Natrona School Board Interviews: Cornia Taylor and Dean
Here is the second of several interviews featuring two of the 15 candidates running to be members of the Natrona County School District board of trustees.
Lisa Cornia Taylor, who has taught for the past 27 years and most recently left the Natrona County School District after teaching as an English teacher to go work for two companies that help schools retain teachers.
Cornia Taylor said that she believes the retention of teachers is important for the district to focus on.
"What's happening is our nation's in a crisis, teachers are leaving at an astronomical rate," Cornia Taylor said. "The Wyoming school board had the survey of last year. 65% of teachers would leave the profession now if they financially could. That is scary. And I've seen that firsthand, I have seen the demoralization of professionalism and of teachers and the schools, and I've felt it myself...and if they're so unhappy in their jobs that they leave, our children are never going to have the kind of education that they need and deserve. So my primary reason why is to find out why in Casper did so many teachers in this last school year turnover cycle, did we have dozens and dozens who changed schools? The questions I've asked of some of those colleagues has been, they were miserable and they were hoping a fresh start would help them. So I'm running in part to be an advocate for teachers and to help find out why. But it goes far deeper than that...one of the things I hope to do is to come into the schools. I have a plan to twice a month be very visible, I have that put in my schedule to go into the schools. Sometimes I'll specific questions on specific issues, other times I want to just be a listening ear. And then to take and compile some data and then bring that back and say 'hey, this is what's happening in you know 80% of our schools,' or whatever and we need to pay attention or we're gonna lose teachers."
Cornia Taylor said she doesn't believe that teachers feel valued in schools based on the way they're being treated.
"I've heard over and over teachers saying they don't feel like they're being treated as a professional. And I want to know why, I want to know what their own perceptions of that are," Cornia Taylor said. "In order for us to stay in any job, we have to be felt like our professional, personal, and emotional needs are met. Teachers are humans first and we have to feel valued, not only in our job but valued as a human and so why are they saying 'why am I not treated as a profession?' What is the specific incidents that have caused those feelings to occur and because of that why do so many transfer schools this year? Why are so many hoping that the grass is greener somewhere else? But I don't think they really believe that. What I've heard is 'I don't think the grass is greener anywhere else, however, maybe a different set of people and a different set of challenges I can at least start over and then have a few more years before I get frustrated and tired with what this building has to offer.'"
While Cornia Taylor said that she respects what the current school board is doing, she believes it's important to have people on the board who have recent experience with teaching.
"I respect the school board that we have, however, they are in many ways removed a bit from the current school situation," Cornia Taylor said. "The educators we have on the board, the former educators, they've been out of the school district for 10, 15 years, and from someone who's lived in school for the last 10, 15, 20 years, school is not the same in 2022 as it was five years ago. There is very little that's the same. So having a lense of 15, 20 years ago,you don't know. You really don't know. So I'm new, I'm right there, I'm fresh. And so I want to say hey you may think that, but that's not what I've heard, that's not what I see."
When it comes to COVID-19, Cornia Taylor said that the school board did the best they could considering the nature of the pandemic.
"I think they did the best they could have with the information they were given. It was messy it changed every five minutes," Cornia Taylor said. "The emails teachers got, oh what we told you five minutes ago, that's changed and da da da. I thought they did a really good job doing the best that they can. They listened to all stakeholders, and sometimes those stakeholders were not nice, and they worked really hard to try to do what they felt was best based upon the information given...one of the things our district did beautifully was they got us back into the schools as soon as they could. In the Natrona County School District, we were only gone for three or four months of the school year when the whole world shut down. We came back to school the next year, yeah it was a different kind of way, we had to adjust and do a bunch of things differently. However, we got those kids back in school...And the mask stuff, they talked to parents, they talked to everybody, they talked to teachers, they asked us our feelings and our opinions, and they used the data from science and other things the best they could to move forward. Was everybody happy? No, the school board is never going to make everybody happy. But they truly did the best they could given the knowledge they had."
Tina Dean was born in South Dakota, but moved to Wyoming 40 years ago and currently works in sales for an oil and gas supply company and had a son who graduate from the Natrona County School District in 2020.
Dean said she hopes to address bullying in schools and while she's not very familiar with what's currently happening in the NCSD, she wants to make sure students are able to get a good education.
"My main goal is for the students to feel safe and accepted in the school which will give them the freedom to learn and not to worry about bullying or things of that nature," Dean said. "It's been a couple of years since my son's been in school, so I'm kind of removed from what's happening inside the school. But I feel like my role as a trustee would be to address issues that do come up and just vote in the way that protects the students...My main goal is to just make sure the students get the education that they need to be productive adults in society," Dean said. "To have the skills that they need, to be confident and ready to tackle anything that comes their way. I want teachers to have the freedom to teach the curriculum that is required by the Wyoming school board. And to have the tools that they need to teach the kids."
When it comes to how to help students, Dean said she wants students to be able to explore more career opportunities in school so they are ready for their life after graduating.
"And I really think the students need to have more options as far as hands-on, real-world learning," Dean said. "We have Pathways, which has a little bit of that, but it's not as extensive as it could be. It'd be great to have a program that teaches students how to be a bank teller, or teach students how to be a legal assistant or something like that that could give them the tools to be able to get a job in our community and stay in our community. A lot of students don't feel like there's a lot of opportunity here and I think that could make a difference."
Dean said she hasn't gone to or watched any NCSD school board meetings and doesn't think she needs to.
"I just feel like I'm a hands-on learner and I've never been in a school board before, I don't know what all of that entails," Dean said. "But I feel like going to watch a school board meeting that's gonna be different from any other meeting, I just don't know if it would help me at all with being a trustee if I'm elected."