Maria Iñiguez  is President of the Wenatchee School Board and is seeking election to the District #2 Director's seat.  She joined The Agenda Program on KPQ to discuss her campaign.

KPQ:  Describe some of your background and qualifications and since you serve as President of the current board, any accomplishments you wish to highlight.

Maria Iñiguez:  I am currently serving as the president on the board. I've been serving for over three years. I was originally appointed in and reelected in 2021.   A little bit about about my background. I'm currently serving as the Chief of Staff at Wenatchee Valley College. Prior to that I was actually with School District for 13 years.  All my professional career has been in education,  K 12 and higher ed.  I chose education as my educational background because I felt that education for me as a student,  opened so many doors for me and my family.  And for me to be able to pay it forward for those students that came before,  that come that come after me. For me it's valuable to give back to my community and provide students that opportunity that I was given growing up in education in the public school educational system.

KPQ: Probably the biggest decision the board has had to make in quite some time was grappling with a budget deficit of about $8 million. Part of that is attributed to some COVID dollars that are ending and declining student population. About 300 fewer students are projected over the next three years due to declining birth rates. That means reduced state funding. So how should the Wenatchee School District prepare for this?

Maria Iñiguez:   It's very unfortunate that we're in this situation. But I think there's hope that we can start going up hill in regards to the whole funding piece. Our previous superintendent Bill Eagle, our interim superintendent, laid out a plan for the next two years, which includes this academic year and the next academic year. We are conservative in regards to our enrollment numbers. So even though the projection is 300 students we're hoping that is less every single year, and it will slowly chip away at that decrease of funding in regards to this year, going into next year.  I think October 6 is the enrollment count. Where are we versus where were we projected we're crossing our fingers hoping that our projections were a lot higher than our actual in regards to decrease in enrollments. And that will put us in a better situation. This is a budget crisis that is for this current year and next year. The projection for the following years. Even considering the decline in enrollment. We should be pretty steady in regards to our projected enrollment and our funding.
KPQ:  One of the difficult cuts was the internet Academy which a lot of kids thrived in while for others,  it wasn't their particular learning style.  What was your position on cutting of the internet Academy?

Maria Iñiguez:   It was very unfortunate. The system that once thrived and supported up to 500 students unfortunately wasn't where it was years prior. It was down to, I think at the highest point at about 40 students around that ballpark. And when you have a program that is losing money on a yearly basis, but it's benefiting a good amount of students. You have to think about ways that you can continue to serve those students that don't learn in a traditional classroom. And so we were able to buy combine the Virtual Academy with Valley Academy of Learning, and so within valley we have our virtual learning. So the program didn't go away itself, it just no longer a standalone school.

KPQ:  We're starting to see COVID cases increase, but during the the COVID-19 pandemic, there were masking and vaccine mandates.  If we get another pandemic or  surge in COVID cases. What did you learn? Is there anything that you would like to see done differently?

Maria Iñiguez:  I think, unfortunately, it definitely had a very negative impact on the whole educational system. I could speak for our district. We can tell by our test scores, the impact it had, also on the mental health of our students, the well being. So looking back, knowing what we know now moving forward on how we treat a worldwide pandemic. I would advocate that putting students and staff safety first. We can't afford to close our schools. And I think the state knows that. I think the nation learned that from COVID,  two years ago. And I would advocate if it's left at the local level that we continue with our with safety measures to prevent the spread transmission, keeping our staff and students safe. We can't afford to close our schools. And I think that's one of the big things that we learned from the previous cases.

KPQ:  The Washington state report card is showing varying results, but in every grade less than half and often even far fewer than half of Wenatchee School District students meeting grade level standards in math, science or reading.  How can we get better results?

Maria Iñiguez:  Well, like I mentioned, we have COVID to attribute to those (numbers) and the achievement gap attributed due to closures and just the different styles of instructions that were provided during those closures. But one of the things that I've been really pushing the superintendent as well as my colleagues on the board is, while it's great to look at the data and celebrate those gains that the district is making in its different student demographics, right.   We also need to take a look at the ugly data, the data of the students that are not meeting standard, and we really need to say okay, why are these students not meeting standards? Is it because we have a bubble, let's say is that our English language learners?   Is that our low income students?   And then identify those services that the students need to get them to make bigger growth so that we can accelerate the growth of our academics within our district?

KPQ:  Well, I was just going to ask you about that. If you look at the demographic breakouts of the district student population, it's 54% Hispanic,  41% White,  23% English language learners,  60% low income, 6% homeless,  14% migrant,  16% with a disability of some sort.  So what should the district be doing to make sure that all these kids have an opportunity to excel?

Maria Iñiguez:  We have, unfortunately, over 50% of our students that are not meeting standards, whether it's reading math, or writing, okay, and then now let's break down the data. Let's make those data informed decisions about how we're going to address our students with learning disabilities. Or students who are struggling with homelessness. We've seen cohorts of students, and they have made exponential growth.  And so we need to be able to address the needs of these students and really, really, in order for them to be able to make growth from their counterparts that are making standards, they have to grow exponentially much faster. So that could mean many different things. I think we've implemented some programs and systems K through 12 for reading and math that will get us there. But what else In addition, before  and after school tutoring, mentoring.  One of the things that research has shown is helpful is when you bring in staff, teachers that look like the students that they're serving, you are going to get better test scores.  That's one of the things that we need to really think about and the district has really been working on.  Let's hire qualified teachers that represent the student populations that we serve. There's that identity aspect for students that statistics show it increases morale, academics, a sense of belonging, etc.

KPQ:  If 23% of the student demographics are English language learners, how do you get their parents involved?

Maria Iñiguez:  This is an area that needs improvement in all areas in regards to parent participation, but there is a language barrier in regards to our English language learners. One thing that we used to do pre COVID that we need to go back to doing as we can't wait for them to come to us, we need to go to them. Whether that means  having community meetings at Methow Park, going into CAFE'S space, which is what we've done in the past again before COVID.  We need to come to them and we need to provide the resources not only in the language, but at the level that they need. A lot of  those parents come with elementary level education. So what does that mean? It's not just about providing those services in Spanish having translators, but being able to provide them at the level where the parent is going to comprehend.

KPQ:  Bills that would prohibit transgender male athletes from participating in girls sports been introduced but have not passed in the Washington legislature. WIAA  policy states each athlete will participate in programs consistent with their gender identity or the gender most consistently expressed, but there are no medical or legal requirements and an athlete can appeal a question of eligibility. How would you address the issue of a transgender male athlete wanting to compete in girls sports in the Wenatchee school district.

Maria Iñiguez:  I think this question could be asked, you know, also for female athletes wanting to compete in male sports. We do see a little bit of that, but they are seen
in wrestling. I think football. But so I'm just having come from the Women's Republican luncheon and having similar questions. As you mentioned, these are state legislature legislature decisions that have been made. Unfortunately, this is not left at the local level to to decide on but for me what is first and foremost is student safety, student safety for the students that are identifying as transgender and those that are not, how do we work together to make sure that everybody feels safe and comfortable in in that in the current situation. We have not failed as as far as I'm aware. We have not faced this situation within our Wenatchee public schools. However this is something that our district navigates on a daily basis in regards to locker rooms, bathrooms, and we do have a policy that supports both the transgender student and non transgender students. And we have been able to navigate those that that process with our policy, where every student feels acknowledged and safe. Does that answer your question? You know, it's kind of,  we'll we'll cross that bridge when we get there. But based on our past experiences that we've had, using locker rooms, restrooms, the district has been able to handle it respectfully to where it addresses the rights of both sides.

KPQ:  That's the predicament that the legislature has left the school boards in so far because they haven't passed anything and the WIAA policies as well. An athlete could appeal a decision but it is gray area right now.

Maria Iñiguez:  It does and I think we need to consider Discrimination Act.

KPQ:  What are your priorities if elected to another term?

Maria Iñiguez:  You know, unfortunately, our school district has gone through three superintendents in the last three years. Right now with Dr. Kalahar.  I was one that led the the hiring process of that superintendent. I think we've made the right choice. And so for me, it's the transition for Dr. Kalahar to go into well, this is his first year. So I think it's really important to have that consistency and leadership so we can oversee the work that he's doing and have that seamless transition into the next academic year. We have some really good plans in place in regards to math and reading. Which tie into the strategic plan. And in regards to the academic piece, I really believe that they're the direction we need to be on to address the concerns of low performance in our state and standardized testing. You know, our classroom tests are, are showing growth. And I think eventually that growth is going to start showing in our in our state's assessments as well.

KPQ:  Why are you the better candidate for this seat on the board?

Maria Iñiguez:  I think we are in a really, really crucial point for our district. So I think this is where the experience is going to come play a very important role. I have over three years as serving on the board. But most importantly, I have a child who attends  Wenatchee public schools.  So I've seen through K through five you know.  What are children are learning, some of those controversial topics, how are they being delivered? What are the parents rights? Now going into middle school, I'm seeing a lot of what the involvement of parent is.  My educational background, again, I have a professional background in education, I have a master's degree and my thesis was written on standardized testing and the impact on student learning. So when you put all that together, I think in this crucial turning point for the school district, I think all those components are very important and made me step make me stand out over my opponent.

Mail in ballots are due by Election Day on November 7th with a postmark or by 8pm in Chelan County Auditor's Ballot drop boxes.

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