As the fall colors turn into the snow of ski season, we also greet the arrival of election ballots in October and the election in November. While we do not have the specter of a national election, in which we could watch two old men vie for our votes, we have our local elections to decide how our community will be governed. Included in this year’s ballot are considerations for school board. There are nine candidates in total running for four positions.
According to the county, the Summit School District is entrusted with providing the K-12 public education for all students. On its website it boldly states: “Serving more than 3,450 scholars, it is our vision to prepare caring, courageous, community-minded people who create a better world.”
The victors in this year’s races will be tasked with implementing these strategies with a diverse student body. Among its 3,450 students, 25% speak English as a second language and over 40% of students identify as minorities. These are not the same demographics as in 1970 or 1980, when the population of the entire county was 2,665 and 8,848, respectively. For perspective, in 1980, the number of residents who were foreign born was 188, or about 2% of the population. By 2015, this number increased by 1,714% to 3,410, or about 12% of the population. The population of people of color rose 2,454%, or more than 10 times the county’s overall population growth of 227% during this period.
As with most things in life, today’s education environment is simply different than it was in the past. Going back to when the population of the county was less than 25% of what it is today, the education system was tasked with teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Throw in some physical education, art and wood shop, and we were good to go. Not any longer.
Not only have the goals of education changed, but now we need to deal with the mental health issues rising from the isolation of a pandemic. Kids lost a considerable chunk of time on the playground, at sporting events, band concerts and too many other social interactions to mention. Regardless of your politics, I have not yet heard from the side that thinks there will be no mental health consequences for the students who were educated via Zoom for more than a year.
Our education system also didn’t need to deal with technologies that did not yet exist, including the effects of spending nearly three hours per day absorbing Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and the millions of other ever-changing possibilities. This is in addition to however much time is spent watching Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and numerous others.
Beware the red herrings in this election, as schools and school board elections have become the new battlegrounds in the war of disinformation today. This election is not about teaching critical race theory to kindergarten students, as some scare tactics may suggest. It appears to be about avoiding the topic of race at any age level because it may expose uncomfortable truths about our collective past that would do a major disservice to all students. Rather than focus on so-called hot-button issues, the election is about who will best fulfill the mission of the school board.
This mission explicitly considers the entire well-being of the student instead of focusing solely on academics and test scores. While academics are obviously of high importance, it would be negligent to ignore the physical and mental health of the students. This means sometimes tackling the challenges that today’s youth face with age-appropriate conversations about what may be a rather uncomfortable topic. These topics may include suicide prevention, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, cyberbullying, gun violence, lack of housing and a host of other non-academic but vital subjects.
The Summit County Education Association has recommended four candidates, and you can review its recommendations if you are interested in what the educators within the district think about the candidates. There are also four candidates that are running as a slate that apparently did not respond to the education association’s request to be interviewed. Based upon the group’s website, it appears that themes of regaining the community’s trust, transparency and avoiding the adoption of controversial policies are major portions of their platform.
See for yourself: In addition to reading about the candidates, you can meet the candidates in person Monday, Oct. 18, at the election forum, which can be attended in person in Breckenridge or virtually. You will need to register for this free event at SummitDaily.com/election in order to attend.
Tune out the national noise, and choose your candidates wisely. The future of our country, state and local community resides in the education of our youths.
Scott M. Estill’s column “Challenges, Choices, Changes” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Estill is an attorney, author and public speaker who lives in Dillon when not traveling or attending to legal matters in Denver. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.