Mansfield ISD Board Candidate Bianca Benavides Anderson Place 5 Q&A

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Bianca Benavides Anderson headshot
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Please provide a high-level overview of your past engagement/experiences, and those of your children, with regards to the school district for which you are running for school board trustee.

I had been watching school board meetings via online learning more about the district since I have three children in the school system at three different schools.

Returning to school in the fall of 2020 all MISD children had six weeks of virtual learning, whether the parents chose in-person or virtual learning. After the six weeks for those parents/children who chose in-person learning returned to school campuses. On the second day of in-person classes, my middle daughter was quarantined, along with over 40 other children due to contact tracing. She was being sent assignments, quizzes, and tests with no direct instruction (due to everyone educators/administration/parents/children trying to navigate this crazy time), and as a result, her grades started suffering.

After a few days, I began to see a change in her mental behavior as well; I found letters in her speaking about how the devil is attacking her. I thought if my daughter is going through this, is a very high achiever in school, then what about all the other children that may not learn as rapidly in class? How are they doing on their assignments, quizzes, and tests? How are they feeling, their mental health? What about our educators?

I went to the next school board meeting and spoke about the board having the cameras turned back on in the classrooms (as they were during the six weeks of virtual learning) so the children would get instruction while having to be quarantined. If the district turned back on the cameras in the classrooms all children could see each one of their educators teaching and they could hear the interaction between the educators and children and watch all instruction. This would help all involved, children, educators, administrators, and parents alike. The school board did turn back on the cameras so the kids and educators could have more interaction with one another.

I started getting more involved by attending school board meetings and continually watching school board meetings online and learning more about the district policies and as a whole.

Fast forward to the end of that school year which was the spring/summer of 2021 my middle daughter was trying to get ahead so she wanted to take classes in the summer. The school system would not allow her to sign up/take more than one class in the summer yet the system did have an education opportunity if children failed to 2, 3, or more classes – they could make them up in the summer. Not having the opportunity for the children who did want to get ahead (without going outside of the district) is an education opportunity gap that we continue to have in the school system. While going to school board meetings, speaking out, and getting involved in different parts of the school system I began to have parents, educators, and elected officials asking me to run for a school board. I did my due diligence and then began to pray about it.

I prayed on it for over a year and God kept leading my heart to be a candidate, even shutting job opportunity doors showing/giving me the time I need to devote to the school board.

We solely moved to Mansfield for the school system and I am committed to keeping our school system robust and ensuring all academic opportunities are offered and taken advantage of by every student.

From when the children were in preschool, I have been an active, involved parent, along with my husband. I have been a member of each PTA of all her children’s schools. Even when they were in three different schools, I prioritized being involved and present. I believe education is the critical foundation for all children. In order to continue to grow as a responsible contributor to society, children must have a firm educational foundation. Mansfield offers this for all children district wide.

I’ve spoken in and attended MISD School Board meetings (in-person and online) since August 2020. I’ve extensively researched all areas of what it means to be a school board trustee.

What is your vision for education in our district/community? More financial investment, expanding academic programs like JROTC & CTE, be specific.

Education Opportunities:
All children deserve a high-quality education. In Mansfield, we need to continue reducing the opportunity gap by increasing academic rigor and inclusive opportunities. We need to develop trusting and productive relationships with the parents and family as a community for students with disabilities as well as all students.

Education is the critical foundation for all children. To continue to grow as a responsible contributor to society, children must have a firm educational foundation. From special needs children with disabilities to the special needs of gifted and talented children we need to develop trusting and productive relationships with the children, parents, and families. Educational opportunity programs principally engaged in the provision of education help develop the intellect, serve social needs, and prepare students for a job or career to contribute to the economy/society. These same programs keep children challenged and engaged as well as keep students committed to creativity and achievement for a lifetime. They are critical in helping kids socially adapt to a world of peers and adults. The larger triumph is they prevent early dropouts and support long-term career success. Education is essential to the growth of the economy.

Areas to continue focus and grow to continue to bridge gaps: Special Needs with Disabilities, Special Needs Gifted and Talented, Accelerated Growth, and Discipline.

Specific needs: Diagnosticians in the Special Education Department, Orchestra in all High Schools, Higher level courses for Gifted and Talented, Wrestling in sports, District inner school interns for all specialized departments to cross pollinate such as: Nutrition, Transportation Mechanics, Maintenance if Facilities, IT, etc.

Teacher Retention:
Teachers are the single most impactful in-school factor in determining student achievement. A truly great teacher can have a transformative impact on a student’s academic and life trajectory. Increasing teacher retention can support greater equality across the district. Improving teacher retention can directly benefit our schools and students.

Turnover undermines quality especially when there is an inadequate supply. Experienced teachers who are familiar with the needs of a school and its students are best poised to provide advice on how to meet those needs. When they leave, these voices are lost, and education policy suffers, as senior education administrators no longer receive their feedback on different initiatives’ success (or failure). Small changes in turnover rates can have big effects on the adequacy of supply. Reducing turnover and reliance on temporary substitutes is an integral step toward shaping scholastic policies informed by firsthand insights into our local community.

I believe there are three areas we can build on: Mentorship, Compensation, and Teaching Conditions.

Safety First:
Safety and learning go together. The safety and security of schools are on the minds of everyone today, as plans, processes, and systems are put in place to protect the children, staff, and property. Providing a safe and secure environment at school is imperative to helping students succeed academically, and students and educators socially as well as emotionally.

Safe schools promote the protection of students from violence, exposure to weapons and threats, theft, bullying, and the sale or use of illegal substances on school grounds. School safety is linked to improved student and school outcomes. Emotional and physical safety in school is related to academic performance.

Keeping schools safe allows children to look forward to being in an encouraging environment that promotes social and creative learning. A safe learning environment is essential for students of all ages. Without it, they are unable to focus on learning the skills needed for a successful education and future. Policies on school safety promote increased learning, feelings of school unity, higher levels of pro-social behavior, and decreased levels of violence.

Areas to continue to improve: Physical Security, Visual Security, and Emotional Safety.

Financial/Enrollment:
School finance is something that affects us every day. Dollars must be at the start of every conversation around equity. Funding is a central component to providing high-quality education and often leads to improved outcomes.

Schooling resources that cost money are positively associated with student outcomes. Resources such as class sizes, additional instructional supports, early childhood programs, and more competitive teacher compensation, permit schools and districts to recruit and retain a higher-quality teacher workforce.

Sustained improvements in the level and distribution of funding across schools lead to improvements in the level and distribution of student outcomes, ranging from graduation rates to educational attainment and wages. Appropriate combinations of funding with standards and instructional supports for learning are the most promising.

Concentrating dollars on Educational Opportunities, Teacher Retention, and Safety will allow for growth in the city and strengthen the reputation of the best public education and place to live in the region.

What does advocacy mean to you and how will you advocate for the students & teachers?

Advocacy to me is any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others – in this case the students and staff, by listening to the staff and parents. My goal is to be the conduit for the students, parents, and teachers, growing the city’s reputation and commitment to the best public education in the region.

In such a competitive marketplace, how will you tackle teacher and staff recruitment and retention? Have you spoken with teachers in the district about their concerns/challenges and do you feel like they are being heard?

Teachers are the single most impactful in-school factor in determining student achievement. A truly great teacher can have a transformative impact on a student’s academic and life trajectory. Increasing teacher retention can support greater equality across the district. Improving teacher retention can directly benefit our schools and students.

Turnover undermines quality especially when there is an inadequate supply. Experienced teachers who are familiar with the needs of a school and its students are best poised to provide advice on how to meet those needs. When they leave, these voices are lost, and education policy suffers, as senior education administrators no longer receive their feedback on different initiatives’ success (or failure). Small changes in turnover rates can have big effects on the adequacy of supply. Reducing turnover and reliance on temporary substitutes is an integral step toward shaping scholastic policies informed by firsthand insights into our local community.

Yes, I have spoken with many educators and the consensus is a lack of support. I do believe the district has listened and is taking steps to assist, such as providing additional resources.

I believe there are three areas we can build on: Mentorship, Compensation, and Teaching Conditions.

When dealing with school finances, approving a budget and set tax rates, how do you honor the taxpayer as you consider district’s fund balance

Texas school district’s rule of thumb on fund balance is 3 months, in Mansfield, we have over three months.

For finances, we would collaborate to make a sound budget and utilize the dollars to stay within our budget and not dip into the fund balance. To make a sound budget honoring taxpayers we would work together by using data, ask correct and appropriate questions. We would prioritize and distribute funding departments accordingly. We would draft and communicate the plan, then evaluate and adjust the plan where needed.

What is your stance on Equity in Education? In addition to the role of the DEI, what additional steps should be taken to meet the needs of EVERY Student in this District?

Mansfield is already implementing equity policies/processes to aid educational gaps. We should continue providing educational and academic opportunities for all students.

This means we should listen to educators from special needs with disabilities to special needs of the gifted and talented and make appropriate educational/academic opportunities for all children to succeed. We will be able to see progression after implementing the opportunities and then measure the results after instituted.

Do you agree with how the District responded to the Covid-19 Pandemic and if not, what would you have done differently?

I believe this was a trying time and the district was navigating through many waters from CDC to TEA to state and county mandates to parents. Since something like this had never happened before no one clearly how to react. I do believe they took all information and tried to make intelligent decisions. I would have liked to see parents have the autonomy to decide for their children, however, I know there were distinct guidelines.

The district’s goal was to get all students back in the classroom. I would have liked to have seen a better plan such as discussed above of when students had to be sent home and quarantined for 14 days – they did accept the change as soon as I spoke in the meeting.

What do you plan to do to address training at the campus levels to make sure IEP and or 504s are implemented?

We should continue to have educators execute training and explore new opportunities, as well as sit down with the parents and ensure their child is progressing.

We should speak about progress in meetings at campus levels and learn innovative ways to assist students and encourage education progression – this is key for students.

What are your views on banning certain books from classrooms and libraries? What in your opinion, makes a book “okay” to ban?

Book suggestions should be based on the child’s age, maturity level, knowledge, and interest. There could be a threat to freedom of speech and choice – depending on the age group of that particular library. The library should reflect the diverse social, and emotional interests, and needs of students, again books reflecting the appropriate age group of that library. The library, for every age, should be a place to get answers to questions, as well as to find interesting things to read for fun. Anything prohibited on their school-issued device should reflect in the library.

How do you rank social emotional learning in the school board priorities, especially considering struggles due to covid?

I am not a current board trustee and cannot speak for the board. I do know our district has an SEL department, and the board is genuinely interested in the mental health of all students and faculty.

A board member and I met with the SEL department to express parent concerns, this meeting led to a parent meeting explaining the SEL department and curriculum – our district creates our own curriculum by our teachers. After the overall parent meeting, the SEL department toured the district educating all parents on what is taught by grade level hosting a multitude of meetings held within the district schools.

Our country has recently seen a movement to introduce politics into every facet of society, including public education and school board campaigns and operations, which have traditionally been non-partisan. What role, if any, do you believe politics plays in the role of a school board trustee?

School Board is supposed to be non-partisan, certainly personal values and morals do factor in decisions. Ultimately the goal is to ensure the right policies are being implemented to support all 35,524 students and 4,609 employees; this is done by listening and being a conduit for all students, parents, and educators.

School board trustees are elected to be leaders and to handle what can be difficult decisions at times. Please describe your leadership style-provide an example.

As John Maxwell stated, “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less” and Warren Bennis called it the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Through my experiences in business leading many teams through many states, it is imperative to incorporate certain traits such as being an active listener, leading with integrity, communicating clearly, motivating innovation and change, being proactive, acting decisively, managing/mitigating risk, being supportive and showing empathy. I intend to utilize my experiences throughout the years and incorporate them into the board. Since one person cannot make a change it is important to be a leader and work cohesively to continue making progress and moving our district forward.

If there’s anything you’d like to add please do so.

I have 3 children currently in three of the district schools. I feel it is important to be close to what is going on in the district and have kids come home daily with pertinent information.

I am a successful businesswoman. I ran 600 million dollars of business in my thirties. I also ran 15 states for the world’s largest luxury goods company, LVMH: Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, while there winning a president’s award.

My goal is to be the conduit and voice for all students, parents, and teachers, growing the city’s reputation and commitment to the best public education in the region.

I am committed to improving the quality of education in our district. I am an active listener and have the confidence to make decisions. I will support and defend local students and educators. I have the skills to incorporate the community’s consensus, needs, and priorities into strong policies.

Mansfield has been progressing vastly over the years almost an additional 50,000 individuals have moved into Mansfield since we moved here in 2004. We are steadily increasing students graduating – May 2015, 2,221 students graduated, May 2016, 2,351 students graduated, May 2018, 2,573 students graduated, May 2020, 2,693 students graduated – I am committed to assisting in growing that number.

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