Natrona School Board Interviews: Hopman and Youngberg
This is the sixth article in a series of interviews on the 15 candidates running for the Natrona County School District (NCSD) board of trustees.
Darren Hopman has worked in various school settings as a coach and substitute teacher, has five kids that have either graduated or are in the NCSD, and works as a business coach to help small business owners increase their profits.
Hopman said he has several skills that he feels would help him function well on the school board.
"Being part of the school board will allow me to use the skills I use professionally as a business coach and looking at business strategy and looking at fiscal responsibility of a budget for any kind of business," Hopman said. "Those skills will help me to contribute to the board and to the school district in some positive ways. That's really what I'm looking to do. I don't have necessarily an agenda or something that I think is going down the wrong path currently necessarily. However, saying that I am aware of concerns in the community and within the school district that would be good to address. So I hope to be someone who can bring a good perspective and good ways of thinking about various issues that come up that community members are concerned about in regards to the school district."
Hopman said retaining teachers and other support staff is something he thinks is very important.
"What I feel is one of the biggest concerns that will be facing the school district and school districts across the nation moving forward will be the retaining and recruiting of educators and special educators, and support staff within a school district," Hopman said. "We have this national trend where teachers and other workers in the district, special education workers, speech-language pathologists, support staff, all have a number of various reasons that cause them to have dissatisfaction in their careers in school districts right now. I think the pandemic brought a lot of those things to a head and so I think that really has brought the recruiting and retention of high-quality educators to the forefront and I think that's gonna need to be addressed. We started this school year with a shortage, employee-wise, within the school district and so I want to dive into a lot of that issue and trying to figure out what are some of the things that need to be in place to improve the working conditions for our educators so that it becomes and continues to be a great career and a great thing to be a part of, because that's what our children need is educators that are very motivated and excited to educate the children."
Hopman said that things like the discussion about books in schools are a distraction from more important issues like teacher retention.
"There is however I think a number of issues that have even nationwide been exploded over the last few years that are very much a distraction from the most important things that our children and our school district needs," Hopman said. "One of the primary things is the book-banning issues that are out there quite a bit lately. They are an important issue, but I don't feel they're as important as the learning environment we're creating for our students and the working environment we're creating for our educators...There are definitely articles on increases in behavioral issues that come up a little more frequently with students and a lot of times educators don't have the tools or resources to be able to deal with those in a constructive way that improves education rather than sits there as a distraction."
Hopman said there are various factors that make it harder for teachers to teach, like a lack of pay.
"I think in some cases it's pay. Other cases it's the work environment and what I mean by that is there are a lot of things that teachers are kind of left to put up with and they can feel like there's a lack of support at times I feel and that puts a teacher in a pretty tough spot," Hopman said. "There are just a number of challenges that really hinders their opportunity to teach the children at times and I think we need to go 'ok, what needs to take place so that our educators have all the resources.' Have the ability to create a learning environment in the classroom that will allow the students to get the most out of what takes place in the classroom, instead of having so many outlying things take place that really distracts from the important activity of education taking place...I saw a recent article in the NEA today. It was based on a study from the fair labor organization that talked about how, in general terms, but I think it said giving educators a pay raise correlates with seeing an increase in test scores of students...I think it's something that needs to be looked into and better solutions need to be found."
On the student end, Hopman said that kids not having enough to eat is also something impacting student performance.
"One of the other topics that I know is a hot topic is the school lunches, and things like that. I know that's a topic that's out there and been talked about by a number of other candidates," Hopman said. "I just go back to, well we've got to make sure that kids have food to eat, that's a fundamental thing. If a kid's hungry, they're not gonna be able to learn because that's going to be on their mind and they won't be able to concentrate and it's a basic thing of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, that the base of that hierarchy are those basic needs, such as hunger, and to be able to get that education, which moves you up higher in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, you have to have those base needs and have that food. I think that issue as far as school lunches and providing school lunches for the students is very important thing, it's like a very basic thing in my mind that will help decrease distractions."
Arthur Youngberg, who has two kids still in school and worked for Antelope Coal Mining for 17 years before being laid off because of the pandemic, said he wants to get back to the basics and address the needs of parents.
"I'm hoping to accomplish that we go back to learning math science, history, just the basics and I hope that parents get heard when they want to talk. There were quite a few long lines to talk to the school board, but it didn't seem like they were truly listening to the people that had problems or questions," Youngberg said. "I think you gotta take the parents and be a little more sympathetic to them and listen to them. They're the ones who put you in office to do this, so you need to actually listen to them and then get back to them with the answers they want. You can't please everybody, but when you've got lines like that that want the same thing, you're probably not doing the right thing...I think if parents are on the school board it makes a better school board because you know what's going on in schools...you should be able to go to the school board and say 'I don't like this, why are we teaching this,' and you should be heard, and they should make it very clear that they're listening and that whatever needs to be fixed gets fixed."
Youngberg said he wished that the government worked faster and on issues like the books, he wished they didn't wait till after the election to decide things.
"I don't think they do things quick enough, government works so slow and they've got some book stuff going on right now that I think they could have, they need to be more supportive of what the people want and it seems like they were dragging their feet until after the election," Youngberg said. "I worked at a coal mine, and I know government is slow, but you've gotta, we need to speed some things up...the government does all these committees, and all this other stuff, when it's plain and simple that it's not gonna help our kids. These books won't help our kids get better jobs, that's what I want for my kids in education. I think that's more important that they know history, math, science, and that stuff, and it's up to parents to do the other stuff. That's why you become a parent. And all these meetings, and when you know that it's just not gonna help them. You need to step up and say 'that's not part of our curriculum.' And then go."
Youngberg said that it would be good for kids to have other options besides college when thinking about their future.
"I think it's important for kids to know there's something other than college. Some of these kids aren't oriented for college, that's not gonna be their thing," Youngberg said. "You don't have to waste a lot of money and a lot of time if that's not your thing. I was a solid C student in high school. When I went to WYO Tech, I was a straight-A student, and I think that would help people know that you can go to a trade school, get out and get a decent job."
Youngberg said while he hasn't read the books in question, he thinks that they shouldn't be allowed in schools.
"You know I haven't read the books, but I was just told what's in them, and all the transgender stuff and all this other pictures and the drawings, and the stuff, it's just not, I don't know how that's going to help anyone get a better job, I really don't...All of the sexual stuff going on, the transgender, the gay stuff," Youngberg said. "I'm not anti-gay or any of that stuff, but that's the parents' thing to teach them, not the schools. That's a social thing, not a school thing. Like that's part of what your parents would teach you, like getting married or that kind of stuff. Relationships with girls or boys, the birds and the bees when I was younger is what we called it. That's the stuff that your parents should teach you...when it comes to emotional or relationships or any of that, it's not up to the schools, that's my opinion... there's some things in life where you just know, that's not gonna help my kid and that's an emotional thing, and as a parent, parents should step up and teach their kids this stuff."