Iron County School Board: District 3 candidates take on pandemic response, Reds vs. Redmen, scheduling

Iron County School District Board of Education District 3 candidates Jeff Corry and Tiffiney Christiansen. | Photos submitted by the candidates, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — Tiffiney Christiansen and Jeff Corry are seeking to replace Stephen Allen for the District 3 seat on the Iron County School District Board of Education. Allen has announced that he is not running reelection.

For a map of Iron County school voting districts, click here.

Cedar City News asked both candidates the following questions. Responses were provided via email and are included in their entirety. They have only been lightly edited for style and consistency.

What are the greatest financial challenges being faced by Iron County School District, and how do you hope to prioritize and address them? Would you, for example, favor pursuing a bond election to fund needed capital improvements, including new school buildings? 

Tiffiney Christiansen: The greatest financial challenges being faced by Iron County School District are due to COVID-19 budget cuts. There was a 6% increase scheduled for education this year and it was cut to 2.5% — barely enough to cover cost of living increases. If the economy slows, additional budget cuts may occur.  

As a board, we need to be fiscally responsible and look ahead. I will look to our values and ultimate goal to guide my decisions. Our mission is to educate all children with the highest quality education possible. It’s easy to throw money at problems, but that’s not always the right answer.

Also, there’s always waste. Though everything often feels essential, especially when education in Utah is already on a very tight budget, you can always find ways to cut.  

It’s critical to keep good people because they are our greatest resource. And not only is it difficult to rehire, it’s very expensive.

Another challenge may be getting a bond passed. Our community might not have the appetite to approve a bond. However, I’m hopeful with good leadership and strong communication, our community will rally around our capital project needs. If a new bond is passed, it will allow us to replace aging buildings.

Layering in bonds is easier on us, the taxpayers, because we don’t have to feel the ups and downs, but rather it keeps what we pay steady. We have a bond retiring, so it’s a good time to layer in a new bond and keep education funded. The key will be to communicate transparently and clearly about what the bond will be used for. The previous request for a bond looked like a blank check and there was very little communication with the public. 

We can’t expect the community to come to us for information, we must take the information to them, through current communication channels such as social media and newsletters. And it’s something that takes time to educate the public about, so it needs to start now.  

Jeff Corry: A bond is a good way to fund capital improvements. The school board must regain the trust of the community. The last bond election was voted down. This might indicate a lack of trust.

I have toured four of our schools and I believe that the greatest needs exist with East Elementary, Cedar Middle School and Canyon View Middle School. A bond would be nice; however with a global pandemic and the federal government disbursing $2 trillion dollars to America, it would be wise to wait on a bond.  

How do you feel Iron County School District has responded thus far regarding its response to the COVID-19 pandemic? What has worked well and what areas stand in need of improvement? How do you see this affecting K-12 education, both in the short term and in the long term?

Tiffiney Christiansen: I applaud the way the district has responded thus far to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has stretched the district in the short term, but we’ll be stronger in the long term.  We now have more teachers trained to use technology, parents are more grateful to teachers and our kids have more desire to be in school. These will have long-lasting positive effects.

It’s clear we were not prepared to use new technology and our communication lines with parents were lacking in March. COVID has exposed weaknesses the district didn’t know they had. However, the district did not give up trying to figure out how to swim through uncharted waters. 

When the district sent out the parent survey, I chose to have our kids back in school full-time, even though I knew it would take a great feat to do it. I was grateful the district looked to our local experts, Dr. Gray and Dr. Blodgett and formed committees to think through all scenarios of safety. The detailed plan was exhaustive and bold.  We were one of the districts to fully open our schools for face-to-face learning. No one likes to wear a mask, but not having kids in school is worse.

On a recent visit to Iron Springs Elementary to observe classes, I was impressed. The kids were thriving. The district used flexible thinking. Our teachers have been the heroes of this story.  So far, our teachers have been safe, the kids are doing well and we’re open. That’s to be commended.

Jeff Corry: The heroic efforts of teachers, staff and administrators dating back to March is commendable.  One day, the kids are in front of teachers and then the next day they are not, yet education continues. Thank you teachers, staff, administrators, parents and others!

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the absolute necessity of teachers being physically present with students. The return to school has probably gone as well as can be. The day when this pandemic is over will be a relief. The options of MyTech High and Harmony High, for those choosing not to attend in person, have been invaluable.  

As a school board member, what would you do to help attract and retain high-quality teachers, and provide consistent support to personnel across the district, including educators, administrators, and support staff? 

Tiffiney Christiansen: We are in a teacher crisis in Utah. According to a 2019 ULEAD report, approximately 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years and we’ve lost almost a third of the students in our teacher education programs in Utah. Teaching has become an unattractive career, with low salaries, over-regulation, increased expectations, large class sizes, and little respect. As a result, Utah is experiencing a teacher crisis, and to keep this from extending to Iron County, we must act.

This issue motivated me to run for school board and I plan to invest in our teachers.  They are our innovators and are preparing our students to be the problem solvers of the future.

 Here are three things I hope to do to attract the best talent:

  1. Fair Compensation. I believe in fairly paying teachers. If teachers are not paid more, especially starting salaries, we will continue to see a decline in talent.
  2. Culture of Respect. I will strive to create a culture of respect, trust, high expectations and love. When employees know their leaders care, they enjoy where they work.  A strong culture starts with the board. I’m committed to listening and learning about what is happening on the ground level and getting teachers input about policy. The Iron County Education Association has endorsed my campaign and it is in part because I have talked with dozens of teachers, administrators and staff. Listening to understand creates a culture of trust and understanding.
  3. Invest in developing teachers. I will improve teacher collaboration and training. Teachers need time, resources and professional development to be successful. Just like a doctor is continually learning, our teachers want to keep up with the changing field of education and technology. 

Let’s create a better working environment for our teachers and seek to solve our teacher crisis.

Jeff Corry: Everyone desires and deserves fair compensation. I will deal fairly in that area within the budget. 

High quality teachers thrive when they are valued and treated as professionals. The less micromanaging and paperwork expected of them, the more time they have to create, innovate and use their autonomy to their highest potential. This inspires students. As one of my former colleagues stated, “Just let me teach!”  Let’s try and lift some of the burdensome reports and paperwork from the teachers’ backs so they can concentrate on face-to-face instruction with our precious youth.  

Support staff such as custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, bus garage and ground personnel are the unsung heroes and need more open and frequent recognition. I plan to visit schools frequently and look forward to visiting with these integral workers; listening to and working through their concerns.

As a school board member, would you endeavor to try to change Cedar High School’s emblem from the current “Reds” back to the former “Redmen”? Why or why not? 

Tiffiney Christiansen: When the decision was made to retire the Redmen name at Cedar High, there was pain on both sides of the issue. My four kids attended Cedar High and I remember how difficult it was when the name was retired. The process was handled poorly, and people didn’t feel heard. A critical lesson was learned. Transparency equals trust. As a board, we need to earn back the trust of the community.

Over the past six months I have spoken with Native Americans, Cedar High students and teachers, parents of current students and alumni. The answers varied greatly. There were people in favor, against, and a lot who didn’t care or didn’t want to get involved.

So the real question is, what do we do now? 

I hope to unite us as a community and rally around our current Cedar High students. We can little afford to continually be distracted by this single issue. I want to focus on our kids and their futures. We have much to accomplish as a board, beginning with breaking the cycle of poverty that plagues over 20% of our district.

I spoke with one of my friends from the local Pauite tribe and asked how we could educate our students about the Native American heritage. He said they would like to do a three-day unit to teach students about their history and culture. If I’m elected, I plan to bring this idea before the board. Let’s focus on our kids and their future.

Jeff Corry: In 1942, the student council of Cedar High, led by Jay Thorley, adopted the name “Redmen” representing the Native Americans who lived and still live in this area. The name was originally chosen for the athletic teams, but over time represented the entire student body.

We must put ourselves in the times when this happened. Do we think that this mascot was chosen as a disparagement to Native Americans? I seriously doubt it. In front of the Cedar High auditorium is a tiled Native American donated by the class of 1989. It is cordoned off. One does not step there. It is absolutely respected.

I graduated from Cedar High School and taught there for 33 years. A monthly award called “Redmen Pride” was given out for decades. I am a proud Redman! I doubt the money involved with switching the name back would be much of an issue. If this issue is brought to a vote, I would vote to switch it back in a heartbeat!

What qualifications do you have that would make you a capable and effective school board candidate?

Tiffiney Christiansen: I have a passion for education, and I love our community! That’s why I’ve knocked over 1,500 doors to hear from our community members and talked with dozens of educators. Many have said, “Focus on our kids.” I wholeheartedly agree. Education helps our kids not get stuck in life and it prepares them to be ready for our rapidly changing world. We want our children to launch into the world with confidence in their ability to learn.

I have many years of leadership experience. I’m the VP of marketing at Leavitt Group and manage a large team of talented people. We work under tight deadlines and get things done. I have experience hiring, holding people accountable, managing budgets and making difficult decisions. I set the vision for my team, so they know what direction we’re going and why. I must communicate clearly and with transparency.  I’m calm under fire, know how to collaborate and communicate with reason and civility

I do not come with a personal agenda and will make decisions based on what’s best for all kids.  This is what a good school board member does and what Iron County needs. 

I am a mother.  I’ve volunteered hundreds of hours as a club soccer coach for the youth, had many Rotary exchange students in my home and been highly involved in PTA.

With my passion for education and my leadership experience, I will serve Iron County with love and high expectations. 

Jeff Corry: I am a retired high school teacher of 43 years: 10 years at Union High and 33 years at Cedar High. I know high school! I have been attending the 4 p.m. monthly school board meetings since January of 2019 and the 1:30 p.m. study / work meetings since September 2019, becoming thereby more informed of the workings, duties, and operations of the school board and the concerns of the public.

My 43 years of teaching experience gives me a unique perspective to policies being considered by a school board. A visit once in a while is not the same thing as being in the trenches day in and day out. My time is my own. As a school board member, the students of Iron County will be my highest priority. These kids are the best and they will get the best from me. I will hit the ground running.

Are you in favor of changing school schedules in any way, such as late start or early out days, or built in advisory / free study time? If so, what are your recommendations?

Tiffany Christiansen: My opponent plans to get rid of late start and XLT time. This is a mistake.  It will roll the clock back on education. I will keep both of these programs and plan to make them better.

Twenty years ago, teachers didn’t collaborate. They were given a mentor, shown the copy room and then left on their own in their classroom. Now, teachers collaborate, use real time data, get specialized trainings such as suicide prevention and have support teams during late start. 

Times have changed. Our kids have changed and have different needs. 

This must happen during contract hours when teachers don’t get interrupted and it’s not cutting into their family time. Many teachers will tell you they can’t do their job without it, especially now with the added workload from COVID.

Some parents find the Wednesday school schedules difficult to manage. I am a working parent and I get it. If elected, I plan to open up the discussion of streamlining late start and early out schedules to possibly be on Friday afternoons. 

But to throw out late start completely and assume teachers can do their collaboration and training before and after school is simply out of touch with what teachers are dealing with today.  You can see a video about this on my website

XLT (or sometimes called Flex) time was created by teachers. This is a 40-minute period during school hours where kids can get “tagged” by a teacher to get targeted help. We’ve seen test scores go up for two years in a row because kids are learning the material. My daughter will often get help from her math teacher during XLT, rather than coming home late after soccer and both of us end up frustrated with her homework. 

There is still so much we can do with this program.  We can help kids use it as a self-guided learning time to pursue their interests and/or create a gifted and talented program. 

I will not flip education back 20 years. I will keep late start and I will make it better. I will keep XLT time and I will make it better. If we go back to a system where teachers no longer collaborate or have trainings during contract time, or students have to try to come before and after school for help (especially our New Harmony and Beryl students), we are in danger of taking Iron County schools backward

I’ve been endorsed by the teachers and it’s because we believe in moving forward, not backwards.

Jeff Corry: A total of 608 hours of general instruction time over a four-year period are missed by students at Cedar High because of late start Wednesdays and XLTs (advisory time four days a week for 45 minutes a day). This is based on 32 Wednesdays a year.

That 608 hours is after one advisory hour a week has been taken out for assemblies, etc. That 608 hours was taken from general student face-to-face with teacher instruction time. We have short-changed our students. No amount of teacher collaboration, faculty meetings, department meetings, 45-minute intervention / advisory time can make up for face-to-face instruction with a teacher.

I taught for 43 years and know that collaboration, intervention, meetings etc. can take place before school, after school, and at lunch. I would vote to eliminate late start Wednesdays, four day a week advisory intervention time and Flex. I will not touch elementary early out.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 election by clicking here.

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