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FAYETTEVILLE -- Four candidates running for School Board want to improve how the School District responds to the needs of students, they said.

Megan Hurley
Maria Baez de Hicks
Nika Waitsman
Farla Steele-Treat

Two positions are on the ballot for the Sept. 20 board election in Fayetteville. Early voting begins Sept. 13.

Fayetteville School Board

At Large, Position 1

Megan Hurley

Age: 37

Residency: Fayetteville from 2005 to 2009 and since 2012

Employment: Owner of Barre3 fitness studio

Education: Master’s degree in English literature from the University of Arkansas

Political experience: None

•••••

Maria Baez de Hicks

Age: 43

Residency: Fayetteville since 1995

Employment: Category adviser and category manager for Samsung Electronics

Education: Received bachelor’s degree in biology and pre-medicine from Washington State University

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for Washington County justice of the peace in 2012

Zone 1

Nika Waitsman

Age: 49

Residency: Fayetteville since 1998

Employment: Homemaker

Education: Received bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina.

Political experience: Appointed to School Board At Large, Position 1 seat in 2015

•••••

Farla Steele-Treat

Age: 57

Residency: Fayetteville since 2011

Employment: Education administrator for Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter

Education: Received doctorate in school administration from Oklahoma State University

Political experience: None

Source: Staff report

On the web

To see the geographic boundaries for Zone 1 of the Fayetteville School District, visit nwadg.com/documents to find a map of the Fayetteville School Board zones.

Megan Hurley and Maria Baez de Hicks will compete for the at-large, Position 1 seat. Farla Steele-Treat will challenge Nika Waitsman for the Zone 1 position. Only voters in Zone 1 can vote in that race, but all voters in the School District can choose a representative for the at-large seat.

Waitsman was appointed in October to the at-large, Position 1, seat to finish out the unexpired term of Jim Halsell, who resigned because he moved out of state. Steve Percival, a 21-year member of the School Board, is not seeking re-election to Zone 1. Waitsman decided to run for Percival's position instead of the at-large seat.

Fayetteville schools provide a good education for children, the candidates said, but Baez de Hicks wants to work toward closing academic achievement gaps between low-income children and their peers from wealthier families. She's concerned about the high number of children who go hungry in Washington County.

"I want the schools to be so good that people don't feel that they need to separate their kids and go into a charter to get the best possible education for their child," Baez de Hicks said.

Hurley wants to ensure all schools provide every child with the education and opportunities available at schools with greater support from wealthy families in the district. She thinks Fayetteville campuses should work more closely together to share ideas on curriculum and strategies.

"Curriculum is decided within schools and by teachers," she said. "Everybody's isolated. We're fortunate we have a superintendent who sees that and wants to fix that."

Waitsman understands children have different needs and why some friends have sought smaller class sizes in public charter and private schools, but she thinks the district has what all students need.

Waitsman thinks the district can do a better job of making sure low-income students and students with average performance have a variety of options to be rewarded and challenged, she said.

A large high school doesn't suit every child, and Steele-Treat said it's her goal to make sure schools in Fayetteville come as close to meeting the needs of all students as possible. This includes supporting different types of programs, such as curriculum built around solving problems.

"I'm definitely open to progressive programming," Steele-Treat said. "I think Dr. (Matthew) Wendt will bring a lot of that into the district. One of his personal goals is to address learning for every child and to get rid of those gaps that we find."

Wendt started as the district's superintendent this year.

When Steele-Treat moved to Fayetteville in 2011, she was a counselor at Lincoln High School. Her youngest of three daughters was still in school, and Steele-Treat thought she would go to Lincoln or Fayetteville High School. Her daughter had heard of Haas Hall Academy and asked her mother to look into the school. Steele-Treat's daughter graduated from Haas Hall in 2014. She and her two sisters are now in college.

"Like most parents, when I came to Fayetteville my first interest was to find the best education for my daughter for her specific needs," Steele-Treat said.

Waitsman, Hurley and Baez de Hicks also are parents with children who have attended or are enrolled at campuses in the Fayetteville School District.

Reasons for running

Steele-Treat thinks everyone in the community has a vested interest in their public schools. Her involvement in the Fayetteville Sequoyah Kiwanis Club provided opportunities to work on projects for children in the district, including providing the Department of Health with tricycles to give as incentives to families for getting children vaccinated. The club also has collected clothing for children at Owl Creek School.

Steele-Treat withdrew from a club leadership position, but wanted to continue serving the community. She has a passion for education, and the School Board seemed to be a natural fit, she said. She has interests in providing students with an individualized education and in improving communication with parents.

"My goal as a School Board member would be to make sure Fayetteville Public Schools meets as close to everybody's needs as we can," she said.

Waitsman has a long history of involvement in nonprofit causes, and her interest in the School Board stems from being an active volunteer within the school district. Her appointment last fall meant she was involved in hiring Superintendent Wendt, who started July 1.

"We hired a superintendent who's been given the task of making us the best district in the state," Waitsman said. "He's set goals to make us one of the top districts in the nation. We have to give him the authority to make those recommendations to the board."

Waitsman contributed to a group focused on community partnerships through an effort last spring to develop a five-year Framing Our Future plan for the district. She wants to see the district work in partnership with the city and the University of Arkansas.

Hurley considered running for School Board at the encouragement of Justin Minkel, a Springdale School District teacher who lives in Fayetteville and was state teacher of the year in 2007, she said. She has a mix of experiences as a business owner and former teacher who spent four years each at a public New York City high school and at KIPP Delta Collegiate High School in Helena.

Hurley is concerned about services for children in special education, gifted and talented education and in regular programs. She also said wants all students to have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, including those whose parents are not able to drive them to activities. Another issue is improving teacher morale, she said.

"Fayetteville for a long time has been an inarguable leader in the state," she said. "We're doing fine. We need to up our game and reinvest in school."

Baez de Hicks made a list of pros and cons when considering whether to run for School Board. The pros won with her desire to continue the legacy of parents who are retired teachers, being a parent of children in the school system and past experience as an activist for civil rights, voting rights, equality and immigration, she said.

She's interested in ensuring the board considers the entirety of the community, including groups that tend to be less vocal, when priorities are chosen for inclusion in the Framing Our Future plan. Another interest is in enrichment programs for students who are in the "middle," including those who aren't in advanced courses and those who interests other than in science, technology, engineering and math.

Baez de Hicks wants well-rounded opportunities for her two children and to ensure those opportunities are available to everyone else, she said.

NW News on 09/04/2016

Print Headline: Four candidates run for two positions on Fayetteville School Board

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