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 Karen Peterson’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?
A few years ago, the Utah State Board of Education adopted the Portrait of a Graduate. Subsequently a number of local school districts met with the parents and teachers in their own communities to discuss what opportunities for learning would best fit their students. I love parents and educators working together to have conversations about how students can gain resilience, adopt a growth mindset, and work well with others. SEL has come to have many different meanings to many different people. I believe that as a member of the legislature, it is my responsibility to allow these decisions to be made at the local level. Different communities may have different objectives. I do not believe the legislature should dictate curriculum choices.
What importance do you attribute to PE and health and how do feel about the cuts made to these subject areas in the past?
Students need opportunities to move, to be outside, to learn the skills that come on the playground, and to improve their motor skills. As a member of the legislature, I think it is important to allow local flexibility. I do not want the legislature to ever be a ‘super school board’.
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?
I worked for five years as an Education Advisor to Governor Herbert. It was a wonderful experience. I spent countless hours in classrooms, in staff meetings, talking to parents, listening to teachers, and coordinating with administrators and local boards. Outside of parents, the number one factor in a student being successful is the teacher in the classroom. We have to support our educators with the resources they need and the flexibility they need to differentiate curriculum and serve individual students. Educators must be treated like the professionals that they are in compensation and in respect. We also need to work with our universities on teacher training programs and recruiting students into these programs. While working for Gov. Herbert I was part of the group that negotiated what came to be known as Amendment G. This amendment requires the legislature fund growth. In addition, it guarantees inflationary increases. With the passage of this amendment, we have seen record investment into pubic education. I am hopeful we can sustain these types of increases, especially as we moved to a more personalized learning model which requires more resources.
How do you define CRT and do you believe it is currently being taught in Utah public schools?
Just like SEL, CRT has come to have different meanings to different people. For years I staffed the Lt. Governor’s Civic and Character Education Commission. I believe strongly in robust civic education. I also have a degree in History, and believe in the importance of teaching students about where we have been as a nation.
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?
I appreciate our State Board of Education and our local school boards creating policies around library and learning materials. I believe we all want a wide range of age appropriate materials available to our students. The creation of a process that combines the expertise of educators and the perspective of parents is important to these conversations.
Considering legislation that has been proposed in the last 10 years, how would you vote on voucher/school choice bills?
In 2022 I spoke against the Hope Scholarship, while I believe firmly in parent choice, I reject the narrative that our schools are ‘one size fits all’ and that students can only have hope to be successful by leaving public schools. Ninety percent of Utah parents choose public schools for their students, we need to keep public schools a quality choice for Utah families. I appreciate the work of our schools to provide more customization in education, and hope to work with districts and charter schools to find additional ways we can best fit the needs of Utah students.
What are your views on the Summit program or programs like it being implemented in our schools?
I believe that school districts, not the legislature, should determine their learning management systems, and that they should ensure that parents have access and options in how their student engages with these systems.
What ways can we support diversity in our curriculum so that all students see themselves as culturally relevant?
In 2022, I supported SB244 which tasks the Utah State Board of Education to create state standards on “the interdisciplinary social and historical study of how different populations have experienced and participated in building the United States of America, including the study of the culture, history, and contributions of Utahns of diverse ethnicities.”
What have you personally done to support teachers/public education?
While serving as an Education Advisor to Governor Herbert, I worked with educators, higher education, parents, school board members, superintendents, and legislators to craft the Utah Education Roadmap. The Roadmap focused on four areas of policy: Supporting Educators, Student Completions and Degrees, Early Education, and Equity in Opportunities. Through this roadmap we were able to gain funding for important initiatives, including expanding optional extended day kindergarten. I also worked with Rep. Eliason in the 2019 General Session to pass HB337, which provided $26 million dollars in ongoing funding for school counselors. This money has been a critical piece in schools, especially as we experienced the pandemic. The more we can take off the plates of our teachers, the more time they have to do the job they are trained to do.
How will you show your commitment to public education outside of your role as an elected official?
I have served on my local PTAs, been on multiple school community councils, volunteered in the classroom, ran silent auction fundraisers, and have tried to send my children’s teachers notes of appreciation. I know during the legislative session, many educators feel discouraged, so this past year I sent every teacher in my district a letter expressing my appreciation.