Debbie McCullar is seeking reelection to one of four seats available on the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees. (Courtesy Debbie McCullar)

CASPER, Wyo. — Election season is underway, and Oil City News has sent a list of questions to all candidates who have filed to run for a seat on the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees.

These questions are designed to give our readers a better understanding of the people behind the names on the ballot. Below, get to know Debbie McCullar, who is running for reelection to one of four seats available on the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees:

1. Who are you? (Name, where you’re from, employment, hobbies, etc.)

My name is Debbie McCullar. I am a Casper native, and an NCHS and UW graduate. I am married, a mom and a grandmother. I taught English to kids in this district for 37 years and have served as a trustee for eight years. In my free time, I enjoy traveling, reading, cooking and jewelry making. I was coaxed out of retirement three years ago to work on my husband’s food truck; however, my servitude is rewarded with time in the Dominican Republic, where we administer a 501C3 charity we started in 2013 to help impoverished Dominican and Haitian school children and their families.

2. Why have you decided to run for the NCSD Board of Trustees and what do you hope to accomplish should you be elected?

I am running for the board because I hope to continue the ongoing work of the Board Academic Steering committee, which I currently chair. If I am reelected I will continue to focus the committee on student learning and school improvement. Our student test scores remained constant during the pandemic while nationally, test scores dropped dramatically. As a district we also need to focus on teacher/staff retention and recruitment. There is a national shortage of teachers, administrators, and support staff that is worsening, and we see those same shortages locally. As highly qualified advocates for kids it is imperative that the board support and value our educational community as they are the front line in delivering educational services. Additionally, I am alarmed by the latest district reports on the increase in student absences. Learning is impacted greatly when kids miss school, and within the Board Academic Steering Committee we could initiate a study and reevaluate our absence policy. It is also time to reevaluate our discipline procedures. I hear from too many teachers that there are few consequences when kids receive an office referral. Poor student behavior disrupts the learning process for everyone and uses valuable human resources. Absenteeism and discipline infractions are also impacting teacher retention and recruitment. Because of the changes and inconsistencies of the pandemic for schooling, we were lenient. I fear we have developed a few bad habits that we need to adjust so we can then focus our efforts on learning.

3. How do you plan on accomplishing your goals?

Board goals are accomplished by building consensus. In order to adopt a policy, etc., it requires a five-to-four majority of the board. Because each board member brings different perspectives to the role, it is important to be a good listener and value the opinions of others. Honest communication is a must. As an individual trustee it is my responsibility to play well with others, to base my decisions on all the information available, and to be transparent in what I do.

4. What experience do you have that qualifies you to serve as a trustee?

I have had on-the-job training while on the board for the past eight years, but it is my 37 years in the classroom and my continuing education that give me the ability to make informed decisions. I also continue to learn from the other trustees, district leadership, and the school community. Currently, I serve on a statewide advisory group for the new Teacher Apprenticeship program being developed by the Wyoming Department of Education, and I also serve on the Wyoming School Board of Directors. Last week I had the opportunity to visit Hot Springs County School District in Thermopolis, as part of a state Accreditation team. In other words, I continue to learn. These experiences help make me a better board member and keep me informed of what is going on statewide in education which I can then share with our board.

5. Do you feel you could be a good steward with taxpayer dollars? Why or why not?

As a board member, during the last eight years I can confidently say that we have been great stewards of taxpayer dollars. During my first term the state was in a bust economic cycle. Funding was being cut, so the district responded by developing a three-year plan to address the shortfall that was projected, a plan that kept the budget cuts farthest away from the students. That plan helped us make incremental cuts so that we didn’t fall off a financial cliff. Currently, we have ESSA and ESSER one-time dollars which have helped with many things including the costs of COVID mitigation, teacher recruitment and retention, additional tutors to support student remediation, as well as technology. These one-time dollars will expire in 2024. Another strength of the district budgeting process is that it includes representatives from each stakeholder group who develop the budget together. Our priority in budgeting is to keep the dollars closest to kids because that is where they make the biggest difference.

6. On the issue of transparency, where do you stand on ensuring all public business is conducted openly and in a manner that encourages public attendance?

Other than personnel matters, I believe in transparency in all decisions that the board makes. I have been very transparent and known to say what I think. I believe that public attendance is very important, as most children spend more time in school than anywhere else. Children are more successful when parents are informed and involved. For several years we had very low attendance at board meetings and I was disappointed that our community was so apathetic. That has changed because of the pandemic. The public has started paying more attention to what is going on in schools and classrooms, and that is a good thing.

7. Do you feel your time on the school board has been successful? What accomplishments are you proud of? Are there ways you think the work of the school board could improve?

I believe that my time on the school board has been very successful. As a board we made the tough decisions it took to keep our kids in school while following the guidelines of the CDC. Our entire school community went above and beyond. I am very proud that the kids in our district were back in the classroom starting the 2020–2021 school year and we were able to keep them there. Very few school districts in the country accomplished this. I believe that is the main reason our kids didn’t lose years of learning during the pandemic. One of my goals in my last election was to get civics back in our curriculum, and because of my leadership on the board Academic Steering Committee, that goal has been accomplished. However, trustees accomplish nothing without building consensus among the trustees, and I am proud that I have a great working relationship with the staff and the other trustees. I am most proud of the advances made in utilizing the awesomeness of Pathways. The Academic Steering Committee became the conduit to this change by pulling together our CTE staff, our business community, and district leadership. Through open communication all stakeholders had input into a straw design that addressed many of the impediments for growth of enrollment and opportunity for more kids to be able to enroll in a CTE class.

8. Should you be elected, or reelected do you plan on seeking any major policy changes? If yes, what would those changes be? If no, why not?

I do not plan on seeking any major policy changes, but I believe that we need to clarify our policy and our administrative procedures on book challenges.

9. Is there anything the above questions didn’t ask that you would like to comment on?

I would remind the community that the Natrona County Board of Trustees want to do what is best for the children just as you do. We are not the enemy. We like to hear from you. However, at recent board meetings the discourse and behavior being exhibited by some attendees and speakers has deteriorated week by week. Although I am a big proponent of parental involvement, I do not condone the rudeness, bullying, and lack of respect that is being shown toward others. We set a bad example for our children.

NOTE: All candidates who filed to run for a seat on the NCSD Board of Trustees were sent questionnaires at the same time and Oil City News will publish responses in the order they are received. Candidate responses are only edited for clarity and style.