School Board Candidate Stratham Memorial
2 Year Term
Who can vote for James?
Voters in Stratham who want a fresh perspective, new voice and a pathway to change.
Tell us about yourself.
I have lived in SAU16 for 2 years with Mary, my wife of 15 years, and our four children Lorelai (10), Parker (7), Hudson (5), and Aila (baby). We have four adopted huskies from Texas: Maya, Sienna, Timberlake, and Winter plus one cat, Ares. I grew up in the Dallas, TX metroplex where I lived till moving to Stratham in mid 2019. We moved to NH for easier access to outdoor adventures and hockey. We picked a town in this SAU, specifically Stratham, due to rankings of the school system.
I graduated South Garland High School in 2002, attended Eastfield Community College for two years, and attended the University of Texas at Dallas where I graduated in 2006 with Bachelors in Computer Science.
Why are you running for school board?
My family has lived in Stratham for a little over two years now and we absolutely love the town and school. Currently, we have three kids at SMS in grades 4, 1 and K, and we have a fourth child who will attend in about 5 years. This means we will consistently be a part of SMS for the next 11 years. Selfishly, I have a vested interest in the school system, but I want the best for the staff and students of SMS now and in the future. We moved to Stratham for the highly ranked school system, and I want to be a part of maintaining and improving a system of excellence.
Do you have prior board experience?
I served on the board of directors for two volunteer organizations where I dedicated myself to the betterment of those we served.
First, I was on the board of directors for my neighborhood's HOA from 2012 to 2019. We served roughly 755 families with a core goal of protecting a homeowner's investment. The board was "hands on" in that we met monthly with the HOA management company to review finances, the status of current capital projects, maintenance of the neighborhood amenities, and held non-public sessions to handle specific issues such as homeowners with outstanding dues. We also met with the residents and homeowners once a year to review the state of the HOA, collect their input, and discuss goals for the upcoming year.
Second, from 2009 to 2019 I served on the board of Texas Husky Rescue, which was and remains the largest husky rescue organization in the world! The board of directors handled much of the day to day work ourselves, and managed volunteers wherever needed. During my 10 years on the board, I held many roles and responsibilities: modernizing the organization's technology (google workspaces for nonprofits, finance software, website, etc), organizing and running numerous volunteer meetings, adoption events, and fundraisers, assisting with finance upkeep, not to mention fostering over 150 huskies. We held monthly board meetings to review finances and service providers, and discuss the state of our short and long term goals.
What makes you the most qualified person for the job?
My prior experience serving on boards, attendance at school board meetings, willingness to hear out anyone's view on any topic even if I disagree, and my willingness to ask questions or make statements that should be said even if they are "uncomfortable."
How have you prepared for this role?
I attend most SMS board meetings and I watch those I cannot attend. I have read the board policies and related RSAs. I have spent time understanding who is involved in the SAU administration with what their roles and responsibilities should be.
Should you win the election, what do you hope to accomplish in year one?
A deep dive review of all school curriculum, improve communication and transparency with parents and tax payers, and develop a plan to resolve staffing issues.
How are you going to accomplish your goals in year one?
For curriculum the primary goal is to determine if the curriculum for each grade is age appropriate and properly helping kids learn. The current model is dated from 2017. There are a number of templates/models available for performing curriculum reviews (and templates for creating a curriculum).
First, we would need to determine the current model(s) in place, where they were sourced, the last time a comprehensive review was preformed, and how the model is being assessed as effecting. From this information we can determine if changes are required and if so when and how they may be implemented.
To improve communication we would start with sending emails, to the same distribution used by admin, to notify the public of board and committee meetings (upcoming and posted meeting notes). This would require a new distribution group which would also allow for tax payers, without kids in the school, to sign up and receive emails.
To improve transparency the main page of the school site would highlight upcoming board meetings and make subscribing to the calendar easy, contain a new page with all contracts agreed to with the school/admin/board, and contain a new page with all RTK requests posted.
The ongoing staffing issue requiring staff to perform many job descriptions and keep the school functioning is ripe for disaster. To resolve this we would start a review of why staff has left and why staff cannot be obtained. From that information we can develop a plan retention and hiring new staff. The current system will fall about from burn out which will directly impact the education of the kids.
Which sub-committees hold the most interest to you and why?
Policy, Curriculum, and Admin Staff Review. I'm not sure on the names because (transparency!) the SAU doesn't publish all committees and associated information.
What do you see as the main challenges facing the school district and what do you want to change?
First, the school rankings within SAU16, including SMS, are falling year over year. This has not triggered a review of the current curriculum or discussion of how it's success is being measured. As a board member I will pursue academic excellence through an academic curriculum actively overseen by the school board. The curriculum must be monitored for success and adjusted as necessary. Second, there is a lack of transparency and communication between the school board, school staff, administration, parents, students, and the community at large. I will insist on maximal transparency to the public for curriculum, budgeting, grants, expenditures, bidding, academic outcomes, school environment, etc. This information must be made public through more than board meetings, emails, and Right-To-Know requests. Third, the year over year rising costs to taxpayers with declining student population is a huge concern. I will seek to determine the long term drivers of both of these metrics to determine what policies can be adopted, updated, or removed to ensure students want to come to and stay at SMS and do so without constantly rising costs. Fourth, there is a lack of skepticism towards proposals from the administration related to many topics from academic programs and safety protocols. I will demand more transparency and accountability from the administration and hold them accountable when they fail to uphold high standards expected of them.
If we asked someone who was not a fan of yours why you are not the right person to elect, what would they say?
That I wasted money through a frivolous lawsuit against the SAU which took money away from teaching kids.