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Vengadasalam, Elliott square off for Kent School Board seat
Outside of their mutual interest in the importance of English proficiency for students, Maya Vengadasalam and Bruce Elliott – candidates for Kent School District School Board seat No. 5 – have very different views on where the district needs to go in the future.
While Vengadasalam comes from more than a decade of experience within the school system, Elliott grew up in the valley, attended Renton schools and lived here ever since as a farmer. A Washington State University graduate with a degree in animal science, Elliott said he can provide the board with a more experienced perspective as a longtime resident.
Vengadasalam comes from an accounting background with a degree in accounting from Florida Atlantic University and has been active in the district, serving on various boards and committees. She raised her son through Kent schools.
The candidates also have different priorities for their first year in office, with Vengadasalam focused on speaking with school staff and students to better understand their needs. She also plans to increase college prep opportunities in the district, ranging from earlier access to International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes in middle school to job shadowing and internship opportunities. Her final goal for her first year in the district is to improve the schools social environment to make it safer and more welcoming.
Elliott said that he doesn’t really have five priorities at the moment, but simply wants to spend the first year of his term on the board learning about the ins and outs of the district. He also would work to return classes on agriculture and farming to the school to help students better understand where food comes from.
“People need to know how we are all dependent on each other and dispel the cutesy ‘Old MacDonald’ image most young kids think of,” Elliott said.
Vengadasalam and Elliott believe in the importance of providing students with a strong skill base but they differ slightly in just what those skills are and the best ways of teaching them.
Vengadasalam offered an extensive list of projects the district should improve upon, including improved communication between the district and community, as well as raising standards to make education challenging for students and prepare them for adulthood.
“The culture of high expectations remains unaddressed,” Vengadasalam said. “There’s no parity, no rigorous, relevant curriculum in schools.”
Vengadasalam also wants to get the community more involved in schools. She explained that Kent residents have a hard time volunteering because they have difficulty understanding how to find volunteer work.
Meanwhile, Elliott believes school needs to reinforce teaching the fundamentals of reading, history, math, economics and civics to prepare students for the future.
“We hear anecdotally about students going to community college and having to take remedial classes in reading. We can probably lessen these cases,” Elliott said.
He also thinks that classroom discipline has become more lax since when he was in school, and “perhaps that is something to be addressed.”
One of the primary differences between the candidates is their faith in the idea of the recently adopted common core curriculum, standards in English and math proposed by the Department of Education and adopted in 2010 by a majority of the states. The standards are not a mandate, but suggested ideas for how to structure curriculum so that all students at public schools are learning the same general fundamentals.
Vengadasalam said she supports the policy, but Elliott isn’t as fond of it.
“It smacks of too much top down and not enough control to me,” Elliott said. “What I’ve read of common core they’re dumbing things down and moving things back.”
He said common core has moved algebra from an eighth grade to a ninth grade subject and is skeptical as to how that will bring students up to an international standard.
With a school district as diverse as Kent’s, bilingual education is at the forefront of many issues. When asked about multilingual education, Vengadasalam and Elliott agreed that English proficiency is a priority and must be strengthened, but their suggested methods of doing so differed. Elliott believes students will quickly pick up English if they are immersed in it, while Vengadasalam is a proponent of using the Kent community to quickly bring immigrant students and parents up to speed in English skills. Elliott said he thinks it’s important to provide extra instruction.
“You’d have to evaluate it on a case-by-case basis, then provide direct instruction,” he said. “People have to be evaluated. You can’t say you’re going to do this because you don’t know English.”
Elliott took the majority vote during the Aug. 6 general elections with just under a 2,000-vote margin between himself and Vengadasalam, who was endorsed by a wide array of people in Kent.
The general election is Nov. 5.
For more information on common core standards, visit www.corestandards.org.