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Q&A with Dr. Rita Cook, candidate for SISD board of trustees, place 2.

Updated: May 3

Dr. Rita Cook

Q:  What do you believe is the most important role of a school board member? 


A: Traditionally, a school board member has three roles:  1) Hire the superintendent, 2) Establish district policy, and 3) Approve the budget. These functions sound fairly simplistic but they are not.


Making sure you have the right leader for the district is critical.  The superintendent sets the culture of the district and serves as a liaison to the community.  It is important that the superintendent and board share the same vision for the district because this vision directs focus on academics, support of extra-curricular activities, and encourages staff/student performance.


School board members approve all policy.  This policy determines how the schools operate. It establishes consistent rules and regulations for staff and students and helps parents understand daily school operations. So, it is important that school board members understand their community so they can establish policy that meshes with community expectations.


School board members approve the district budget.  Their involvement in developing a district budget is critical because the budget should support the vision of the district.  Budget decisions affect staffing, classroom materials, staff training, technology purchases, and maintenance of facilities.   Setting a yearly budget determines a district’s roadmap for the school year.


School board members are elected to represent the community.  They should be approachable and responsive to parents and community members.  School board members should be accessible if parents and community members have questions and/or concerns.


Q: What are the biggest challenges currently facing Stephenville ISD?


A: When looking at the district’s demographics, it is very apparent that our student population is changing.  Our numbers of children who are financially disadvantaged is increasing. These children come to school with greater needs.  


It is critical that children read on grade level by the third grade or they will fall further behind each year.  The district should focus on targeting Early Childhood through the third grade to establish a foundation for success.


Today, parents are simply uncertain about what their children are learning or about the school environment. Our parents are being bombarded daily with social media that makes them scared for their children.

First, we need to focus on our mission which is teaching reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. 


Additionally, we need to make sure that our schools are safe places.  Finally, parents should feel comfortable that our schools reflect of our community. Our schools must make sure that there is transparency in everything we do.  We need open communication with parents to encourage them to partner with teachers and students.


Social media causes a distraction from learning and can also lead to inappropriate student behavior.  There need to be conversations at the district level with community input to alleviate this problem.  It is difficult for students to focus when they are constantly checking or messaging on their phones.  Because cell phones have become an integral part of everyone’s lives, this will be a difficult issue to address.

Q:  What are SISD’s greatest strengths? 


A: Based on the district’s report card, it is very apparent that we have many teachers who are doing an outstanding job of teaching. 


Can we improve? Of course.


We still have students who are not at grade level in academic areas. In response, the district is using many types of individual testing and enrichment materials to reach students who are not at grade level yet. 


Additionally, the district is focused on offering Career and Tech Education and teaching work skills to our students so they are prepared for further education or the workforce. 


The district also offers students a wide range of extracurricular activities in sports, fine arts, and science/technology and many of our students are receiving recognition throughout the state. Finally, the continuing community support for our schools is fantastic. 


When I attend school events, I see parents but I also see members of the community who support our district and our students.


Q:  What are your priorities for SISD?


A: Make the Stephenville Independent School District the best choice.


Focus on our mission of reading, writing, math, science, social studies….and common sense.


Keep our schools safe.


Transparency and partnerships with parents, and community to increase student opportunities and success.


Ensure that the district budget prioritizes funding at the classroom level


Q: Have you ever worked with a board?  If so, describe the experience.  If not, what do you envision about the experience?


A: I have worked with numerous boards. 


As the CEO of a large regional education agency, I worked with a board of school board members from area districts. I have also worked with a school board as a school superintendent.  


Additionally, I chaired the board of two different education foundation boards and served on the board of an international education organization. So, I have led boards and have also served as a board member. These experiences have given me the necessary knowledge and skills to be an effective school board member.

Q:  When you find yourself with a minority opinion while discussing a board topic, how do you proceed through the process once a decision has been made? 


A: As a Board member you are one of seven people and function as a board.  There is opportunity for individual input during board discussion and everyone has an equal vote on issues, but once the board has made a decision through a board vote, each member must support that decision. 


You, personally, have a right to have a different opinion but as a board member, you must support the board decision.



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