Having already represented and served the 6th district of Kansas on the State Board of Education for four years, Deena Horst, the incumbent running for reelection, said she has a lot of work left to do and a vision that she needs to be a part of for it to be carried out correctly.
The retired teacher and former state legislator said she has already made a lot of exciting changes during her first term and is leading Kansas education toward a much higher degree of success.
“This is my first term, and we’ve made a lot of changes that I think are exciting,” Horst said. “We have a new vision that Kansas can lead the world in its success of each student.”
To complete her vision, Horst is running for reelection against Aaron Estabrook, an independent and the executive director of the Save Kansas Coalition.
Current projects, future goals
Horst said if she is reelected, there are already several issues that she will continue to work on with the rest of the Board.
“To actually carry that (vision) out, we have been working on all sorts of different areas like making sure that, for example, we thought maybe there wasn’t enough time spent on instruction, so we wanted to make sure that our assessments weren’t getting in the way,” Horst said. “So we reduce the amount of time that students would be involved with the assessments. That hasn’t affected (college students) personally, but it may affect their little brother or sister and they may wish that they had that opportunity.”
“We also are looking at kindergarten readiness and one of the things that we want to make sure is that children are ready to be in kindergarten,” Horst said. “That means kindergarten readiness really refers to what kind of education they’ve had prior to when they come. In Kansas, we have various opportunities. We have public preschools, but those are mostly for the disabled and those students who are low-income. We’ve also got a lot of private preschools and those are run by moms and grandmas.”
The goal, Horst said, is to discover not just where the gap lies, but how the Board can bridge it.
“One of the things we want to do is find out a lot more about where the gap is because we know there’s a large gap in kindergarten,” Horst said. “And that gap doesn’t really ever go away. We want to narrow that gap and to try to find out a little more about it.”
This will be done by researching the academic, physical and social skills, Horst said. Then, they can see what preschools are part of the gap.
“We can look and see if maybe that teacher needs some staff development so we can target some funds for that person to become more effective in the preschool that they’re running,” Horst said.
But it doesn’t stop at kindergarten, Horst said.
“We’re also focusing on individual plans of study so that students will start like in 7th or 8th grade determining not what they want to do, but what they like to do,” Horst said. “And then counselors will council them about what sort of classes they should take. Then when they get to high school they’ll be talking more about which college you need to look to or if you’re not interested in the college route, whether a tech school will work or if you want to go to the Marines, for example.”
Horst said that she is tired of seeing such a narrow field of education, and understands that college is not for everyone.
“One of the things we know is today we are educating our K-12 kids for jobs that do not even exist today,” Horst said. “So that means we need to teach them how to be creative, innovative and be thinkers, not stuck in a box where they know the only answer is what the teacher said it is. There may be lots of other answers that work so one of my big concerns because I was an art teacher is that I saw this narrow type of view of what education was. It was a test score.”
Students are so much more than a test score, Horst said.
“They dream, they have ideas that sometimes no one listens to and I want teachers to feel free to listen to them and help those students develop those dreams,” Horst said. “That’s really the basis of our good economy in this nation. It’s innovation. If we don’t encourage it, then we just may find ourselves being surpassed by other countries who have started realizing that’s how we got where we are at.”
To make this possible, Horst said she wants to improve high school graduation rates, as in Kansas it is only about 84-85 percent.
“There’s a Georgetown study, and this might be something (college students) are really interested in, because it says that 71 percent of Kansan’s will need either a post-secondary degree or certification by 2020,” Horst said. “That’s not very far away and currently we have around 60 percent, so we have this huge gap that we’ve got to fill in a very short time.”
Honored for the opportunity
Horst said it has been an honor to serve in an area that is truly her lifetime work and passion, as many don’t get that opportunity very often.
“I’ve got four grandsons in the K-12 program, and its been exciting to watch them grow and change and to see how education makes a difference in their lives as well as others,” Horst said. “I want to make sure every student has the opportunity to do so as well. If they can dream, if they can reach for the stars, then they can be anything they want to be. We must support them.”