Major challenges Madison for LHISD Place 4
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Two candidates have filed for Place 4 in the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees election, with Kathy Major challenging incumbent Jeff Madison.
Completing his first term as a school board member, Madison points to his four children as his reason to seek reelection and stay involved in Liberty Hill schools.
“I have an immense vested interest in the success of the school system,” Madison said in reference to his children. “When we moved to this area, we moved specifically to be a part of Liberty Hill’s school system. My biggest goal is to keep Liberty Hill ISD values the same as they are today while we grow.”
Before being elected to the board, Madison worked on a bond planning committee for the district and has spent his career in administration through management and finance, positioning him well to focus on strategic planning.
“What qualifies me is I will ask a lot of questions around ‘why’,” he said. “I’m not an educator, I’m most certainly an outsider in the education process, but I would say the financial aspect of running a business, managing resources, creating a culture that needs to permeate an organization is experience I bring. I bring a real world business acumen to the table.”
The growth is coming to the district, and Madison says he knows it is unavoidable, but he is focused on maintaining the culture.
“Growth is a fact for the district,” he said. “It’s coming and there is nothing short of a major economic downturn that’s going to slow down the growth in our district. The question to me really is not an issue of are we going to have growth, but how are we going to control that growth?”
As the district grows, Madison said the current discussion on how to handle transfer students will only become more prominent and important.
“In the past that has served us well, but where we are today, just from attendance and school crowding standpoint, it becomes a problem,” he said. “The second piece that needs to be considered is that the citizens in our tax base in the district are shouldering the burden for the infrastructure. The funds that come from the state largely don’t cover the infrastructure, but has more to do with the educational aspects.”
One potential solution, aside from cutting off the admission of transfers, is to set up a tuition fee for transfer students. This, he said, would help taxpayers support future bond proposals knowing that others are helping cover the costs.
“There’s no question that the school district is going to be going back to the citizens and asking them to consider a bond election in some format fairly soon for construction of additional facilities,” Madison said.
Expanded vocational education is something Madison supports.
“We need to continue to really strive to constantly refresh our dual credit programs and the things that will prepare our kids for college, but then also dealing with vocational programs for kids that don’t want to go to college,” he said. “It is a balancing act because it is a resource issue.”
On the current debate regarding drug testing students, Madison supports a program that he said will help continue to hold students to a high standard.
“Liberty Hill is looked at as the gold standard, so from that perspective I think that same expectation needs to be passed down to our students and through the things our students are involved in,” he said. “When you look at the kids involved in our extracurricular activities, be it sports, the band, cheerleading, or something else, they are often times considered leaders in the community. I understand there are regulations around when you can and cannot test kids, but for our student leaders, they need to be held to the highest standard. I would fully support drug screening as a qualification for those kids who are going to hold themselves out as leaders in the school.”
School security and safety has many facets, said Madison, but it begins with communication with and education of students.
“Other than the obvious, which our schools does a great job of, which is controlling entrance to the school and the technologies we’ve invested in, I think student education is the key to school safety,” he said. “We have to make sure we openly dialogue with our kids to make sure they report any and all concerns and to be able to do that in a way you are free from the fear of retaliation.”
He does support some form of armed security on campus, but is not sure this early in the discussion what that would look like.
“It would be foolish to say we’re immune to what’s going on on a national scale,” he said. “I support the presence of the people who have the ability to respond with deadly force if necessary to protect our kids. When seconds matter hopefully there is someone there who can help eliminate the threat.”
If the solution is school resource officers or even the district’s own police department, it is important to Madison that it takes the right approach to relationships with students.
“I’m still debating whether we would want to have our own police force or a security officer, but I think while it needs to be a very apparent presence, it needs to be a loving presence and we need to know they are interacting with our kids from that perspective and are perceived as friends and allies and as part of the education process,” he said.
When Major talks about Liberty Hill ISD, she talks about serving “her kids”. When she says that, she means the students she worked with over her 36-year career in education, much of that in Liberty Hill.
She served 16 years as a principal at the intermediate school, four years as an assistant principal at the high school and prior to that was a teacher. She is enjoying retirement, but began thinking about a run for school board because of encouragement of some friends.
“A couple of friends in the community, outside of the education field, asked me if I would do it,” she said. “In talking to one particular friend I did some pretty serious prayer, because I usually find out that if it is not something I initiated He’s got a reason. I know that I can serve my kids in a different capacity and that forever will be my main mission to serve children.”
Major points to her more than three decades in education as her qualification to serve on the board.
“What I have is the inside understanding of how the school business works, an understanding of what is legal, what’s appropriate, what is ethical,” she said. “I have that perspective and understanding of all the things that go into the business of schools.”
Her experience includes every area to include budgeting, policy, building, maintenance and operations, all of that through what she called the grace of many good superintendents who have allowed her to learn and grow.
Safety and a strong curriculum are the two factors Major said must come first.
“The very first thing we have to do is make sure our kids are safe,” she said. “Safe physically, emotionally and socially and that’s a hard job. You have to have that because if they don’t feel safe they can’t learn. Then the curriculum and instruction needs to ensure we keep our focus on the strength of Liberty Hill, which has been that rock-solid instruction.”
Growth doesn’t mean losing what Liberty Hill schools are today, but Major said there must be a concerted effort to preserve those things.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘I’m going to miss our small-town values.’ I don’t think we have to give up on that, but what that entails is a very purposeful effort to define what those values are and maintain a level of excellence and be sure it is rock solid,” she said.
Transfer students are not a negative for Major based on her experience as an administrator.
“The kids that transfer here, in my experience, have been wonderful kids,” she said. “They fit right in with the good kids of Liberty Hill. One of the things that worries me is that I’ve gotten wind that some people want the transfers to end. I don’t know if it is because of competition or because of congestion in the classroom.”
She also wants to see a good balance between core and vocational opportunities, but said the district also must work to protect elective opportunities as students learn who they are and what they enjoy.
“It doesn’t matter if they go on to regular college, trade school, vocational school, they have got to know where they belong and begin to sense where their talents are,” she said. “People need to learn what they are good at.”
Security is a complex issue that has to be explored from every angle, she said.
“There is no right answer on that because it is such as complex issue,” Major said. “Safety comes from working with the team. There are a lot of things that allow you to create a safe environment. State law allows for a school marshal or police officer as the community defines that need, working to make it the safest environment possible.”
Arming teachers is something Major knows she doesn’t support as a solution.
“Teaching is a different job than protecting,” she said. “We protect our kids, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it is a teacher’s job to be armed.”
One way to curb potential threats in school is to make sure all students feel a sense of belonging.
“When you feel that sense of belonging, you feel safe,” Major said. “If we have in our safety plan, procedures that allow our teachers to work with kids that feel outside, or counselors who can work with kids who feel outside and work with their parents in a way that doesn’t make people feel like they’re bad people, they’re just in a bad spot. That will be one of the main lines of defense in the future.”
She supports random drug testing among students participating in extracurricular activities, citing involvement as a choice, and the testing serving as a way to help students resist the temptation.
She said there must be clear protocols defined and student confidentiality maintained if a program is instituted.
Keeping a close eye on budgets and expenditures is important, but Major doesn’t want to lose educational opportunities for the sake of cutting somewhere.
“It is a weird thing in Liberty Hill right now. We are so property value dependent, and we don’t have the business and industry to supplement our tax base, so how do we use our tax money to the maximum extent possible with the least amount of burden on the community?” she said. “As a taxpayer, I want to make sure we don’t overtax people. I want our money used effectively. But I don’t always believe we need to scrimp. If we’re going to be quality, it is better sometimes to pay for the quality thing and have it for years.”
All of these issues require constant reflection on decisions.
“I always say, ‘What are we doing? What are we supposed to be doing? And how is this working for us right now?’” she said. “We consider what we want to do in the future, then monitor that to achieve it.”