Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of six profiles on
candidates for school board.
Barbara Rush believes there are many ways the schools in Helena can be improved and she’s dedicated to making the necessary improvements.
“We are below state average in math at every grade level and we can do better,” Rush said, adding that with more academic focus scores can be improved.
Rush is one of four candidates running for a three-year seat on the Helena School Board of Trustees. She ran unsuccessfully last year, but says it’s a whole new ballgame this time around.
“I didn’t really campaign last year,” she said. “With my background and my educational experience I thought I would be a good person to be involved at this time and see if I can make a difference.”
Her husband Jon served one term on the Helena School Board in the mid-1990s.
Rush has been openly critical of the school district and its board of trustees during public comment periods after each board meeting, and has submitted numerous letters to the editor to the Independent Record.
In December, she penned a letter saying the district is not teaching children what independence and personal responsibility looks like if an entire school is giving students free breakfast and lunch, no questions asked.
“If you can make a sandwich, you should be doing it …” the letter read. “Make your children a lunch and tell the school you expect them to eat it, not the one the schools are giving out.”
Rush said schools should model responsibility, but by giving children free food, it models that parents don’t make lunches for their children.
“I agree with the free-and-reduced-lunch program, just not a blanket approach,” she said.
Another letter she wrote in September of 2009 said as a teacher she’s not surprised to hear that more than two-thirds of the Helena schools failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks for No Child Left Behind.
She said when she started teaching here in 1975, the schools here were always in the top 25 percent of national tests, and if teachers hadn’t covered a certain amount of curriculum in every academic area by mid-year, the principal would want to know why.
“The purpose of school was academics,” she wrote.
By the time she retired the principals spent time monitoring implementation of programs, sent teachers to workshops and ensured teachers went to committee meetings and primarily carried forward the government grant agenda, she said. These programs take teachers away from classroom instruction, she added.
Rush says overall there are too many out-of-state programs taking away from learning.
“We need to focus more on academics,” she said, adding that teachers shouldn’t be forced to be on any committees unless they are academic-oriented. “Teachers should be planning lessons well for the classroom and creating the best academic environment we can get.”
Having teachers in the classroom is particularly helpful for at-risk students, who Rush said need a focused, calm and consistent environment.
“We’ve gone whole child to the point where our social teaching is interfering to the point that it’s watering down our academics,” she said.
Rush said she’s not proposing that all programs go away, but that the district should do a better job at limiting them.
She also doesn’t think the district operates in a unified manner when it comes to such grants and programs.
“The school board is responsible for the direction of the school district, which includes evaluating grants and permission should be granted before the application is sent,” she said. “Many of the social programs take away from a child’s ability to learn. Each school does what they want. The board should be more active in evaluating how schools are operating just as they do the superintendent.”
She says not every elementary school is doing the same phonics program, for example, and it used to be that when materials and curriculum were adopted, everybody practiced the same. There needs to be a better process of collecting data and evaluating these programs to ensure they are effective, she said.
“I think we should have one math program and one reading program,” Rush said.
Rush openly disagreed with the health enhancement curriculum and testified against it multiple times, but not because she doesn’t feel health isn’t important to teach, but because parents, who are not district employees, were not represented during the development process, she said.
“I don’t feel parents were fairly represented,” Rush said. “But I do think we have values in common that are important — honesty, respect, discipline, hard work, personal responsibility … they don’t need to learn about anal and oral sex in the fifth grade. That’s not helpful.”
Rush agreed that there should be some sex education in high school, but an opt-out option needs to be easily and readily available, she said.
The curriculum is likely why there are so many candidates running in this election, she added.
“Sex education really got people more aware,” she said. “We all need to feel informed.”
However, her main reason for running this election is to improve academic focus, and she had planned to run again before the revised health curriculum was approved.
The school district needs to operate within its budgetary boundaries, and Rush doesn’t necessarily agree with how they manage funds. She’s particularly critical that there is no line item in the general fund budget for textbooks. Rush does believe that teachers are a good investment of dollars and in Helena they are paid fairly.
“I wouldn’t cut teachers or their supplies,” she said.
Rush says schools are a key component of the community and taxpayers put a great deal of their money into funding them. Therefore, she said, they should be able to trust that they are doing a good job. She says she will work with her fellow trustees to ensure that happens.
“We can find common ground — we all care about kids and schools,” she said.
Because she’s been around the school community most her life, Rush believes she has a lot to offer the board.
“I can bring up and ask important questions because of my background,” Rush said. “I can be useful. I work well with people — this is not a left-right world, it’s a middle world.”
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com