Reelect Dan Klein, Madbury Representative to the Oyster River School Board
I'm Dan Klein, the Madbury Representative to the Oyster River Board, and I'm asking for your vote on March 9, 2021. If you have questions or comments, please contact me at DanKleinORboard@gmail.com.
Ø BA Political Science/Environmental Earth Science
Ø Service on Oyster River School Board since 2015
Ø Board Committees: Sustainability, Policy, Negotiations
Ø Board Representative to NHSBA Delegate Assembly
Ø Member of Middle School Facility Taskforce
Ø Middle School Facility Final Report – Co-author
The following is a representation of my opinions and my recollection of events related to the ORCSD school board. I am not speaking on behalf of the Board or the school district. - Dan Klein
It has been a true honor to serve on the Oyster River School Board as Madbury Representative since 2015. I am running for a third term because I am deeply invested in the ongoing work of leading our District through this difficult time. My experience on the Board, understanding of Board governance, budgeting and knowledge of both ongoing and past initiatives make me uniquely qualified to contribute to the future success of our District.
What follows are my thoughts and some background on issues of importance to voters. In the interest of brevity, I do not address every issue here. I am happy to discuss further any of the following topics or those I have not addressed.
General philosophies: The high-priority placed on public education is something that defines the Oyster River community. The Oyster River Cooperative School District (ORCSD) consistently ranks among the top performing public school districts in New Hampshire. As a member of the ORCSD Board, I have always advocated for budgets that are both adequate to ensure a continuation of this high performance and also not overly burdensome to the local taxpayers.
I believe that another characteristic that sets our District apart is our focus on equity, inclusion and wellness. In 2015 we were the first district in the state of New Hampshire to adopt a policy that supports transgender students. I am proud to say that this was one of the first policies I supported as a member of the Board. It has been used by other districts as a model for adopting their own similar policies.
I am also proud to support the work our District has done to combat racism in ways that are direct and purposeful. I believe that ensuring equity in our District requires actions that combat inequity and discrimination. It is not enough to merely say we are not racist and that we do not support racism. We must identify and adopt practices that work against racism and help us become consistently conscious about its impact on society.
Budget: The annual process of crafting a budget is the most detail-intensive task that the Board routinely faces. There are two primary objectives the Board must balance when crafting a budget. Adequately fund a system that delivers exemplary public education while mitigating the burden to the taxpayer; the majority of whom do not have children enrolled in Oyster River schools.
I believe we are extremely fortunate to live in a community in which voters consistently vote to invest in the highest quality public education in its schools. Recent evidence of this can be found in the 76% of voters who voted to approve the new middle school building project in March 2020. With this support comes the expectation that the District spend the taxpayer’s investment wisely and efficiently.
Early in my tenure on the Board, I voiced my concerns with the District’s use of retirement incentive as a means of mitigating staffing expenses. My concerns were: 1) the District was using the retirement incentive too frequently thus lessening its effectiveness and 2) in replacing senior teachers who had retired the year before, we were hiring new teachers with similar experience and salary. Going forward the administration made a priority of hiring well qualified but less experienced candidates to replace teachers who had retired. The Board also elected to use the retirement incentive less frequently.
COVID-19 Pandemic: The pandemic has made the past year incredibly challenging. Remote learning is by no means an adequate substitute for in-person instruction. By design, the strength of our educational model depends on the in-person engagement of teachers, support personnel and students. I also find it deeply unsettling to know that many of our students and families are really struggling with the isolation inherent to remote learning.
In the spring of 2020, the Governor’s emergency declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic required our teachers and administration to launch a fully remote education model in a mere three days. Our teachers and administrators did an incredible job adapting under these circumstances but no one was satisfied with the overall results of a model that called for a great deal more time and attention to develop.
Over the summer of 2020 the Board and administration prioritized the improvement of our remote learning program given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the likelihood remote instruction would again be needed in response to the pandemic.
In preparation for the 2020/21 school year, the Board adopted CDC pandemic protocols for schools including 6’ minimum distancing and masking based on the recommendation of our nurses and administrative team. I believe that following these evidence-based protocols is the best way for our District to ensure that learning and working environments are as reasonably safe as we can make them.
With that said, I am eager to support any and all reduction or removal of these protocols as soon as a scientific case has been made for doing so. In particular, I am eager to see scientific evidence for lessening or eliminating the minimum 6’ distancing protocol given that it is the single greatest obstacle to in-person instruction we face.
Many constituents have shared their frustration with the fact that several nearby school districts returned to in-person instruction at the beginning of the 2020/21 school year. “How could it be…” one asked me last fall, “…that by virtue of not living a short distance away in a different district my kids don’t have the opportunity to return to full-day in-person school?” It’s a reasonable question to ask. I have found that the clearest way to understand the disparity is to first recognize that:
1) Absent any government directive for how to serve our students during a global pandemic (as we had in the spring), each district in our state was left to individually determine what protocols to adopt and what educational models to implement.
2) Unlike the majority of districts in the state, Oyster River had to consider the unique ramifications of having a large number of university students return to the District at the beginning 2020/21 school year.
3) Unlike UNH, our District could not spend millions of dollars to institute a sophisticated system of COVID pool-testing and contact tracing.
When we adopted the CDC’s recommendation for 6’ minimum distancing, it put our District on a distinctly different path than districts that chose not to adopt this protocol. We simply cannot return to full in-person instruction and maintain this protocol due to the limitations of space in our school buildings. I support this protocol and others like mask-wearing because it continues to be the most effective way to combat the pandemic. If our goal is to return to full in-person instruction we must use every tool at our disposal to slow community spread of the virus to levels that will allow for lessening or elimination of the 6’ minimum distancing protocol.
Lastly, I want to address the common misconception that somehow teachers are to blame for keeping our schools in remote learning models. As I just explained, the biggest obstacle we face in returning to full in-person instruction is that levels of community spread remain too high to justify a reduction in the CDC’s long-standing guidance on 6’ minimum social distancing. Teachers have nothing to do with this.
Board Governance: A school board member holds no individual authority for decision making or unilateral action. As seven individual members comprising the Board, we are charged with the shared responsibility to create, approve and follow District policy.
Board members are required to conduct nearly all Board-related business in a public forum. Over the years I have found that some constituents are surprised to learn that we are not at liberty to conduct business via email or offline conversation as one would in a typical workplace.
The Board relies on our administration to tap the expertise of our teachers and support staff in developing proposals for changes or additions to District programs.
Equity: I am proud of the work our District has done to address inequity, discrimination and racism. We are the first district in New Hampshire to adopt a policy that supports transgender students (Policy JBAB). We are also working on changes to our racism policy (ACA) that are intended to transform our practices from passively un-racist to actively anti-racist. Ultimately I believe that our focus on equity must not rest on a static set of policies. Rather, it must be a continual process of self-evaluation, dialogue and exploration that will allow us to be consistently conscious of our role in combating discrimination.