Gilpin Student Council hosts Board of Education candidate forum

Dedicated and caring candidates share their visions and ideas for our school district 

By Lisa Lopez

The Forum took place in the Gilpin School Auditorium on Monday, Sept. 30, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Candidates Joe Marr, Tracy Krug, Cherokee Blake, and Jerry Yocum were present, and will be running in the November election to fill the three vacant seats that will be left by Craig Holmes, Brooke Ramsey, and Kersten Armstrong.

Student Council members President Sarah Truillo, Vice President Samantha Smith, Secretary Damian Sonsino, and Treasurer Blake Boulter, took a seat on stage along with the four candidates.

There were seven questions, five of which were created by the Student Council members. Members took turns asking each of the questions.

The first question included brief introductions from each of the candidates. Also, their motivation for running for a position on the board, their connection to the district, how long they have lived here, and what they do for a living.

Cherokee Blake began the discussion by stating she has lived in the county for 24 years and has worked for the Gilpin Sheriff’s office since 1997 as an Administrative Manager. She and her husband had their daughters and now grandchildren attend Gilpin School. She stated, “Kids are our future,” and went on to say it is dependent on her as a member of the community to invest in the future of these kids by teaching and guiding them, and giving them the best opportunities so they can succeed in whatever they choose to do. She has a strong desire to give back to the community in return for all she has received from it in the time she and her family have lived here.

Tracy Krug has lived in the county for 17 years, several of those years spent in various positions at Gilpin School. Tracy has degrees in Special Education and Psychology. She held positions as school librarian, first grade teacher, instructional coach, and a reading specialist. Tracy currently works for the Jefferson County School District as Assistant Principal at Hackberry Hill Elementary School in Arvada. She loves the Gilpin community and serving others, those most importantly being the kids. She considers the most important part of her daily job is to insure academic excellence, safety, and a caring culture.

Joe Marr and his family have lived in the county almost 24 years. Their four children all graduated from Gilpin School and four of his 17 grandchildren currently attend there. Joe says this school made a big difference in their children’s lives. The previous schools they attended were much larger and he appreciates the small town feel Gilpin provides while giving him a greater opportunity to be more involved in the community. Joe is a small business owner operating a successful remodeling and construction business in the county for the last 15 years. He was a member of the District Accountability Committee and was also a school board member back in the late 1990s. He believes the school district is in the best place it has ever been in since he has lived here, thanks to our current Superintendent Dr. David McKenzie and present school board members. He would like to be a part of preserving that, and making it even better moving forward.

Jerry Yocum has been a Gilpin County resident for nearly 30 years. His wife, Kathleen, is a Montessori teacher at the school. They have two daughters, one that graduated last year, and the other a sophomore. He has been a teacher in the Criminology department at Regis University for the past 11 years. Prior to that he worked for the Black Hawk Police Department and was involved in some of the budgeting issues before and shortly after the start of gaming. He would like to bring some of his education and experience to the board and believes his background could be very useful in helping to navigate the educational goals that we have for our students. It is important to continue along the path that the previous board has gotten us on, and he would consider it an honor to be able to serve the community in that capacity.

Question #2: What is your position on a county-wide sales tax that, if passed, would dissolve the agreement between the school and the City of Black Hawk, eliminating the Educational Enhancement Tax and over $1 million dollars annually in district revenue?

Tracy Krug expressed the issue was probably one of the most important ones of the evening to ask. The funds have played a major role in the school reaching the status of a School of Distinction. It has allowed for small class sizes which are critical for giving each student the attention they need. Pay scales for teachers and staff have increased, which aids in attracting the best teachers possible to the district. It is vital that we have a conversation with the county and come to an agreement where both sides may benefit. The school would not be able to provide the choices that is has without the Enhancement Tax.

Joe Marr bluntly stated his opposition to the proposed sales tax. “It has done wonders for the school and allowed us to turn out some very educated and well-rounded students.” These funds help provide for the extracurricular activities that play an important part in children’s lives. He looks forward to working with all those involved and firmly believes there is a solution where all can benefit without the school and students having to bear the brunt of something like this happening.

Jerry Yocum was in agreement with the other candidates, and mentioned having been on the school board 10 years ago and was part of signing off on the agreement with Black Hawk. A lot of thought was put into it at the time as to how it would affect the school and community and the impact it could have on student growth. He feels a duty to the kids of this district and ultimately what’s most important is serving the best interests of the students. He completely supports fulfilling and continuing the mandate that was set with the City of Black Hawk at that time.

Cherokee Blake chimed in with full agreement and stated she could not support the county-wide tax proposal. She stated how the funds have helped the school to move forward to where it is now and provided for more technology in the classrooms, much of which exceeds many of the other school districts in the state. She does not believe she could support a move that would seem to do just the opposite of investing in our kid’s future.

Question #3: What would be your vision for the Board of Education to make the school the best school in Colorado?

Joe Marr described his vision as looking at it as a good manager looks at what is happening right now, don’t make any big changes right away, or create any issues. You monitor what is happening and look for things that could be more finely tuned, and where improvements could be made, while always taking into consideration the educational and financial aspects of the changes.

Jerry Yocum also believed in not making any immediate changes. Considering what everyone may define “best” as, we should always strive to keep moving in that direction, and being aware of new developments in education and other changes that may help our students to better succeed. It’s a team effort that includes everyone from the superintendent, teachers, students, and parents. “We are moving in the right direction and I’m proud of where we’re at.”

Cherokee Blake’s vision would be to build a foundation that inspires our kids, challenges them, encourages them, and provides the best tools possible for them to succeed. Although a school cannot be fully responsible for a child’s well-being, we can and should work to play a distinct role in their lives.

It is our responsibility as school board members to insure a safe environment for the kids in order for them to thrive and achieve. Support of our teachers is just as important. They are there with our children every day, encouraging them to be the best they can be. We want to continue to insure that our kids are becoming problem solvers, independent thinkers, and have the confidence to contribute to our society now and in the future.

“What does ‘the best’ school look like? What are the components?” states Tracy Krug. Superintendent Dave MacKenzie has laid out three. An aligned curriculum, research based discussions, and progress monitoring. Whatever plan the school board may have they need to be sure it aligns with the teachers to ensure everyone shares the same goals and are moving in the same direction. We as school board members also need to monitor our progress and are working toward meeting our goals. We have to know how to best help these students attain jobs that have yet to be created.

Question #4: If elected, would you change the curriculum course offerings? If so, what classes would you add or take out?

Jerry Yocum expressed a desire to include a writing class throughout all four years of high school. Being a teacher himself, he has seen first-hand in many of his students an inability to write effectively and articulate an idea. He would also be interested in possibly offering more AP (Advanced Placement) courses so students have the opportunity to improve their college readiness.

Cherokee Blake felt no changes we needed at this time given the fact that the school has achieved the status as a School of Distinction for two of the last three years. The school missed being awarded last year by only a small margin and she is interested in looking more closely into why that may have occurred and focusing on any changes related to that as opposed to making course changes. Cherokee explained she knows there is always room for improvement and would certainly be open to any changes that could benefit the students.

Tracy Krug would like to hear more from the students and what their interests are. She stressed the variety of options that are currently available that include online courses and college courses. Also, for the Board to take advantage of the fact that many of the teachers are able to teach more than just their designated subject. Keeping with that, there are foundational skills that have to be taught and requirements that have to be met. On the elementary side there are students with special requirements and we want to make sure we have the resources to help the students that may have more trouble understanding the material and what exceptions can be made for those students.

Joe Marr reiterated points made earlier about assessing the current needs and desires and making improvements where needed. It is extremely important to him to turn out kids from our school that will become productive citizens and have a desire to give back and contribute to their community. We should look to and rely on the professionals in our district to guide us in choosing the best options for the students.

Question #5: If elected, would you change extracurricular programs? If so, what would you add or take out?

Cherokee Blake said she believes that Gilpin offers a great variety of sports and activities and can’t see making any changes to the current ones available. She also mentioned that what the school does not provide, the Rec Center includes in their programs. She did bring up the idea of utilizing agencies within our county such the First Responders and the Animal Rescue team. Training could be provided to interested students at no cost to the school. It could be a great community event where these kids could learn what to do in case of an emergency and broaden their understanding of what Emergency Responders do.

Tracy Krug agreed whole-heartedly that it is about the interests of the students, community members, and volunteers and how they would be willing to help make these activities happen. She added a word of caution while expressing some concern with the possibility of having too many options, and then not enough kids to participate in them.

Joe Marr expressed similar ideas to changes in the curriculum. Look at what we have now, get more information and feedback from the interested parties, look at the financial aspects if any, and go from there. He also felt there was currently a good mix of activities for students to choose from between the school and the Rec Center.

Jerry Yocum spoke of the possibility of starting a Debate Team. His thought is that there is so much going on with social media that many people, not just kids, have an inability to carry on a conversation face to face. If not a debate team, perhaps another activity that would help students to socially interact more and use more verbal communication skills.

Question #6: What would be your vision for the Board of Education to make our school even safer?

Working for a Jefferson County school, Tracy Krug stated that JeffCo has a very strong safety unit, and yet she was proud to say that Gilpin was still ahead of JeffCo Schools in so many areas. It is so important to have a school resource officer at the school at all times while being able to form personal relationships with the students. The school has received grants from the Department of Homeland Security that have helped the school to get a new phone system that allows the police department to see into each classroom if the need were to arise. They are also looking into doors within the classrooms being able to automatically lock in the case of an outside threat.

Joe Marr was of the opinion that Gilpin is doing really well in the area of safety. There are rules and regulations and mandates from the state that the districts have to follow and he believes that Gilpin is way ahead of many schools in other parts of the state. He has grandchildren that attend schools in other areas of the state and has first-hand knowledge that Gilpin is currently in a very good place safety wise.

“The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office has some great leadership and Sheriff Kevin Armstrong in particular has more than an ample understanding of what it takes to keep our school safe,” stated Jerry Yocum. Although he is very pleased with Officer Lee Ramsey, the school’s current Resource Officer, he did express the desire of looking into having several officers rotate in that position. It would allow the students to get to know some of the other officers and build relationships with them as well, and that may be of benefit if a school emergency were ever to arise. He also brought up the idea of crime prevention through environmental design. This includes ideas such as natural surveillance, natural access control, and becoming more familiar and aware of your environment.

Cherokee Blake re-emphasized that school safety and security is a community issue. It takes the teachers, school staff, police department, parents, and students working together. The phrase ‘If you see something, say something’ is paramount in helping to ensure safety in our school. Dr. Dave is currently working with AT&T to improve cellular service within the school and she also mentioned the possibility of attaining a grant that would be used to further improve technology with the classrooms in order to allow first responders to respond more quickly to an emergency situation. One thing Cherokee would like to see is a full-scale exercise utilizing the current safety plan to ensure there are no gaps, and if there are, to immediately identify and correct them.

Final question: Is there anything that was not asked that you would like to tell us as a school board candidate?

For Joe Marr, what he has seen over the years is a school and a community that really cares about its kids. The teachers and staff have demonstrated that they are committed to making sure the kids are learning, and are being offered activities that fill their needs and interests. “I’d like to be a part of that. I deeply care about kids, I love this place, and would absolutely be honored to serve on the school board for another four years. Thank you.”

“We have a great school and a great community,” states Jerry Yocum. “I’m so happy that we chose to raise our girls here.” He would like to see the district continue to move in the direction it’s moving and would like to be able to serve this community by offering his advice and abilities to the school board.

Cherokee Blake adds a thank you for the opportunity to speak at the forum. “My heart is in this school. I want to serve these kids. I want to serve my kids. I want to give back to my community. Thank you.”

“This school has given me so much,” says Tracy Krug. “It has helped me to be the leader that I am now. This is the best work. To be able to come back and serve Gilpin County as one of your board members is what I want to do. Thank you for having us and for coming out and hearing what we have to say.”

Please remember to vote on November 5th.

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