Gretchen Patricia Holtsinger: Candidate for Wimberley ISD Board of Trustees, Place 3
Gretchen Holtsinger has lived in Wimberley since 2009. She has spent 26 years as a professional educator, including as a teacher and administrator in the Spring Independent School District. Holtsinger currently is the executive director at Validate ME, a transcript evaluation service.
“I have a passion to make sure all our children receive the best education and the best educational experience possible. My goal is to ensure all our graduating seniors are prepared to be successful and productive in the challenging and ever-changing landscape that lies ahead of them. and administrator, I developed deep expertise in curriculum development, teacher training and support, administration and planning, as well as compliance and funding. I have been a classroom teacher, coach, associate principal, and instructional specialist. My focus on BIL/ESL work has allowed me to address the challenges of inclusion and diversity head on.”
HCDP: What is your main reason for seeking this elected office?
GH: Concern for students and teachers navigating the COVID pandemic inspired me to run for the WISD Board of Trustees, Place 3. With more than 26 years of experience in public education as a high school teacher, instructional coach, associate principal, and central office director, I felt that I could help find solutions to mitigate the learning loss and social emotional impact of lost instructional time due to COVID. The WISD Board of Trustees is represented by a variety of professional backgrounds and skillsets, but there is currently no one with a background in education to bring that perspective to the table.
HCDP: Should you be elected, what are your top three priorities for this office?
GH: 1. Ensure a healthy and safe learning environment for all.
2. Mitigate the learning loss caused by the COVID pandemic.
3. Provide careful oversight of the budget and fiscal resources.
HCDP: How many board meetings have you attended in the last year either in person or virtually?
HCDP: On what District-level committees have you served? What campus-level committees or organizations have you supported?
GH: None to date.
HCDP: What approach to sex education does the current school board employ, and would you like to see it changed?
GH: The district currently uses one of 3 state-approved curricula, recommended by the district Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) and approved by the board. I support the process of forming an inclusive SHAC representative of the community to review and select available options in the best interest of all children in the district.
HCDP: As a school board member, what solutions would you advocate for school funding?
GH: Increased enrollment is the first step to increase school funding. Seeking out-of-district transfer students is one way to do this, but the most important way is to provide a safe and healthy learning environment and exemplary academic programs to attract every single family living within district boundaries to choose WISD schools, in lieu of the many private, charter and virtual learning options available to them. Close attention to budgets that support district academic priorities also ensures the district is directing spending primarily to teaching and learning and programs needed to support all learners’ needs.
HCDP: What’s your position on local control, or local policy? Are there any current local board policies that you would like to see changed?
GH: My allegiance is to our community, not to any external political party or partisan agenda. I support local control and decision-making for WISD, not external mandates from federal or state entities.
HCDP: As a community member, which goal of the district’s five-year plan do you like the best? Which do you like the least and how would you change it?
GH: I like “Achieve Excellence in Education” best. The goal that I think needs more clarity and attention is : Foster a Culture of Kindness and Respect. There are too many reports of bullying and discrimination by students and parents. All district students and staff need training and tools to learn how show respect and civility to others who may look or think differently from them, and there need to be measures in place to monitor and hold students and staff accountable when standards are not met.
HCDP: How do you approach diversity in our students and families, and how do you think this will impact you as a School Board member?
GH: Diversity is an asset in schools and in workplaces. My experience working directly with students and families from a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds as Bilingual/ESL Director has helped me understand how important it is to provide authentic opportunities for stakeholders to share their thoughts, hopes, dreams, and concerns in a safe and respectful environment. This means making a genuine effort to create and promote open communication channels and engage students and families in decision-making in ways that they feel heard and respected not the familiar “illusion of inclusion.” This will be critical in the selection process for a new superintendent.
HCDP: What are you reading right now, or what was the last book you read?
GH: The Vanishing Half.
HCDP: Do you think students have fallen behind this past year? What should be done to ensure they are getting the best education in these challenging times?
GH: There is no question that students have fallen behind this year. It is critical we invest in our teachers to ensure that they have the tools they need to mitigate the learning loss caused by COVID. Job-embedded coaching is one strategy to accomplish this. We also need to expand tutoring and provide high quality instructional materials so students and teachers can close the learning gaps,
HCDP: Name three issues that you believe are most important for this school board, and your concerns and hopes about them.
GH: 1. Model respect for science and public health protocols. Our children are watching us, and it is a dangerous precedent to teach them not to trust science.
2. Serve as a non-partisan trustee who represents all children and families in the community, not just those whose political views align. In our divisive, polarized society, our children are seeing us take sides and not listen to others who might disagree with us. This is a very dangerous precedent. In the 21st century our children will need to be able to show empathy and collaborate, cooperate, and share ideas with others whose thinking and life experiences differ widely from theirs. Their educational experience needs to prepare them for success in that bigger world.
3. Keep the focus on teaching and learning to guarantee children the best educational programs and opportunities available and attract an excellent teaching force. To prepare our children for success in the workforce we need access to the best academic programs and most highly qualified teachers available. It is my fervent hope that is the school board’s #1 priority.
HCDP: How would you respond to someone who said “I’m not really interested in school board elections, especially since I don’t have school age children?”
GH: School district success makes community success. It raises everyone’s property values and quality of life, whether in small towns or big cities.
HCDP: Would you support mandatory mask wearing for students while COVID numbers to elevated? Why or why not?
GH: I support following recommended health protocols, including masks, in response to current data and recommendations by health professionals. The numbers are ever-changing, and the key is to respond appropriately as they change-whether for better or worse.
HCDP: Can you commit to mentoring young progressives into the Hays County Democratic Party?
HCDP: As a board member what will you do to support LGBTQ+ students, immigrant students and students experiencing homelessness?
GH: My entire public school experience has been spent supporting directly or indirectly immigrant and children at risk. I led and developed dual language and newcomer programs to support English language learners K-12. I opened a district Welcome Center to provide services for newly enrolling families. I was associate principal of disciplinary campus and an alternative high school of choice with day and night programs for students who hadn’t been successful in more traditional settings, often because they felt disenfranchised and alienated. They are children, not issues. As a board member, I would model respect and consideration for all children and families in the district and support a vision for a culture of respect and inclusivity in all schools.