Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four articles featuring candidates for Brookings School Board.
BROOKINGS – Incumbent Debra DeBates wants to use her years of educational experience in another term on the Brookings School Board.
The combined city/school election is April 13, and early/absentee voting started Monday. Two three-year seats are available on the school board, and three other candidates are running: Keli Books, Jackie Johnson and Jade Nelson Withers. Roger DeGroot is not running for re-election.
The retired teacher and teacher educator has over four decades of experience in education. She taught in Canton for 17 years and then earned her advanced degrees at South Dakota State University in teacher education with an emphasis in adolescent development, and her Ph.D. from Iowa State in human development. She then taught at SDSU for 25 years.
DeBates said the school district is facing several large issues, all of which are affected by COVID-19.
“One of the things that I am really concerned about is our return to school in the fall. I want to see us develop a program that will help our kids be up to speed in terms of academic progress but also mental, social and emotional health,” DeBates said. “Because of COVID, some that have been in isolation or some that have been home completely for remote learning, it’s going to be a transition for some to get back into the school routine. So I want us to have a plan to assist all kids in getting back into a school year that will look more like a regular school year than the past one has,” she added.
DeBates said the budget is also front and center for the board.
“We’ve had some good leadership in terms of establishing budget parameters that we can work within so that we can increase the capital outlay fund and not use it to supplement the general fund, and then we’re hoping that we can do some other kinds of projects like the work that needs to be done at Hillcrest and Medary. We’re working hard to increase teacher salaries – that’s been a struggle, and that’s something that’s so important if we want to maintain the best possible staff for our kids and students,” DeBates said.
DeBates said there are a lot of future plans being pursued by the school board that she would like to see continue, including several that focus on careers.
“We’ve started the Career Pathways at the high school, and I want to see us continue with that and maybe infuse more of a community involvement with that. This year they had a Career-Palooza where they had virtual speakers – members of the community come and speak about career opportunities – but I think that there’s so much more that we can do there for outreach into the community so that kids can really get an idea as to what kinds of careers are available and also maybe have an opportunity to work in some of those areas along with the courses that they’re taking. Maybe job shadowing or apprenticeships so that they can see what the career involves before they further commit to their education or training for a specific career,” DeBates added.
The candidate said another goal of hers is to do as much as the board can for the social and emotional health of kids.
“I’m really concerned about some of the things that we hear about cyberbullying and social media usage, and we had a program in the fall of 2019 (pertaining to cyberbullying) and it was not well-attended – we want to do more in that area because I think parents and guardians need some knowledge and understanding of some of the challenges that kids are facing with social media. As adults, we don’t always recognize what a student or child is going through, and I think it would be very helpful for us to do more in that area,” she said.
DeBates said the board should continue to focus on facilities, as well.
“Another goal is to see some work started at both Medary and Hillcrest. What we can do to have those facilities be equitable with Dakota Prairie? I think that’s a huge task and one that we’re just starting to get going on,” DeBates said.
“And then we’ve also started work with SDSU on a lab school, and I’d like to see that continue, too. It kind of got put on hold this year because of COVID, but I’m just really excited to work on that. It would be such a benefit for future teachers on campus as well as our students in the Brookings School District. The idea is to have some of our high school kids on campus. Think of the resources on campus that they could access to learn more about science or engineering – it would just be amazing,” DeBates said.
“I would also really like to see an alternative school for the high school, too,” she added.
DeBates said the board should encourage and facilitate as much outreach and community collaboration as possible. It is something the district already does, but there’s room for more.
“I think we can do even more, especially within the business industry and making connections between our school district and business and industry. I think they would be open to that, too, because they know that we are struggling sometimes to build jobs in the community – we struggle to have the workforce here.
“So I think that more opportunities for community outreach, and that can go from elementary all the way up to high school, getting people from the community into the schools so that they see what’s going on and they contribute to the growth and development of our kids,” DeBates said.
“It’s just such an important task because our children are our future. … We want them to be productive citizens that are well-prepared for their careers and the workforce and their college career and life ready for when they leave our district – that’s what we’re hoping for,” DeBates said. “I’m excited to be a part of the board and hope I have an opportunity to continue.”
Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]