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Five candidates vie for two CSISD trustee positions

Five candidates vie for two CSISD trustee positions

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Two new trustees will join the College Station school board in Place 1 and Place 2 with neither incumbent choosing to run for re-election.

Amy Alge, 37, and Darin Paine, 42, are vying for the Place 1 seat currently held by Board President Mike Nugent, who is completing his second term on the school board.

Blaine Decker, 38, Kim Ege, 42, and Mengmeng Gu, 44, are running for the Place 2 position currently held by Amanda Green, who was elected in 2018.

All five said some of the district’s best successes are its programs and experiences for students, but there are some challenges ahead with teacher retention and continued growth.

Early voting continues through the end of this week — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Wednesday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Election Day is Nov. 2. For more information and for a sample ballot, go to brazosvotes.com.

Place 1

Alge, who is an artist and stay-at-home mom, has a background in special education and has worked as a paraprofessional and Wings for Kids after-school tutor in school districts in Indiana and South Carolina, respectively, and is currently homeschooling her two children.

She said they intend for their children to return to the public school system after the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she and her family made the decision to keep their children home and homeschool them after Alge’s father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in 2020.

“Our plan is absolutely to get back in the public school system, but we’ve just been waiting for the pandemic to blow over and prioritizing keeping our family safe in the midst of this,” she said. “That’s the goal. We’ll get back there; we’re just trying to make it through this like everyone else.”

Paine, who is an instructor at Texas A&M and Sam Houston State University and a technical sergeant in the Texas Air National Guard, is married to a College Station teacher and has two children in College Station schools, in addition to taking part in Leadership CSISD and volunteering on the Districtwide Education Improvement Council, the School Security and Safety Committee and the bond planning committee.

“I’ve been a longtime volunteer in the school district, just trying to be involved. Obviously, my family cares deeply about education. I’m a big supporter of the superintendent and leadership we have in place, so I thought I would go ahead and get more involved and see if I can support Mr. Martindale,” Paine said, noting he ran this year because Nugent was not. He said he did not want to run against anyone who is serving on the board.

Alge, the daughter of a special education teacher, said education has always been a big part of her life.

“I’m passionate about public education because I think everybody should be,” she said. “It’s the foundation of our society, whether you’re just graduated from high school or a mom or retired, I think everybody should be involved in our public school system.”

She said she believes her experience of homeschooling her children during the pandemic could bring a new perspective to the board and help other families who have turned to homeschooling feel comfortable about sending their children back to public school.

Alge said her number one goal is to see improvement in teacher pay, as well as assistant teachers and paraprofessionals. She also wants to promote social and emotional learning and mental health across all grade levels, but especially with younger students.

Paine said he is focused on teacher pay and retention also and making sure students have a path after high school, whether it is in college or a career or the military. He also wants to promote a safe and secure learning environment, saying a focus needs to be placed on mental health also.

Paine said one of the district’s biggest successes is its CCMR — college, career and military readiness — commitment.

“I want every kid to go to college; however, not every kid wants to do it or is ready for it right out of high school,” he said. “There’s a lot of readiness programs that we have; you know, career and technical education, CTE, has certifications and licenses and a bunch of different programs where kids can get certified in high school and go to work right away and make a good living, and contribute to the community.”

He has also seen the benefits of the military in his service in the Texas Air National Guard.

He said the district also does a good job of producing students who have been taught empathy and kindness.

Alge said some of the greatest successes are in CTE and especially in the areas of agricultural where the state succeeds also.

“I fully encourage the diverse pathways that they’re promoting,” she said.

Some of the challenges facing the district, she said, are handling future growth and also tension in the community created by social media and mask wearing.

“We need our students to have training in civil engagement, like social civil engagement,” she said. “If we could do that, that could help with mental health issues, prevent bullying; I think that that’s something that should be part of our, almost like, health education is how to maintain healthy relationships over social media.”

Paine said teacher retention is one of the greatest challenges facing the district. He said the district has done a good job of keeping up with teacher pay, but does not believe their pay reflects the district’s position as the 16th ranked district of its size in the state.

“We lose teachers to other districts; we lose them to other jobs, you know, other professions outside of education, and our teachers are exceptional,” he said. “We have great teachers, and I don’t want to lose great teachers that we have; they have the most impact on our students, and so I want to keep them. As the district ranking keeps rising, I feel the pay should also.”

Paine said the students always will come first in any decision he would make as a board member.

“It’s students first, teachers and staff always because they are always there and they always matter, and they’re important, but we want to make student-driven decisions,” he said.

Alge said she looks forward to taking advantage of the College Station school system when her children are vaccinated and she wants to help bring other people back to the school district also.

Place 2

Decker, owner and general manager of VetCor Services of Brazos Valley, grew up in College Station and graduated from A&M Consolidated High School before pursuing a career in the U.S. Army. His daughter is a kindergartner in the district.

Ege, a stay-at-home mom, previously worked in finance and as a math teacher in the Houston area and now volunteers with different campuses, committees and PTOs in the College Station school district. She has three children in the district from fifth grade through high school.

Gu, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulture professor and extension specialist, teaches at the A&M Chinese School. She has four children, three in the district and one who is not school aged yet.

An immigrant, Gu said, she values education and the education her two oldest children have gotten in the dual language program, adding they also volunteer at the A&M Chinese School teaching Spanish.

She considers the dual language program one of the greatest successes in the district and wants to see it expanded, she said.

“That’s such a great program,” she said. “It’s a huge success for our community. I wish that one could be expanded to accommodate more families’ need. If you look at as a success, the IL-Texas. You know, IL-Texas is drawing people because of those two languages — Spanish and Chinese — that’s being offered to the school.”

Ege, who was inspired to run after attending Leadership CSISD, said one success is the way the district has managed its growth and opening schools without skyrocketing tax rates.

“It’s probably all going to happen again,” she said. “And not that it’s been perfect because there’s growing pains, right. And I know because we’re friends with people all over the district; it’s not always fun to have to rezone, and not everybody always agrees where schools should be built and how that should go.

“Those are really hard things to do, but I do feel like the district has shown a history of being able to do that pretty well.”

Decker, who moved back to the district in spring 2020, said one of the district’s strengths has been its process of reopening schools and bringing students back to campus and the focus on special education.

“[Special education students] kind of get forgotten about,” he said. “With the pandemic, they need that socialization, they need that interaction, they need the consistency. And then all primary schools kids need that consistency. I think [Superintendent Mike] Martindale’s plan, how they did that, was excellent.”

One of the challenges, Decker said, is engagement and growth, saying he does not have a specific plan to address those challenges, but would look at the data and talk to the teachers and principals to determine the best approach.

Ege said the combination of school finances and maintaining a competitive pay scale is one of the biggest challenges facing the district.

“It’s an interesting balance that they’re going to have to continue meeting the challenge of being able to grow salaries and benefits and take care of staff because, you know, we want to keep good people, and, really, the staff is who is serving our students every day,” she said.

Gu called safety in the midst of the pandemic one of the greatest challenges, saying she has not always felt safe sending her children to school.

She said she also held high school listening sessions to hear what high school students had to say about the district and found one of their top concerns was their teachers leaving.

Gu, who has been in the district since 2012, said as a school board member, she would like to take a close look at the budget and see the strengths and weaknesses to determine how they can get the best “bang for the buck” and identify areas of improvement.

Ege, who graduated from Texas A&M and moved back to College Station in 2015, said during Leadership CSISD she was struck by a former trustee speaking about purchasing the land that was not near anything at the time, because that land was used for College Station High School, which is where her son is now a freshman.

“I just want to be a part of keeping the focus on students,” she said. “There’s a lot of things out there that are going on in school boards, going on in school districts, but in the end, I really actually care a lot about kids and want to be sure that whatever decisions are made have a focus back on them. I know that the district’s still growing, and I think those decisions are really important. They may not affect my kids because mine are going to be done in seven-and-a-half years, but it’s really important to lay the groundwork for the next set of students that are going to come through.”

Decker said he wanted to run for the school board position as a way to continue serving others as he did in the Army and give back to the district that he credits for setting him up to get into West Point and get through West Point.

“I don’t really have anything that I want to change, but I think my skill set and kind of my perspective, my life experiences, I’m best postured when those issues come up to make judicious decisions,” he said, noting he has 15 years of experience balance capital budgeting and overseeing operations in a charter-driven organization.

Gu said she wants to see the district develop a longer-range plan beyond five and 10 years, noting the importance of having a diverse voice on the school board to “represent all people, people of all walks of life.”

Gu said she people should vote for her because of the “whole package” she brings.

“I have four kids in CSISD. I value education wholeheartedly. I am a teacher myself,” she said. “I think it’s important to treat our teachers and staff the best we can, as they are the people taking care of our kids during the day. I’m a scientist. For me, it’s important to follow the data and expertise in the specific field. I am also very fiscally conservative. I have a lot of grant writing expertise, so when you look at being fiscally conservative, you’re looking at the income and also the expenses.”

Ege said her financial background, her experience in the classroom and volunteer work in the district makes her a good candidate.

“I’ve been able to get to know people who have kids at all the different schools, I think I have a broader idea of some of the different things that are going on in our district and some of maybe the challenges for different people outside of just what my kids are doing,” she said, saying she believes the district should look out for all students.

Decker said he believes his passion and experience set him apart.

“The decision’s really about what are our goals,” he said. “… Fifteen years from now when my daughter does graduate, have we prepared her for that environment? For us, it comes down to that conversation with the superintendent to make sure we’re adequately resourcing and navigating the growth.”

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