It feels like the feelings are related to their overall view of technology in the classroom; and that is a conversation in itself – because implementing technology can really be tough for some teachers.
What ways can we support diversity in our curriculum so that all students see themselves as culturally relevant?
Diversity in our curriculum is so incredibly important, not only because we live in a global society, but also because EVERY SINGLE CHILD DESERVES to be represented in the classroom. Data tells us that there are significant holes in education in relationship to minorities, and that graduation rates are impacted by race. Some thoughts about how we can support diversity in our curriculum include: -Curriculums need to incorporate a wide range of activities and principles that support diversity; where children understanding and seeing the differences in each other are celebrated. -Supporting SEL programs that help students understand themselves and others, as well as creating classroom environments that includes media (books, movies, music) that includes culturally diverse representation is important. -Explore real-world examples of how differences (cultural, gender, etc) are valued, and often a strength, in reading passages, textbooks, and other materials. -Encourage positive relationships and respect in the classroom. -Encourage a wide range of populations be represented in PTA activities. Have representation on PTA boards. Translate school communications, such as newsletters or emails, so all families are included in the information. Have a DEI specialist on the PTA board. When school activities are considered, be especially mindful of the entire school community. Encourage cultural nights in the school that celebrate the kids. Encourage parents to come in and talk about their home countries (have a translator available if needed!). Families need to feel that they are not only represented, but encouraged and welcomed in the school. -Hire a specialist or find volunteers in schools that need extra attention to this matter, to work with families so that they feel welcome and included.
What have you personally done to support teachers/public education?
I love public education so much! For the past 4 years, I have served as the PTA Region Director of Provo City and Nebo School districts. I have spent countless hours working with PTA leaders in both districts, training, encouraging, supporting, and guiding them in strengthening their schools and PTA boards. I’ve attended state PTA board meetings, working with other state PTA leaders to learn how to best support our local schools and teachers. I’ve attended Provo and Nebo school board meetings, and have worked with district employees and school administration to discuss and solve issues that come up in local schools. I’ve sat on PTA commissions, which have raised awareness of so many different issues and concerns throughout the state, and I’ve helped in the District level as needed. I’ve served on the local & council PTA level, working in my kids’ schools for the past 20 years to support teachers and public ed, and I’ve sat on every Community Council that I could, because I know how important it is to know what is happening in the schools. I absolutely love being over Teacher Appreciation — and I’m of the opinion that we can’t appreciate our teachers ENOUGH for all they do for our kids. If I can do it, and it supports public education and teachers, sign me up. I am running for School Board, because our teachers and Public Education needs a strong, supportive voice. I believe that it is important to explore all the sides of different issues, and to be willing to consider different perspectives. I might not agree with everyone, but I’m convinced that we are not supporting our teachers if we don’t understand what is happening in education from as many angles as possible.
How will you show your commitment to public education outside of your role as an elected official?
Being a supportive voice for the district in PTA council meetings and the community is of utmost importance. Active community involvement and creating community connections is so important, because people rely on those who are in the know to share the information. So many problems can be helped by creating awareness of the how’s and why’s of decisions. I feel that as an elected official, being active on social media, positively promoting education and being transparent about the good that is happening in the schools and district is important. It’s also important to help people see that we are all human, and we don’t always have the answers – but we are open to ideas and thoughts that others might have. And lastly, it’s also important to admit when things are happening that are a bit of a struggle, so people can see the humanity of elected officials.