Who’s running for this seat?

Laura Márquez, 39, is the Early Childhood Intervention Program outreach coordinator at Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center.

Melissa Ortega, 41, is a women and gender studies instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso and a faculty/dissertation coordinator at American College of Education.

Candidate Questionnaires

El Paso Matters sent questionnaires to every candidate in a contested primary race to help you decide who you want to represent you. Candidates were asked to limit their responses to 100 words. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar and to fit the word count.

What is the most important role for a State Board of Education member?

Laura Márquez: The most important role of an SBOE member is to learn from, collaborate with, and amplify the voices of the public education community — educators, students, parents, and community members — in the development of educational policy. The SBOE sets curriculum standards; makes determinations on instructional materials; establishes requisites for graduation; has oversight over the Texas Permanent School Fund; appoints board members to military reservation and special school districts; provides final review of proposed rules for the State Board for Educator Certification; and has authority to approve or deny new charter school applicants. All of these key responsibilities should be conducted with education stakeholder input and that will be a priority of mine if elected to this office.

Melissa Ortega: The most important role for a SBOE member is to set policies and standards for Texas public schools. This includes setting curriculum standards, reviewing and adopting textbook and other instructional materials, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund, appointing board members to military reservation and special school districts, providing final review of rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification, and reviewing the commissioner’s proposed award of new charter schools, with authority to veto a recommended applicant. It is absolutely vital for the SBOE member to have a deep understanding of public school education system and the ability to understand and communicate the needs of the population.

Describe your experience working in K-12 schools, particularly with students.

Laura Márquez: Before returning to school to complete my studies in 2015, I was a public-school paraprofessional educator from 2006 to 2013. I was responsible for providing the education and support services for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities under their Individual Education Plan. I worked almost exclusively with students with disabilities in grades pre-K to 9th. I became very familiar with the many services, supports, and interventions provided to students with disabilities in the education setting. Today, my work still supports children with disabilities and their families but from the community non-profit setting. This includes community education and outreach to help students, parents, and community members understand the rights afforded students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Melissa Ortega: Began my career with my internship in the Ysleta ISD working with 5th grade students. My first teaching position was in the El Paso ISD teaching middle school science. In this role I had the opportunity to serve as a head of the science department, science club, Mentor to student teachers, cheerleading coach, and a district curriculum writer. I taught underserved populations and SPED, ELL, and G/T students. I was nominated by my principal for the Irvin Schwartz Novice teaching award and was one of two teachers in El Paso that received the award in 2006. Later in my career I taught math and science in the Socorro ISD where I served on numerous committees and coached UIL science.

How should history be taught, particularly as it relates to race and racism?

Laura Márquez: History should be taught in a manner that is representative of our country’s complicated existence. Teaching about race and diversity is one of the best and earliest ways to combat racism and xenophobia and support young minds in having respect and empathy for others experiences. History should be inclusive and diverse. It should include the truth about the many atrocities this county perpetuated based on race and how we must make great efforts as a society to never go back to that. It should provide an opportunity for students from different racial, ethnic, and other backgrounds to feel the sense of empowerment knowing that leaders who look just like them pushed back against racism, discrimination, and oppression to create a better society for all individuals.

Melissa Ortega: In Texas history, as it relates to race and racism, should be taught to incorporate diverse perspectives and acknowledge that historical events are affected by race, ethnicity, culture, religion, education, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and personal experiences. An effective history builds on students’ capacity for research, reasoning, generating logical arguments, and critical thinking.

How should the state curriculum standards address sex education? What topics and issues should be part of sex ed?

Laura Márquez: State curriculum standards on sex education must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, evidence-based, and culturally appropriate. Comprehensive sex education should cover topics like puberty; healthy relationships; healthy communication skills; consent; contraception; sexually transmitted diseases; and gender equity and diversity. Our SBOE missed a major opportunity in 2020 to make sex education curriculum inclusive and representative or our LGBTQIA+ youth. I will advocate for these topics to be included in our sex ed curriculum standards.

Melissa Ortega: Texas state curriculum should address sex education by providing clear, consistent, and direct guidance that is age-appropriate for students in grades K-12 through. The curriculum should be well planned out, evidence-informed, age-appropriate and theory-driven grounded in social justice and equity honoring the diversity of students provided through a comprehensive health education program.

How should state curriculum standards address climate change?

Laura Márquez: As early as second grade, in Social Studies and English Language Arts curriculum, students learn the qualities of good citizenship and how that is demonstrated amongst their peers, in their school, community, state, and country. In this same respect, students should be taught what it means to be good stewards of our earth and environment. Science curriculum should include discussions on climate change and the man-made causes of climate change. In the SBOE, I would advocate for climate change curriculum models similar to those adopted in other states that are evidence-based; steeped in climate specific science; and incorporate content like Indigenous practices for combating environmental crisis.

Melissa Ortega: Texas curriculum standards should address climate change by addressing three bodies of knowledge. Standards should include climate literacy which helps learners understand our influence on climate and climate’s influence on us. Standards should also include environmental literacy which relates to environmental education across disciplines including science and social studies. Finally, the curriculum should include Indigenous Knowledge Systems, which is a holistic, observational, and systematic way of understanding the environment and its connection to culture and society.

What criteria would you use to evaluate new charter school operators and charter school expansion requests?

Laura Márquez: Charter schools are not regulated in the same manner as local school districts. They operate with greater flexibility and less adherence to many state and local education regulations — often leading to unethical and unlawful practices. I believe entities seeking to open new or expanded charter schools should be subjected to a more rigorous criteria that demonstrate their commitment to ethical financial stewardship and exceptional governance and educational practices. If elected, I will not support the further expansion of new or existing charter schools until we as a community can trust that accountability, transparency, and proper auditing and oversight can be implemented.

Melissa Ortega: In order to fully assess and evaluate new charter schools and expansion requests I would review all applications that go through capacity interviews. I would make it my practice to attend capacity interviews and provide applicants with allotted time to share with me information about their application. I would request detailed summaries of each charter application and would work to create public oversight since charter schools receive public funding. I would work to ensure that compliance with state quality standards, governance requirements, and financial accountability is not only created and monitored but also held to the same standards as public school ISD’s.

Read more about this race

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