Vancouver school candidates differ on Common Core

Board incumbent Gillespie backs standards, foe Ross doesn't

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


photoKathy Gillespie
photoLisa Phifer Ross

Vancouver Public Schools board candidates

Kathy Gillespie

Age: 50.

Occupation: Full-time volunteer in district schools for 12 years; Vancouver Public Schools board director since 2009, board president 2012-13.

Campaign funds raised: None.

Endorsements: H-RoC, short for the Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, an independent, nonpartisan PAC committed to the advancement of women’s leadership.


Lisa Phifer Ross

Age: 46.

Occupation: Certified public accountant.

Campaign funds raised: Less than $5,000.

Endorsements: Clark County Republican Party.


Vancouver Public Schools board

Term: Four years.

Number of board members: Five.

What school board members do: The board of directors sets the policies and hires the superintendent, who reports directly to the board.

Compensation: Board members may receive a compensation of $50 per day, or a portion for attending board meetings or providing other services to the district, not to exceed $4,800 per year. Board members can choose to waive the compensation. According to state law, board members are reimbursed for their actual and necessary expenses for going to and returning from directors’ meetings, conferences or other meetings.

The Common Core Standards: Candidates Kathy Gillespie and Lisa Phifer Ross hold opposing views of the Common Core Standards. Gillespie approves of the standards; Ross rejects the standards. Learn more about the Common Core Standards.

Kathy Gillespie and Lisa Phifer Ross will face each other for a seat on the Vancouver Public Schools board. Meanwhile, incumbent Mark F. Stoker is unopposed for re-election to his seat.

Incumbent Gillespie has served on the board since 2009 and was board president during the 2012-13 school year. A longtime volunteer in the district's schools, Gillespie said her strengths are "involvement with parents, students and staff plus four years working with the school board."

Gillespie's top issues include improving student achievement by investing in teacher and principal training and support, ensuring the district spends money for student needs first. She also cited the McCleary decision which mandates the state to fully fund basic education.

"As the state begins to meet the obligations outlined in the McCleary decision, we need to ensure enhanced state funding is applied to programs, technology tools and experiences that prepare students for success in college, career and life," Gillespie said.

Ross said her strengths are "an MBA and a financial background. I am used to digging through reports and making sense of numbers. I will make sure our levy dollars are not wasted on needless bureaucracy."

Ross says one of her top goals is to "improve graduation rates."

Although the district's graduation rate did increase by about 10 points in the past four years, Gillespie said it should be higher than the current 73 percent on-time graduation rate.

Common Core Standards

Gillespie and Ross have opposing views of the Common Core Standards, which by the 2014-15 school year will be fully implemented in Washington schools.

Gillespie says she is "excited about the Common Core Standards. What I understand from teachers, they are excited about the idea of having the ability to go very deep into learning targets. We have these grade-level expectations of what students are expected to learn."

In contrast, Ross says "rejection of Common Core Standards" is one of her top issues. "It seems to be a lowering of standards for everyone."

Adopted by 45 states, the Common Core Standards clearly lay out what students at each grade level should learn in mathematics and language arts. They are designed to prepare students for college and careers, and to ensure that students across the country are equally prepared for their future.

For example, one of the math standards for second-graders is that students should "recognize and draw shapes having specified attributes, such as a given number of angles or a given number of equal faces. Identify triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons, hexagons, and cubes."

A high school geometry student should be able to "derive the equation of a circle of given center and radius using the Pythagorean Theorem; complete the square to find the center and radius of a circle given by an equation," according to the Common Core Standards.

One reason Ross says she opposes the Common Core Standards is financial.

"Right now, the federal government is giving us money to support the Common Core, but in a few years, the district will have to pay for it," Ross said.

"They're doing math in a new way, and parents can't help their kids with homework," Ross said. "They are doing away with memorizing the multiplication tables."

However, a search on the Core Standards website indicates the Common Core Standards require third-grade students to be able to "Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers." In essence, that includes the multiplication tables up to 9 9.

"Another problem with Common Core is the one-size-fits-all approach," Ross said. "Education should become more individualized, not more institutionalized. The Common Core is trying to make all students the same. It's a big reaching idea about education and whether it should be controlled by the local school board or whether it should be mandated by the federal government.

"The standards are bad, and the texts that accompany them are worse," Ross said. "The school board will have to fight to keep our curriculum appropriate and accurate. The writers of the (text) books have a bias in their assumptions and their examples."

Ross cited online articles in The New American, a conservative magazine that touts "limited government under the Constitution" and the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Seattle.

"It's about standards, not curriculum," Gillespie said. "It's not telling teachers what books they can teach. Teachers have a lot of flexibility about how they can teach," she said. "It's not about how you get there, it's where you end up. Students are not learning the same way, but they need to demonstrate the same knowledge."