Ray Reiner and Mike Lunceford, who are running to be District 5 Trustee for the Houston Independent School District, seem to be more alike than different on many issues facing schools in Bellaire.
HISD District 5 covers Condit, Gordon and Horn Elementary schools, Pershing Middle School and Bellaire High School.
The candidates answered questions on Oct. 15 at the Bellaire Area Candidates’ Forum, an event hosted by the Bellaire Democrats which also included the 14 candidates for Bellaire City Council.
Although their positions are similar on many issues, the candidates tried to distinguish themselves by noting how their past experience will serve students.
Reiner is a retired HISD administrator who worked with students, parents and the community during his time at the school district.
“I have a good sense, a good feel for what is going on in our public schools,” Reiner said.
Lunceford graduated from an HISD school, sent his children through Houston schools, and has been an active school volunteer for 16 years. He is a petroleum engineer who focuses on strategic planning and data analysis.
“I look at things from a business scale from the outside,” Lunceford said about how he would approach the Trustee position.
Both candidates agreed that the dropout rate and achievement gap are the most pressing issues that HISD currently faces.
Reiner said the district should expand its career readiness programs and form more partnerships with universities in Houston for dual credit programs. Equally important, he said, is strengthening early childhood development programs.
“There has to be a commitment on the part of school districts to be reevaluated every year with early and head start programs,” Reiner said.
Lunceford said the district should “think outside the box” to make sure it’s meeting the needs of students who are at risk of dropping out. Vocational training should be revamped to include modern classes in the medical and technology fields. The district should offer class schedules that work for today’s students, he said.
“There’s a large group of kids, that maybe they have to work,” Lunceford said. Night classes may help them stay in school.
Both candidates agreed that administrators need to try to improve parental involvement in students’ education. Reiner said parents can join Parent Teacher Organizations, and various school committees. But another way to involve them is through extracurricular activities like sports and band, he said.
“Parents will have kids involved and come up to the school on a regular basis to see them perform, or participate in different activities,” Reiner said.
Lunceford said he also supports getting parents involved in decision-making committees, and that the responsibility to improve involvement should come from the school administrators.
“It starts at the top at the school,” Lunceford said. “The Principal has to make a concerted effort.”
When asked whether students should be allowed to complete performance surveys to rate teachers, the candidates agreed such a system would be okay as long as all parties agreed on the rules.
When asked how they would deal with teacher shortages, Reiner and Lunceford said HISD must work harder to recruit qualified teachers, and offer incentives to retain current teachers. Reiner said teachers for upper-level classes like German and calculus are hard to come by, so the district should mentor and support them, and do everything possible to keep the teachers. Lunceford said he supports a program that gives bonuses to teachers who excel, and said he’d like to implement better mentoring during new teachers’ first three years of employment.