School Board Trustee Ben Stewart announced his candidacy to run for the seat he was appointed to by the Board in November 2016. Bylaws require that anyone appointed must run at the next general election for the un-expired term. The May 6th Election covers the remaining year of Ronna Johnson’s term. The Advocate sat down with the candidate to discuss personal and professional goals for the office.
Why are you running for School Board Trustee?
I love being a part of the School Board. I have to admit, being a politician is challenging and I never saw myself as one, but that is a means to an end to help the District.
I’ve been in Georgetown for five years and I have two daughters at Carver Elementary. When they were younger and we were looking to relocate, one of our primary considerations was the excellence in GISD. We also looked at the lifestyle in Georgetown and were very excited about being part of a progressive district in a small town.
Once settled, my wife and I wanted to get involved with our kids’ education and we started going to PTA meetings right away to get to know what was going on. I ended up being the PTA treasurer and later the President at Carver.
That was about the same time Dr. Brent took over and I met with him early on in his administration. We talked about technology and as an employee at Dell, I saw a lot of ways that GISD could improve and enhance technology integration. He said he was already looking into changing career technology for the schools, so I offered my skills and my time to be part of the solution.
That meeting was the impetus for the formation of the Citizens Advisory Committee and we eventually helped pass a bond that included a great deal of technology. I learned a lot about politics that year and also that it is the local policies and people who really affect the community the most.
What change do you want to be in the District?
It’s important for people to know that the voters rule. I think everyone’s goal is to get more people involved at whatever level they find comfortable, as long as they get involved.
Residents of Sun City are some of the most engaged and active voters in this region, and they don’t have children in the schools. Being a Trustee has given me the opportunity to speak one-on-one with parents who do have school-age children and who have the same opportunities to vote, so I want them to realize the power we all have.
The feedback I get from parents is tremendous and often they come to a Trustee because they have a concern. I am always eager and happy to listen but most often I direct them to the person or office that can affect real change. It’s important to realize that the role of the School Board is governance at a macro level. But being a Trustee gives me the knowledge and the connections to help that person find a solution at a micro level. It’s a great feeling.
What sets you apart from your opponents?
I have been hyper-involved with my kids’ school and the District since I moved here. I believe my experience on the Board, even a partial term, has given me an understanding of GISD at multiple levels. I have been on the PTA at a school level; a committee at the District level and now on the Board in a leadership position. Even with five years experience as a volunteer, I am still getting my feet under me. There is a great deal of work to be done at the board level. It’s always non-stop; something going on and some concern or development to pay attention to.
I am also very involved with and committed to our Community-Based Accountability. Schools have to be accountable to the community because that’s who makes the rules. There have been a few hot-button issues this year but those were externally based. Here inside the District, we are steering a very big ship and understand that changing course takes a lot of buy-in, hard work, and time to make smart decisions.
I’ve seen first hand that there are many ways to help and make change without being on the board. Seeing what I’ve seen and doing the work for the schools and the advisory committee, I have seen how things work and how much influence a vote will have. Your vote does matter.
Why should voters choose you?
With me, the community will get someone who is glad to listen. Knowing a person’s concerns and which lane to put them in—from a single classroom to the whole district perspective—is one of the greatest things about this job.
I want to stay on the board to continue the good work I’ve been able to be part of already. In just four months I’ve realized you can’t just start pushing buttons and expect things to change for the better and our District of innovation is shaping how we will run things for the next 100 years.
I can’t emphasize our Community Based Accountability enough. The state has an ethics manual with 147 chapters about compliance and schools have to spend the resources to have people read and understand it all. I understand the need for the state to account for tax money and show that schools are being good stewards of that money but money we spend on compliance could be spent and carved back into the great things that teachers do in the classroom; new programs, making sure our students are educated, not just up to speed.
The crux of Community-Based Accountability is that we decide what is important to us and we do those things—we don’t let the state balance our checkbooks. I have seen schools losing teachers because they aren’t able to teach from the heart. I want our teachers to be able to shape their days and their plans without worrying about the State.
I also want to continue engaging and promoting more technology in schools. The State says some of the programs we have are “good enough” but I want to be sure the students are actually learning and preparing for the real world. It’s not enough to know how to use a computer, our kids need to know how to use a computer to accomplish things in the modern world. We are poised for many to take that leap from using social media to chat with friends, to understanding its value as a tool to create a career path.
I’m also excited for the first day of school at Wagner Middle School. That will be our flagship center with new learning ideas. Teachers can focus on the whole group, and let a kid be where he or she needs to be in any subject. We want to do more than just teach to the middle.
The bottom line is, I will always listen do my best to point people in the right direction for a solution. My children will be in GISD for the next 12 years and I plan to do everything I can to make those years the best for them and our other 11,500 students.
Early voting will begin April 24th thru May 2nd; and the General election is May 6th.