Tara Russell combo mug

CHEYENNE – A substitute teacher in Laramie County School District 1 is running a second time for a seat on the LCSD1 Board of Trustees.

Tara Russell, who ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2018, is one of seven candidates vying to fill three open seats on the board in the Nov. 3 election.

“I have a deep sense of civic duty within my community,” said Russell, who has two children enrolled in the district. “I have a genuine desire to be involved in the decisions that will directly impact the kids in our community, because someday they will be contributing adults in our community.”

Russell said her experiences as a parent and as a substitute teacher have given her a well-rounded perspective on the education issues facing the district.

One of the issues Russell is most energized to tackle, if elected to the board, is transparency and accountability.

“As a parent, when I have a question or concern about anything related to the school or our district, I want to be able to contact administration and get (answers) freely and more easily than it has been in my own personal experience,” she said.

“That kind of relationship would also foster a lot more accountability of the district to its stakeholders. I would really do my best to change the way information is put out there by the district.”

Literacy is another specific issue she said she’d like to address, if elected to the board. During the 2018-19 school year, around 48% of the district’s third graders scored below proficient on the English Language Arts section of the state administered WY-TOPP standardized test.

“That number, to me, is just staggering. That’s a huge percentage of kids in our district that are not being given the tools they need to be able to read proficiently by third grade. I think that’s a huge crisis that needs to be addressed,” Russell said.

To fix those shortcomings, she said, “We desperately need leadership who will do the research and make better-informed decisions, and, most importantly, implement a uniform, step-by-step process to help kids who are struggling with reading.”

If elected, Russell would also have to help come up with a plan to navigate the impending 10% cut to the district’s budget. She said she’s still in the process of familiarizing herself with the intricacies of school finance, but “would like to take a look at funding (at the state level) and how it’s calibrated there, and find the holes in that system first.”

As for calls to address allegations of racial discrimination in the district, Russell said she would take a “zero tolerance” position as a board member.

“We need to not only implement that in every school building – regardless of their own school culture – and set a policy that says, ‘This is how we’ll deal with every situation.’”

To hold each school accountable, Russell said she’d like to see more involvement from administration and board members, so that each school would know “we’d be doing more than just checking boxes.”

On the COVID-19 front, Russell said, as a parent, she had some reservations after the schools shut down in-person learning last spring.

“When we started talking about reopening, I just wanted a solid answer and a solid plan. In the beginning, I felt that was lacking. … I do feel good about what’s being implemented now,” she said, noting that if elected next month, she’d like to “continue on the same path and not get comfortable in a situation.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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