Q&A with Rita Cook, candidate for Stephenville ISD Board of Trustees.
Q. What 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 expectation
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.
Finally, school board members represent the community. They should be approachable and responsive to parents and community members. They can support parents and community members when they have questions and/or concerns.
Q. What do you perceive to be the biggest challenge facing the district and how do you propose that challenge be addressed?
A. According to the Census Bureau’s Pulse Household Survey, Texas families who home schooled their children grew from 4.5% in the 2019-20 school year to 12% in the 2020-21 school year.
However, we don’t need data to see the growing number of students in our district enrolling in private schools or smaller area schools. We have a great school district but we are seeing more parents choosing to enroll their children in other schools or to home school.
Today’s parents are simply uncertain about what their children are learning or about the school environment. It is imperative that our district is the best choice for our children.
First, we need to focus on our mission which is teaching reading, writing, math, social studies and science.
We need to reassure parents that our schools are a reflection of our community. Our parents are being bombarded daily with social media that makes them scared for their children.
We need to reassure them by having transparency in everything we do. We need open communication with parents to encourage them to partner with teachers and students.
Working together we increase the opportunities for student success.
Also, it is important that we continue to recognize and share the great achievements of our district. Everyone should be proud of our district. It is important that we tell others about our accomplishments because we are the best choice!
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 have chaired the board of two different education foundation boards and served on the board of an international education agency board.
So, I have led boards and also served as a board member. These experiences have given me the necessary knowledge and skills to be an effective school board member.
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. What educational and career experiences in your background make you the most qualified candidate for this position?
A. I am a graduate of Stephenville High School and have a Bachelor’s of Arts from Tarleton State University, a Master’s of Education from Tarleton State University, and a Doctorate of Education Administration from Kansas State University.
My family has strong roots in this area. I want to honor their history and ensure a successful and productive future for all Stephenville graduates.
I understand how schools work because of my experience as an educator. I understand financial budgeting because of my experience as a CEO of a regional education agency and school superintendent. In my career, I have worked as a classroom teacher, speech pathologist, special projects director, CEO of a regional education service center, and school superintendent.
I am invested in my community. I have served on numerous organizations and boards in Stephenville. I formerly served as a CASA Advocate for children, and have served on the Library Board, Parks and Leisure Board, and Stephenville Education Foundation Board.
Currently, I serve as chairman of the Main Street Board, and as president of 50 Women Strong, a philanthropic organization that provides grants to organizations in Erath County. It would be the greatest of honors to serve on the Stephenville Independent School District Board, and to lend my expertise to benefit the community I love.