BAYFIELD – Each Bayfield School Board candidate tried to prove he or she was the best person for the job while tackling some of the school district’s most pressing concerns at this week’s League of Women Voters candidate forum.
In the upcoming Nov. 5 school board elections, four of the five Bayfield School Board seats are open, and six candidates are competing to fill them. One candidate, Mike Foutz, is up for re-election, and the rest would be serving on the Bayfield board for the first time. Community members left the forum feeling hopeful after hearing the candidates outline policies on pressing issues, like student wellness and school safety.
“I’m delighted to see that we have so many highly qualified candidates. We can’t lose!” said Maria Miller, a primary school science teacher.
For the candidates, the forum was an opportunity to advocate for their qualifications, differentiate themselves from their opponents and outline their policy priorities.
About 20 community members asked candidates about the school district’s strengths and challenges, teacher salaries, student transitions between schools and compromise among board members.
Every candidate expressed support for social-emotional learning (SEL) and mental health programs in the schools, one of the district’s main priorities. They said Bayfield’s strength is its community and wove SEL into discussions around test scores, school safety and the district’s strategic plan.
For the last year, the school district has been systematizing SEL through a “culture of caring” framework, which promotes physical, mental and emotional well-being through programs and interventions.
Superintendent Kevin Aten said the district has always had this culture as an undercurrent. For the first time, the board has specifically reflected social-emotional learning language in the strategic plan, which will undergo its final review at the Oct. 8 school board meeting.
Two community members with kids in the district, Joe Stewart and Osha Justice, said school safety was one of the most important issues that the candidates discussed.
“It does have a lot to do with social and emotional mental health,” said Justice, who is candidate Matthew Zabka’s wife. “A lot of what I’m seeing in the media is school shooting kind of stuff. It makes me shudder for my children. ... That’s a big one for me.”
The community asked if the schools were doing enough to support school safety and if there was anything the district could do differently.
“Obviously, we know that we’re only 40 miles from Aztec,” said candidate Amy Davlin, referring to fatal school shooting in 2017. Davlin is running for a four-year term on the board. “Obviously, we know that these things can happen in our communities. … We have to be vigilant.”
Davlin and Zabka, who is running for a two-year term, focused on the school resource officer program in the district as a strength in school safety. Davlin said one of her first agenda items would be to see the SRO program in action.
Richard Gustafson, a four-year term candidate, applauded the SRO program as a preventive solution. Mary Lynne Herr, a two-year term candidate, and Debbie Wilhelm, a four-year term candidate, also supported the program and emphasized building security. Herr said she wanted to focus on SRO mentorship with older students, and Wilhelm wanted to increase SRO presence in all schools.
Foutz, a four-year term candidate for re-election, was the only person to mention other elements of school safety, like bullying and youth suicide.
“The solution really is not unidimensional,” Foutz said. He said the district’s focus on creating an inclusive and supportive “culture of caring” is important. “Do we need SROs? Yes. But we’ve got to focus on the kids first and their emotional well-being.”
One thing that stuck out to Stewart was the willingness of the candidates to work together as a team.
“That is a great start,” he said. “I think they all have something to bring to the table. I think it’ll all work out.”