By RACHEL COLEMAN
Leader & Times
Delvin Kinser sends his two children to Liberal’s public schools every day, but that doesn’t mean he leaves education entirely up to the district. The USD 480 school board candidate wants to know what’s being taught to his son and daughter, “and if something comes up, I email, I call, I stop by the school,” he said. “As a school board member, I would make it a priority to take the same approach — stay involved, know what’s going on. I wouldn’t want to be a board member if all I did was show up at the meeting and vote.”
But Kinser’s perspective on education doesn’t stop with the parent’s point of view. He’s also a taxpayer and community member, and what he sees ahead isn’t particularly pleasant.
“Because of the financial realities we live in, there’s going to have to be some adjustments or cutbacks in the things we do,” he said. “Eventually, everybody is going to realize what the state is finding out — we’ve run out of everybody else’s money.”
USD 480 school board members will have to make tough decisions, Kinser acknowledged, but he’s confident it will be possible to do that difficult job well as long as communication stays open.
“It’s true the board has to make the decisions, but it also needs to make a concerted effort to know what the community wants. It seems to me that the board in the past,” he said, and paused. “Well, the community hasn’t felt listened to. That’s important. I don’t know the dynamics of the current board but I do know that I myself would approach the job as someone who wants to build bridges so we can solve the problems. If you’re not willing to reach out, it makes it awful difficult to come to a decision.”
As to the types of decisions he might face, Kinser said, “I’m positive there are programs in USD 480 that have got merit and I’m sure they’re doing good things and helping people. If something is worthy of continuing, I’ll do everything I can to see it continue. But if it comes to a time to make a choice between an afterschool program and our kids learning in the classroom, we have to choose learning in the classroom.”
The most important thing, he said, is to get students a good foundation in reading.
“I think we try to throw our solutions at these big problems and we don’t get to the source,” he said. “If you take care of that early on, you start to see change down the road.”
Kinser also said it’s crucial to give teachers room to do the traditional job of basic education rather than burdening them with programs that script their lessons or impose cookie-cutter methods.
“My kids have had the gamut, in terms of teacher experience. They’ve had teachers that were brand-new and they’ve had teachers who were veterans, 20 years in the classroom,” he said. “In either case, it comes down to the kind of people we hire. Do they care about the advancement of the kid? If they do, they’ll do the best they can. I’d really have to seriously take a look at whether it’s a good idea to say, ‘we need to have everybody teach everything the same way.’ You’ve got to allow for the creativity of the teachers in the classroom to connect with the kids.”
In a similar vein, Kinser feels strongly that high school class offerings should focus less on steering students toward specialized career choices and more on the basics.
“Well, coming back to reading, that might be most important,” he said. “Reading opens the door to so many things. If a kid can read, he can learn about careers and opportunities he would never have come across any other way. That is a challenge for us, because of our immigrant population. By the time they get to high school, and they’re not able to read, it’s tough. I don’t believe anybody’s a lost cause, but it just emphasizes how important it is to start early.”
When students fall behind, Kinser said passing them along to the next level only worsens the problem.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “You’re not doing the child a service. If he gets to high school and he can’t read a high school text book, how’s he going to succeed at all? He can’t. That’s why he would be bored in class. You know, you couldn’t expect that kid to want to even be at school, if things are being taught that he can’t grasp.
“There are a lot of reasons for our high dropout rate, and not all of them are academic,” he said, “but you have to ask, how much of it could be prevented if kids knew how to read?”