At a forum held in the West Field Elementary School gym Thursday night, Edmond school board candidates Cheryl Williams and Courtney Hobgood answered questions about their qualifications and the policies they would prioritize if elected to the vacant EPS District 2 seat.
Williams, an outspoken critic of the EPS board, said she would bring a new outlook to the five-member board.
“A successful board always challenges the status quo, always,” Williams said. “I want to be the board member who listens to all sides, hears their concerns and is willing to collaborate.”
Hobgood, a parent-teacher organization member who has three children attending EPS schools, said she would be able to provide real-time feedback on policies from the perspective of parents.
“As a parent whose children are currently in the district, I have a unique position through which I can contribute to the board,” Hobgood said. “I am able to give a first-hand perspective on any policy and how it will affect all families in the district.”
For Election Day, on Tuesday, April 5, polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting is also available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1.
Williams: ‘I will try very hard to bring my inside voice’
Williams said she believes the district’s reputation has “decreased” over the years.
“We need to change our image and improve our image, completely, and let them see the real us,” Williams said.
To achieve that, Williams said several times during the 45-minute forum that she would work to allow parents and grandparents back into EPS buildings to bear some of the responsibility which is currently placed on teachers.
“I have a teacher as my son, and I know what he goes through, but without parents it would be very difficult,” Williams said. “So I think we need to bring the parents back in and welcome them with open arms.”
Currently, because of COVID-19 mitigation measures, only parents or legal guardians can visit EPS classrooms and need to make arrangements with the principal at least 24 hours in advance of a visit, according to the EPS elementary school handbook. Visits are limited to 45 minutes.
Hobgood said she agrees that parents and teachers need to work together, but she emphasized that parents, and the wider community, need to support teachers in order to keep them in the district.
“Let’s just give them respect. It’s not always about money. It’s about letting them feel valued. It’s about letting them know that they’re needed and that they’re important,” Hobgood said. “Let’s keep the ones that we have and let’s work towards bringing unity between the parents and the teachers.”
If elected, Hobgood said she would work as a team with the other board members.
“I’m looking to have a relationship that involves listening respectfully, communicating clearly in an effort to work as a team and making well-informed decisions on behalf of this district,” Hobgood said.
She also promised to maintain her independence, however.
“I am not an automatic ‘yes,’ for this board. I will give my opinion and I will do what’s best for the the whole of the district,” Hobgood said. “So to say that I am an easy ‘yes,’ that is incorrect.”
Williams said she believes it’s important that board members are “willing to speak up.”
“Successful boards are made up of members who are not afraid of healthy discussion. They don’t have a problem with it,” Williams said. “They’re looking to hear from different viewpoints, and it’s welcomed. They allowed dissenting voices to be heard, because they don’t believe dissenting voices should ever be silenced.”
Williams, who has been critical of the district leadership in the past — sometimes shouting at the board during meetings and calling on members to resign — added that she would attempt to moderate her presentation if elected.
“I will try very hard to bring my inside voice,” Williams said with a laugh.
Hobgood: ‘Let’s teach our children social-emotional learning’
In response to a question about the use of social-emotional learning from moderator Ted Streuli, executive director of Oklahoma Watch, asked candidates about their positions on social-emotional learning, a pedagogical approach that seeks to address students’ emotional and personal development. A bill filed in the Oklahoma Legislature this year seeks to ban SEL.
Williams said she supports the concept of teaching “how to self-soothe” and “control [students’] behavior,” but not “transformative SEL,” a specific implementation of SEL that includes the examination of sources of injustice and inequity in communities.
“It introduces equity, not equality. It teaches redistribution of power, and it also teaches global citizenship,” Williams said. “And all of this is in direct conflict with our American way of life and our American laws.”
Hobgood said she supports SEL and believes it can help address the issue of bullying.
“If children feel like they belong, then there’s not the bullying that comes without belonging,” Hobgood said. “Let’s teach our children social-emotional learning, so that they can build each other up and their differences instead of tearing each other down.”
Hobgood: ‘I am for all parents, students, teachers, staff, not just the ones that look like me.’
During opening remarks, Williams said that a primary motivation for her candidacy was that her grandchildren “lost their passion for school” during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want my grandkids to have the same great education that my two boys got, because I know Edmond can do a good job,” Williams said.
During closing remarks, Williams voiced that same hope for others’ children and grandchildren.
“I want the very best for each of us and for each of our kids and our grandkids, because, you know what, when they get the best, we have the best opportunities for the next generation,” Williams said.
Hobgood also spoke about her personal connection to the district in her closing remarks and responded to Williams’ earlier comments about the district’s damaged image.
“I’m the parent with the children in the district. My kids will graduate from Santa Fe High School in 2030, 2032 and 2033. I have a long future ahead of me in this district,” Hobgood said. “I think that what my kids are receiving in the district is right. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with what’s happening in the district. There’s always room for improvement. There’s absolutely room for improvement. If there’s not, we’re getting stagnant and we’re moving backwards. But there’s nothing wrong. Our district is an amazing district to be a part of.”
Hobgood ended by saying she will support all in the district, not just those with backgrounds similar to her own.
“I am for all parents, students, teachers, staff, not just the ones that look like me or believe like me,” Hobgood said. “There is no ‘I’ in team, and to be a board member you have to work as a team.”