Three finalists in the running to become Ashland School District’s next superintendent were met with questions from community members concerning state testing, parent-teacher relationships, and budgeting capabilities during a forum at Ashland High School on Wednesday night.

Alicia Henderson, the superintendent of Bellevue Union School District in Santa Rosa, California; Vivienne Paratore, an elementary principal in the Castro Valley Unified School District in Castro Valley, California; and Kelly Raymond, the executive director for instructional leadership in the Highline School District in Burien, Washington, each spent 30 minutes with the group of 30 community members in attendance.

When asked her opinion on the importance of state testing and the effects excessive testing can have on students, Henderson said she valued the importance of data and how it can be used to improve education. “If it’s used as an instructional tool to say ‘this is a strength area’ or ‘wow we need to improve on this,’ then I think there are some positives to it.” She also recognized the impact of excessive testing saying “it haunts me to see (students) look at themselves through their test scores.”

Raymond had a similar response. “We have to make the mandates, but look at how we do that efficiently. How do we get students through that while still supporting them?" she said. When asked how she would ensure all students were on a level playing field, she responded, “it’s about rigor, it’s about giving students access to the same opportunities. As soon as we see a data change we will move that student around.”

Each candidate was asked about their attitude concerning the importance of parent-teacher relationships. “Our job in education is to educate children regardless of where they come from,” said Paratore. “What we have control over is the six to seven hours we have them everyday. It is our job to educate them emotionally and socially as well.” She spoke of a three-legged program consisting of behavioral support, special education, and response to intervention that would help improve educational experiences for students. “Some of our students can’t parent themselves, so we have to be able to do it for them.”

“It’s not easy to be a parent,” said Henderson. “We have to support parents with how to talk about things, connecting them with resources.” She recounted her experience working at low-income schools in the past and developing three-week summer programs near the end of break to keep students engaged despite their home life.

“We know parents are the first teacher,” responded Raymond. “When they’re in our care we have to support our students, but then we have to do outreach to our parents.”

When asked about her experience with large budgets, Paratore retrieved the Ashland School District’s budget from her bag, replying “I actually went through your whole budget.”

“I think it’s is just about paying attention. It’s a puzzle. And seeing all the pieces work together is really amazing,” she said. She provided feedback on what she read, suggesting that Ashland increase its attendance rate by at least 1 percent, which would make the district eligible for more money. She also spoke of programs in which parents could take their children on vacation through independent study while still allowing the students to receive attendance credit.

Raymond responded by citing her past experience budgeting. “I’m always working with principles to guide them with the budgeting rules,” she said. “I’ve also been asked to step into bargaining to give advice on master scheduling.”

Following the forum each candidate was interviewed by the school board for the last time. The board is then expected to take a few days to deliberate before offering the job to one of the finalists.

“I could be happy forever in a small community,” said Raymond. “I worked at a small high school and can say that personalization is the key.” She mentioned the possibility of taking her name out of the running for the superintendent job at the Aberdeen School district, which Henderson is also a candidate for.

“I’m really ready to shift gears into a district like Ashland,” said Henderson.

“I’m so impressed with the education for the kids, that’s what brought me here.”

Paratore is the only candidate who had not applied for any other positions, as, she said, she is confident that Ashland is the right fit for her.

Ashland freelance writer Hannah Jones is editor of The Siskiyou, the Southern Oregon University student-run news website. Email her at hannah.m.jones21@gmail.com.