Candidates for Board of Education

By Nathaniel Smith and Sena Taylor Hauer • The Times-Independent

As a lead-up to the general election in November, The Times-Independent is presenting a three-part series on the three local contested elections for the positions of Grand County Attorney, school board and county council. The first installment, printed in last week’s edition, highlighted the Grand County Attorney’s race. This week Board of Education candidates Kathy Williams and Ryan Anderson are profiled. On Oct. 11, the Grand County Council at-large platforms of incumbent Mary McGann and challenger Norm Knapp will be published.

There are a number of potential constitutional amendments, propositions and advisory questions on the Nov. 6 ballot. For a refresher, read The Times-Independent’s Sept. 13 story in our online edition.

The Grand County Clerk’s Office will mail out ballots Oct. 16. Returned ballots must be postmarked by 5 p.m. on Nov. 5 or turned in to the Grand County Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 to be valid. Individuals who wish to register by mail must send in their voter registration no later than Oct. 9, while Oct. 30 is the last day to register online or in person at the clerk’s office.

Anderson hopes to bring decades of experience to school board

“Experience matters,” says Ryan Anderson, who is running to represent District 4 on the Grand County Board of Education. With 37 years of teaching under his belt, experience is exactly what he would bring to the table. After graduating from the University of Utah, Anderson didn’t intend to become a teacher, but as he was doing graduate work studying family therapy, he recognized, “in order to have an impact with families and with individuals … you had to start with the kids.” Once he set his course on becoming an educator, Anderson never turned back.

Besides making an impact in the classroom, Anderson spent time lobbying for education. In 1979, one year after he began teaching, Anderson started lobbying at the state capitol and he’s been going up north to meet with legislators ever since to advocate for students. Anderson became involved at the national level in 2004 when he earned a place on the National Education Association Board of Directors.

Even after his retirement, Anderson has continued to track legislation at both the state and national levels, and though his lobbying is less formal now, he still contacts legislators frequently. “I involve myself because what I found when I moved here was that if you see something that you think you can help with and are willing to put the time in and engage in it, you can affect change,” said Anderson.

Though he’s no longer in the classroom every day, Anderson has stayed involved with Grand County schools. He regularly attends school board meetings, still goes to events such as graduation, and mentors young teachers at the high school.

“I have that foundation of experience that allows me to recognize where we are as a district and where changes need to happen,” Anderson said. “It’s a more global understanding that you cannot achieve from the outside, without actually being there. You can get a sense of it, but the breadth and depth of understanding from experience is far greater,” he added.

Discussing his vision for the district, Anderson said he would like to bring an interactive dynamic to the board by increasing communication between educators and board members. “I’m a relational person, and I talk with people both in the community and in the schools, parents and students. That allows me to say, ‘here’s where I think we’re headed’ and gain a vision for the future,” Anderson said. He also said, “We’re at a point in time of dramatic cultural change and my vision is that we’re going to come out of this stronger.”

Said Anderson, “Although it’s difficult right now, our future is getting brighter. We’re working together,” he said while describing how he will focus on bringing a collaborative, non-adversarial approach to the board. Still, Anderson sees room for improvement, particularly in bringing educators into the planning process. “Conversation with teachers is essential in any planning … that is a voice that is not always included,” Anderson said, adding, “As an individual board member, I want to be inclusive that way and not just with educators, because conversations with parents, businesses and community leaders will create a better system for our kids and be more responsive to community needs.”

Anderson is optimistic, but he doesn’t ignore the challenges facing the district. Working with young teachers, Anderson has found housing to be a major issue. He said Moab’s high cost of living has been an obstacle in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. Addressing the discrepancy between living costs and salary will be key to hiring great educators who will make long-term commitments to the profession, he said.

According to Anderson, the school board is often removed from the day-to-day workings of classrooms, so he hopes to bring an educator’s experience to the board and help create the best environment for Grand County’s students.

Williams will facilitate collaboration between school board, community

Dr. Kathy Williams is running for the District 4 seat on the Grand County Board of Education because she has an affinity for the schools and the students, and she sees becoming a board member as a great way for her to contribute to the community. She said serving on the school board would be an extension of the volunteering work she has done in the district for years.

As a doctor, Williams specializes in family practice, but it was through her role as a parent that Williams started getting involved in Moab’s school system. Since the time her eldest son was in kindergarten, Williams has supported the district in a variety of capacities.

She started by volunteering in classrooms to help teachers, and she’s gone on to assist with fund-raising efforts, to serve on the community council for HMK and the high school, and has sat on interview committees for both superintendent and chief financial officer. “I’ve learned quite a bit about how the district operates and how the schools operate, so I’ve got that familiarity,” she noted.

Williams said her biggest concern for the school district is housing, pointing out how the hospital faces a similar challenge when trying to recruit qualified staff.

“It definitely is having an impact on the schools,” William pointed out; “recruitment and retention is a problem.” She described how her current position on the high school’s community council has given her first-hand experience seeing how hiring teachers can be difficult. “There’s no lack of interest in teachers moving to Moab, but the reality is that many don’t have the ability to own a home or even rent a home.” Williams noted the problem is seen throughout the community but is especially acute for the school district.

“Until we get more affordable housing elsewhere in the county, we’re really going to be in a tight spot,” Williams said as she expressed her support for any affordable housing initiative the school district may undertake. She mentioned utilizing the vacant Red Rock property, perhaps through a public-private partnership, such as a long-term lease. “It’s not a simple solution, and I understand a lot of smart people are working on trying to find a solution. I’m optimistic that they’ll be able to come up with something, but that’s down the road and the issues are pretty imminent right now for both the school district and the hospital,” she said.

“Recruiting and retaining [teachers] is the most important issue, because those are the people that make the school. You cannot have a good education without quality teachers who are also willing to put down some roots and stay here. It makes for a more thriving community,” Williams claimed. She said that she is in favor of alternative ways to provide educational opportunities, particularly through the high school’s collaboration with Utah State University, but nothing can replace a teacher in the classroom. She said, “I think having that one-on-one back-and-forth with a teacher in the classroom is so important.”

Given how Williams values student-teacher interaction, she is adamant that educators be compensated fairly. “Utah is one of the lowest in the nation for teacher compensation, so I would certainly support ways to increase [teacher salaries],” Williams said.

According to Williams, the school board has made strides toward taking a leadership role in the community. Williams would like to continue moving forward on that front by addressing issues like intergenerational poverty, mental health and bullying. If elected, Williams will take a collaborative approach by facilitating cooperation among the school district, the hospital, Four Corners Mental Health, law enforcement agencies and volunteer organizations. “We can all come together to find ways to mitigate some of the chronic issues that face our kids,” she said.