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Questionnaire: Frances De Santos Whitaker, candidate for El Paso ISD Board of Trustees

Frances De Santos Whitaker.
Frances De Santos Whitaker.

-What relevant experience qualifies you to serve as a school board trustee?

I am a retired educator with 26 years experience as a teacher and administrator.  I served 4 years in the El Paso Independent School District as a Bilingual Teacher and 22 years in the San Antonio Independent School District as a Bilingual Teacher and administrator.  As an administrator, I served as a school principal for 11 years.  

-What is the top issue that's driving you to run for this position?

I would like to work with the Superintendent and the board to make decisions that will add value to the education of the students in the El Paso Independent School District.  As someone who has experienced the day to day workings of a school, I will be able to continue to advocate for students, parents, teachers and school staff.

-On the search for the new superintendent: what are the top 3 qualifications you seek in a candidate?

They must:  1) Be a servant leader; 2) have knowledge of the curriculum and what great teaching looks like; 3) Engages with the community to understand the needs.  

-What's the biggest challenge the district faces when it comes to educating the students and what will you do to address it?

The greatest immediate challenge is closing the educational gap that the pandemic has caused our students.  This must be done by keeping our schools open, therefore, we need to continue to provide our students and school staff with a proper plan and equipment to keep them safe.  We also need to work with the Superintendent to provide our teachers with professional development and time to plan lessons to guide the students who have lost learning.  This does not mean buying more programs. The teacher is the program, therefore, we need to invest in teacher development.  
-Another challenge the district is facing is that enrollment continues to decline. What should the district do to better address this?

Declining enrollment has been an issue for many school districts across the state.  Students leave the district because other schools offer them choices that appeal to them; therefore, as a district we need to offer them choices. Each school can provide the Superintendent and the board with this information by having exit interviews when a student withdraws or does not register for the following school year. As a school board member, it's also important to engage with the community by holding monthly meetings by feeder pattern to build relationships and allow for  dialogue.  
-Do you see the value in the hybrid learning model in a post-pandemic classroom? What do you think is needed to improve upon what exists?

The pandemic has provided us an opportunity to experience non traditional learning settings. At this point, individual schools have enough data to determine whether each individual student will succeed in a hybrid model. They also know which students need the daily face to face instruction. The decision to utilize hybrid learning should be left up to individual campuses. In my opinion, there should be more professional development for our teachers in the hybrid model.  
-Knowing that kids won't be vaccinated for many more months if not another year, should the district dedicate money to improve air flow and social distancing in facilities or should those funds be used elsewhere?

Yes, we must continue to follow CDC recommendations, which include improving air flow and providing at least 3 feet of distancing.  
-Last summer, the board was set to consider another $242 million bond to pay for security upgrades, conversion to refrigerated air conditioner and LED lighting, and improving athletic facilities. The district is still working on completing the projects from the $669 million bond approved in 2016. Would you support another bond issuance in 2021 or 2022? Please answer Yes, No and Why. 

No, I would not support another bond in 2021 or 2022. I feel that it is important that the 2016 projects are completed and that the community sees the value in their investment before asking for another bond.
-You represent voters in your district. Do you commit to communicating directly with your constituents and answering questions when asked about your opinion on a given issue? Some trustees punt to the board president even though they are not being asked to speak on behalf of the board, but to only share their opinion as an elected official for their specific district.

Yes, I will communicate directly with my constituents and I do not have any issues with sharing my opinions. One of the school board responsibilities is to "communicate with the community." Therefore, I would adhere to this.  

-Last year, the board approved a 5 percent increase to the tax rate...

I believe that as taxpayers, we are responsible for investing in our school district and students. However, this should not be too much of a burden on our community.  We need to keep our students in our district, therefore if we continue to increase the tax rate, we may put ourselves in jeopardy of losing more students. We need to work on decreasing the tax rate or keeping it flat.  

-What makes you the best candidate for the job?

As an educator with 26 years of experience, I will continue to advocate for students, parents, teachers and school staff.  I commit to working with the Superintendent and the school board on adding value to the education of the students in the El Paso Independent School District.  

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