Election Day for the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees is May 5, with early voting beginning April 25. This year’s only contested race is for Position 5, and the two candidates are real estate agent J. Carter Breed and educator Julie Jaehne.
Jaehne has been an educator, textbook author, and curriculum developer for over 30 years. She and her family live in the Memorial area.
Talk about your family’s history in Spring Branch
I’m originally from Fort Worth but my husband graduated in 1976 from the old Spring Branch High School. My father and mother-in-law have lived in Spring Branch since the 1950’s. My three children attended Hunters Creek Elementary and graduated from Memorial High School.
How have you been involved with SBISD?
For the past 25 years, I’ve been working at the local and District level. Much of what I have done was behind the scenes. Initially, I was brought in to the District level because of my expertise in instructional technology. This experience then led to a significant role in drafting the 2006-2011 Five Year Technology Plan and in determining the needs to be included in the technology piece of the 2007 Bond. I served on the teaching and learning committee that developed objectives for the 2006 Operating Plan. On a local level, I was a leader on the Technology Committee at my children’s school. I was a CIT member at two different schools for several years. On the CIT, I represented the parents’ concerns and negotiated with the other members to recommend a solution.
What project that you’ve worked on at SBISD are you proudest of?
In 2005, I worked on the ActivClassroom initiative, which involved installing interactive whiteboards in classrooms. It was important to us that this initiative touch all schools and students. We piloted the installation and implementation, and adjusted our processes where needed. A curriculum repository was planned to become a hub of information for the teachers. We were one of the first districts to initiate a broad plan to put these smart boards in classrooms which have now become a standard in many districts.
Why are you running for the school board?
First of all, I have a passion for the District’s goal of T-2-4, but I believe the District has not put enough focus in the right areas. I believe that I can bring an additional skill set to this important aspect of our children’s education. Using my experience in teaching vocational education and writing textbooks on work and career readiness, I can ask relevant questions of the administration that can assist in governing this area. In addition, I believe the District is at a crossroads. Our schools are primarily stagnant or underperforming. We have a new superintendent. Dr. Muri has proposed a Strategic/Innovation Plan that includes significant changes. One of the proposed changes is that we become a District of Innovation which really changes the governance of our district, increasing the responsibilities of the Board and their accountability to the public. The Plan also introduces personalized learning as a means to help each child achieve his or her potential. As intended, the Strategic/Innovation dreams big, and it is evident there is much good that could come from this Plan. However, the Plan includes little detail about how we will implement these changes, how we will measure their success, and how they will contribute to the goal of T-2-4. I believe that I can be an asset in writing new policies and governing the District through these changes. As a career educator, I know the questions to ask about our students’ progress or lack of it. Since I have been a teacher and taught teacher education classes at the University of Houston, I also have insight into the implications of these changes on teachers. I believe I am the right person for this job at this time.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the district?
The biggest challenge for the District is providing a quality education on a limited budget. While the proposed Strategic/Innovation Plan provides a vision to accomplish this objective, there will be many details to consider as we move forward. We need to get community buy-in and make sure that we’re listening to parents’ voices. We need to ensure that we are using our limited funds and people as efficiently as possible and that they match the goals of the Strategic/Innovation Plan.
Your opponent, Carter Breed, says the board already has enough educators and needs more business people like him.
Spring Branch is fortunate to have a group of board members with diverse resumes. There are several members who have been in education but they also include an attorney, an MBA, and a CPA. Some members are professionals in fields like public relations, marketing, and public affairs. All are advocates for children. We have a retired educator, Wayne Schaper, but there is no one on the Board who is currently an educator. I am proud to be a 30-year educator, still practicing my profession, with diverse experiences in education, publishing, and volunteering. I believe I will bring an additional set of skills and insight that can only enhance the guidance of the board. This is a school board, not a business networking organization.
How do you feel about the fact that all but one member of the current board has endorsed Mr. Breed?
I feel a sitting school board should remain neutral and that this policy of allowing endorsements should be reviewed. I am proud to bring an independent and refreshing view to this race. But in the end, the community will make its own decision based on the qualifications of the candidates to govern and shape policy for our district.
This year the district is facing an $8 million deficit. What does the district need to do to balance the books?
We’re going to have to evaluate what we’re doing that isn’t working anymore and determine how we can redistribute those resources to fund our new initiatives. It could be programs, it could be departments, and it could be services. All of those things are going to need to be realigned with the new Strategic Plan. Eighty-five percent of our budget is payroll costs, so we need to ensure that we are utilizing our people in an effective manner and that all are committed to the success of the Plan. Dr. Muri has discussed using zero-based budgeting to evaluate our operating costs in a new light so that we can use our funds more wisely.
J. Carter Breed
Spring Branch District: Tell us about your background.
J. Carter Breed: I grew up in Spring Branch, attended Stratford High School, then moved back here as an adult when I could. I’ve got three children, one in 7th grade at Memorial Middle School, a junior at Memorial High School, and a daughter graduating from Texas A&M–Galveston in May. When I moved back to Spring Branch, I said, I want to get involved, I want to give back. I’ve been very fortunate in the real estate business, and my folks taught me to give back, so I started getting involved.
How have you been involved in the school district?
Before I had kids I joined the Frostwood Campus Improvement team. Then I joined the Spring Branch Education Foundation, and I’ve been on that board over 15 years—I’m currently serving as the chair of the finance committee. This year the foundation gave the district its largest contribution to date–over $1 million. I’ve also served on numerous SBISD committees over the years: the Bond Committee, the Bond PAC committee, the District Improvement Team, and several others. I just have a passion for education, and kids, and our community.
Why are you running for the school board?
I am running because I am passionate about our district and feel with the experience I have a can lead us through the decisions needed to help improve our district.
What would you bring to the board?
The board will be voting on the strategic plan for the district this April 25, which will potentially impact the implementation of new policies and procedures. Anytime new policy or direction is implemented, the coming together of diverse ideas on how to proceed is imminent. I bring the strong ability to bring people with differing ideas together for a common goal. Negotiation skill is my specialty. And with every new plan comes implementation costs. The board will be faced with economic questions, new costs in a down economy. The Board of Trustees has great educators that understand the classroom. I believe there is room on the board for a community representative with a business background.
What might those alternative funding sources be?
I don’t have all the answers, and this is going to be hard, but I think going out to the corporate world and trying to gather money is something we need to look at. There are very philanthropic companies and individuals in our district. We’ve found that already with the Spring Branch Education Foundation. Can we expand that throughout the district?
What do you think about Superintendent Muri’s proposal to make Spring Branch a so-called District of Innovation?
I think the overall idea of the District of Innovation is very neat. It’s very creative, it’s very big thinking. I love the idea of it. My concerns, which I’ve shared with anyone who’s asked, are the about implementation, funding, and assessment—how do we measure the improvement? Those are the big issues I think we need to look at. It’s going to be difficult to govern, because there’s going to be a lot of new policies needed.
What are the biggest challenges facing the district?
We have a great district that is not immune to problems. We need to review our English Language Learners program and adjust to those students who are learning to read and write the English language so they can be successful. One-third of our student population comes from homes where English is not the predominant language. Also, with our oil-based economy in a bit of a decline, revenue to our district will be reduced. Gathering financial support for our district is important, whether from the community or from the state. The possibility of implementing a new Strategic Plan designed to help the district achieve its goal of all students reaching either a technical degree, associates, four-year degree, or military (T-2-4) will be an exciting time. With change comes challenges.
This year the district is facing a projected $8 million deficit. How would you address that?
We’re going to have to look at the budget very closely and cut where we can. The good news is that under Dr. Muri’s watch we’ve changed to zero-base budgeting, which means that we can start from the bottom up, deciding what the needs are and addressing them. That should help cut the budget.
Your opponent Julie Jaehne is a lifelong educator. Why should voters elect a businessman like you rather than an educator?
Julie has a very fine background—I have nothing disparaging to say about her. But we have four incredibly talented educators on the board right now, on a seven-member board. We need a cross-section of the community, and a good cross-section of the community would include a businessperson like myself. I’ve run a successful business for more than 20 years. I do my own budgeting; I know how to read financial statements. I can be of assistance there. I’ve also been endorsed by all but one of the current board members. I’m very proud of that.