Danielle Surette: It’s time to reexamine district priorities

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Danielle Surette

My name is Danielle Surette, and I am running for the Summit County school board. I’m running as part of a slate of candidates. There are four of us running with the same goals for the kids, but we have different life experiences that contribute to how we approach these goals.

Honestly, I never thought I would run for school board. I am not a politician, and I donʼt like the spotlight. I am running because I feel I need to do something. I am a mom who is concerned about the direction of the district. Currently, I live in Frisco, where my two children attend Frisco Elementary. Overall, our experience at Frisco Elementary has been extremely positive, and we have been so fortunate to have some amazing teachers. My concerns are not about Frisco Elementary but more about the priorities of the district as a whole.

As a child, I had two very distinct goals: I wanted to go to the University of Florida and travel to Africa. I didnʼt have the grades initially, but I worked hard at community college, and in 2002, I graduated from the University of Florida. After graduating, I went on to achieve my second goal when I became a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, Africa. Throughout my service, I lived in a rural village in a mud hut with no electricity or running water, and my mountain bike was my only transportation. I worked closely with local schools developing lesson plans and conservation activities for children and community members.

This experience was one of the most defining moments of my life. I learned so many lessons, but most importantly, I learned that quality education is a gift, one we shouldnʼt take for granted. The importance of thinking critically and expanding ideas is the backbone of a successful society.

After the Peace Corps, I earned a masterʼs degree in education. I began working at a commercial art and design school in Denver as an assistant director of admissions. I was responsible for supporting students and their families through all aspects of the admissions process.

If elected, here are my top priorities:

Priority No. 1: Academics first

The district has not been completely focused on academics, and some classes have allowed politics to distract from their true purpose. So first and foremost, we need to prioritize academics and establish a vision that targets student success.

Our test scores have been trending downward for several years now. We need to return to the basics with a strong focus on reading, writing, math and science. This does not mean that we donʼt allow for other areas of exploration, but I believe these are the core foundational subjects that everything else is built upon. I would propose that we examine what higher performing school districts are doing and model ourselves after them. We need to respond to our students’ struggling academics with passion and urgency. Our students deserve a high-quality education that will prepare them for the real world.

Occupation: Medical receptionist

Years in Summit: Three

Family: Two kids in the district

Civic involvement: School volunteer and Peace Corps

Priority No. 2: Fiscal responsibility

Over this past year, the district has wasted an incredible amount of money that could have been better spent. The cost of hiring and then firing the previous superintendent along with the associated legal and headhunter fees were substantial. This money could have gone to increase the pay and bonus structure for bus drivers and teachers.

We need to reexamine our priorities as a district. High-quality teachers and bus drivers are integral to the success of our students. We should be doing everything we can to retain them. I would go through the budget and find where there may be wasteful spending and reallocate that money directly back to what will benefit the kids.

Priority No. 3: Teacher and bus driver retention and support

There is no substitute for meeting with people and hearing from them what concerns they have. We met with several teachers and bus drivers to better understand what issues they have. We have a high turnover rate here in Summit, which has a substantial impact on our students. The high cost of housing continues to be an issue. Summit School District owns undeveloped land, and I believe this is a resource that we should consider developing in order to keep teachers from having to leave.

Danielle Surette is a candidate for the two-year seat on the Summit School District Board of Education. Learn more at 4ForTheKids.com/danielle-s-bio.