Candidates for the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees and Ector County Hospital District squared off in a public forum at the Odessa Marriott & Conference Center Wednesday.

The forum was put on by the Ector County Republican Women. Early voting ended Tuesday with 261 ballots cast and election day is Saturday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit the Ector County Elections Office to see where to vote in Saturday’s election.

Moderated by Karsen Buschjost of KMID TV, it featured ECISD Position 4 incumbent Chris Stanley and challenger Jesse Christesson and incumbent District 7 board member Ben Quiroz and challenger Kathy Rhodes.

Stanley said he came from Washington State when the University of Texas Permian Basin went to a four-year institution.

“The challenges that we faced at that time are some of the same challenges that we face now,” Stanley said. “We have a large population of first-generation students. Some of those are not academically solvent enough and they come in under immense amounts of remediation. That remediation requires that we spend a lot of extra time with the students in order to get them ready to graduate from college. I believe I am eminently qualified to be able to take on this task on the school board, especially because I’ve seen it on the back side and I’ve worked to all levels of students that are enrolled in school.”

Christesson said he is the father of four. He and his wife adopted all four of their children through the foster care system.

“I want what’s best for my kids and I want what’s best for the kids of ECISD. We’ve got a heart of compassion for the kids and our kids need a voice. I want to be that voice. I’ve served the American Legion and the veterans of Ector County and I think this is my next step, the next direction that I need to go is to the school board,” Christesson said.

On the topic of bringing students back to campus for in-person learning, Christesson said he thinks it’s time.

“I think it’s time for all of our students to be in front of the teacher and not have to worry about that teacher that they’re in front of having to teach the kids on the computer, too because that takes away from her time with the students that are in her classroom. … We need to get back to some kind of normalcy and our kids need to be in school to where they learn, to where they’re not falling behind,” he said.

Stanley said this is the 21st century and there are some practices that aren’t coming back.

“Right now, college students at UT Austin, 75 percent of their classes were online. A lot of that is because of the COVID. It’s possible now to go to school with children all over the world. They call it Harvard from home. We want the kids back in school. What Mr. Christesson said is absolutely true. We’re dealing with something called the COVID slide. The COVID slide means that pedagogically we are going to have to become more innovative with our education,” Stanley said.

Ector County ISD Board of Trustees Position 4 Candidate Jesse Christesson answers questions during the Ector County Republican Women’s Club luncheon Wednesday afternoon at the Odessa Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

Christesson said he thinks schools need better security.

“I’ve been an advocate, whether it be that we reinstate the guardianship program or the marshals program in ECISD, or we give more to the ECISD Police Department to where we can have liaisons and officers on every campus. School security is a must. I want our kids and our teachers to feel safe and to be safe when they are at that school property,” he said.

Stanley said he didn’t think anybody was against safe schools.

“I just think the way in which we do it is important and I know that our police force at ECISD does not agree with that statement that we need more guns on our campuses because we have law enforcement contingency that’s there and access to every law enforcement agency … The big issue we need to focus on is the success of our students. If they’re not learning, we’re not growing. We need to focus on their education,” Stanley said.

The challenge facing public school education at the district and state level is standardized testing.

“I think we’ve all seen the epic failure of the STAAR test technologically and so what we’re hoping for is if there’s new ways in which we can assess the progress of the students that come down the line. … We’re never going to get away from some form of standardized testing. I think how we assess our students and their growth is incredibly important. We’re using something now called MAP data where we can go granular on each student in each class. That’s been successful,” Stanley said.

Christesson said students are being taught to the test and they’re not learning to absorb.

“… They’re learning to take a test and we keep on pushing and we keep on pushing and we’re making them just statistics. Our kids are not statistics. Our kids are students that need to learn, who are our future,” he said.

Christesson, who is a home school high school graduate, said he doesn’t think there are certain qualifications you need to serve on a school board.

“I was born and raised in Ector County. I’ve lived here for 30 years; raised my family here. I’ve got deep roots and a heart for the kids and I think that’s all that you need to be a school board member …,” he said.

Stanley, who holds a master’s degree, said both of his children graduated from high school in ECISD.

“And my children had a very, very successful run in the school district. I’ve seen our school district performing at its highest level. I believe that I’m going to be able to get back on that school board and try and make that happen for the rest of the students in our community. I’ve worked with groups as diverse as the Jesus House, with the homeless women and children’s center. I’ve worked with the Boys and Girls Club. I think the future’s bright. I don’t think we need to be afraid of the future. What we need to focus on is 21st century learning. I want everybody to think about this. We’re one of the last industrialized nations on the planet that is using as a 6,000 year old Neolithic agricultural calendar to train our students. Many places in the world are not. If our students are falling behind and sliding, it might be because of the way we’re thinking about the way we’re educating them,” Stanley said.

Christesson said it’s time to get back to basics; “back to … pen and paper where teachers are teaching students and students are learning. It’s worked for hundreds of years. Why can’t it work now?”

Ector County Hospital District Board District 7 seat incumbent Ben Casey Quiroz answers questions during a candidate forum hosted by the Ector County Republican Women’s Club Wednesday afternoon at the Odessa Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

On the hospital board, Quiroz said he has served the last four years during some struggles and administrative changes to the Medical Center Hospital.

“All those things have been a bit distracting to the progress of what Medical Center Hospital can achieve …,” said Quiroz, who is a chiropractor.

Rhodes, who has been the corporate vice president of a heating and air conditioning company for 35 years, said she has served on many civic boards appointed by the city council.

“I have led commissions. I feel like I’m very well qualified to serve on the hospital board …,” Rhodes said.

Quiroz said he has been through four years on the hospital board.

“We’ve really had to turn the ship. Whenever I got on the hospital board, there was a lot of financial stress. There were some leadership issues … he said.

Rhodes noted that she has served the community diligently.

“I know this board and I know their board members. My word is my bond. You can take it to the bank and the last thing is I’m sober of spirit. I think the hospital needs to continue to focus on healthcare for the citizens and supplying that healthcare in an efficient manner. I believe that maintaining strong financial stability is very important” along with reviewing the billing system and recruiting high-quality medical personnel.

Quiroz said he would like to see medical records online and an app on people’s phones so they can have access to all their billing and records.

“My mother is at MD Anderson in Houston and they have that. … I’d like to do that. I’d like to see a cath lab and heart procedures, quality heart procedures, really driving quality into the region,” Quiroz said.

He said he thinks part of the board’s role is to bring the community to the administrative level to help solve issues.

Ector County Hospital District Board District 7 seat candidate Kathy Rhodes answers questions during a candidate forum hosted by the Ector County Republican Women’s Club Wednesday afternoon at the Odessa Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

Rhodes said board members need to get to know the citizens and be available to them.

“We must know exactly what’s going on in their lives and then be able to work with the administration in informing them what our constituents what they want of us; listen to them. Most importantly is listen; be available and then communicate to the administration in every way, shape, or form how we feel as the board …,” Rhodes said.

Asked how the board ensures strong collaboration and partnership with MCH staff and retirees, Rhodes said the retirees are angry and frustrated. “They want more communication from the hospital. They feel like they don’t have that representation right now in many ways. The citizens need to have better access to their board members. I propose a town hall for myself. … I want them to be in my ear. I want them to be telling me what it is they need from our hospital board,” Rhodes said.

Quiroz said this is built into the mission, vision and values of the hospital.

“It’s binding to the organization. It’s a commitment to producing quality healthcare for the citizens of Ector County. It’s a commitment to the institution. It’s a commitment to you. You want to make sure that we have quality physicians and it’s done to the mission, vision and values. I believe strongly that we are the region’s premiere source for healthcare and we need to stay on that path and for the hospital’s future …,” Quiroz said.