Hays and San Marcos CISD School Board candidates discuss their campaigns ahead of May election

Amira Van Leeuwen | Staff Reporter

The 2022 School Board Elections for Hays CISD and San Marcos CISD will take place on May 7. School Board candidates responded to a set of questions where their answers focused on supporting educators, strengthening student learning environments and supporting their district in retaining teachers to attract higher student attendance.

Hays CISD has five candidates who filed for election, including Esmeralda Pérez-González who was declared elected after running unopposed for District 2.

Meredith Keller, the current District 4 board member who was first elected to the board in 2010, did not file for re-election leaving Byron Severance and Amy Grant competing for the District 4 spot.

Current District 5 Board Member Esperanza Orosco is running for re-election and is being challenged by Bear Heiser.

SMCISD had three candidates who filed for election for the the District 4 spot, which is being vacated by retiring board member Kathy Hansen. But, according to secretary to the assistant superintendent for businesses at SMCISD Alicia Guenther, John Leonard withdrew his candidacy. The remaining two candidates are Brian Shanks and Gabrielle Moore. Clementine Cantu is running unopposed for District 5.

Hays CISD School Board Candidates

Amy Grant, District 4

Amy Grant, Hays CISD Board of Trustees District 4 candidate.

Why are you running for school board?

“I believe my educational, professional, research-oriented and managerial experiences bring a unique set of skills to the table. This fresh perspective, my lived experiences and my innovative managerial and supervisory styles will not only complement but also diversify our board to be more inclusive and representative of our district.”

How do you differ from your opponent? 

“My lived experiences, education, professional experiences, expertise, managerial style, innovative approaches to challenges, my strong research and analytical abilities and my life-long work in advocacy for marginalized communities provide a unique and very different background than my opponent. As a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, Certified Autism Specialist, Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist, clinic owner and director, decades of research and education (bachelor’s and master’s as well as countless hours in post-university continuing education) in child development, neurology processing, trauma-sensitive, neurodiversity-affirming care, and supports for children with special needs are very unique areas of expertise I feel I could contribute greatly to the Board of Trustees.”

What is something you would do as a school board member?

“I am committed to expanding current successful programs, strengthening others, and empowering the creation of new and innovative programs in order to achieve safe and equitable whole child education for all students. I feel strongly that we need to find new and innovative ways to support our educators. We have all had a whirlwind the last couple of years and educators are exhausted. We are seeing this all across the state. We need to keep the amazing teachers we have and also attract new talent that will be representative of our community. I look forward to serving our community and bringing my knowledge and skills to the table to work collaboratively with the existing board.”

Byron Severance, District 4

Why are you running for school board?

Byron Severance, Hays CISD School Board District 4 candidate.

“l am proud to have served on the Facilities and Bond Oversight Committee for the last four years and as chair for the last year. It has provided a tremendous behind-the-scenes view of how our school district operates. To be a part of a volunteer team that has thoughtfully passed and executed bonds in order to help meet this district’s fast growth goals and needs has been most rewarding. I have had the pleasure to collaborate with the Superintendent, Board Members, Teachers and Students to help solve district issues. My family and my businesses have partnered with our district for the past 13 years by volunteering time, donations and talents to a wide variety of clubs, sponsorships, PTAs, school events and district-wide committees. Being this active in our community for as long as we have and seeing the benefits of this servitude has laid the strong foundation for why my election to the Board of Trustees will benefit our community for years to come.”

How do you differ from your opponent?

“I have not met my opponent, nor have we served on any volunteer committees together, so I won’t be able to tell you how we are different. However, without question, I feel the most important responsibility of a school board member is to ensure a quality education for all students. Achieving that goal requires trustees to support school district employees by setting goals, budgets and policies that will provide our teachers with the tools and resources they need to meet the individual needs of every student. We must appropriately compensate our staff. The district has made incredible strides in this area, and I am proud to have supported those efforts through my work on the FBOC. Board members must also include the needs of the taxpayer in their work. I will continue to promote responsible spending while balancing the needs of our students and staff. We are one community with a common goal.”

What is something you would do as a school board member?

“The district needs to strengthen the learning environment. Covid has created setbacks for every educational system. Students and staff need every possible support to rapidly close achievement gaps. This cannot be done without also including the need for students to experience a “normal” educational setting. Now, more than ever, our kids need to learn in an environment with peers, activities and opportunities. They need to have hands-on experiences in extracurricular activities, career and technology pathways and clubs and organizations that provide them with connections to trusted adults on their campuses and peers with the same interests. Kids need to feel connected in society and Hays CISD can provide that connection.”

Esperanza Orosco, District 5

Why are you running for school board?

Esperanza Orosco, Hays CISD Board of Trustees District 5 candidate.

“I was elected in 2016 to my first term on the Hays CISD Board and re-elected in 2019. I am running for re-election because it is important to have knowledgeable persons serving who have a consistent record of support and commitment to this community. I am invested, committed and involved in what happens here and in improving our district. I make time to volunteer with organizations that enhance the quality of life of our students and their families. As a former teacher and active member of the community, I have advocated for our students and teachers for over 21 years. My track record of service allows me to contribute to the effective governance and commitment to improving our district. Actions speak louder than words and I believe I have demonstrated my commitment to our District and Community.”

How do you differ from your opponent?

“My 21-year track record of working in the Community and District sets me apart. I wanted to make improvements in our District and for our Community so I got involved. Before becoming a Board Member, I had attended over 200 Board Meetings and kept myself informed about the happenings of our District. Actions speak louder than words and I have been involved for over two decades in addressing needs in our District and Community. I have also had the privilege to open and operate our Hays CISD Clothes Closet and HaysHope2Go food program that works to remove clothing and food insecurity for students and families of Hays CISD. These programs are operated through donations and volunteers and are successful because of the kindness, generosity and strength of our community. My actions, my commitment and my positive approach to removing barriers have aided our students and families to focus on education. I am also fortunate to have the opportunity to work for the Texas Association of School Boards training boards and school board members all over the state on how effective governance translates into higher student achievement. In addition to volunteer work benefiting our students, I have been able to use my experience as former President of our employee association at Hays CISD where I advocated for employees and students to make informed decisions that impact our students. I have also used my experience as a bilingual teacher teaching in a STAAR grade and former Board member of TABE to ask questions about decisions on curriculum, class size, and programming that impact our students. I care enough to vote, I take voting seriously and encourage our young folks to get involved in the community and to exercise their right and responsibility to vote.”

What is something you would do as a school board member?

“As a current member, I have worked diligently with our team of trustees, Superintendent and stakeholders to make sure that we make academics our number one priority. Thanks to the dedication of our Superintendent Dr. Wright and the amazing employees, we are once again one of the premier districts in the state. I am thankful that our team of trustees and Superintendent have sought to implement practices to bring our shared vision of making Hays CISD an employee-friendly organization. We have initiated, voted on and implemented policies to help retain, recruit and reward employees for their commitment and service to our students and district. We know that a teacher’s work environment is a student’s learning environment and we have worked hard to create a safe environment for all. While there is still much work to do, student achievement is paramount; we must continue to strengthen our programs, take what we have done well and build on that.”

Corridor News reached out to District 5 candidate Bear Heiser and did not recieve a response.

SMCISD School Board Candidates

Brian Shanks, District 4

Why are you running for school board?

“Three of my children have graduated from San Marcos High School and I currently have a child in middle school. I have seen the good and the bad. My goal is to help improve the San Marcos school system.” 

How do you differ from your opponent?

“I don’t really know my opponent[s], so I cannot tell you how I differ. I can tell you that I have 30 years of leadership experience. I have worked in education for about 20 years.  I have coached youth soccer, softball, flag football, t-ball, and Brazilian Jujitsu for many years and I work with the Boy Scouts. I have been active in working with youths most of my adult life.”

What is something you would do as a school board member? 

“There is an appearance of disconnect between the school, school board and community.  One of the first things I will do as a school board member is to work on bridging this disconnect, by communicating with the community, meeting with the parents and having discussions and working together as a school board to address the voice of the community.”

Gabrielle Moore, District 4

Why are you running for school board?

Gabrielle Moore, Hays CISD Board of Trustees District 4 candidate.

“I am the proud parent of a SMCISD graduate, who began her educational career in Bonham Pre-K and currently attends college at UT Austin, so I feel a personal connection and responsibility to give back to SMCISD. The responsibilities of the Board of Trustees are, in essence: a) To govern and oversee district management, b) Set goals and policies, c) Monitor student achievement, d) Be a fiduciary for the district and e) Engage with the community. As a Realtor® in the community for over a decade, I am familiar with following a strict code of ethics and working as a fiduciary for my clients. Texas law makes clear that a Trustee’s beneficiaries are the San Marcos public school students. My most important responsibility is, therefore, to our students and their welfare and success.”

How do you differ from your opponent?

“I have found very little information about my opponent, other than the fact that he has voted in only 2 elections in over 10 years. There is no record of his voting in any SMCISD School Board election. In addition to involving myself closely in elections, I have been very involved in my community for a long time: I am a 10+ year San Marcos Realtor®. I just completed a 3-year term as a City of San Marcos Planning and Zoning commissioner. I was chosen to serve on the SMCISD SHAC (Student Health Advisory Committee).  I was a member of the City of San Marcos bond committee that won overwhelming support on the ballot in 2017 for the public library and police department expansions, and for the addition of two fire stations and a fire fighting training facility. I serve on the board of Sustainable San Marcos, a 501(c)3 organization, and am a 20-year member of the League of Women Voters, a 6-year member of Hays County Women’s Political Caucus, and am a founding member of MoveSM. I formerly served on the board of SMART Orchestra and have served for many years on the Four Rivers Board of Realtors Governmental Affairs Committee.”

What is something you would do as a school board member? 

“All school districts are recovering from a stressful two years of working within a global pandemic. Fiscal issues predated Covid due to funding equations where the state pays a lower proportion than it used to, and now those fiscal issues have been exacerbated by lower attendance and a budget that is tied to the district’s overall population instead of its student-aged population. Nationally, teacher retention has dropped significantly due to the intense pressures from teaching in the age of Covid. Fortunately, our teacher retention has remained higher than in some other districts. My primary goals are supporting the district in retaining and inspiring teacher talent, which will, in turn, attract higher student attendance.”

The last day to register to vote is April 7. The last day to apply for a ballot by mail is April 26 and early voting for the election will run from April 25-May 3. More information can be found on the Hays County Elections Website.

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