Q&A with Westminster’s newest board member: a mom and district graduate

When Christine Martinez’s son started elementary school, she joined the parent organization of his school, Sunset Ridge Elementary.

She loved helping host the school’s fall carnival every year, and the holiday shop, which is just two weeks away.

“Kids can come and we can help them shop and budget and think about who they’re shopping for,” Martinez said. “And the pride they get in being able to get their own gifts, you can just see it.”

But this year, Martinez wanted to be more involved, so she signed up to run for Westminster’s five-member board. No one ran against her, so last week, Martinez was sworn in at her first meeting. Two other open spots went to incumbents, who also had no one running against them.

Westminster’s school district, serving about 9,200 students, is made up of about 84% students of color, including about 75% who are Hispanic. The district has gained national attention for its use of a “competency-based” learning model that does away with grade levels based on age, and instead allows students to move through levels when they show they have mastered the content.

The school district for years struggled with low ratings from the state based on low student achievement, but has recently improved enough to dodge state orders for improvement.

Martinez, an executive property manager for single-family homes in the metro area, is the only woman on the school board. All five members are graduates of the district.

Why were you interested in running for school board?

My son goes to the district and when he started elementary school, I helped out with the PTA and I loved every minute of it. It was so much fun. If I could do that all day long, I would. And so then it was, how can I do more? What else can I do to get more involved? So school board seemed kind of like the next step.

Now you are the only woman on the board, do you think the board needed more diversity?

I think having a woman on the board adds diversity and a different perspective. I think our board is fairly open as it is and very accommodating to begin with, so I think it’s just a different viewpoint.

As a parent, what has been your experience with the district’s competency based model?

[My son] is still in that elementary age group. It has been amazing to watch how CBS [the competency based system] has allowed him to be challenged. When he first started and he was in kinder/first grade you could tell he was a little bored and the CBS model picked up on that and gave him the tools and the resources to push him and challenge him. He is not bored at school, and he’s excelling, which is great. That’s the whole point of the system.

Was the system ever confusing to you? A report a few years back said the district was having problems explaining the model to parents and students.

No, it wasn’t confusing to me. I did have questions about the process but my principal was readily available, and so were the teachers. Once you were able to have that conversation about what we were doing and where we were going, I wasn’t too confused.

There are Spanish-speaking parents who have been critical of the board, and the district just recently signed an agreement to change how it serves those families. How do you think as a board member you might monitor progress on this issue?

I think the current board now, and I, feel that we welcome everybody and we want to accommodate anybody that we can. So it’s about how we facilitate that with translators or different meeting times. We’re looking at moving comment forms online so they can fill those out there if they can’t make the board meetings, so we can still hear feedback. I want to be out in the community and go into different schools at times when parents are there to work with all of them.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for the district right now?

I’ve been going to board meetings for over a year and the growth rates are improving and things are really starting to move in that positive direction, so I don’t think it’s a challenge for the district, but it’s continuing that momentum — keeping everything going up where it is going. But I wouldn’t necessarily call that a challenge, it’s just moving momentum forward.

They’re doing things the right way with students in mind and the personalized learning. I think one of my favorite parts is the saying, “the most important day of your education is the day after graduation.” That’s perfect. We need to set students up for success in whatever they do. College, trades, whatever path they want to go on, and I like where the district’s going with that.

What are your goals for your time on the board?

I want to make sure communication stays where it’s at, and that it’s open and easily accessible. I feel like the district has done that with newsletters, emails, and phone calls and so there’s lots of different options for communication and I think it’s just making sure our community knows that — and knows the resources where you can contact people if you do have questions.

Most parents I think are worried about their child and the school that they’re in so how can they have that open communication with that school and then know other resources if needed. And I feel like we’re really working toward that. I think our communications department is great and they really do a good job of getting the message out there. Like snow removal: You get emails, you get phone calls, you get text messages. That’s all you can ask for as a parent is that you’re in the loop and you know what the plan is.

The Westminster school board video streams its board meetings, but not its study sessions where the majority of discussions are had. Do you think that would be something to change?

From my understanding study sessions are a lot of research where you’re getting information and it is open to the public, so if people want to come, they can come, but I don’t know about streaming.

As a parent I go back to what’s going on at my school. I feel like the board is an overview for the district and then as a parent, I’m worried about my area and my child. So that’s where being a board member is cool because you can open up that view. I’ve never gone to one of the study sessions. I just chose not to go. I don’t know if streaming that does give more options.

Anything else you want the community to know about you?

I want to see students be successful. I left high school and I was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, so I think working with children like our future center is doing and the career tech program, giving them options early to dabble in different career paths is amazing. It’s going to help benefit those students at 18 to say I want to be a plumber or I’m going to go to college to be a doctor, whatever path it is, it’s just getting them ready for that. That is what I want to continue to focus on.